Thursday, August 27, 2015

Time for a...

Fall semester is going to be incredibly busy. I'm going to take a break from this blog for awhile. Thanks for your interest...Fr. John

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

#51 Afterword. The Liturgy after the Liturgy. Understanding the Mass and Its Parts.

As I wrote last week, when the Mass is ended, , we are blessed and sent on mission to take what we have received in Mass out into the world. There is a term, mostly seen in Orthodox Church literature, which calls this going forth to share the love celebrated in the Mass as the Aliturgy after the Liturgy.@
The word Aliturgy@ is usually a term that means the public worship of the Church. It is a word used from New Testament times and it designated Aa work done on behalf of the people (the public)@. In English the word Aservice@ is analogous to the original Greek meaning of Aliturgy.@ Even today,  Church worship is sometimes called AThe Service.@

Thus, the Aliturgy after the Liturgy@ is the Aservice after the Church Service@ or worship.

In starting this series on the Mass more than a year ago, I did not expect to write 51 weeks of commentary and explanation on the Mass! Perhaps I went into too much detail, but I wanted to open up the estimable treasures found in even the most simple parts of the Mass.

All has meaning and the Mass forms us into the life of Christ because the entire life of Christ is contained in the Mass.  As the Catechism (#1327) states: AIn brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: >Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.= [St.Iranaeus]@ 

I began this series noting that there are four basic Amovements@ of the Mass: (1) The Gathering, (2) The Liturgy of the Word, (3) The Liturgy of the Eucharist, and (4) The Blessing and Dismissal. As a way of summarizing what we are meant to bring to the world after the Mass is ended, we can refer to these Four dimensions of the Eucharist.
(1) The Gathering. To live a Eucharistic life is to create, celebrate and build community together. From our human family we are initiated (baptized) into God=s Family, the Church which is the Body of Christ Jesus, God=s Son. A strong Catholic value ids the belief that you cannot have Jesus without his Body the Church. The Body, this Family, this People gathers on Sunday to make this reality visible for all to see. Then being sent from the Sunday gathering, we should work for community and loving relationships wherever God has put us.

(2) The Liturgy of the Word. God has revealed himself to us; God has spoken to us. This is recorded in the letter to the Hebrews:

AIn times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.@ (1:1-3)

God speaks to us a Word: his Son, who became human and lived among us, dying for our sins and rising to a new life, a new creation. Jesus came among us to initiate the Rule of God=s Love among us, which is called the Kingdom of God. The deeds and words of Jesus are recorded in the Scriptures and taught us from the Church=s Tradition. To be a Eucharistic people we should take God=s Word into the world and also study the Scriptures and Tradition for our inspiration.
(3) The Liturgy of the Eucharist. As a Eucharistic people we come to the Liturgy in order to give Thanks, proclaim the Paschal Mystery of Christ=s Dying and Rising, and join our gifts and our lives to the One sacrifice of Christ, for the service of his sacrificial love.

In our service to the world, we bring gratitude, generosity, a willingness to die to self and rise to the new life of Christ, and serve others in sacrificial love: in our homes, families, friendships, work, school, city, world. The Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism and renewed in the Eucharist helps us live this life of Christ in the Kingdom of God.
Sent Forth

(4) Blessing and Dismissal. Finally, given so many blessings, we are blessed so that we may share God=s blessings with others. We are sent from the Mass to bring the life of Christ to others.

A Hymn captures this mission, ASent Forth By God=s Blessing@:  (Listen to the Hymn HERE)

Sent forth by God's blessing,
 our true faith confessing,
 The people of God from his dwelling take leave.
 God's sacrifice ended,
 O now be extended.
 The fruits of this Mass in all hearts who believe.
 The seed of his teaching our inner souls reaching,
 Shall blossom in action for God and for all.
 His grace incite us, his love shall unite us
 To further God's kingdom and answer his call.
With praise and thanks giving,
 to God who is living,
 The tasks of our ev'ryday life we embrace.
 Our faith ever sharing,
 in love ever caring,
 We claim as our neighbour all those of each race.
 One bread that has fed us,
 one light that has led us
 Unite us as one in his life that we share.
 Then may all the living with praise and thanks giving
 Give honour to Christ and his name that we bear.

