Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Heroic Journey of the Mass Part I

After a break last week to attend the Diocesan Priests Retreat, I want to continue my reflections on the idea of rites of passage, also as compared to the heroic journey. It would be great if we could become heroes of faith!
If you have read my last few blog entries, recall that the heroic journey/passage involves a basic dynamic of (1) separation, (2) challenge to change, and (3) return. I want to reflect more on how this may be applied to our participation in the Eucharist, especially the Sunday Mass (I did this briefly in the September 26th entry)

Means the Called Out Ones
 Every Sunday we are called to separate from our weekly routine and everyday life and go to church (a sacred place where the Eucharist is celebrated). The New Testament Greek word translated as "Church" is ekklesia and it literally means "to be called out of", or more loosely, "the called out ones" or "assembly summoned out to meet." We are not separating in order to escape our everyday realities, since we should bring all our life to the celebration of the Eucharist: to offer it, to consecrate it to God, to relate it to the mission and purpose of Christ and to have our minds and hearts attuned to the Kingdom of God, which is the rule of God’s love (for this we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven").
Christ the Redeemer Church, Houston Texas
Nevertheless we are entering a different realm when we leave home and come to the church on Sunday. We are going to give thanks with the entire Church and offer the One Sacrifice of Christ with the Priest and one another. We are doing something that is done on Sunday with the Church as a whole.
What signals to us that we are entering a different realm and a sacred experience on Sunday? First, we enter the House of the Lord which is the gathering place of the parish for liturgy (public worship). When we come into the Church it has various statues, images, and sacred objects that remind us of God’s Presence and our communion with the saints. This is sacred space.
The silence before Mass is meant to also signal us that something special is about to happen. This silence gives everyone together the opportunity to pray and recollect ourselves for the Mass which is about to happen. I like to use this preparation time to recall what I want to give thanks to God for in my life. I also recall what I want to intercede about when I enter the Mass.
It is so rare to find silence today. To me, the silence before Mass does signal that something differentbut after the Mass. Also, one should be ready to briefly greet one another as we come to pray, but this can be a smile and a nod of the head. For extensive socializing we provide hospitality after the Sunday Masses. The Church calls for silence before Mass and this is significant and helpful (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #45: "Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.") is happening in this place (the church). I must always reassure people that we are not trying to be anti-social; there is a time for the social, for chatting and catching up with one another
Coming to Mass, I as a Priest have the added advantage of having studied the Scripture Readings which will be proclaimed and since I will preach them I have thought a great deal about them. Anyone, however, can read the Sunday Scriptures beforehand and even study them with the right resources. The Priest cannot touch upon everything in the Scriptures, and there is so much more riches in the Readings for Sunday. Here is a resource if one wants to study the Sunday Readings to a greater depth: HERE.
Finally, the Opening Procession begins and truly this reminds us that we are on a journey together. The Priest and Ministers process in and represent the entire assembly in this passage. This also signals something special is happening. The Priest and Ministers don’t just come in casually and at random, but with formality and in a unified movement. They are moving toward the sanctuary where the altar is located. The sanctuary is the place where we offer the sacrifice of the Mass and offer ourselves joined to Jesus who is both Priest and Sacrifice. The sanctuary also represent heaven. Almost all sanctuaries are elevated; it takes a "going up to the altar of the Lord," (see Psalm 43:4 HERE) (See a stirring procession HERE)
"The Entrance Procession is not just a means to get to the front of the church and the altar; it has deep theological significance, reminding us all of the fact that the entire people of God are pilgrims – we are a pilgrim people on the road from here (the earth) to eternity (to heaven). The entrance procession symbolized that journey – from the world outside the doors at the back of the church, to our heavenly destination, symbolized by the sanctuary at the front of the church. In that journey, Christ is not only our goal, symbolized by the altar, but He also accompanies us on the way in the person of the priest." (Citation HERE)
The Opening Rites of the Mass help us to further make the transition or separation to become a worshiping assembly. We begin with some sort of Penitential Rite, then the Gloria (except in Advent and Lent) and the Opening Prayer. In all these ways we are preparing for that challenge to change which is central to the heroic journey and about which I’ll write more next week.