Alex Jones is a former Pentecostal Minister who found his way to the Catholic Church. It wasn’t easy for im to become a Catholic since he had a lot to loose. But he could not resist the Call of the Lord and the Church is now blesed to have him as a member and and effective Evangelizer. In These Videos of his conversion story he describes how, through his reading of the Fathers of the Church, he was struck at how Catholic the early Church was.
Reason # 25 – Don’t block your Blessings! There are just some things you can’t get unless you come to Church. Some folks say they can pray at home just fine. Maybe so, but that’s not all we do or get at Church. Obviously you can’t receive Holy Communion at home and Jesus warns that you need it: “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and Drink his Blood, you do not have life in you.” (Jn 6:53). We’ve already discussed that earlier.
But it is also true that you cannot get the other blessings of the Mass at home alone. For example, at the beginning of Mass the priest prays a prayer of forgiveness of sin after we call to mind our sins. This forgives venial sins only but don’t tell me that isn’t a blessing. At several points in the Mass the Priest, speaking in the person of Christ says, “The Lord be with you.” Guess what that means?! It means the Lord is with us who are gathered. These sorts of greetings by the priest are not just empty words, they convey and bestow a reality. Standing at the Altar the priest, once again acting in the person of Christ says, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” Guess what happens? Jesus becomes sacramentally and perfectly present. When the Priest lifts up the sacred Host and Chalice, guess who you see? That’s right, it’s Jesus. Try that at home. At the end of the Mass, the priest says, “May almighty God bless you: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Guess what happens? God actually blesses you. Again, these are more than ritual words. They actually convey what they announce.
There are many other blessings at Mass: there is fellowship. I know how much I count on my parishioners to bless me, encourage me and correct me. Many parishes (like mine) also have great choirs. Many parishes (like mine) have great preaching 🙂 ! Good company, good teaching, great blessings and the greatest of all: Holy Communion.
Now don’t block your blessings. Come and go with me to my Father’s House. The following video is a bit grainy but you’ll enjoy this invitation anyway.
Reason# 24 – Martyrs have died to give us the faith. Every Sunday at Mass we recite the Creed: I Believe in one God, the Father Almighty…. I often think of the blood of Martyrs as I pray the Creed. They died for the faith that I can so easily take for granted. Others, though not suffering death lost property and jobs, or were imprisoned and disowned. For many of us in modern day America the idea of suffering death or extreme punishment for the faith seems remote. At worse, we are verbally scorned for our faith or laughed at; maybe a raised eyebrow or a smirk. We may suffer more in days ahead but for now, we have it easy compared to others. And consider this too, martyrdom is not something from the remote past. Many suffer intensely and are killed for the faith in many parts of the world even today. See how precious the faith was and is to them! They willingly suffered for it.
So here is an important reason to come home. The faith that we celebrate each Sunday is so precious that multitudes of martyrs down through the ages were willing to suffer extreme punishment, torture and death for it. Rolling out of bed on Sunday mornings may seem an inconvenience, living the faith may have its demands, but these things do not compare to what Jesus and the martyrs experienced to hand on the faith to us. When I roll out of bed early on Sunday morning to unlock the Church I may grumble at having to end my sleep. But others suffered far worse for me so that I could celebrate Mass and know that Jesus is Lord. When someone told them to be silent and not speak of Jesus they spoke anyway and suffered on account of it. My faith has come at great price and I think of that each Sunday, especially as I so easily say the Creed, a creed written in the Blood of Jesus and the Martyrs of every age. Come home to the faith of Jesus and the Martyrs.
Be careful of the following video. It is graphic in its depictions of the suffering of the early Christians in the Colosseum. But if you are able to look upon it, it is a powerful and moving depiction of the horrors they faced as they were thrown to the lions while hard hearted on-lookers were “entertained” by their sufferings. If this video is too much perhaps the second video will be more palatable.
Reason # 23 – The Dress Rehearsal– A few years ago I acted in a play. I spent many weeks learning my lines and many hours rehearsing sections of the play with the other actors. Then came the dress rehearsal when it all came together. The purpose of the dress rehearsal is for the actors to experience the final product. The dress rehearsal is as close to the actual play as possible. There is no goofing off, no retakes, this is as close to opening night as possible.
In a way, this is what the Mass is. Mass is like getting ready for heaven. But “How is this so?” you might ask. Well, start with the biblical descriptions of heaven. There are many, but the most consistent image of heaven in the scriptures is that of a liturgy or Mass. In the Book of Revelation (cf 4,5,8, 21) for example the heavenly experience is described in terms that many Catholics should find very familiar. There are candles, incense, hymns of praise, elders (priests) in long white robes (albs), there is first a focus on a scroll (or book) in which are contained all the answers, then the focus shifts to the Lamb on a throne like altar. There are saints and angels all around and songs such as Holy, Holy, and Worthy is the Lamb being sung by the multitude. Does all this sound familiar? If you go to Mass it does! So, in an important way the Mass gets us ready for what we will do in heaven. I always have concerns when some one tells me they find Mass boring because heaven is like a Mass. Granted, not all our Masses are as well celebrated as they could be. But in the end we ought to find joy and peace in the Liturgy, the Mass, since by so doing we start to get used to heaven. Over the years I have started to like Mass more and more. And I am glad, because it means I am starting to like what heaven is, a glorious liturgy of prayer, praise, and communal celebration around the wonderful throne of God.
