The Gospel for Wednesday of the 32nd Week of the Year teaches that the Mass is the perfect offering of thanks to the Father. It does so in a remarkable and almost hidden way, but it is right there for us to see if we have eyes to see it.
The Gospel telling the story of the ten lepers contains all the essential elements of Holy Mass and thus it reminds us once that it is the Mass that is the perfect thanksgiving, the perfect Eucharist.
As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:11-19).
Let’s look and see how it is a Mass:
Gathering – Notice first that there is a gathering, of ten lepers, and they meet Jesus as he enters the village. We do this in every Mass: we gather, and the Lord draws near. In the person of the priest, who is the sacrament, who is the sign of His presence, Jesus walks the aisle of our church just as He walked those ancient roads.
Kyrie – Next, the lepers cry out for mercy just as we do at every Mass: Lord, have mercy! Jesus, Master, have pity on us!
Liturgy of the Word – Jesus then quotes Scripture and applies it to their life just as He does for us at every Mass. In saying, “Go show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus is referencing Leviticus 14, which gives detailed instructions as to how priests were to diagnose leprosy and how they were to determine that it had been cured. This is what is done at every Mass: God’s Word is proclaimed, and then the Lord Jesus, speaking through the priest or deacon, applies the texts to our lives.
Liturgy of the Eucharist – Next, one of the lepers fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. This is what we do during the Eucharistic prayer: we kneel and thank Jesus, and with Jesus we give thanks to the Father. The word Eucharist comes from Greek and means “to give thanks.” Here, the perfect thanks is rendered to the Father. Those who claim that they can stay home and give adequate thanks to God there should be rebuked as prideful. Only Jesus can give perfect thanks to the Father, and we can only give adequate thanks to Jesus by following His command to “Do this in memory of me.” We must be at Mass.
Ite Missa est – Finally, Jesus sends the leper on his way, saying, Stand up and go; your faith has saved you. We, too, are sent forth by Jesus at the end of every Mass, when He speaks through the priest or deacon: “Go forth, the Mass is ended” or “The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”
So, there it is. In this Gospel, which clearly instructs us to give thanks to God, is the very structure of the Mass. If you want to give proper thanks to God, and you are at Mass today, you’re in the right place. Only at Mass is perfect and proper thanks given to God.
It was all prefigured in this psalm: What return shall I make to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up and call on the name of the Lord (Psalm 116:12). At every Mass, the very cup of salvation—the chalice containing Christ’s blood—is held up. It is the perfect sacrifice of thanks. It is the prescribed sacrifice of praise, the proper sacrifice of praise.
In the afterglow of Corpus Christi, we do well to consider some of our liturgical practices. Over the years on this blog we have done a good deal of this (e.g., Worthiness to receive Communion).
In this post, I would like to consider three rather obscure but still important moments that are often lost in the minds and hearts of the faithful – the Mystery of Faith, the Amen, and the Agnus Dei. They rise in importance because they are moments that belong especially to the faithful rather than the clergy.
I. The Mystery of Faith (Memorial Acclamation)
In the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy, an acclamation of the people has been added just after the consecration. The priest bids them to acclaim the paschal mystery that has just been made present in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. He says or sings “The mystery of faith.” At this point the rubrics indicate “And the people continue, acclaiming …” Note that it is not anticipated that the priest should join them. At other times the rubrics do dictate that the priest and people sing together. (For example, at the Sanctus the rubric states, “[The priest] joins his hands and concludes the Preface with the people, singing or saying aloud …”)
But in the case of the Mystery of Faith, the rubric simply says, “the people continue, acclaiming …” There are three options:
1. We proclaim your death or Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again.
2. When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup we proclaim your death O Lord, until to come again.
3. Save us Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.
While these acclamations are relatively new in the Roman Missal (introduced in 1970), they echo the practice of the Eastern Churches, which contain several acclamations by the people during the Eucharistic Prayer (specifically the Anaphora). For example, in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the people sing “Amen” after the consecration of the bread and again after the consecration of the wine. The priest then sings, Thine own, of thine own, we offer unto thee, on behalf of all and for all. And the people respond, We praise thee, we bless thee, we give thanks unto thee and and we pray unto thee, Lord our God.
