The Mass in Slow Motion: Sobriety at the Sign of Peace

The Sign of Peace is ironically a matter over which there is significant dispute in the Church. Some love it just the way it is. Others hate and want it dropped. Still others like it but want it moved to a different part of the liturgy where it is fits better, perhaps at the beginning, perhaps before the offertory. Some see it as a very gregarious moment and leave their pew and move through the Church. Others stay put and just nod at others. What of this disputed moment, the sign of “peace?”

We do well first to examine the what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

 The Rite of Peace follows [the Our Father and the Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ you said to your Apostles, ‘I leave you peace…’], by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and the faithful express to each other their ecclesial communion and mutual charity before communicating in the Sacrament. As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner. (G.I.R.M. # 82)

Other instructions in the Missal in the rubrics ( #’s 128 & 129) indicate that exchange of peace is shared “if appropriate” and that the celebrant “gives the sign of peace to a deacon or minister.” GIRM # 154 adds, The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. (There are rare exceptions to this also listed there).

Hence we learn some of the following things about the sign of peace:

  1. The purpose of the prayer and rite is that the Church asks peace and unit for herself and the whole world.
  2. The faithful express to each other ecclesial communion and mutual charity before receiving Holy Communion.
  3. It is for local Bishops conferences to issue norms regarding how this sign of peace is exchanged.
  4. One should share the sign of peace only with those nearest to them. Hence the leaving of one’s pew is generally not appropriate.
  5. The Sign of peace is to be shared in a sober manner. Hence loud greetings, lengthy conversations, back slapping, long  embraces and the like are not appropriate here. Sober need not mean a mere handshake (which might be silly for a married couple for example). But the greeting should be cordial and generally to the point.
  6. There is no required expression that the faithful should say. But if something is said GIRM # 154 recommends: “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
  7. The priest is not to leave the sanctuary but is only to exchange the sign of peace with the deacon or other ministers nearest him.
  8. The exchange of Peace is optional and is shared “if appropriate.” What would make it inappropriate is not clear but that is left to the discretion of the celebrant. There are times, such as in flu season, at special liturgies such as funerals, or when pressed for time that the celebrant may chose to omit the exchange of peace.

Way back in 1977 the Bishop’s Committee on Liturgy also issued some direction on the sign of peace which fills out some of this:

Neither the people nor the ministers need try exhaust the sign by attempting to give the greeting personally to everyone in the congregation or even to a great number of those present…Unless the sign of peace is clearly tailored to a specific occasion, such as a marriage, ordination, or some small intimate group, the more elaborate and individual exchange of peace by the celebrant has a tendency to appear clumsy. It can also accentuate too much the role of the celebrant or ministers, which runs counter to a true understanding of the presence of Christ in the entire assembly.” (Bishops Committee on the Liturgy: The Sign of Peace, 1977)

Hence both celebrant and congregation are cautioned against elaborating the sign of peace and are encouraged to sobriety. The sign of peace is not a “meet and greet” but rather it symbolizes the communion and peace of the whole Church in Christ. Because we are one in Christ and all members of the Body of Christ, to exchange the sign of peace with a few is to exchange it with all. Hence it is not necessary or even desirable (due to disruption) to greet large numbers or to leave the pew or begin conversations.

What is the History of the Sign of Peace –Among the early Christians the “kiss of peace”  was an important gesture to manifest love and unity, both within the liturgy and outside of it.  In numerous places Paul and others encourage the Christians to “greet one another with a holy kiss.” (Rom 16:16, I Cor 16:20, II Cor 13:12, and also I Peter 5:14) The location in the liturgy of this gesture has been various. Early on it seems to have been exchanged at the end of the service of readings just before the preparation of the gifts. This was in response to the directive of the Lord in Matt 5:23ff wherein we should be reconciled with our brethren before bringing a gift to the altar. In many Eastern Churches the sign was moved to the beginning of the liturgy where it still remains today in many of them. However in the Roman Rite, as early as the 6th Century it was moved to the place it is today. Pope Innocent I defended a practice of moving it after the Canon as a way that people could assent to what had happened. Then again, when Gregory the Great placed the Our Father after the Canon he also moved the sign of peace after the Our Father and it fit nicely according to commentators of the day since it echoed well the words “as we forgive those who trespass against us…” It has remained in this location ever since that time. In addition the sign of peace came to be regarded as a preparation for communion and was exchanged even when communion was received outside of Mass. It was exchanged by all who were to receive communion. Those who not going to receive communion were instructed not to exchange the kiss of peace. Later however, the kiss was exchanged by all. An interesting practice that developed was the use of the osculatorium. This was an elaborately carved board that was passed around the congregation and kissed by all. It was thus a way of sharing the kiss through the whole congregation. However, over time the exchange of peace declined and in the Latin Mass codified by the Council of Trent it was exchanged only at the Solemn Mass among the clergy. This is at least partly related to the declining frequency of reception of communion and various other factors such as the stylizing of the embrace. Today the whole matter has been restored more to its original scope. Pope Benedict has taken under study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to just before offertory. It seems doubtful however that it will in fact be move there since it has been at its current spot since the 6th Century. That’s a pretty long tradition to unseat.

