I’d like to begin a series on the Mass explaining the meaning and history of what we do each Sunday. It is amazing how little Catholics know about or reflect upon what we do every Sunday. This is an attempt to add insight and understanding to our celebration of the Sacred liturgy.
The Procession and entrance song – Something very remarkable happens at the beginning of every Mass. It is so normal to us that we hardly think of it. As the priest is ready in the back of Church to begin the Mass the congregation suddenly comes to its feet and sings a hymn of praise as the priest walks down the aisle. What is this? Surely they are not just welcoming “Father Smith” are they? No indeed. The congregation is welcoming Jesus who has taught that when two or three gather in his name that he is there in the midst of them. The priest represents Jesus and acts in the person of Christ. Therefore, through his Holy Orders the priest is configured to Christ and is a sacramental sign of the presence of Jesus. Jesus Christ is walking our aisle and we welcome him with a hymn of praise! It is quite fitting to recognize Christ who, robed in priestly vestments, arrives to minister to us in Word and Sacrament. So, don’t just see “Father Smith” see, rather, Jesus and let him minister to you.
Here is a little historical background to the development of the Entrance procession and music associated with it:
In the earliest days of the Church, and in the small, ruder buildings of the primitive Church under persecution, there could hardly have been much thought or possibility of formal processions. But by the 4thcentury after the persecutions against the Church ended, larger, and even sometimes large ecclesiastical structures arose. The sacristies (the place of preparation for the Clergy et al.) were usually located near the entrance of the buildings. This meant that the procession to the altar was now much longer and thus took on added significance and importance. Such a procession could hardly be conducted in absolute silence. Hence the addition of music was natural. But the organ had not been invented and instruments of any kind were generally not allowed due to their connection with pagan rituals. Music in the early Church was left entirely to the human voice and, hence, singing alone gave color to this entrance procession. The texts for these songs were taken essentially from the psalms. The verses of the psalm selected would be sung antiphonally during the procession to the altar. It often happened that an introductory verse (or antiphon) would be sung by one or a few voices to introduce the psalm. Gradually the Antiphons came to overshadow the psalm itself. The Antiphons became more and more complex and were increasingly given over to be sung by a specially skilled choir called the “schola cantorum” with only the psalm verses being sung by the people. There developed a practice of shortening the psalm to correspond to the arrival of the members of the procession in the sanctuary. Once they were in place the psalmodywas brought to an end with the Gloria Patri (Glory Be). Over time there was a reducing of the Entrance song to the following elements: An antiphon, drawn usually from scripture, only one verse of a psalm, a Glory Be and a repetition of the antiphon. Today there exists the option of: Singing this Entrance Antiphon, singing a hymn appropriate to the Liturgy or the season, or in the absence of song the Entrance Antiphon is used as a spoken or recited text.
The following video gives and example of the sound of the the Entrance antiphon (also called the Introit) as is was sung in the ancient Church and up to about 1965. It is Gregorian Chant and the text is
Gaudeamus Omnes in Dominino. Diem festum celebrantes sub honore Mariae Virginis de cujus solemnitate gaudant angeli et colaudant Filium Dei. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum, et dico ego opera mea regi. Gloria Patri, et Filio et Spiritui Sancto Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum Amen.
(Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honor of the Virgin Mary concerning whose solemnity the angels rejoice and praise the Son of God. Psalm: My heart pours forth a good word and to the King I sepak my work. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy SPirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen)
Today this form of singing is replaced by an opening hymn in most parishes although the singing of such Introits is still encouraged and permitted.
Many people struggle to pray well and consistently. Here is a three minute video which summarizes the teaching of St. Ignatius of Loyola and gives a brief description of a prayer method that some people call lectio divna, others just meditation. Fr. John Cihak is our teacher and he effectively communicates the method. I would quibble with one thing only. I would not use the word “contemplation” to describe this method. I am schooled more in the Spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross who reserve the word, “contemplation” to refer to prayer that is beyond words or images but is rather a deep union with God well beyond images or mediated by words. They would call the method described here “meditation” since our experience of God is “mediated” by words and images. However, it remains true that many people today use the word contemplation in a more generic and less specific or technical sense. Enjoy this very instructive video and apply it.