The memorial acclamation in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the inclusion of which was not without controversy (I have written on this before), is an important moment for the people to acclaim the paschal mystery that has just been made present to them. Too often, unfortunately, they seem distracted or uninvolved. Clergy should not usurp the acclamation for themselves by singing it too loudly. Even if it is necessary to “get the people started,” the priest should then pull back and listen reverently to the response that really belongs to the congregation. This is a moment for the people of God to express their praise and worship of the Lord, now on the altar, in a reverent fashion. It does belong to us clergy to instruct the faithful on the meaning and importance of this moment in terms of Eucharistic piety.
The Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer is another moment for God’s people to acclaim their “yes,” solemnly and joyfully, to what has just taken place. In this case as well, the speaking or the singing of the “Amen” is assigned to the people, not the clergy. The rubrics state, “The people acclaim: Amen.”
The celebrant, in persona Christi Capitis, has been speaking to the Father on their behalf, recalling the great works of God and the Sacrifice of the Cross made present in the Eucharist. He has asked mercy for the Church: the clergy and all the people, living and deceased.
At the conclusion, the celebrant and deacon hold aloft the Body and Blood of the Lord and sing or say, Through him and with him and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever. It is for the people, not the celebrant, to acclaim “Amen.” It is their “yes,” their acknowledgment of all that has been said and has taken place.
Thus, the “Amen” ought to be a vigorous one. There is no need for histrionics, but a good, firm “Amen” is surely called for as a sign of our Eucharistic faith and our grateful spirits. At times, though, it seems one can barely detect the joy and firm affirmation that is deserved. Eucharistic piety demands more than a distracted, feeble “Amen.”
III. The Agnus Dei
Just prior to the Agnus Dei, the optional (though seldom omitted) sign of peace is sung or said. Unfortunately, there are often excesses in what ought to be a modest greeting to those immediately nearby. These excesses often lead to the eclipse of what is a beautiful and pious hymn of preparation for Holy Communion: Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us … grant us peace.
The recitation or singing of the Agnus Dei begins just after the sign of peace, but many people do not take the hint to refocus and join in. Instead they continue glad-handing as if it were merely background noise/music to the sign of peace. It is not. It is part of a eucharistic piety meant to prepare us for Holy Communion. Consider that the words of the hymn are very tender. We invoke Him who is the Lamb of God to have mercy on us and grant us peace to approach the Eucharistic altar without servile fear.
The Agnus Dei is especially a song of the people, because the celebrant is usually busy with other prayers. He may join towards the end, but this is a moment for the people to prepare for Holy Communion.
Here, then, are three acclamations of Eucharistic piety that help frame the liturgy and draw us to devotion. My sense is that they are underappreciated by many of the faithful and that clergy often usurp the role given to the lay faithful here, sometimes even acting as a “song leader.”
Ideally, the faithful can discover their own role here and see that the acclamations are not mere formulae, but prayers of a people who believe and celebrate what is announced.
Every now and then someone will come to me and request parish services of some sort. Maybe it’s to plan a wedding, a baptism, or a funeral; maybe it’s to ask for money! Then I look at him or her and say, “Who are you?” (since I don’t recognize the person). “Oh, you may not know me but my mother and grandparents go here; this is our family church.” “I see, but where do you go to Mass?” I usually ask. The response is typically something like this: “Well, you know how it is, Father. I don’t get to Mass too often … but my mother comes every week!”
Well, I’ve got news for you: your Mama’s faith isn’t going to save you. You gotta have your own faith. You have to know Jesus for yourself. There are some things you just can’t borrow. Once, you depended on your mother and ultimately the Church to announce the True Faith to you; at some point, though, you have to be able to claim the True Faith as your own. Your mother can’t go to Mass for you and she can’t believe for you.
A few years ago a man came up to me in the grocery store parking lot and began to talk to me as if we were old friends. Perhaps he noticed the puzzled look on my face as I awkwardly wondered if I had ever met him. He seemed mildly offended and said, “Don’t you know who I am?” With some embarrassment, I admitted that I did not. He went on to explain that his family had been one the “pillar” families who had helped build the church and that I really ought to know who he was.