A Pastoral Note– The profound communion we have in Christ and the peace for which we pray should not be understood in a shallow way. Peace here is not the shallow meaning of the world but the richer Hebraic understanding of shalom which is a wish for all possible prosperity, the state of a person who lives in complete harmony with nature, self, God and others. Christ is the source of all peace since it is He who enables every person to become fully human which is an absolute prerequisite for true peace founded on the truth of God and man. Our greeting of one another at this moment of the mass should not be construed as a mere “haver nice day” or “How ya doin?'” Given our membership in the Body of Christ, what He has just been accomplished on the altar, and the communion we are about to receive, we both wish and experience shalom. The greeting we extend is no mere human greeting, it is the greeting of Christ: “May the peace of the Lord be always with you.”

This video illustrates the Kiss of Peace in the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. It uses the more ancient gestures of the “Holy Kiss” mentioned in scripture. Many Catholic clergy also use a more formal embrace than a hand shake when exchanging the sign of peace.

The Mass in Slow Motion: The (Remarkable) Preface Dialogue

A short dialogue happens in the Mass just after the prayer over the gifts and the before the singing of the Sanctus. It is called the “preface dialogue” and it is really quite remarkable in its sweeping vision and heavenly call. Part of the reason we miss it’s significance is that the translation of the Latin is difficult to accomplish in English. Allow me to give the current translation so you’ll recognize it and then render a more literal version of the Latin.

  • The Lord Be with you
  • And Also with you
  • Lift up your hearts
  • We lift them up to the Lord
  • Let us give thanks to Lord our God
  • It is right to give him thanks and praise

A fairly familiar dialogue to be sure. But to some extent it fails to take wing because of the rather earthbound notion most moderns have of the Mass. Very few attending mass today think much of the heavenly liturgy. Rather they are focused on their parish Church, the priest in front of them and the people around them. But this is NOT an adequate vision for the Mass. In the end there is only one liturgy, the one in heaven. There is only one altar, the one in heaven. There is only one High Priest, Jesus in heaven. In the Mass we are swept up into the heavenly liturgy. There with myriads of angels and saints beyond number we worship the Father through Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus.  In the Mass we are swept into heaven!

With this in mind consider a more literal rendering of the preface dialogue. Pay attention especially to the middle dialogue:

  • Dominus Vobiscum (The Lord be with you)
  • et cum spiritu tuo (And with your Spirit)
  • Sursum corda (Hearts aloft!)
  • habemus ad Dominum (We have, to the Lord!)
  • Gratias agamus, Dominio Deo nostro (Let us give thanks to the Lord our God)
  • Dignum et justum est (It is right and just).

What is the celebrant really inviting us to do? After greeting us in the Lord he invites us to go to heaven! But remember the priest is in persona Christi. Hence when he speaks it is really the Lord Jesus who speaks making use of the voice of the priest. And what does the Lord really say to us in the magnificent dialogue and preface that follows?  Allow me to elaborate on the fuller meaning of this text:

Let your hearts be taken up! Come and go with me to the altar that is in heaven where I,  Jesus the great High Priest, with all the members of my body render perfect thanks to God the Father! You are no longer on earth, your hearts have been swept aloft into the great liturgy of heaven! Come up higher. By the power of my words you are able to come up higher! Since you have been raised to new life in Christ, seek the things that are above where I am at my Father’s right hand. Come up now and enter the heavenly liturgy. Hearts aloft!”

The congregation’s response is meant to be a joyful acknowledgment and acceptance of the Lord’s action in summoning us to the heavenly liturgy. Here too allow me to elaborate:

“We have our hearts lifted to the Lord. We have entered the Heavenly Liturgy by the power of your grace, for you our head have taken us, the members of your body there. We are in the heavenly realms with you, worshipping the Father and giving him perfect thanks and praise. It is right and just that we should do this through you, with you and in you!

Then the celebrant sings or says the preface wherein some  specific things for which we are thankful are enumerated. The text of the preface changes based on the season or the saint or feast of the day. But it always ends in this or a similar manner: and so with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven we sing the unending hymn of your praise: Holy, Holy, Holy….  And thus we are reminded that our worship is caught up into the heavenly liturgy where our voices join innumerable angels and saints in the glorious act of praise. We are in heaven! Our hearts (our very selves) are aloft!