I hope I have helped some with these reflections to appreciate the rich treasure given us in the Mass.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

#50 The Concluding Rite of the Mass. Understanding the Mass and Its Parts.

The Mass is ended. The People of God are sent out in mission.

Recall the Four organizing Rites of the Mass: The Introductory Rites, The Liturgy of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist with the Communion Rite, and the Concluding Rite.
The Concluding Rite prepares to send the people out of the Mass on mission, to bring the blessings of the Kingdom of God into our world, "on earth as it is in heaven."
The first part of the Concluding Rite may be the Announcements. These are optional (for example, there are rarely announcements at a daily Mass); however, the announcements are an indication of what the parishioners, the faithful, are doing to serve others in the parish and in the world. Like a homily, the announcements should not be too long!
At this time, occasionally a Second Collection may be taken up, again for some Christian work or need in the community or in the world. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians mentions just such a collection, not for the Corinthians themselves but for the Jerusalem Church experiencing poverty. (See 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 HERE).
Then the Final Blessing is given. The Priest will say:
"The Lord be with you."
And all respond: "And with your spirit."
Like at the beginning of Mass this blessing is in the Name of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Priest: "May almighty God bless you: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
While giving the blessing the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross over the People and the People make the sign of the Cross themselves. Implicitly we recall our Baptism into the Triune God and the mission of our Baptism to bring the blessings of God’s Kingdom of Love into the world.
Occasionally a series of blessings may be given at this time. Then the Priest or a Deacon (when present) will say: "Bow down for the blessing," meaning 'bow your heads."  Then usually three blessings are given to which the People respond "Amen" to each one and then the usual Final Blessing is given. In this case the Priest extends his hands in the gesture of Blessing and then makes the Sign of the Cross over the People.
There is even a special form of Blessing given when the Bishop is present. After greeting the People the Bishop says:
"Blessed be the name of the Lord."
The People respond "Now and forever."
Then the Bishop says "Our help is in the Name of the Lord."
The People respond "Who made heaven and earth."
Then the Bishop gives the Final Blessing.
After the Blessing  the congregation is dismissed, sent on mission. The four options of this dismissal are :
"Go forth, the Mass is ended."
"Go announce the Gospel of the Lord."
"Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life."
"Go in Peace."
The People reply: "Thanks be to God."
In Latin, the traditional dismissal is "Ite missa est" meaning "Go, it is the dismissal." But an alternative meaning has been given in the Catechism which goes further than  the original Latin word for "dismissal":
"[The Eucharist is called ] Holy Mass (Missa), because the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (missio) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God's will in their daily lives." (#1332)
A certain number of people leave Mass right after Communion or before the Final Blessing and Dismissal. This is just plain wrong. As humble as it may seem, the Final Blessing and Dismissal have great significance. Now that we have been united to the One Sacrifice of Christ which we offered in the Mass and received Communion with Christ and his life, as lived in his Body the Church, we are given a blessing and a task to carry into the world for that week. Imagine an army leaving the Commander before receiving marching orders; or a class leaving before the Teacher has given the homework to be done until next time; or to leave Mass before Christ dismisses us when we have  no good reason to leave early except our convenience!
Technically after the Dismissal, the Mass is indeed ended. The Priest does reverence the Altar with a kiss as he did at the beginning of Mass. He then bows to the Altar and the Recessional begins, led by the Cross and servers. A Recessional Song is usually sung.

A question we ask ourselves: do I have a sense of mission as I am blessed and sent forth from the Sunday Mass? What is that mission? (See "The Eucharist as Direction" HERE)

Next Week: "The Liturgy after the Liturgy"

Thursday, August 6, 2015

#49 Concluding the Communion Rite. Understanding the Mass and Its Parts.