“Do you come to Mass often?” I asked. “No, but I was at my grandmother’s funeral, whom you buried. Perhaps you know who I am now!” I responded, “No. I certainly knew your grandmother, but I can’t say that I know you.” “That really hurts, Father, because if it hadn’t been for my family the church wouldn’t be there.”
Eventually I got the man to admit that he hadn’t been going to Mass for over twenty years, pretty much since he’d graduated from the parish school; his only attendance had been for the occasional funeral or wedding. “Consider this a dress rehearsal,” I told him humorously, but with ironic seriousness. “You may be angry and disappointed that I don’t know you, but it’ll be a lot worse to hear Jesus say ‘I don’t know you.’”
Indeed, one of the judgment scenarios has Jesus declare that he does not “know” some of those who seek entrance to Heaven:
Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt 7:22-23)
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” (Lk 13:23-27)
Later the other virgins also came, saying, “Lord, Lord, open up for us.” But he answered, “Truly I say to you, I do not know you.” Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour (Mat 25:12-13).
We may wonder how it is that the Lord does not “know” someone. Isn’t He omniscient?
Here it helps to understand that the “knowing” referred to in Scripture does not have the modern Western notion of simple intellectual knowing. To “know” in biblical terms, describes knowing through personal experience.Hence knowing someone implies an intimacy, a personal experience with another person, thing, or event. Sometimes the Scriptures use “knowing” to refer to sexual intercourse (e.g., Gen 4:17,25; Lk 1:34).
Hence the Lord, who does not force us to be in an intimate relationship with Him, is indicating in verses like these that some of the people seeking entry to Heaven (probably more for its pleasures than for its supreme purpose as a marital union with God) have refused His invitation to intimacy. He does not “know” them because they never wanted to be known by Him in any intimate way. They may have known of Him. They may even have spoken and taught of Him; but they did not want Him. They may have used Him for their own purposes, but they did not want Him. Jesus stands at the door and knocks; He does not barge in and force Himself on anyone.
Therefore, we must each personally and individually accept the Lord’s invitation to enter our lives and transform our hearts. We cannot simply say, “My family built this church,” or “I went to Catholic school,” or “My mother goes here.”
Remember the story of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt 25:1-13)? They were waiting for the groom (in those days you waited for the groom; nowadays we wait for the bride) to show up for the wedding. Five were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps while five were foolish and did not. The groom’s arrival was delayed so the foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil.” The wise ones responded that they could not do this because there was not enough oil for all ten of them.
You see, there are some things you just can’t borrow and some things you just can’t lend. You can’t lend your readiness to meet God to someone else. You can’t borrow someone else’s intimacy with God.
You know what happened in the story: The foolish bridesmaids went off to buy more oil and missed the groom’s arrival; when they returned they were not permitted to enter the wedding feast. In those days, when a wedding feast began the doors were locked and no one else could enter. When the foolish virgins arrived back, the groom said that he did not know them.
The bottom line is that you have to know Jesus for yourself. You can’t borrow your mother’s intimacy, relationship, or readiness. You have to have your own. No one can go to Mass for you. You can’t borrow someone else’s holiness.
There is an old gospel hymn that says, “Yes, I know Jesus for myself.” It’s not enough to quote the pastor; it’s not enough to parrot what your mother said. You have to know Him yourself.
Do you know Him? I didn’t ask, “Do you know about Him.” This is more than intellectual knowing; this is the deep, biblical, experiential knowing. Do you know the Lord Jesus? Have you experienced that He has ministered to you in the sacraments? Have you heard His voice resounding from the pulpit and in others you meet? Do you know Him? Don’t be satisfied that your mother or grandmother knew Him. You are called to know Him for your very self.
Below are a couple of renditions of the gospel classic I mentioned. The first is performed by the St. James Mass Choir; the second, by a choir from girls’ school in Poland! Watch the first and then enjoy a very different version as the song leaps across the Atlantic to Eastern Europe. What a wonderful world it is! Despite crossing and cultures and a vast ocean, the message remains the same: Yes, I know Jesus for myself.
In the Office of Readings we are currently sampling from a treatise on the Lord’s Prayer by St. Cyprian. One of those readings earlier this week offered some cautionary notes on what might be termed “reverential reserve” when celebrating the Sacred Liturgy.