Hence the Mass is never just the “10:00 am Mass at St. Joe’s”  It is the heavenly liturgy. Until recently Churches were designed to remind us that we were entering heaven. As we walk into older churches we are surrounded by windows and paintings that depict the angels and saints. Christ is at the center in the tabernacle. And all the elements that scripture speaks of as in the heavenly liturgy are on display not only in the building but in the celebration of the liturgy: Candles, incense, an altar, the hymns that are sung, the Holy Holy Holy, the scroll is brought forward in the Book of Gospels, the lamb on the throne-like altar, , the prostrations and kneelings of the saints before the Lord. All these things are described in the Book of Revelation descriptions of the heavenly liturgy. None of these things are in our churches or the liturgy for arbitrary reasons. We are in the heavenly realms and the heavenly liturgy and so we see and experience heavenly things. Hearts aloft!

This video I made some time ago shows forth traditional Church Architecture as a glimpse of heaven. The Latin text of the Music by Bruckner describes how the form of the Liturgy and even Church architecture is set forth by God who first gave it in elaborate instructions to Moses on Sinai. Here is the text with my translation:

Locus iste a Deo factus est  (this place was made by God)
inaestimabile sacramentum; (a priceless mystery)
irreprehensibilis est. (It is beyond reproach)

The Mass in Slow Motion: The Priest Washes His Hands

Washing of the hands.- Didn’t Father wash his hands before Mass? What’ she doing that NOW for? Maybe he sneezed or something! Or maybe he accidentally touched something that was dirty?

Well, in modern times we place a great deal of emphasis on cleanliness. We have bacteria in mind and consider washings necessary to preserve good health and prevent the spread of sickness. But the ancient world knew very little of bacteria and washings to prevent disease. To the ancients washing was for the removal of dirt to be sure but it was also a symbol of purification. So when the priest washes his hands he says rather unusual words: “Lord wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sins.” Notice there is nothing in these words about the body at all. The washing of the hands is a symbol of the priest’s need to have his soul cleansed that he may undertake a holy task. He may or may not have dirty hands, but this is really not the essential point which is that he should have a desire for inward purification before daring so holy a task. It is thus an egregious omission to not wash the hands. The washing of the hands should never be omitted for reasons it is now hoped are obvious. The priest washes his hands at the side of the altar saying the prescribed prayer quietly. The minister pours the water.

The historyof this practice in indeed ancient. The Jewish faith prescribed many ritual washings and included were washings that took place at or in proximity to the meal. There was certainly a practical aspect to this washing in earlier days of the Mass. After handling the many gifts brought forward, the priest’s hands would easily be soiled and this washing thus had a practical aspect. However, some dispute this claim since the ritual sometimes took place before the offerings were brought forward. At any rate, today the rite has an essentially symbolic role wherein the priest recalls his need to be cleansed interiorly and that he shares in the need for forgiveness and redemption.

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Incensation of the Gifts

The Incensation of the gifts and altar. Holy Smoke! Here we go again. Out comes the incense. Actually, most Sundays in most parish you won’t see this. Incense as we have discussed before is used only on more solemn occasions in most parishes. There is no norm restricting it only to more solemn occasions but this does seem to be the case. Recall that incense is a symbol of prayer as we see from the Psalm “Let my prayer rise like incense and the lifting of my hands as an evening offering.” (Psalm 141:2) Incense is also a “burnt offering.”  In the Old Testament many of the animal offerings were either partially or wholly burned up in a fire. In effect, to burn something was to give it to God. The notion may seem primitive, but consider the basic facts. You put something in the fire and it is burned and much of it turns to smoke and rises up, that is goes up, to God. The rising smoke is a symbol of the gift going up to God. In the offertory context of the Mass this aspect of the burnt offering is most evident. Our prayers, and our sacrifices are going up to God as a fragrant offering. So this is holy smoke: a prayer and an offering.

So at this point in the Mass the gifts of the altar and the altar itself may be incensed. Afterward the deacon or other minister may incense the priest and the people.  Here too note something important. As we discussed earlier, we are not only offering bread and wine (and money) we are offering our very selves. Hence it is appropriate that the people be incensed along with the other gifts.

The priest puts some incense into the censer and blesses it silently with the sign of the cross. The altar is incensed in this manner:

  1. If the altar is freestanding, the priest incenses it as he walks around it.
  2. If the altar is attached to the wall, he incenses while walking first to the right side, then to the left side.
  3. If there is a cross on the altar or near it,the priest incenses it before he incenses the altar. If the cross is behind the altar, the priest incenses it when he passes in front of it.

History – We have already discussed a good bit of the history of incensation. (HERE) This will largely suffice for here. However, there are some particulars of the incensations of the gifts that remain to be discussed. The History of the incensation of the gifts is first traced outside of the Roman liturgy.  It is most precisely the fruit of the Carolingian liturgy in Germany and France. As late as the 9th century the use of incense  at the offertory was unknown in Rome. There was the practice of burning incense in fixed stands as well as carrying it processions. However there was no elaborate incensing of the gifts such as we know it today. By the 11th century however, the act of incensation was a part of the offertory in Roman usage. With this act came to be elaborate prayers and recitation of psalms. There was a prayer when placing the incense in the thurible, while swinging it and even when handing the thurible back to the deacon or thurifer. In addition to the gifts, the celebrant other concelebrants, the deacon and the people are all incensed as well.

