To the Curious, Doubting, Lukewarm, or Unbelieving Catholic Laity,
When we attend Mass, we are entering a holy place in which a miracle takes place. Not only are we present when the basic elements of bread and wine are transubstantiated to the body and blood of Christ, but those at Mass are transported in a mystical way to a heavenly banquet. Though the reception of communion happens a few prayers after the Canon is complete, it is vital from a theological and catechetical perspective. With Christ present with his church, the Bridegroom has come for His bride.
After commingling of the body and blood the Priest tells those present to behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the praise of the angels and those in Heaven as seen in Revelation 19. In Revelation 19:9 and Angel told St. John. “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (NRSV).
At this point in Mass the priest is passing on this wedding announcement from Heaven. Like a groom at a wedding, our Lord calls to us and wants to have an intimate relationship with his bride. He does this by giving himself, his own body and blood, as a way to show his eternal commitment to us. Like a bride we process down towards our groom to be united with him.
In the Eucharist we are united with Christ not only spiritually, but physically. Being united with the flesh of Christ is the most personal thing we will be able to experience (Augustine 469).
The Old Testament book of Song of Songs has very vivid imagery between a man and wife symbolizes the love that Christ has for His church. One passage that is particularly relevant to the Wedding Supper of the lamb is Song of Songs 1:2 which states, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (NRSV)! This is exactly what St. Ambrose says happens during the reception of the Eucharist (Ambrose 354).
The second person of the blessed Trinity has forgiven us of our sin and unites himself with us with his very body. The Wedding Supper of the Lamb is a taste of the heavenly worship that we will experience in eternity and unites us with the church suffering and church triumphant in heavenly praise.
Next time you are at Mass take that extra moment to thank Christ for the very gift of himself. Take the time to realize that we are worshiping the King of the universe alongside those who have gone before us in the faith.
There is much more happening at Mass than meets the eye. It is a place where a true miracle happens, ordinary bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Let us not merely go through the notions, but truly understand what is happening.
Do you want to transform the church? It begins with understanding what is happening at Mass and who we are receiving in the Holy Eucharist. I leave you with the following quote from St. Ambrose for further meditation:
Perhaps you will say “I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the body of Christ?”
And this is the point that remains for us to prove. What evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.
God bless you all!
Your brother in Christ,
About our guest blogger:
William is aconvert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the churchhewas ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William liveswith his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out hiswebsite/blog atwilliamhemsworth.comfor more great and informativeCatholic content!
Augustine of Hippo. “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John.” St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies. Ed. Philip Schaff. Trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers. Vol. 7. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series.
Ambrose of Milan. “Two Books Concerning Repentance.” St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters. Ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth. Vol. 10. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896. Print. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series.
November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally.
Who are the Saints?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).
In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet.
The Saints Point Us to God
Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared,
A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.
Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity.
Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.
***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***
November Nourishment for the Soul
Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
Josemaria Escriva: The Way
Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
James: The Letter of St. James
Pope Pius IX
Pope Leo XIII
Francis of Assisi
Ignatius of Loyala
Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica
G.K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings
Now these readings aren’t replacement for the Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!
In the modern world “reform” is a frequently used word. During the 2008 presidential election, a major issue was the reform of the United States healthcare system. Currently, violent revolutions occurring in Libya and Egypt cause people to call for political reform. The modern world frequently criticizes the Church. Many people believe that the Church should update its doctrine by permitting gay marriage and contraceptive use.
The Church is Incarnational
Though being a human institution, the Church has a Divine aspect, and is guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, all of its doctrines are immutable and Her truths are eternal. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the “liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow.” So the Church desires liturgical worship focused on God rid of excesses that deter from that goal.
Papal authority throughout the centuries advocated liturgical reform when abuses crept in. A prime example of this can be found in the 6th century with Pope Gregory the Great. He made several changes to the Roman Rite in response to heretical groups which caused some bishops to become scrupulous with prayer texts.
Another instance of immense liturgical reform occurred in the 16th century when the Council of Trent, in response to the Protestant Reformation, sought to elucidate the Catholic doctrine, in particular the sacraments and reaffirming the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. While successful in clarifying the Church’s teaching, the rigidities of Trent led to decay in liturgical participation among the laity.