Reason # 40 God is Worthy – OK, so I admit that it took me a little longer to get here than I thought. I’m about a week past my deadline but blogging is tough 🙂 Now here in this 40th reason we come to the one reason that trumps all other reasons: God is worthy. It is possible for us to think in a very ego-centric way to the effect that all we ever ask is some version of “What’s in it for me?” This question is not wholly inappropriate but we have to be willing to accept the answer that even if there is NOTHING in it for you, you still ought to be in God’s house every Sunday. Now, as I have tried to show in the other reasons, there is ALOT in it for you. But it remains true that our primary reason for being at Mass on Sunday is that God is worthy of our praise.
Every now and then people tell me that they don’t come to Mass because they “don’t get anything out it.” or “it is boring” to them etc. Well, truth be told, it’s not about you. Somewhere in our journey we all have to learn that world doesn’t just revolve around me and my preferences; that the job of the Church or the world isn’t just to peal me a grape and entertain me. Somewhere we have to discover that there are great things beyond my limited scope of interests and that it is possible for me to grow beyond my comfort zone. The Mass and all liturgy is about God. There is an old song that advises the following: Just forget about yourself and Concentrate on Him and worship Him. In the end, I hope you get a lot out Mass and life in the Church and I know you can and you will. But there is something very healing and freeing to remember that your life isn’t about you and the world doesn’t revolve around you. There is something sanctifying about recognizing that God is at the center, not me.
It’s a good place to conclude this 40 Reasons feature of the blog by simply stating that you and I ought to be at home in God’s house every Sunday simply because God is worthy of our time, our worship and our attention. Everything you have and are is God’s work and God’s gift. Even your sufferings are a mysterious gift from God to help perfect you. God is good and God is worthy. God’s been too good for me not to enter into the great thanksgiving (Eucharist) every Sunday. If I don’t praise him the rocks will cry out! Come home to God’s house, to the Church which he founded. God deserves your presence. God is worthy of your praise.
All 40 Reasons can be viewed here: http://blog.adw.org/category/40-reasons-to-come-back-to-church/
Now this video is very homespun but the point Father makes is actually quite good. It is on the question of suffering and a call to humility. Now ,just like me, Father could have gotten to his point just a bit faster by skipping the part on cat vocabulary etc. but it’s still only 3 minutes so hang in there. I think the main point is excellent. Well done Fr. Jeffrey.
Reason # 39 – I’ll Hasten to His Throne. There is an Old Gospel Music classic called, “I Love the Lord.” and it is derived from an old Spiritual. The words are very moving and based on a Psalm:
I love the Lord. He heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise, I’ll hasten to His throne.
What better advice in facing the troubles of life: hasten to God’s throne. We hasten there by prayer to be sure but also to our parish churches where Jesus Christ dwells: in the tabernacle. This is His special dwelling among us. To be sure God is everywhere but it is our Catholic belief that no presence is more real and more substantial that in the Blessed Sacrament. Nowhere will you be closer to God on earth than in your nearby Catholic parish. It is most truly his throne room, the Holy of Holies. Hasten, that is run, get there fast, hasten to God’s throne. A very fine reason to come Home.
Here is the Old Classic: “I Love the Lord” as sung by Whitney Houston.
As I have mentioned before, the Catholic Church is a worldwide institution of over 1 billion members. There are many different Rites, religious orders, cultural diversity and concerns specific to each sector of the Church. Sometimes, we Americans get very local in our view. It helps to remember that there is a big world and a big Church out there. Here’s a sampling from Gloria TV News.
There is much talk today about how we, despite our theological differences are all really worshipping the same God. Is that true? We might like to think that under all this diversity is really a unity but the fact is that there are some pretty radical differences in the understanding of God. So radical that I do not think we can really affirm wishful slogans like the one above. There is only one true God but many have imagined other gods who are not God, surely not God as he reveals Himself in the Bible.
Another common problem today is to presume that the Biblical insights about God are not really unique but merely borrowed from other ancient cultures. Zeitgeist the movie makes this claim. But the truth is that the Biblical tradition, while having some similarities to other things ancient, departs radically from most ancient and modern philosophies. The Biblical Revelation really IS unique and transcends many Ancient and modern errors.
Here are two videos by Fr. Robert Barron that make these points well.