In the Extraordinary form of the Latin Mass the use of incense is restricted to solemn high, and high (sung) Mass. Today the use of incense is always an option. While it is no longer required at a solemn mass, it is also no longer restricted to that form either. In addition, the manner of incensing has been simplified a bit. Some of the more elaborate directives about the manner of swinging it have been dropped. In addition, the prayers are no longer prescribed.

Pastoral implications – The incense as we have seen is a traditional symbol of our prayers and offerings going up to God. Hence, it is a vivid symbol at the time of the offertory. Likewise, the incense being consumed is an allegory of our self-giving to God. The practice of incensing the priest and the people is first of all a sign of respect. It is also a visual image of the fact that we are united to our offering upon the altar. Bread and wine are offered but so are our very lives. The use of incense at this time should not be considered another offering of its own but rather as a compliment to that which has already been offered. And remeber, breathe in that incense it is blessed! It is holy smoke and to breath in some (obviously in moderation) brings blessing!

Here is a video of the gifts and altar being incensed in the Extraordinary Form (Latin) of the Mass:

The Mass in Slow motion: The Preparation of the Altar

And now we come to the heart of the matter. As important and precious as the Word of God is, it all points here: the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and now the Word we have heard, Jesus Christ will become the Flesh and blood we receive. . The weekly (actually daily) celebration of the Eucharist distinguishes Catholicism from  Protestantism, most of whom celebrate the Eucharist once a month or even less. For Catholics, it would be unthinkable to go to Mass on Sunday and not receive Holy Communion. It would be like coming to a dinner party, meeting and greeting all the other guests, exchanging news and then being asked to go home before the meal was ever served. No indeed, Christ gathers us not just to teach us but also to feed us on his Body and Blood, the necessary food without which we perish (cf John 6:53). Jesus has  prepared a table for us in the sight of our enemy the devil, our cup is overflowing (cf Ps 23).

At the Last Supper Christ instituted the paschal sacrifice and meal. In this meal the sacrifice of the cross is continually made present in the Church when the priest, representing Christ, carries out what the Lord did and commanded his disciples to do in his memory. Christ took bread and the cup, gave thanks, broke and gave to his disciples saying, “Take and eat this is my body. Take and drink this is my blood . Do this in memory of me.” The Church has arranged the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy to correspond to these words actions of Christ:

  1. In the preparation of the gifts, bread, wine and water are brought to the altar, the same elements which Christ used.
  2. The Eucharistic prayer is the hymn of thanksgiving to God for the whole work of salvation; the offerings become the body and blood of Christ. It echoes the priestly prayer that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper and which John’s Gospel records extensively.
  3. The breaking of the bread is a sign of the unity of the faithful, and in communion they receive the Body and Blood of Christ as the apostles did from his hands.

Focus – The focus of the Mass now shifts from the Lectern and the celebrant’s chair to the altar which is about to be prepared. This is a visual indication that a new part of the Mass is about to begin.

Nomenclature – In years past the Liturgy of Eucharistic was call the “Mass of the Faithful.” This was because only the baptized could be present during this part of the Mass. Catechumens could be present up to and including the intercessory prayers but were “dismissed” just before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. Thus the Liturgy of the was traditionally referred to as the “Mass of the Catechumens.” This was the practice of the early Church and came under a general practice know as the “discipline of the  secret” (disciplina arcanis). In the early days of the Church it was the custom to withhold certain doctrines and aspects of worship from those seeking eventual membership in the church, out of fear that there would be blasphemy, persecution or interruptions in the divine service. The instruction was given before baptism but the full admission to the Mass was reserved. The practice of dismissing catechumens from the Liturgy of the Eucharist passed away during the middle ages but has been partially revived today as a facet of the R.C.I.A.

Preparations – It should be evident that the opening movements of the Liturgy of the Eucharist are essentially a practical matter. The altar is prepared and gifts are brought forward and offered. While there are prayers and some accompanying ritual gestures, it will be noticed that the rite is almost stark in its simplicity and very task oriented. But this does not mean it is without symbolism and as we shall see there has been an instinctive elaboration of the offertory to follow through processions and the like. This expresses a basic religious need, namely that in giving of the essentials of life for a sacrifice, the giver gives himself and so wants to be part of the act of  offering.