Context for Liturgical Reform
Within the 20th century, the 2nd Vatican Council provided the renewal needed for the liturgy of the Roman rite. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium states, “The liturgy builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord, a dwelling-place for God in the Spirit, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Because of the importance of the liturgy, the Council required that reforms should be made and practical norms established. Yet, the reform decrees found in the conciliar document did not develop in isolation. Rather, liturgical reform was several years in the making. Starting as a pastoral movement, the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century began in monastic centers and sought to return piety to the liturgy. It gained papal impetus through Pius XI’s Divini cultus in 1928 and Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei in 1948.
Since the liturgy’s development is organic, many of the renewal efforts of the Liturgical Movement pushed for a return to earlier Christian liturgical elements such as: an increased focus on the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice, better use of Scripture reading, greater emphasis on Gregorian chant and promotion of active participation among the laity. Ultimately, these concerns were addressed and declared by the Church in the 2nd Vatican Council.
A brief liturgical history from the Reformation to the 20th century will help to put the Liturgical Movement into perspective. Protestant reformers rejected not only the abuses of the Church, but the medieval liturgy as well. Dustan Tucker viewed the Reformation as “essentially an anti-liturgical revolution”.
Council of Trent and the Liturgy
The Council of Trent responded by criticizing such departures from Tradition. Pope Paul V declared, in the papal bull Quo primum, a return to the rite of the Early Fathers. This included removing lengthy and unnecessary prayers, ornate elements, and superstitious piety from the Mass. Soon after Trent, the Church implemented this reform. From 1568-1570 the Tridentine Missal and Breviary took shape. Requirements to pray the office of the Blessed Virgin and of the dead were lifted. General rubrics at the beginning of the missal provided uniformity in worship.
For the next few centuries there was stability in liturgical reform. However, abuses in the liturgy still arose. For instance, the number of feast days increased from 182 to 300 between 1584 and 1903. Many started to take priority over Sunday. Several attempts at reform failed during the three centuries preceding the Liturgical Movement.
Influence of Prosper Gueranger
Liturgical study blossomed within monastic communities in France in the 19th century. The Benedictine Abbey of Solesmes, in France, housed one of the early promoters of the European liturgical movement, Prosper Gueranger. He advocated a return to Gregorian chant as the authorized liturgical music for the Church. By the 1870s, his fellow monks researched chant manuscripts and desired to purify the texts to their original content. Gueranger made liturgy the center of monastic life.
Despite his positive contributions, he never encouraged the essential liturgical principle full and active participation by the whole congregation. Despite this, reform in France soon found its way to Germany and later Belgium around the turn of the century.
Though Gueranger had an important part in the liturgical reform in Europe, many historians acknowledge the movement’s true founder as the Belgian Benedictine, Dom Lambert. Beauduin. A speech given by him at the Catholic Conference at Malines in 1909 marked the beginning of the Liturgical Movement.
Pius X and Spread of Liturgical Reform
Influenced by Pius X’s motu proprio, Beuduin called for complete and active participation of all Christians within the liturgy. He wanted to reach beyond the people of Belgium to all Catholics. To accomplish this, Beuduin wrote a missal for the laity. Later he organized his abbey to provide liturgical education and even published a journal, Les Questions liturgiques.
The Liturgical Movement soon spread beyond Germany, France, and Belgium. As the century continued, the liturgical reform came to the Netherlands in 1911 and Italy in 1914 and eventually throughout the rest of Europe.
The liturgical movement traveled across the Atlantic in 1926, under the efforts of Virgil Michel. As a student of Beuduin, he sought to promote liturgical piety in the United States. To endorse the movement, Michel founded the journal Orate Fratres and Liturgical Press at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He once said, “Should not every devoted Catholic try to the utmost of his power to participate actively in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to follow the priest in mind and heart, to pray with him and act with him?”
Origin of 20th Century Liturgical Reform
While the liturgical movement originated and grew forth from the monastic centers in Europe, the Holy See was not detached from this development. At the beginning of the century, in 1903, Pius X held the liturgy in high esteem. In his motu proprio, Tra le sollecitudini, the pope referred to the liturgy as “the Church’s most important and indispensible source.” Papal support continued with Pius XI’s apostolic constitution Divini cultus in 1928. Released on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pius X’s motu proprio, this document advocated an increased need for reform in liturgical music. The pope declared,
For the Liturgy is indeed a sacred thing, since by it we are raised to God and united to Him, thereby professing our faith and our deep obligation to Him for the benefits we have received and the help of which we stand in constant need. There is thus a close connection between dogma and the sacred Liturgy, and between Christian worship and the sanctification of the faithful.