While receiving Holy Communion during Mass, the Assembly of the Faithful process to the altar of the Church singing a Communion Song. The General Instruction for the Roman Missal states:
"While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. The singing is prolonged for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful." (GIRM #86; emphasis added)
Here it is clear that all should sing the Communion Song(s) until all have received Communion. This has normally been ignored by many Catholics who in general refuse to sing at Mass and thereby do not participate as fully in the Mass as required.
The implication of this instruction about singing until the distribution of Communion is finished is that one does not observe silent prayer while the Communion Song is sung (one cannot be silent and singing at the same time! However, one can pray and sing at the same time). There was, however,  the custom from earlier times (prior to Vatican II) where after receiving Holy Communion one returned to one's seat and knelt in silent prayer. One can be singing and still meditate upon the great act of Communion occurring at the time. In summary, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal envisions persons singing during Communion and then, after all have received Communion, there may [or perhaps there should] be a time for silent prayer:
"When the distribution of Communion is over, if appropriate, the Priest and faithful pray quietly for some time. If desired, a Psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the whole congregation." (GIRM #88)
Occasionally a Song of Praise is sung after Communion and it generally follows a period of silence (otherwise, how would one distinguish it from a Communion Song except the distribution of Communion has ended?). The Instruction does not say what the posture should be during this Song of Praise. I would suggest it be done standing.
Finally, the Instruction says:
"To bring to completion the prayer of the People of God, and also to conclude the whole Communion Rite, the Priest pronounces the Prayer after Communion, in which he prays for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated." (GIRM #89)
This prayer is properly titled "Prayer After Communion." It is not "the Final Prayer" in the sense that it is not part of "the Concluding Rites." Also, as we shall see, the Concluding Rites permit announcements as an option. A mistake is made by the Presiding Priest if after Communion has been distributed he has the announcements read or as one sometimes sees a Second Collection is taken up and then the Prayer after Communion is done. No. After the distribution of Communion and any time of silence and/or Song of Praise, then Prayer after Communion is said, and announcements or a Second Collection, etc. is next conducted.
"The Communion Rite ends with the Prayer after Communion which asks that the benefits of the Eucharist will remain active in our daily lives." (USCCB) Here are some examples from the Roman Missal of Prayer after Communion:
"Pour out on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness make those you have nourished
by this paschal Sacrament
one in mind and heart.
Through Christ our Lord."
"Humbly we ask you, almighty God,
be graciously pleased to grant
that those you renew with your Sacraments
may also serve with lives pleasing to you.
Through Christ our Lord."
"Pour on us, O Lord, the Spirit of your love,
and in your kindness
make those you have nourished
by this one heavenly Bread
one in mind and heart.
Through Christ our Lord."
Next Week: Concluding Rite of the Mass

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#48 The Communion Rite Part 8: Communion in the Kingdom of God on Earth and in Heaven. Undertanding the Mass and Its Parts

"Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!" (Luke 14:15)
Scripture scholar Fr. Eugene Laverdiere wrote a very fine book titled Dining in the Kingdom of God. He writes about the meals that Jesus had with his disciples recorded in the Gospel of Luke with, of course, the supreme example of meal-sharing being the Last Supper.
So many of these meals had a significance that we don’t readily appreciate today. To share a meal with someone in the culture of Jesus was often to be bonded to them. Meals often had a religious significance. Jesus, a recognized man of God, shared meals not only with his disciples but especially with the poor and lowly, including sinners. He the Son of God was saying by this that God’s table and family were now open to the poor and marginalized. (See, for example, Luke 14:15-24 HERE)
This was something revolutionary! It also signified the coming of the Kingdom of God, which everyone understood in Jesus’s day would involve a great feast and was symbolized as a meal:
"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever." (Isaiah 25:6-8)
We see that this great feast described by the Prophet Isaiah occurs when God destroys death forever. It was recognized that when the Messiah came, there would be a great feast forever. We see that this feast is described in the Book of Revelation as "the Wedding Feast of the Lamb":
"Then I [John] heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready;
to her it has been granted to be clothed
with fine linen, bright and pure’—
"for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
"And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited
to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me,
‘These are true words of God.’" (Revelation 10:6-9)
The Lamb is of course the Risen Christ, the Lamb of God. His Bride is the Church. There will be everlasting joy and celebration when Christ comes again and "the Lord our God the Almighty reigns." Then it will be said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)
The Eucharist, then, could be called  a sacrament of "dining in the Kingdom of God"; it is a communion in the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven; it is a participation in the now and future Kingdom of God.
As we pray in the Lord’s prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." The Kingdom of God is the Rule of God’s love. In heaven, in the Communion of Saints, this Rule of love reigns supreme; we pray and hope for this Kingdom to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is our hope and our task for this world.
The Eucharist, then, "anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem." (Catechism#1329) "The coming Kingdom [is] anticipated in the Eucharist" (Catechism #2861) and the "Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper and, in the Eucharist, it is in our midst." (Catechism #2816).
The Feast of Heaven is already begun in heaven"Those who even now celebrate it [the liturgy] without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast." (Catechism #1136). "Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him." (Catechism #1419) It is the Risen Christ who comes to us in the Mass and "our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies [in the Resurrection]." (Catechism #1000).
We recall how the Mass proclaims the Paschal Mystery, which includes the Second Coming of Christ:
"Therefore, O Lord, we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of your Son,
his wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into heaven,
and as we look forward to his second coming,
we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice."
(Eucharistic Prayer III emphasis added)

Orthodox Priest and Liturgist Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes:
"The Liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom, our sacramental entrance into the Risen life of Christ." (For the Life of the World, p.26)

The Mass helps us come into the Rule, that is, the Kingdom of the God who is love. It both celebrates this love now present to us and looks forward to when this love will rule the earth as it does heaven.
When we receive Holy Communion we are being united to the present Kingdom of God "in our midst" as well as the future coming of the Kingdom, as Feast and Transfiguration in the Risen Christ.
Next Week: Concluding the Communion Rite

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#47. The Communion Rite Part 7: Communion with Creation. Understanding the Mass and Its Parts

We have been looking at the implications of receiving Holy Holy Communion in the Mass. Holy Communion also puts us in a communion with the creation. Recall that "communion" is a sharing of a deep relationship with another or, in this case, with creation. Fr. Teilhard de Chardin wrote:

"There is a communion with the earth, and a communion with God, and a communion with God through the earth."
That last point, "a communion with God through the earth," is one way to express the sacramentality of the Catholic Tradition. By this is meant that creation and human relationships can reveal God’s Presence to us. Or to put it another way, God’s life is mediated to us through the creation and human relationships, the supreme revelation being the Son of God who entered creation in human flesh as Christ Jesus (sometimes Christ is described as the Sacrament of God). The Church takes some of these ways of mediation and names them as Sacraments of the Church," "visible signs of the invisible God."
Recall that in the Offertory we bring bread and wine to the altar and these will be used in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Risen Christ will become Really Present through these created signs.
In offering the bread and wine, we are offering creation and human work for the purposes of God’s communication of salvation to us:
"Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life."
"Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the wine we offer you:
fruit of the vine and work of human hands
it will become our spiritual drink."
Reflecting on the role the things of earth play in the Eucharist, a priest and liturgical theologian, Fr. Kevin Irwin, who has written about the subject of sacramentality and ecology, puts it very simply:
"For me the earth is brought into the act of worship and the act of worship sends us back to life on this good earth." ( From Interview HERE)