First the altar is prepared as the center of the Eucharistic liturgy. The altar is the center of the entire liturgy of the Eucharist. The style of the altar has varied much over the centuries, from elaborate baroque altars (see right) to those that resemble merely simple table (See above, right).  The present day directives indicate that the altar should ideally be freestanding (that is, not anchored up against a wall) and this in such a way that it can be easily circled and that the celebration can be carried on facing the people. This tends to point to a simpler design for the altar at least indirectly. Note that the altar is to be covered with a cloth.  The design and style of this cloth will vary with the design of the altar. The front may or may not be covered but the top surface of the altar is to be covered by at least one cloth. Surely there is a nodding to the meal experience here. We seldom eat a meal, at least formal ones, on a bare table top. The  altar cloths also make allusion to Christ’s burial cloth and thus also points to the sacrificial nature of the Mass. The rubric above seems to imply that the altar has been covered all along. Today the cloth is usually left upon the altar but in the earliest day’s it was more the custom to remove it after Mass. This is still done on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but as a general rule, the altar stays covered even when it is not in use. The Altar in every Church should ordinarily be a fixed altar located in such a way as to be the focal point on which the whole congregation naturally centers. A fixed altar is one that is immovable.

A pastoral reflection on this would be that the altar, as well as the pulpit represent perpetual values that do not change  and hence their fixed location should reflect that fact. Likewise this will prevent us from the somewhat embarrassing temptation of moving them when they “get in the way” of some assembly or concert in the Church. Not all these norms can be perfectly observed in older Churches which have fixed altars from a previous period which are not free-standing but are attached to the back wall. The practice of placing within the altar, relics of the saints is to be maintained. As seen above, this is a traditional practice and it helps us to appreciate the communion of the saints which is most perfectly experienced in this life during Holy Mass and communion. On the altar are placed the corporal, the purificator, the Chalice, and the sacramentary. Each of these is discussed in turn.

The Corporal is a square linen cloth (usually 12 to 15 inches square) which is placed in the center of the altar along the back edge. It gets its name from the Latin word “Corpus” (Body) since it is upon this cloth that the paten and the chalice containing the Lord’s Body and Blood rest. The purpose of this cloth is to help in catching any small particles of the host or drops of the precious blood. At the end of the mass, the corporal is carefully folded so that any particles will  not fall to the ground or be scattered upon the altar cloth. This is important because, the Lord is contained even in the smallest particles of the sacred species and should be thus treated with the greatest reverence. The corporal normally rests on the altar only during mass and is reverently removed after communion. The picture at right shows a corporal upon which rests a chalice. The square covering over the chalice is called a pall (see below).

The purificator is another piece of cloth, more narrow than the corporal. This gets its name from the Latin verb “purificare” (To purify) since it is used to help cleanse the sacred vessels. Since, once again, we are handling the sacred Body and Blood of  Lord, a special cloth is used which will later be laundered in a special and reverent way. Note how every care is taken to reverently handle even the smallest portions of the sacred species.

The Chalice gets is name from the Latin (via the French) word Calix which means literally, “cup” but in English the word has the special meaning directed toward the special cup in which will be  contained the precious blood. Therefore, as a general rule it is not an everyday cup nor does it merely resemble one. Indeed, all the sacred vessels hold places of honor, especially the chalice and paten since they are used in presenting and consecrating the sacred species. They should be made of solid materials which are considered noble in a particular region. Likewise they should not be easily breakable. Understandably they should also be of a material that in non-absorbent at least  insofar as the inside of the cup. Lastly the sacred vessels  must be blessed by a bishop or a priest. This sets them aside for the Lord and they should never thus be used for profane purposes. Indeed, the form of the vessels should be suited to sacred use and be considered appropriate for divine worship. Use is not to be made of simple baskets or receptacles which are more ordinarily meant for use outside of sacred celebrations.  Simple pottery as a general rule would seem to be inappropriate. Consider that in our region, few people who held a formal dinner would think to set out pottery. This is a not a general practice in our region because it is considered inelegant. So much more so for the Mass, which is no mere cookout. It is also important to distinguish the sacred from the profane. Thus, Chalices that too much resemble secular wine glasses  or cocktail glasses might also need to be discouraged. This is at least the case with the principal vessel. There are judgement calls to be made here and thus the rules are not hard and fast, but open to some interpretation. Nevertheless there should be sensitivity to the congregations expectations and perceptions of what is used. “The Chalice should be covered with a veil, which may always be white.” Once the chalice is brought to the altar and readied for use, it is unveiled of course. The practice of covering the chalice is less often seen today. Nevertheless it is an ancient custom and emerges from reverence due the sacred vessels. Traditionally they were kept covered when not in use.