Pius XI also states that task of the popes are to maintain the Liturgy like a custodian. In his 1924 bull Inter multiplices, he warned the Church of the dangers of modernism and upheld the notion of the liturgical growth as an organic development. Read in light of Divini cultus, the papal bull is not an ultramontane claim of papal power over the liturgy. Rather it is a warning to prevent liturgical reform from falling victim to antiquarianism.
Pius XII’s Mediator Dei
Papal impetus to the Liturgical Movement continued under Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei. Written in November 1947, this document solidified the relationship between the movement and the Holy See. The encyclical gave the Liturgical Movement official papal approval, yet at the same time warned against liturgical abuses. Mediator Dei became the first encyclical dedicated solely to the liturgy.
In defining the Sacred Liturgy and affirming liturgical piety as the center of the Christian life, Pius XII’s encyclical is viewed as the Magna Carta that set up the general reform in Sacrosanctum concilium. The conciliar document’s theme of the presence of Christ in the liturgy is declared in Mediator Dei. “In obedience, therefore, to her Founder’s behest, the Church prolongs the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the Sacred Liturgy, states Pius XII. This displays a striking similarity to a passage in Sacrosanctum concilium regarding the presence of Christ in the liturgy. According to the conciliar text, “The liturgy, then, is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ”.
Sacrifice of the Mass
Another major point given by Pius XII is the fact that the Liturgy should be seen as a sacrificial act. The salvific effects of Christ’s sacrifice are explained by the pope, “…it can be said that on Calvary Christ built a font of purification and salvation which He filled with the Blood He shed; but if men do not bathe in it and there wash away the stains of their iniquities, they can never be purified and saved.” By placing such stress on the sacrificial nature of the Mass, Pius hoped to prevent the faithful from error in viewing the liturgy exclusively as a memorial banquet.Sacrosanctum concilium reaffirmed the centrality of Christ’s sacrifice as well.
Practical Liturgical Reforms
Along with a deeper understanding in theology of the Mass, the Liturgical Movement also promoted pragmatic reform such as active participation for the laity. “The cooperation of the faithful is required so that sinners may be individually purified in the Blood of the Lamb,” stated Pius XII. Such cooperation could be facilitated by involving the laity. As previously mentioned, promotion of active participation started in the monasteries during the late 19th century. Publication of missals for the laity ensued at the turn of the century. This allowed them to follow along through prayer responses and singing along in the “dialogue Mass”.
A large majority within the Liturgical Movement agreed that the preferred understanding of the liturgy could not be reached until more vernacular was infused into the Mass. Many of the early pioneers of the movement such as Michel advocated for vernacular usage in the Mass. German bishops asked the Holy See, in 1949, to allow the epistle and gospel reading to be in the common language. By the 1950s more papal allowances permitted vernacular usage in the liturgy.Musicae sacrae disciplina, Pius XII’s encyclical on liturgical music granted hymns during Mass to be sung in the language of laity.
Issues with the Vernacular
Not all involved in the Liturgical Movement agreed on the amount of vernacular to be introduced into the liturgy. Many groups, like the English Liturgy Society in particular, welcomed the use of the vernacular and believed it should replace Latin in many rites including: baptism, anointing of the sick, and funerals.
An issue from usage of common language, raised by H.A. Reinhold, is faulty translations. He stated, “What I am personally afraid of …is a ‘commission’ of professors who know all about their fields but do not speak the language of the people…And that would be worse than what we have now, because it would falsify the spirit of our Roman Liturgy.”
Loss of meaning occurs when translating a biblical text into various languages. “The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth,” proclaimed Pius XII on the importance of keeping Latin in the liturgy.
Another aim of liturgical reform in the 20th century dealt with sacred music. The Liturgical Movement sought a restoration to an unadulterated Gregorian chant. In the previous century, a method for renewal in sacred music began in Abbey of Solesmes. Here monks researched liturgical music and undertook the reinstatement of Gregorian chant in the Mass. While support for this style of music lacked uniformity, the majority in the movement endorsed Gregorian chant. In his motu proprio, Pius X called it the “supreme model for sacred music.”
