How Catholic worship is to be

Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a series of columns by Father Buote on Catholic worship.

Did you notice the difference in this installment of our series? I have changed the title to “How Catholic Worship is to Be,” to make some applications for when we of the 21st century and the third millennium participate in Mass at our own parish churches.

This series started with a consideration of covenant. The conditions imposed by the Lord in His covenant with us involve love. “This I command you: love one another” (Jn 15:17). “If you love Me, you will keep My Commandments” (Jn 14:15). “Whoever loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him” (Jn 14:21). “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest Commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37–39). As God, Jesus imposed the terms of the New Covenant. As Man He fulfilled them. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:13).

The time of the Kiss of Peace at Mass offers an opportunity to express that love directly to another person, not just a cut-and-dried greeting as at a school open house.

Covenant was connected to sacrifice in the second installment. The type of sacrifice was specified to be gift-giving to God. At Mass, the priest invites, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” The Mass is a sacrifice. What gift do you bring to place with the Body and Blood of the Lord? Or, how do you make Jesus’ gift your own?

The Scriptures note that Jesus and His companions sang a hymn at the conclusion of the Last Supper (Mt 26:30, Mk 14:26). The music at Mass is not an entertainment for the assembled people, but rather an expected participation of those sharing the Lord’s Supper.

Often people complain that God does not hear or answer their prayers. Perhaps they have not been listening. A person, for some unavoidable reason, may come late to Mass, arriving during the readings or homily. That person then kneels down to say his prayers, as if what he has to say to God is more important than what God is trying to say to him from the pulpit (ambo or lectern).

Pay attention to the Word of God from the readings, and the preacher’s explanation of the Word. It may well be that you will hear something that touches upon what you were discussing with the Lord! If you have something further you wish to say to God besides the Mass prayers, there are appropriate opportunities, for example, before Mass, during the preparation of the gifts, after Communion, after Mass, etc.

The Constitution on the Liturgy notes that a person should do all, but only those things assigned to him. Dialogs (at the opening, at the Prayer of the Faithful, at the Preface, etc.) should involve everyone in the assembly. That is no time to be saying your own prayers or private devotions. 

There are certain parts of Mass which belong exclusively to the congregation outside of the dialogs. Among these are the Great Amen, which gives the congregation assent to what the priest has just done, and the Lamb of God. St. Jerome, in the fourth century, noted that when he was in Rome, the rafters of the church would shake when the Great Amen was said or sung. The Lamb of God is said or sung while the priest is breaking the Bread to be shared in Communion.

The early Catholics celebrated Mass in a domestic setting. Try to get into that same frame of mind. We have come into Jesus’ house to have a meal with Him. A person’s dress and be behavior should be such that it can be recognized that he knows where he is. Remember that Our Lord said that where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.

The first Mass was at the Last Supper, many centuries ago. I hope these thoughts on Catholic worship have brought that Mass and our companion Catholics of the first centuries closer to you so your participation at Mass now can be more Spiritually rewarding to you, and more glorifying to God.

Father Buote is a retired priest of the Fall River Diocese and a frequent contributor to The Anchor.

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