The Missal is the book containing the formulas and rites for the celebration of Mass together with the text of the ordinary (the texts which remain the same in every Mass) and the propers (the texts which vary with each Mass). It also contains masses for special occasions and various blessings. The Missal in the form we know it today does not contain the readings for the mass of the day. These are contained in a separate book called the lectionary. However, in times past, the readings too we included in the Missal. Generally in English we no longer refer to the book as the “missal” (Although its Latin title still remains “Missale Romanum”) but instead call it the “Sacramentary.” It is book used only by the celebrant. In the Older Tridentine Mass the Book was on the Altar from the beginning of the Mass to the end. But, in the Current liturgy the Altar is not formally “used” until the liturgy of the Eucharist. Hence, the placing of the Missal, which had formerly been at the celebrant’s chair for the Liturgy of the Word is another of showing again this opening of the second major portion of the mass whose focus of action is the Altar. The Missal is the authoritative source for all liturgical actions of the Mass and must be faithfully followed.  This is essential if the Mass is truly to be our source and sign of unity. The Mass belongs to the whole Church and not to an individual priest or congregation. Hence, to alter it is to move against the universal unity of the Church. There are many pastoral problems  that can arise due to tampering with the norms and directives or prayers in the missal.

The following video shows a rarer form of preparing the altar. In this case the altar cloth is brought by the clergy and placed on the altar, followed by two lay women who place the corporal and the purificator. I suspect this has been done following the consecration of the altar by a bishop. However the video may give some glimpse as to how this was done in the early Church when the Altar cloths were not placed on the altar until the offertory.

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Prayer of the Faithful

We’ve got to pray! Where would the world be today if the Church wasn’t praying? I don’t know if we’d be here to talk about it. I have always suspected that we have been saved from nuclear annihilation due to the fact that some of the Cloistered Sisters have been praying for us. Our prayers change world history. My parish Church is on a very prominent street in the Nation’s Capital. At one end of the street is the US Capitol, some blocks up East Capitol Street is my parish. And I always tell the parishioners that the most important building on East Capitol Street is NOT the US Capitol, it is Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Parish. That’s because it is prayer that really changes things. The politicians up the street can only make a good difference if we’ve got their back. So the Church must pray and this brings us to the Prayer of the Faithful.

In the Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in a certain way to the word of God which they have welcomed in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is fitting that such a prayer be included, as a rule, in Masses celebrated with a congregation, so that petitions will be offered for the holy Church, for civil authorities, for those weighed down by various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the whole world. As a rule, the series of intentions is to be

1. For the needs of the Church;
2. For public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;
3. For those burdened by any kind of difficulty;
4. For the local community.

Nevertheless, in a particular celebration, such as Confirmation, Marriage, or a Funeral, the series of intentions may reflect more closely the particular occasion.

It is for the priest celebrant to direct this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he invites the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with a prayer. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed freely but prudently, and be succinct, and they should express the prayer of the entire community. (GIRM 69-71)

History. – These prayers were very common in the early Church right about where we have them today. They followed the homily (recall the creed was not said in the earlier days as a rule). All the Fathers of the Church make mention of them. In the beginning this prayer was antiphonally recited by the priest and the assembly.
Over time the deacon took a more prominent role, announcing the whole intention and then the faithful responded; Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) or some other acclamation.

The prayers endured up until about the close of the patristic period (ca 9th Century). Their disappearance seems to coincide with  their evolution into a Kyrie Litany and their transfer to the beginning of the Mass. Here they eventually came to be regarded as an unnecessary appendage and were phased out by Pope Gregory (as we saw in an earlier post). In the west they were retained only on Good Friday. In they East they never were dropped. Today they have been restored to their original place in the Mass.

Pastoral reflections – They are called “general intercessions” since they extend beyond  the needs and concerns of the local assembly. Further, please note that they are NOT called the particular intercessions. What sometimes happens in more extemporaneous settings is that certain very particular needs get expressed and the list can become endless. Thus it is not appropriate here to pray, “For the friend of my Uncle Joe Smith’s sister who is recovering from hip surgery and is having a hard time due to her diabetes.” It is more appropriate to pray, “For all who are sick or struggling in at this time.” Keep it general folks, this is not the time for a full medical update on everyone’s cousin or sister.

To call them “prayer of the faithful” has some historical merit since catechumens and others were dismissed before the proclaiming of them. However, today it is more common to call them general intercessions since the whole Mass is really the prayer of the faithful.  The priest, through his opening prayer may link the intercessions to the reading and by his closing prayer may summarize them. This can help to place them in a clear context. To sing the intercessions where possible is a beautiful option       and surely of ancient practice. (Cf Music in Catholic Worship # 74)

The following video demonstrates the Prayer of the Faithful being sung. The text is in French but you’ll get the point. The congregation sings Kyrie Eleison (Lord have Mercy) and the cantors sing the petitions.