Participation in the Mass
Further promotion of this style occurred with Divini cultus by which Pius XI encouraged an end to “silent spectators” and urged an active participation among the laity. “In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it,” the pope stated. His predecessor’s encyclical Musicae sacrae disciplina reaffirmed Pius X’s motu proprio. At the same time, Pius XII’s document displayed openness to development in sacred music. Yet, music must not become profane for the sake of mere exhibition in the liturgy. Rather, sacred music is an integral part of liturgy and must be given a high honor.
Lay Involvement with the Liturgy
Besides the external elements of the liturgy, the Liturgical Movement encouraged inward participation of the laity during Mass. According to Romano Guardini, the chief goal of the liturgy is not concerned with individuals showing reverence towards God. He states,
The liturgy is the Church’s public and lawful act of worship. It is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post— her priests. In the liturgy God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the latter is in its turn to derive sanctification from this act of worship. Here the Catholic conception of worship in common sharply differs from the predominately individualistic Protestant style of worship.
In Mediator Dei, the pope encouraged Christian participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. Such involvement takes place in laity’s offering of the bread and wine and of alms to the priest. Upon their behalf the priest offers the sacrifice. Through the liturgy and their sacrificial offerings the Christian becomes more attentive to the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Second Vatican Council
The activities of the Liturgical Movement culminated in the 20th century with the Second Vatican Council. Here the nature of the Church became better clarified. The Constitution, Sacrosanctum concilium, expanded upon the advocated reforms by the previous council. The conciliar document’s stress on the presence of Christ in the liturgy also harked back to Pius XII’s Mediator Dei.
Regarding Holy Scripture, in the 1950s, the movement sought for greater emphasis placed on the Word in the liturgy. Pius XII granted limited sanctions by having the epistle and gospel read in the vernacular, but only after said in Latin first. This allowed for greater attentiveness in Mass. Sacrosanctum concilium continued such reform in permitting use of the common language in places like the readings and some prayers. But the document still maintained to keep the Latin language as the norm in the liturgy.
Mystical Body of Christ
Another theme found in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was the Nature of the Church as the Mystical Body. About twenty years prior to the council, the encyclical Mystici corporis christi examined the Pauline concept of the Church being the body of Christ. This provided great insight on the nature of the Church. Like the monks from Solemes and the popes, especially Pius X, the Council held sacred music with high esteem. Sacrosanctum concilium decreed, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride and place in liturgical services.” Furthermore, the document declares that the liturgy’s development must be organic. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” asserts Sacrosanctum concilium.
It is God who “wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” Through liturgical worship humans are sanctified and receive Christ in the Eucharist. Yet, because of the human aspect of the Church, abuses have entered into the liturgy. Because of this, reform is constantly needed. In the twentieth century, this renewal came in the form of the Liturgical Movement.
Established first in monastic hubs in Europe, the movement eventually gained papal momentum from the encyclicals Divini cultus and Mediator Dei. They promoted a return to early Christian liturgical practices and encouraged more usage of Scripture, Gregorian chant, and active participation of the laity during the Mass.
Cabie, Robert, and Aime Georges Martimort. “The Celebration of the Eucharist in the West from the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at prayer: an introduction to the liturgy. New ed. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1988. 173-185.
Chupungco, Anscar J. Handbook for Liturgical Studies: Introduction to the Liturgy. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997.
Flannery, Austin. Vatican Council II: the Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. New revised ed. Dublin; Northport, NY: Dominican Publications; Costello, 1996.
Guardini, Romano. The Spirit of the Liturgy. New York, N.Y: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998.
Jounel, P. “From the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at Prayer Volume 1: Principles of the Liturgy. New ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1987. 63-84.
Pius XII. Mediator Dei: On the Sacred Liturgy. Encyclical Letter. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1947.
Reid, Alcuin. The Organic Development of the Liturgy: the Principles of liturgical Reform and their Relation to the Twentieth-century Liturgical Movement prior to the second Vatican Council. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005.
Smith, Fidelis . “”Musicae Sacrae Discplina”: Pius XII’s Encyclical on Sacred Music .” The Musical Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1957): 461-479.
The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist: the Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium on the Roman Catholic Liturgy organised by the Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques. Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997.
 Ernest B. Koenker, “Objectives and Achievements of the Liturgical Movement in the Roman Catholic Church since World War II,” Church History 20, 2 (1951), 15.
 Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), 2.
 Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy: the Principles of liturgical Reform and their Relation to the Twentieth-century Liturgical Movement prior to the second Vatican Council 2nd Ed.( San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005), 39.
The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist: the Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium on the Roman Catholic Liturgy organised by the Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques. (Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997), 123.
 RobertCabié and Aimé Georges Martimort, “The Celebration of the Eucharist in the West from the Council of Trent to Vatican Council II.” In The Church at prayer: an introduction to the liturgy, New ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1988), 183
Ecumenical councils mark an important time in the Catholic Church’s life. They occur in response to heresy, revolt, confusion of doctrine, or reform outdated ecclesial structures. While the Council of Trent was a more defensive reaction to Protestant polemic, the Second Vatican Council sought to bring aggiornamento, an updating, to the Church. The “walls” constructed by the Church over the centuries were to be dismantled.
Tearing Down of Frivolous, Cumbersome Traditions
The most visible sign of reform ushered in by the Second Vatican Council regarded the liturgy. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the liturgy as the sacred action par excellence is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed and it is likewise the font from which all her powers flow” (CCC 1071-1075). Appropriately, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosantcum concilium, was the first document issued by the Council Fathers. Promulgated on December 4th, 1963, this document set the tone for the rest of the council. The Roman Rite Mass, said completely in Latin prior to the Council, was in need of updating. Superfluous elements had accumulated into its rubrics and a wide gulf existed between the clergy and the laity.
From the onset of the document, Sacrosanctum concilium reiterates the importance of the liturgy: “The liturgy daily builds up those who are in the Church, making of them a holy temple of the Lord” (SC art. 1). Seeing it as the activity that transforms men into the house of the Lord is significant. Too many times, Catholics complain about going to Mass on Sunday because it either interferes with sleep or other events in their life. But if they knew about the life-altering effects the liturgy can have, a change in mentality might occur. The Council advocates an active participation within liturgical worship on the part of the People of God.
Mass is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life
An appreciation for the liturgy cannot occur without learning about its aim and purpose and how it relates to other aspects of the Church. A wonderful passage from the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, succinctly states the liturgy’s importance, “the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows” (SC art. 10). This line provided great insight to the Church’s view of liturgy for me. The image of water flowing from a fountain is such a beautiful way to describe the relationship between the Mass and its outpouring of God’s grace upon humans.
The word “summit” in that phrase also invokes another profound image─ a mountain or peak. To speak of the Mass in that way, demonstrates that the purpose of a Christian’s life is to reach to top of the summit, which is done through participation in liturgical activity.
Eucharist and Priesthood Intertwined
Though the fount and summit depict the liturgy in a profound way, it is only through seeing the connection of the liturgy to the priestly office of Christ and the Eucharist that these images can be fully realized. Through the action of Christ the High priest the sanctification of men are accomplished (SC art. 7). When the priest offers bread and wine to God, he is not acting on his own behalf, but rather Christ’s.
The connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist is necessary in explaining the liturgy. If the Mass had an exclusive human element, it would become a mere frivolous activity. However, the Council Fathers stress the point of Christ’s presence within the liturgy. “But he also willed that the work of salvation which they preached should be set in train through the sacrifice and sacraments, around which the entire liturgical life revolves” (SC art. 6). The reason these signs aid us in salvation is through Jesus’ constant presence within the Church’s liturgical celebrations (SC art. 7).
What is the Purpose of the Liturgy?
While the liturgy’s prime objective is directed towards the sanctification of man, it does possess an educational and pastoral nature as well (SC art. 33). Through the visible signs and prayers proclaimed during liturgical worship, the faithful gain a greater understanding of Catholic doctrine. Yet, because of unnecessary wordings and phrases picked up through the centuries preceding the Second Vatican Council, the rites within the liturgy became long and difficult to comprehend. According to the conciliar document, “The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity. They should be short, clear, and free from useless repetitions. They should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation” (SC art. 34).