One of the gifts that modern ecology gives us is an understanding of how everything in our world is "inter-connected" and "inter-related." This is also the insight of the sacramental view espoused by the Catholic Church, especially in its teaching about creation:
"God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other." (Catechism #340)
This truth also applies to the human person. We were created from the earth and we do not live apart from the earth. We exist within creation. We are in relationship with creation.
The Eucharist and especially Holy Communion can express this Communion with Creation and, of course, with Creation’s Creator.
Pope Francis, in his recent Encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si, relates such care to the Eucharist:
"It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world of ours.
"In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living centre of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: ‘Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world’.
"The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself’.Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation." (#236; emphasis added)
Denis Edwards writes in Ecology at the Heart of Faith:
"Tony Kelly has said, that the ‘most intense moment of our communion with God is at the same time an intense moment of our communion with the earth.’ By being taken up into God, we are caught up into God’s love for the creatures of our planetary community. This begins to shape our ecological imagination: ‘The Eucharist educates the imagination, the mind, and the heart to apprehend the universe as one of communion and
connectedness in Christ.’"  
Certainly this sacramental view of creation and our relationship with creation is celebrated in the Mass and deepened by our Communion with creation in God’s care of the world.
Next Week: Communion Rite Part 8: Communion in the Kingdom of God in Heaven and on Earth

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#46 The Communion Rite Part 6: Communion in the Love of God. Understanding the Mass and Its Parts.

The receiving of Holy Communion in the Mass is a communion and participation in God’s love: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Scriptures tell us that "God is love" (1 John 4:16) I have noted previously the magnificent passage in the Catechism which teaches us the implications of this:
"St. John goes even further when he affirms that ‘God is love’: God's very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange." (#221)
This "eternal exchange of love" between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is the Communion of Love which is the Holy Trinity. Our receiving Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of the Risen Christ is "to share in that exchange." The Catechism also teaches:
"The sacraments are ‘of the Church’ ...[they] manifest and communicate to men, above all in the Eucharist, the mystery of communion with the God who is love, One in three persons." (#1118)
This manifestation of God’s love in the Eucharist inspired St. Augustine to say about the Eucharist:
"O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!"
The Greek word agape is used to name God’s love for us and this divine love shared among us for one another. It was translated into Latin by the word "caritas"
"It is not easy to translate [the Church] Latin's sense of caritas with just one word; it means ‘spiritual love’, or ‘love in action’, the love which is born from a profound respect of the other (or the Other)...and we obtain the English word charity from caritas." (Link)
Caritas is God’s kind of love, and its link with the English word "charity" reminds us that God has  a profound love for those in need, especially the poor. God’s love is more than charity, but it also is not less than charity for the poor.
So, in Holy Communion, the Church teaches that "the Eucharist [in Communion] strengthens our charity [caritas]..." (Catechism #1394) The Church goes on to make (in my opinion)  a remarkable connection between the poor and Holy Communion:
"The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren..." (Catechism #1397)
This teaching is restating what Jesus himself said about recognizing him in the poor and those in need and assisting him (See Matthew 25:31-46 HERE ). With this criteria will we be judged. But here the Church is also saying that if we neglect to recognize Christ in the poor and not help them, then we are not receiving the Body and Blood of Christ "in truth." I would interpret this to be about the objective and subjective dimensions of receiving Holy Communion. Objectively speaking, Christ is absolutely Real in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood regardless of any action or lack of it on our part. However, if our reception of Holy Communion doesn’t affect us—indeed, change us—to be more like Christ, then we have not truly received the full grace of the Sacrament in our lives. A person who is a devout Communicant and yet has a hard heart toward the poor is in a contradictory situation.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose mission was to serve the poorest of the poor, once said:
"Like Mary, let us be full of zeal to go in haste to give Jesus to others. She was full of grace when, at the Annunciation, she received Jesus. Like her, we too become full of grace every time we receive Holy Communion. It is the same Jesus whom she received and whom we receive at Mass. As soon as we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, let us go in haste to give Him to our sisters, to our poor, to the sick, to the dying, to the lepers, to the unwanted, and the unloved. By this we make Jesus present in the world today."

Next time you receive Holy Communion think how you are receiving the love of God as a gift which softens our hearts to be changed into his loving children and the result of that love is to make us more loving, especially for those in need and the poor.
Next Week: The Communion Rite Part 7: Communion with Creation.