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Creed

If an outsider knowing nothing of Catholics were to walk in during the creed. He might think we are pretty smart. After All we say some pretty sophisticated stuff: Begotten not made, one in being with the Father and so on... We can sound pretty smart. But truthbe told there is often a lot of day dreaming going on during the Creed and many a Catholic would be hard pressed to say what the phrase above really means. But we ought to shake off the daydreams and pay attention to what we are doing. We are confessing our faith, a faith that many died for. The creed stands at the center of the Liturgy and fundamentally declares: I believe what we are celebrating here. I believe what we have just heard proclaimed in the readings and the homily. I believe in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe what God has done for me and that it is possible for me to be saved, sanctified, and share in God’s glory. I standing here declare that I believe these things which we declare and celebrate.

The history of the Nicene Creeditself is a bit complex. The basic outline of the creed as we know it today was given at the Council of Nicea(325 AD). This does not exactly coincide with our present Credo. The text we have today was actually formally approved by the Council of Chalcedon(451 AD With one exception: the word, “filioque” which was added by the Council of Toledo in 589. The Eastern Church never accepted the insertion of this word ). Until this time there were slightly different versions in existence. With the approval of Chalcedon, the one version that we have today gained wide acceptance and use. Hence the creed at mass is a summary of faith expressed by the Councils of Nicaea (325) and of Constantinople (381) as ratified by the Council of Chalcedon (451).

The use of the creed was originally associated primarily with baptismal liturgies. At first it was in the form of questions. Later the whole creed was memorized and recited just before baptism. (One vestige of this is that the Creed is recited (at least in the Latin) in the first person singular: Credo (I believe)). It entered the Mass first in the East in the early 6th Century at least indirectly due to difficulties with heresies. It was ordered recited at every liturgy by the Timotheus, Patriarch of Constantinople between 511 and 517. This example was copied everywhere in the East.

Its entrance into the western Church came through Spain which was strongly influenced by Byzantium. It was recited just before the Our Father so that, before the Body and Blood of the Lord were received, the hearts of all might be purified by faith. Thus, with the Our Father, it was considered a prayer of preparation for communion. By the 8th Century is appeared in the Gallican (French) liturgy. Once again, a struggle against heresy seems to have been behind its adoption. Charlemagne obtained permission form Pope Leo III and introduced the Creed into the Mass at his palace and, largely through its influence, its use slowly spread throughout the Carolingian empire. From here it spread to England and Ireland, slowly.

Still, by this point it was not in the Liturgy at Rome. This greatly surprised the Emperor Henry II who, in 1064 heard Mass in Rome without the Creed. The Roman priests explained that, since heresy had never been a problem in Rome, it was not necessary to profess the Credo so often. But for some reason, Henry pressured to have the Credo included and Pope Benedict VIII directed it be included but only on Sundays and certain feasts.

The creed was recited by the whole congregation at first. But the text came more and more to be sung. Even so, simple melodies were employed. But they grew in complexity and gradually slipped from the people; especially as polyphony came more into use. Today, the preference is expressed in the norms that the people ordinarily be able to recite the Creed together. But, this does not forbid it’s being sung; even elaborately. However, as we have seen with other texts, a balance between congregational participation and preserving the rich musical heritage of the Church is presumed.

Pastoral Reflections. –

In contrast withthe Apostles’ Creed (in which the faith is asserted simply and forthrightly) the NiceanCreed is a characterized by its theological clarity and richness. It is a theological and polemical profession giving orthodoxy a clear exposition. But it must be recalled that the Creed’s purpose is not so much to oppose heresy as it is to unfold the contents of our faith. Hence the Creed, occurring as it does at the end of the Liturgy of the Word is seen as the joyous “yes” of the congregation to the message they have received. Tapering with this text, a text that martyrs died for is surely uncalled for.

The profession of faith is said by the priest and the people. At the words: “By the power of the Holy Spirit, etc” all bow. On the feasts of the annunciation and Christmas all genuflect. Despite this rather clear directive, this is not often done in the average parish. Once again, it is good to appreciate that the mystery of the incarnation is so wonderful that we, in reverence are to bow. Until the recent past, a genuflection was always called for, now a bow is the directive. Nevertheless, we are to indicate by our posture our awe of the mystery.

The English translation is basically pretty good but there are a few problems. In particular, the English translation seems to imply that Jesus became man only at his birth (which is not what the Latin says). This is no small error in an age which allows abortion. 

Notice the basic structure of the Creed: We believe in One God:

  1. The Father Almighty
  2. In Jesus Christ
  3. In the Holy Spirit
  4. The Church.

This structure shows figuratively how the Church under-girds the teaching about the Trinity. The Church is an object of faith! It is through the Church that the faith is given and hence she is the foundation of and the safeguarder of the Faith.