Ignorance of Scripture, Ignorance of Christ
A second norm expressed by the Council Fathers advocated a closer link between the rite and words in the liturgy. Ways to implement this standard included greater variety of reading from the sacred scriptures and having the sermon’s content stem from the theme of that particular Sunday’s liturgy (SC art. 35). It was not until I attended an Extraordinary Form Mass that I realized how much reform went toward the restoration of sacred scripture in the liturgy. I took for granted what was lacking in the pre-Vatican II liturgy─ diversity in scripture readings. It is quite amazing how the Council Fathers meticulously delved into the sacred scriptures and developed specific motifs for Sundays and feast days. Such a restoration in the rites and readings helps Catholics better understand and participate in their liturgical experience.
Increasing Active Participation
Besides simplifying rubrics and making scripture more varied, permission to use the vernacular on a wider basis aided in the faithful’s ability to actively participate in the Mass. While Latin remains the norm for the Latin rites, Sacrosanctum concilium emphasizes the importance of incorporating the language of the faithful in the Mass. “But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may be frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it”(SC art. 36.2).
The document specifically mentions the readings and prayers in which the mother-tongue may be used. Having the liturgy proclaimed in a language the laity is accustomed to increases their ability to comprehend the Sacred Mystery. As stated in the previous paragraph, my experience with the Extraordinary Form Mass affected how I viewed the Novus Ordo Mass. In the former it was a struggle for me to follow the prayers said in Latin by the priest, while the latter has all the prayers in English the language I grew up learning. Despite, my limited knowledge of the Latin language, I still appreciate its beauty especially when sung.
The Mass Foreshadows Heavenly Worship
Another aspect of the liturgy expounded upon early on in the conciliar document is the eschatological nature of the liturgy. “In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, proclaim the Council Fathers” (SC art. 8). After reading this, my view of the liturgy greatly deepened. I always knew the importance of attending Mass weekly and its connection to the other sacraments. I just never stopped to ponder how the liturgy went beyond temporal activity.
All our actions in the liturgy anticipate our participation in the Heavenly worship before God. My understanding before seeing the link between worship of God in earth and heaven was elementary. The liturgy does not only affect humans in their daily lives, but gives them a glimpse of the Heavenly Banquet. Article 8 also depicts Christians as a pilgrim people. Stated in that way, I gained a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist. For each and every Mass can be seen as providing food and strength along life’s journey.
Where are all the Catholics every Sunday?
Such significance of the Eucharist calls to mind an urgent question: why is not every Catholic readily attending Mass on a weekly basis? Well, I think that a prominent problem occurring today in the Church regards the status of one’s participation within the liturgy. Growing up, there were times I felt that the Mass was boring and that I got “nothing” from the experience. I have heard many other Catholics express similar feelings about the liturgy.
The Second Vatican Council stated the importance of active participation during the Mass (SC art. 30). However, the word active does not refer to merely external action. “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons, hymns, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper time a reverent silence should be observed,” declare the Council Fathers (SC art. 30). Notice that even through silent moments people can participate in the liturgy.
Importance of Sacred Music
Without a proper disposition towards the Mass, a person lacks an authentic liturgical experience. Sacred music provides an invaluable role in developing a proper mindset toward the liturgy. The decree on Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter dedicated to this subject. Music throughout the Church’s tradition is of immeasurable value─ greater than all other art forms (SC art. 112). To quote the conciliar document, “So have the Fathers of the Church and the Roman pontiffs who in more recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function exercised by sacred music in the service of the Lord” (SC art. 112).
In secular society, music tends to have a sole purpose─ entertainment. Concerning the liturgy, sacred music is not sung in order to save people from boredom. Instead, the Mass acts as a service of the Lord to draw us closer to God. Sacred music is considered to be more holy, the more intimately its connection to the Mass (SC art. 112).
Worship Not Entertainment
Growing up I never thought of the function of music going beyond entertainment. Many newer churches have the choir located at the front and center. I have experienced liturgies in which people would applaud after a mass if they thought the choir sang well. Although the choir gained constant recognition for their singing, it became commonplace for that congregation to lack participation in song. The choir is not supposed to be the most memorable part of the Mass. This is not what the Second Vatican Council called for. Rather, the choir’s aim is to invite the faithful into active participation in the liturgy (SC art. 114).
Great Gregorian Chant
Furthermore, the Council Fathers echoed the long tradition of Gregorian chant as the liturgical norm in music, “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services” (SC art. 116). The document also continues to state that other types of sacred music may be used such as polyphony, but they must foster active participation among the people. Not until I started attending a church that implemented Gregorian chant on a regular basis did I develop a sense of understanding and appreciation for that musical form.