Before quoting St. Cyprian, I’d like to make some observations regarding the role of culture and history. Of course, dear reader, you are free to skip my poor musings and jump right to the teaching of St. Cyprian, who outranks me substantially by being a bishop, a martyr, a Father of the Church, and a Saint!
St. Cyprian surely calls for some reserve in prayer, both private and public. But I wonder how to quantify reserve? And how is it related to respect? I have certainly seen and participated in worship experiences that were “over the top.” In such instances the music was too loud, the musicians were more in the role of performers, and the “house was “rocking” more so than praying. In gospel music there is a distinction between Church gospel and “performance gospel.” The first inspires prayer and praise while the second is designed more to please and excite the audience. Christian contemporary music has similar distinctions. Some pieces can be deeply prayerful or stirring works of praise, while others have more of a “listen to me!” quality or even a “pep rally” feel.
Even in more traditional forms like chant, polyphony, and orchestral Masses there have been excesses that the Church eventually weighed in on. Chant, though seemingly the least capable of excess, did have times and schools in which the use of proportional rhythm or overly extended melismata sometimes obscured the text. Gallican Chant was more florid than Roman, and during the late Middle Ages the people of Paris flocked to places like Saint Denis and Notre Dame to hear the increasingly musical chants now sung in organum. It was quite the rage.
During the Polyphonic Age the rich harmonies and often-complex intertwining of parts sometimes overshadowed the text. The borrowing of secular tunes was also problematic. The Church Palestrina helped lead the way back to a simpler form that emphasized the sacred text over the rich harmonies.
Orchestral Masses increasingly grew to resemble operas. The settings, quite musical and elaborate, wowed the worshippers. They were also quite lengthy: some Glorias and Creeds lasted more than twenty minutes. But here, too, some popes (e.g., Pius X) sought to set limits.
As you can see, excess is not just a modern phenomenon.
Searching even further back, we see that even in biblical times worship was an often noisy affair. Nehemiah 8 describes a kind of Liturgy of the Word that featured the people shouting “Amen” during the preaching, falling to the ground, weeping, and so forth. Many of the Psalms directed the people to clap their hands and raise their voices with shouts of joy. Psalm 150 speaks of trumpets, lutes, cymbals, and many other loud instruments that were often used in worship.
Thus we see in all eras a tendency to a certain “excess,” if a respectful reserve is the norm. Indeed, there are some cultures in which sitting quietly to pray seems almost disrespectful. In the African-American congregations in which I have served, it is often said that “God is worthy of our praise!” or, “Hallelujah is the highest Praise,” or “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord … give Him the highest praise.” Charismatic worship has similar features and declarations.
But in every age some limits have had to be found. Even in the earliest days St. Paul had to caution the Corinthians and others to maintain decorum and to set limits on speaking in tongues, prophesying, and so forth. He says to them regarding the Liturgy, Let all things be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40).
And all of this background finally leads us to St. Cyprian, who in the passage quoted below summons us to a kind of sober reserve as the norm for liturgy. In some ways Cyprian, though living in North Africa, displays a kind of Roman temperament and reserve. Latin was his native tongue. And there is, to be sure, a kind of sober reserve evident in the Roman Rite and the Roman prayers, especially the Collects, which are often terse, brief, and quite to-the-point. The whole shape of the Roman Rite is sober and brief. Other forms of this Rite, especially the Gallican and Mozarabic, were far more elaborate and elongated.
And thus St. Cyprian writes from this sort of experience—or so it would seem. But for all of us, his call for reserve can be salutary, even if there are cultural differences that might permit a more demonstrative worship. Consider the words of St. Cyprian as a good reminder that some boundaries are necessary:
Let our speech and our petition be kept under discipline when we pray, and let us preserve quietness and modesty–for, remember, we are standing in God’s sight. We must please God’s eyes both with the movements of our body and with the way we use our voices. For just as a shameless man will be noisy with his cries, so it is fitting for the modest to pray in a moderate way. …
When we meet together with the brethren in one place, and celebrate divine sacrifices with God’s priest, we should remember our modesty and discipline, not to broadcast our prayers at the tops of our voices, nor to throw before God, with undisciplined long-windedness, a petition that would be better made with more modesty: for after all God does not listen to the voice but to the heart, and he who sees our thoughts should not be pestered by our voices … And we read in the Psalms: Speak in your hearts and in your beds, and be pierced. Again, the Holy Spirit teaches the same things through Jeremiah, saying: But it is in the heart that you should be worshipped, O Lord.