This Video is the Creed sung in Latin (Creed Setting V)

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Homily

The Homily – So now comes the part of the Mass that is often the most loved and the most hated moment. Preaching consistently well can prove to be a challenge for priests (and deacons) who often live very busy lives and are called to preach all week long at weekday masses, funerals and weddings, in addition to being thoroughly prepared to deliver “a barn-burner” every weekend. No excuses here, just explanations. The homily is obviously a critical moment in the Mass and there are high expectations  that the people of God will be edified and instructed. Sadly, Catholic priests do not have the reputation of being great preachers. We often think we are better than our people think we are. 🙂  One of the chief reasons people say they leave the Church is uninspired preaching compared to the relatively inspired and interesting preaching found in many non-Catholic denominations. There is work to do on improving our preaching to be sure but DON’T leave the Blessed Sacrament to go an sit in a “Word Church!” Even if the preaching is entertaining and informative it just isn’t worth the price of leaving behind Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.   (Also, good preaching can be over-rated. Paul, according to his own words was not a great preacher (1 Cor. 2:1; 2 Cor. 11:5;  Acts 20:7ff) and yet he was the greatest evangelist the Church has known).

So, What is a Homily? Years ago we just called it a “sermon.” Yet, in recent decades the Church has preferred the term “Homily.” This is probably due to the communal nature that the ancient word homily evokes. Homily comes from the Middle English omelie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin homilia, from Late Greek homilein, and emphasizes a more interpersonal “conversation”, or “discourse” The Greek work homilein means to consort with or to address a kindred or related people. The root word homos meaning “same” is included in the word homily. Hence, this is more than an impersonal address to crowd of people only vaguely known (i.e. a sermon or lecture). Rather, this is a family conversation, a conversation or address to kindred spirits who share much in common (at least we hope!)

History – This is a pre-Christian element in the Liturgy. It was part of the Jewish synagogue service.  It is recorded in scripture that Jesus Himself preached in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-31) Likewise Paul makes use of the synagogue homily to proclaim Christ (e.g. Acts 13:14ff). The early Christians brought the synagogue service into the Mass and thus the homily was tied to the reading of the scriptures. The preaching of a homily was the particular duty of the Bishop but priests were also allowed to preach. In the fourth century in the east, it was the custom, if several priests were present for all of them to preach in turn and then, finally the Bishop (Whew!).  After the fall of Arius (A third Century priest-heretic who denied the divinity of Christ and widely disseminated his views leading countless others into error) priests were forbidden to preach in Alexandria and North Africa. Likewise, in Rome they were also forbidden. This restriction was variously applied and enforced in different areas. Perhaps it should be stated that  the priests of this time were not always the most learned of men. The seminary system as we know it today did not exist and there would be concerns  about the orthodoxy of the sermon as well as its effective delivery. In general then, preaching at Mass seems to have declined after the problems of the third century but it would not be fair to say that it disappeared entirely. This is especially true when we consider that in many of the well established areas of North Africa and Italy there was a bishop present in even the smaller towns.

By the beginning of the Middle Ages there was a strong return to preaching of the Word of God. However, the character and liturgical role was changing. It was modeled more on sermons outside of Mass. There was the rise of the mendicant preaching orders (eg. Franciscans and Dominicans) at this time and they preached outside of the liturgy in town squares and meetings. This form of preaching began to enter the churches and influenced the nature and content of the Homily which became less and less a textual explanation and applications of the readings and  more and more was replaced by a catechetical format in which and an exposition of the Creed, the Our Father and the Ten Commandments was often the focus. This practiced continued to be the norm as a general rule.

The present Instructions emphasize that the homily is a part of the Mass itself and seems to nod to both traditions above. Namely, the homily is not merely to be an explanation of the readings but also should explain the mysteries of faith related to the readings and the liturgy of the day applying them especially to the norms of Christian life (cf. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy # 52.)

Norms- The homily should develop some point of the readings or of another text from the ordinary or from the proper of the Mass of the day, and take into account the mystery being celebrated and the needs proper to the listeners. The Homily is required on Sundays and holy days of obligation at all Masses that are celebrated with a congregation; it may not be omitted without a serious reason. It is recommended on other days, especially on the weekdays of Advent, Lent, and the Easter season, as well as on other feasts and occasions when the people come to church in large numbers. The homily should ordinarily be given by the priest celebrant.

The homilist must be an ordained member of the clergy. A deacon, a priest, or a bishop may preach. This is not merely a question of being learned, for many members of the laity are quite learned in theological matters. Rather, as Catholics we are convinced that  the sacrament of Holy Orders confers a unique charism and grace which empowers the priest to speak for God in a supernatural manner. The Third Instruction On the Correct Implementation of the Constitution on the SacredLiturgy has the following to say: “…the Purpose of the homily is to explain the readings and make them relevant for the present day. This is the task of the priest. and the faithful should not add comments or engage in dialogue or anything similar during the homily.”(Liturgicae instaurationes # 3, 2.)

Finally we might be end with St. Paul’s Instruction to Timothy regarding the preaching and teaching task of the clergy: Loquare quae decet sanam doctrinam (speak that which befits sound doctrine).

One of our Greatest Catholic Preachers was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Here he gives the homily on Matthew 6.

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