There is another way that the Mass is like a dress rehearsal. Heaven, you see, is not just some made up place of our design. It is the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Here too we need to learn our lines and get adjusted and the Mass helps us to do this. Over the years as you attend Mass you are`instructed in the Word of God and thus in the values of the Kingdom of God. At Mass we learn our lines and parts. We learn things such as forgiveness, mercy, love for the truth, chastity, generosity, love for the poor, love for life from conception to natural death, love for God more than for the things of the world, and so forth. All this helps us to get adjusted to the kingdom. And if you like these things you’ll like heaven, if you do not like them you will not want to enter heaven. Here too I have grown used to the Kingdom through my faithful attendance at Mass. Over the years I have come to understand more what the Kingdom of God is really about and I have learned to love these kingdom values. You see, if I don’t know my lines and don’t attend the dress rehearsal to get used to the play when it opens, I won’t be ready. The Mass gets us used to what heaven is really like and to its values; the REAL heaven, not some made up heaven that doesn’t really exist.
So, here’s a good reason to come home – the dress rehearsal. You gotta get used to the REAL heaven. It takes time to embrace the kingdom of heaven when all we know is the world and its ways. Come! Join the dress rehearsal for heaven, learn its songs, its praise, its values come to learn of and know God. Then when the curtain of this life falls you’ll be ready for opening night: the great feast of heaven. But be careful, if the dress rehearsal is missed, there are often casting changes! You gotta be ready, you gotta come to the dress rehearsal to make the final cut and be ready for opening night.
Here is a video which descibes details of heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation and how they relate to our Mass
Last week you dealt with a question concerning the “traditional” Latin Mass and by way of contrast the Latin Mass as celebrated in the ordinary form of the new mass. My concern is how to properly participate in this form of the mass in order please God and gain the spiritual benefits of the mass. For instance there are long silent passages in the traditional low mass. Should I purchase a missal in order to best join with the celebrant or are their other ways in which I can participate? Please clarify. Thank you.
There is in fact a very different sense of participation when the Older (Extraordinary) Form of the Latin Mass is celebrated. As you note the Mass is celebrated in such a way that there are long passages that the priest whispers in Latin. Even if one might be able to learn and follow the Latin prayers such a remoteness is startling to many who have not known liturgy to be celebrated in this manner. I will explain in a moment how one can participate in such a situation but at first it might be good to explain why there is such a pronounced silence at Latin Masses.
Historically the whispered Eucharistic prayer (or Canon) developed in monastic settings where it was not uncommon for more than one liturgy to be celebrated at the same time at various side altars. In those days priests did not concelebrate masses as they do frequently today. Each priest had to celebrate his own mass. In monasteries where numerous priest might be in residence, numerous liturgies might be celebrated at similar times. In order not to interrupt each other, the priests conducted these liturgies with a server quietly. This practice continued into modern times (see the picture above right). Over time this monastic silence came to be regarded as a sacred silence. The whispering of the prayers was considered a sign of the sacredness of the words which “should not” be loudly proclaimed. (There are other more complicated theological trends that swept the liturgy too complicated to go into here that also influenced the move to a more silent liturgy) At any rate, the practice of a sacred silence came to be the norm eventually even in parish churches. Hence the hushed tones were not an attempt to ignore the faithful who attended or make their participation difficult but it was associated with a holy silence. People knelt, praying as the priest prayed prayed on their behalf. In the past century as literacy increased among the lay faithful it became more common to provide them with books that contained the texts of the liturgy and those who could read were encouraged to follow along closely. Through the 1940s and 50s these books (called “missals”) became quite common among the laity. By the 1950s there were also some experiments with allowing the priest to have a microphone or to raise the level of his voice so the faithful could follow more easily. These “dialogue Masses” were more popular in some place than others. Sacred silence was still valued by many and adjusting to a different experience was not always embraced with the same fervor, it varied from place to place.
Today, with the return in some places to the celebration of the Old Latin Mass (called offically the “Extraordinary Form”) this sacred silence is once again in evidence. For those who are not used to it, it seems puzzling. But hopefully some of this history helps us understand it. Once again we are faced with the dilemma of how loudly the priest should pray the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer) at such Masses. There are different opinions but a fairly wide consensus that the prayer should be generally said in a very subdued voice.
How then does one follow the Mass? The recommended approach is to purchase a missal and read along as the priest prays. Everything he says may not be heard but it is not hard to keep up by applying the visual cues such as where he is standing, when he genuflects, when bells are rung and so forth. In the sung form of the mass the cues are more obvious since many parts of the Mass such as the preface and the Our Father are sung. Many of the missals also provide pictures that help you to match the action of the priest with the text that is being prayed. Here are a couple of of examples of missals you can buy that help you to follow the Latin Mass:Roman Catholic Missal 1962and1962 Roman Missal
I was reminded by friend of a 2007 PBS special about the Latin Mass in which I was interviewed. You can learn more of the Old Latin Mass in this 5 minute video filmed here in the Archdiocese of Washington at Old St. Mary’s. One correction: At the beginning of the video someone has included a text that says the old Latin Mass and the new Mass are different rites. The Pope in 2007 chose to emphasize that this is NOT the case. Rather they are two different forms of the same Roman Rite. Enjoy this video featuring yours truly.