Beloved brethren, let the worshipper not forget how the publican prayed with the Pharisee in the temple–not with his eyes boldly raised up to heaven, nor with hands held up in pride; but beating his breast and confessing the sins within, he implored the help of the divine mercy. … and he who pardons the humble heard his prayer.
(from the Commentary on the Our Father by St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr (Nn. 8-9: CSEL 3, 271-272))
To be sure, Cyprian wrote this as a true Roman. But it is a corrective, or at least a good reminder, for us all. Exuberance has its place, especially in certain cultures, but proper order is also essential. Again, as St. Paul says, Let all things be done decently and in good order (1 Cor 14:40). Amen.
On this feast of Thanksgiving (here in America) we do well to ponder how we ought to give thanks to God. Indeed, how can one adequately thank God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift? Is it really enough to simply kneel and say a prayer of thanks? Perhaps we should run to Church and light a candle, or visit some distant shrine? Perhaps even doing the “Snoopy dance” as we say over and over, Thank you thank you thank you” ?!
But none of these acts of thanksgiving would prove adequate. God has been too good, has done too much, and is, after all, God.
Indeed, a great question went up in the Old Testament regarding this very problem of adequately thanking God. It occurs in Psalm 116 wherein the psalmist plaintively asks
“What return can I ever make to the Lord for all the good he is done for me?” (Psalm 116:12)
To that point the Jewish people had been accustomed to killing thousands of animals every day and burning them up in the Temple in order to give thanks, and to atone for sin. But the blood of animals cannot atone for sin and neither can slaying even many thousands of them really give adequate thanks to God.
And thus the same psalm not only asked the question, but it gives the answer:
What return can I ever make to the Lord, for all the good he is done for me? The cup salvation I will take up, I will call on the name of the Lord! (Psalm 116:12-13)
And yet, in supplying this answer, the actual raising of the cup of salvation could only be pointed to in the Old Testament, it could not be done. The lifting up of the cup of salvation and the giving of adequate thanks could, and would only be done by Jesus.
And this brings us to the first Thanksgiving meal. No, we are not in Plymouth Massachusetts in the 1620s. We are at the first, the true, and the only Thanksgiving Meal that can ever really render adequate thanks to the Father. And that meal is in the upper room, at the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. We are told that he took the bread bread, and having given thanks, he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take this all of you in eat of it, for this is my Body.” And likewise after the meal, he took the cup, and he gave thanks, and giving it to his disciples he said, “Take this all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the New and eternal Covenant which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.” He adds, “Do this in memory of me.”
Yes, this is true and the first Thanksgiving meal. Jesus alone is able to fulfill Psalm 116, and taking the cup, the chalice, he lifts it up and give thanks to God adequately for all the good he’s done. He fulfills the Scripture and gives adequate thanks.
You and I can never give adequate thanks to the Father, but we do have a member of our family who is so able, he is our Brother and he is our Lord, he is Jesus Christ.
At Thanksgiving, how can you and I give adequate thanks to the Lord? The answer is not on some far-off distant mountaintop, it is as near as our parish church. We give adequate thanks to the Father by joining our meager thanksgiving, to the perfect Thanksgiving of Jesus in every Mass. We, as members of his Body, and he is the Head of his Body the Church at every mass fulfill Psalm 116 wherein we, through Jesus our head take the cup salvation and call on the name of the Lord. Joining our meager thanks to that of Jesus, the Father is perfectly glorified, and perfectly thanked. The Mass is the perfect Thanksgiving, it was is and remains for us our perfect Thanksgiving meal and sacrifice.