From my experience, I know that Gregorian chant creates active participation because it allows everyone to take part in the liturgy. Though not a popular style of music, Gregorian chant transcends culture and time and demonstrates universality. Catholics have been chanting parts of the Mass for centuries and this practice continues today. Through this particular musical form, Catholics today can be connected to peoples from various ages and cultures.
Along with Gregorian chant, Sacrosanctum concilium gave directives on the proper musical instrumentation used in the liturgy. The preferred instrument for liturgy is the pipe organ. Sound produced by the organ greatly enhances church ceremonies and powerfully lifts men’s minds to God (SC art. 120). An appreciation towards organ music in the Mass cannot be gained until a person experiences it. I have noticed a huge difference in the tone of the liturgy when a piano is played versus when an organ is used. The organ can sustain notes for a much longer time and its sound will not be drowned out by a large congregation singing.
Pianos lack the capability to adjust volume levels based on the size of the congregation. When sitting in the back of a church, there were times that I had difficulty in hearing the piano. The Council permitted use of other instruments in the liturgy, but they had to be approved by the territorial authority (SC art. 120).
Liturgy of the Hours
A major area of liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council pertained to the Divine Office. According to the document, the office of readings was part of ancient Christian tradition. It is designed to incorporate prayer throughout the day. Article 85 states, “Hence all who take part in the divine office are not only performing a duty for the Church, they are also sharing in what is the greatest honor for Christ’s Bride.”
As the official prayer of the Catholic Church, clergy are required to pray five “hours” per day. The Council Fathers sought to renew the divine office in order to follow tradition better. First, they called to change the hours of the divine office back to fit the schedule of the practices of the early Church (SC art. 88). The two chief hours were Lauds, Morning Prayer, and Vespers, Evening Prayer.
While I have only prayed Liturgy of the Hours a few times, I am most familiar with Compline, Night Prayer. It was wise for the Council Fathers to restore the hours back to their original times. I found it calming to mediate on particular psalms and prayers in Compline relating to sleep and rest. Having prayer linked with specific hours of the day helps draw my attention from the mundane events occurring in world. The Divine Office leads me to a deeper connection with God’s time.
Public Prayer of the Church
Because the divine office is a communal prayer of the Church, personal prayer is nourished and grown out of it (SC art.90). Liturgy of the hours is strongly encouraged to be prayed preceding Eucharistic celebrations. “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts”, states the conciliar constitution (SC art. 100). Upon reading this article, I realized how far off the ideal the implementation of liturgical action in the United States was.
If asked which type of prayer should precede the Mass, a common answer would be the rosary. Up until a couple of years ago that would be my response as well. However, through both a friend and my parish priests, I slowly became introduced to the beauty of the divine office. Now, I am a strong proponent of bringing back traditional prayer such as Vespers to precede Sunday liturgies.
When carried out as recommended by the Council, liturgy of the hours has a powerful effect on a person both externally and interiorly. The constant back and forth proclamation of the psalm by the congregation demonstrates the communal aspect of the prayer. Also, the Council prefers to have the office sung or chanted (SC art. 99). Saint Augustine once said, “A person who sings prays twice”. As previously stated, Gregorian chant allows for greater participation due to its ease of learning. In addition to reflecting on psalms, Catholics are further united in the singing of the divine office.
To sum up, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has set forth guidelines in which the Church must obey regarding liturgical practices. The Council Fathers desired to restore lost elements of the Mass, while at the same time abolish frivolous accretions it gathered from the centuries after Trent. As the wellspring of the Church’s activity, liturgical reform must be taken seriously. All regulation of the liturgy passes through the magisterial authority of the Catholic Church. “Therefore no other person, not even a priest, may add remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” state the Council Fathers (SC art. 22). This statement might be the most overlooked sentence in the entire document. I have witnessed on several occasions pastors and even lay people who tamper with the liturgy. Perhaps the worst abuse occurred when a priest added and changed words to the Eucharistic prayer.
Currently, the liturgy is a topic on the forefront of many Catholics’ minds since the new translation of the Roman Missal is coming out during Advent 2011. Pope Benedict XVI’s fervent advocacy of the New Liturgical Movement continues to show the relevancy of the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council. Through prayer and guidance by the Holy Spirit we can hope that all the liturgical reforms in Sacrosanctum concilium may come to perfection in the ensuing age.