Hidden Mass? It is interesting that in one of the Gospels picked for the Mass of Thanksgiving, we have the gospel of the 10 lepers. And you may have noticed, but perhaps not, that the whole gospel, which is a gospel about giving thanks, indeed this whole gospel has the form of a mass. For there are lepers who gather, just as we lepers gather at every Mass. And as they are gathered, Jesus is in their midst, Jesus is passing by. It is just as Jesus acting through the person of the priest walks the aisle of our church. And seeing Jesus, the lepers cry out “Lord have mercy!” just as we cry out in every Mass: “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” And Jesus, turning, gives them a word, quoting from Leviticus 13:2 “Go show yourselves to the priests.” We too are given a word from the Lord at every Mass. Jesus, homily to the lepers was a brief one, in effect, “Go do with this reading says.” And at the end of the day, that is a pretty good summary of what every sermon should be, as Jesus speaking through our clergy says to us, in effect, “Go do what this reading says.” One of the lepers, realizing he has been healed by this word false to his knees to give thanks. And so do we fall to our knees to give thanks in the great Eucharistic prayer. And the word “Eucharist” is from the Greek meaning to “give thanks.” Jesus then bids that the man that to go, saying that his faith and his act of thanksgiving have saved him. Thus we are told by the priest or deacon at the end of the mass to go and announce salvation to the world.
Yes, this gospel about giving thanks is in the very form of the Mass. And it is no mistake for the Mass is the perfect act of Thanksgiving wherein we are joined to Jesus in the one in perfect act of praise and thanksgiving.
Just a brief thought on Thanksgiving day. How shall we adequately thank God, for all the good he is done? You know the answer, go to Mass, join with Jesus in the only adequate way of really thanking the Father.
Here’s a nice old prayer. But the Mass is even better:
The very familiar passage about Jesus’ encounter with the disciples on the road to Emmaus is rich with many themes and teachings. I have commented elsewhere that the whole passage is, essentially in the structure of a Mass. You can read that reflection here: Mass on the Move
In this reflection it is worth considering how, in the context of what is essentially a liturgy, Jesus reorders and orients two disciples who have, in effect, lost their way. Through this liturgical encounter, Jesus gets these disciples moving in the right direction again.
As such, we are taught that the Liturgy, especially the Mass, has a way of reordering our disordered lives and restoring our lost orientation. Let’s consider the problem for these two disciples (who are us) and also the solution employed by the Lord.
The Problem – Simply put, these disciples are walking in the wrong direction. They are headed away from Jerusalem, away from the resurrection, away from the gathered Church, away from the good news.
The text says that these disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus (Lk 24:13). One of them is named Cleopas. The other is unnamed, but if you are willing to accept it, the other disciple might as well be you. The journey would take about three hours at a steady walking pace (no 45 minute Mass here). We are told they have heard rumors that Jesus had been raised, but they discount the testimony of the women, and and head off into discouragement with their backs to the good news.
Yes, simply stated, they are heading away from the light of Christ and His resurrection glory, away from hope, and deeper and deeper into the darkness with each step they take. Sure enough, the text describes them as “downcast.” Jesus will later describe them as slow to believe, even foolish.
The Solution – It is to these disoriented, discouraged and disordered disciples that Jesus comes. Rather than simply appear to them and order them back to Jerusalem, Jesus engages them in an encounter that is both liturgical and sacramental, an encounter that will restore to them a proper orientation, a proper order.
Mass – He gathers with them and inquires of their struggle, a kind of penitential rite. Having heard their struggle he reminds them of God’s word and both applies and interprets for them, a kind of Liturgy of the Word. They then intercede with him in the prayerful petition “stay with us, for the day grows dark and is nearly over,” a kind of prayer of the faithful. What follows can be described as nothing other than the Liturgy of the Eucharist. For the Lord takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. And suddenly their eyes were opened and they recognize him in the Breaking of the Bread. Now having their gaze turned toward the Lord, their lives are changed, reordered, and, in a kind of Ite Missa est they rush out to tell others what and who they have seen and heard.
So, note that their course is now reversed and they are heading full speed back to Jerusalem, back to the resurrection, to the Church gathered, back to hope, back to the good news and back the to the light. These disciples whose minds were disordered and whose hearts were disoriented, have now been reoriented, and their disordered and darkened minds have come to see and understand. Yes, despair has given way to hope, and joy has replaced downcast dispositions.
The Lord has accomplished this for them through what is best described as a Liturgy, as a Mass.
And what then of us? Can we who are faithful and attentive to the Mass and other Liturgies and Sacraments of the Church not also say that through them the Lord has ordered, reoriented and redirected our lives? I am surely a witness, and pray you are too, that through the Liturgy and Sacraments the Lord has given me a new mind and heart. He has reordered my disordered life, given me an increasingly proper focus and direction. His word has corrected error and lit up my darkened and disordered mind. His Sacraments have redirected my wayward heart, oriented me to the light, and back to the heavenly Jerusalem. This work must continue. Through the Liturgy the Lord must order our lives rightly and correct the course of our wayward hearts.
At the heart of this reordering is that in the Liturgy we are turned toward God, we look outside ourselves and upward toward God. To turn toward God is to be properly oriented, and this orientation orders our lives rightly.
Yes, all this through the Liturgy, just like at Emmaus, still more so now.
Such a small but highly significant thing, the chin paten. Its use is to catch a host that might drop or a particle from a host. As such it is another reminder of the real, true and substantial presence of Christ in even the smallest particle of the host. The chin paten helps ensure that not even a small particle drop.
Today the communion, or “chin” paten is also symbolic. When one sees them today it is a pretty clear signal that “this is a more traditional parish.” Their use had declined, especially when communion in the hand became widespread, during the 70s and 80s. Today they are always used in the Traditional Latin Mass and are part of the ambiance and emphasis on reverent reception of the Eucharist. Some parishes, even in the Ordinary Form, still use them.
But it is fascinating the learn that they are rather new “inventions” and their use was barely tolerated, as they emerged about 100 years ago. Let’s take a look at some history.
First of all, a little credit to the researcher. The Archivist of our Archdiocese, Fr. George Stuart, is a great collector of things great and small; surely a good trait for an archivist! Among the projects he has assisted in was the compiling of an excellent manual for the Archdiocese entitled Liturgical Norms and Policies. As part of his research he investigated the history of the many liturgical practices and implements. Among them is the chin paten, sometimes also called the communion paten. In a footnote, Fr. Stuart notes:
GIRM 188 lists the communion plate among the things on the credence table. The only other mention of the communion plate in the GIRM is at 287, in connection with reception of an intincted host. See also ADW, Liturgical Norms and Policies, 2010, 6.40.5.
It is interesting that the communion plate has been in use (in place of the traditional communion cloth) only for about 120 years, and as recently as 1918—even in Rome—it was “tolerated, but not recommended.”
In 1887 a priest asked the editor of a journal about the legitimacy of its use; he was careful to state that the altar server held the plate indirectly by a wooden handle, and not directly. (The literature indicated a concern over whether such patens required consecration as sacred vessels.)
The editor responded, “We do not think that there is force in the objection that the acolyte who carries it by the wooden handle is usurping the position of a deacon or priest. But neither can we recommend this special contrivance. It is novel, having been introduced but recently into certain dioceses. It is unnecessary; for the Church still continues to prescribe the use of the cloth only. But we cannot say that it is a practice to be abolished as wrong, for the Sacred Congregation has not forbidden it in dioceses in which such a custom has been established. Yet we do not think that it is right to introduce it into a church without the sanction of the bishop.”
The editor quoted a response of the Sacred Congregation of Rites from 20 March 1875. “Substitute for the Usual Communion Cloth,” Irish Ecclesiastical Record 8 (1887) 370-372. See also “Communion Cloth or Plate,” American Ecclesiastical Review 56 (1917) 49-57, 194-195, 293-296; “Communion Plate Tolerated,” ibid., 59 (1918) 307.
Within a few years, however, the use of the communion plate was not merely tolerated, but required. In 1929, the SCS [AAS 21 (1929) 631-639] “ordered that a small metal plate, gilt on the inner surface, must be held beneath the chin of persons receiving Holy Communion. No shape was prescribed, but for convenience it is better that there are two small handles at each side. Should it be the custom for the server to hold the plate, one long handle is more convenient. The plate should be about the size of an ordinary paten used at Mass, and without a rim, so that it can be purified easily.” Peter F. Anson, Churches, Their Plan and Furnishing (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1948) 183.
Since they were held by lay people, whether servers or communicants, communion plates were not consecrated, for (with the tolerated exception of sacristans) only those in orders could touch sacred vessels. The rubrics of the Roman Missal of 1962 listed among the vessels placed on a side table the “patina pro fidelium communione,” but omitted the house cloth altogether (n. 528).