This past Sunday was the celebration of my favorite feast day of the liturgical year—Feast of the Most Holy Trinity! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teaching of holy Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity. Clear evidence of this in found in paragraph 249 of CCC, “From the beginning, the revealed truth of the Holy Trinity has been at the very root of the Church’s living faith, principally by means of Baptism. It finds its expression in the rule of baptismal faith, formulated in the preaching, catechesis and prayer of the Church. Such formulations are already found in the apostolic writings, such as this salutation taken up in the Eucharistic liturgy: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”81
Revealed to us in the New Testament by Jesus Christ and later clarified by the Holy Spirit working through the Catholic Church in ecumenical councils, our understanding of the Holy Spirit as developed but we still fall short in obtaining a full grasp of this mysterious reality and nature of God.
I have heard plenty of satisfying analogies that brought me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Trinity but the best example I have experienced so far is not academic or philosophically driven. The closest analogy I found to describe the love within the Trinity is the human family! Today I want to share my humble experiences as a young father where I see traces and hints of the Trinity in my adorable toddlers.
According to St. Paul, Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated,d 5it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,e 6it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I definitely do not possess all those qualities all the time. However, my kids have allowed my virtues or patience and humility to grow—albeit slowly by surely in my case! Oftentimes, at Mass I get almost as good of a workout as when I churn out a 3 mile jog on the treadmill. My youngest son constantly finds himself dashing away from us in the pew so we have to take him out of Mass frequently. If I stay within the pew with my older children I often act as a diplomat to promote sibling civility during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Along with providing growth of my virtues, my toddlers are traces of the Trinity in their daily creative play. My older two children play in an imaginative world of ninjas, superheroes, princesses, and Lego-building. When I pay close attention to this mysterious play I am reminded of the Mysterious Nature of our Triune God as well. Something about the joy of children’s play piques adult interest. I find the same to be true when I reflect on the mystery of God being united as one but as a company of three divine persons.
To wrap up, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity will always be beyond our total grasp. We are not meant to fully understand this doctrine. Nevertheless, God revealed his nature as love and as a relationship of three Persons in Scriptures and hints is found within the family unit as well. Interestingly, God must have known I needed rest from my Sunday liturgical workouts. My wife and I were able to both listen to every reading and the entire homily for yesterday’s feast! Truly God works in Mysterious and in my children’s case humorous ways too.
According to G.K. Chesterton, “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground” (From the essay Oxford from Without). There is so much theology packed into this quote. What stands out most to me in Chesterton’s thought is the word true. I think that while earthly life consists of toil and repeated work, God planted the seeds for true life to flourish in our earthly lives and hopefully culminating in the heavenly playground if we achieve sainthood. Let me explain.
The opening chapter in Genesis charts out the creation of the world by God. Creation occurred in six days [periods of time] and God rested on the seventh day. Why does God need rest? Is he not outside of time and space—thus He would never tire? The real purpose of the institution of the Sabbath rest on Sunday is because God knows that humanity needs time for rest and recreation! True joy and creativity oftentimes comes from our resting and recreational activities. Last summer I read a biography about St. John Paul II and it talked at length about the saint’s love of skiing. This playful activity was a unique way for the late pope to encounter God and to be recharged to continue his papal duties.
Going back to the notion of God’s creative genius instituting the holiness of resting on the Sabbath, the Catholic Mass is considered the perfection and fulfillment of the Jewish Sabbath. The retired pope Benedict XVI says it best in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, “It is a ‘playful thing’ in which those gathered for the liturgy can be said to be at play— homoludens—in the presence of God; it is like children’s play—it is ‘not there to achieve an end’ but is an end in and of itself (p. 2). To expand on this point, whenever I play with my children or friends it is out of love! It ultimately does not matter which game we play—board game, lawn game, basketball, football, or soccer. Within the creative activity of play, a joy arises similar to the joy I experience during a Catholic liturgy where I receive the gift of the Eucharist every week.
While work and toil certainly has its place in our earthly lives—and even is a means to holiness—we should not forget the importance of play as a means to holiness as well. As a person who tends to be more on the serious side, Chesterton’s words are a shot of theological medicine that thaw my impatient heart. This week my challenge to myself is to look for God’s creative Holy Spirit in playing with my young children!