At age fifty I can say that I barely remember the use of the altar rail cloth in certain parishes. The cloth was draped along the inside of the altar rail and flipped over the rail just before communion (See photo left). As we knelt we were expected to scoop up the cloth and hold it under our chin about shoulder high. It would catch a falling host or small fragments. I was never sure how small fragments still didn’t fall to the ground when I let go of the cloth however. But we didn’t ask a lot of questions in those days and the practice was fading. Chin patens were the main tool and used even when, in some parishes, there was still the cloth.
I also remember the altar rail cloths looking wrinkled and unseemly (unlike the one at left) and they often detracted from the beauty of the rail itself. The old rails were often beautifully carved marble or wood.
It is fascinating to think that chin patens were seen by the editor of a prominent Roman Liturgical journal as a “contrivance;” the implication being that it was a loss in reverence, and a kind of reductionist solution. Today we consider them just the opposite.
Another fascination is the concern that such patens, if they were consecrated could not be touched by an ordinary server. Hence they were given a wooden handle so that he did not actually touch them. Older priests tell me that the practice of not allowing non clerical hands to touch consecrated vessels was honored more in the breach than the actual observance. After Mass, plenty of lay people, (sacristans, who put things away and women who cleaned and polished) touched them. Generally the norm was only followed in the Mass. After Mass, practicalities kicked in. Even today, in the Extraordinary form Masses I celebrate, while we are always very careful that only the priest or deacon touches the sacred vessels during Mass, after Mass is another story 🙂 It just has to be.
I’m interested in what is done in your parishes. Communion (chin) patens are rarer today outside the Traditional Latin Mass, but they still exist. I haven’t seen a communion cloth in decades. But perhaps some of you have, especially as an EF Mass.
A final thought. I have often thought that altar cards must have been thought irreverent when they first emerged. Consider that the central altar card blocks the Tabernacle, or sometimes the altar cross. How strange, really. Today they are used only at the Traditional Latin Mass and once again they are part of the ambiance of that Mass. But, to be honest, I have always had trouble with how that central card blocks the Tabernacle. Yet to celebrate a Latin Mass without them would almost be thought nontraditional.
Reverence is an interesting thing really, lots of turns and twists. Don’t get me wrong, reverence DOES exist and we should follow its norms. But there are some fascinating alterations over time.
In this video Pope Benedict gives Holy Communion. The communicants kneel and receive only on the tongue, a preference for Pope Benedict, though not required of the universal Church. I note with some amusement that the Monsignor who serves has improvised a communion paten by turning a ciborium lid upside down. I admit that, in a pinch, I have sometimes done the same!
Every now and then I hear the Old Latin Mass described as a somber affair. Many think only dirges are sung and that everything is quite subdued. Granted a low Mass can be rather quiet as the Priest whispers much of the Mass.
But a sung Mass in the Old Latin Rite (Extraordinary Form) can be quite elaborate, especially if the Choir sings in polyphony (harmony). Some of the greatest music in history was composed during the Renaissance in a form known as “Renaissance Polyphony.” It is a kind of harmonic singing that features four or more independent melodies sung simultaneously in rich harmony. Much of this Church music was written in a kind of Dance Time, such that you can almost dance to it! While I am celebrating a Traditional Mass and this sort of music is sung, I sometimes tap my toe even though the rubrics don’t call for it. And while the Gregorian Chant is sung there unfolds a kind of mystical contemplation. No, Traditional Latin Masses are not somber, they are, especially in their sung form, joyful and even exuberant.
Enjoy a few videos that demonstrate this joyful and rhythmic singing.
This first Video is of setting by William Byrd. The text is Haec Dies quam fecit Dominus Exultemus et laetemur in ea, Alleluia! (This is the Day which the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it, Alleluia!). Enjoy, it’s rich harmony, jovial tone and dance-like rhythm
This second video of the Angus Dei (try not to tap your toe). The song was recorded at the Oratory of St. Francis De Sales in St. Louis – one of the most beautiful churches in the Country. The text is Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis, dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…grant us peace). Enjoy another beautiful sample of Renaissance Polyphony in toe tap (dance) time.