Dear Good People of Saint Bernadette,
My dad sometimes would get frustrated with us, his sons for having to repeat the same things over and over again. Does this sound familiar? But he would say that if you keep throwing mud at the barn, eventually enough will stick.
It is by repetition that we learn, isn’t it? We revisit the same topics and situations throughout our lives and hopefully each time will be deeper, understood better, that the horizon will be wider. So reminders are good, they keep us on track. Even our liturgical year is cyclical, by its annual nature we revisit the Mysteries of Christ and come to know him more through them each year.
With the start up the school year, some of the teachers said we should have some reminders about proper practices that we observe when we attend Mass. It occurs to me that this is something that might benefit more than only the students in the parish. Here are some important points
Reverence. We show our reverence in various ways during the Mass. First, to the Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, when entering and leaving the church, we genuflect (that is, touch the right knee to the floor) before we enter the pew before Mass and as we leave the pew at the end of Mass.
Between these two reverences directed toward the tabernacle, once Mass has begun until the final recession, the focus of our attention during the Mass is toward the altar. You see this expressed by the priest when he kisses the altar at the beginning, and throughout the Mass when the lectors, servers and other ministers bow to the altar. It isn’t that the tabernacle isn’t important during the Mass, but it really isn’t the focus: our focus is on the action of the Mass, the heart of this action is on the altar. The altar and the walls of the church are the only things (not persons) which are actually anointed with sacred chrism (the oil used for the character sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders) at the time of the dedication of the church and altar. The altar is anointed in five places (four corners and center) to represent the five wounds of Christ on the cross.
If you are not able to genuflect, for example, if you have a bad knee or hip, the Church says that a profound bow (at the waist) is equally appropriate. I often bow for this reason.
It would be good to teach your children from the earliest age that this reverence is required. It will be a good springboard for conversations about how all things sacred should be reverenced, including each other.
For reverence shown before receiving Eucharist, please refer to the bulletin online several of weeks ago, when I copied the USCCB’s guidelines for proper postures, conduct when receiving Communion.
This reverence can be shown also for each other. You notice, for example, when the family brings the read and wine to the altar at the time of the Presentation of the Gifts, priest and people always bow to each other before turning away, as does the priest with the servers. This is to acknowledge the presence of Christ in each other.
Penitential Act. This is the number one reason why you should never be late for Mass. The Mass has, built in, a preparation for receiving Communion. As you know, we should not receive Communion if not properly disposed, or in the state of mortal sin. Still, we should be conscious of venial sins we have committed, even though these sins do not require sacramental confession prior to receiving Communion. The Church teaches that forgiveness of venial sin may be received through a good act of contrition, a work of fasting or charity, or some other suitable penitential act. After the greeting at Mass, the first thing we do is get this taken care of. If you are late and have not taken care of this in the car on the way over, you may not be properly prepared! We have several options, the confiteor (“I confess...), the kyrie (“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”) and the responding prayer of the priest assure us of the necessary penitential act.
Processions and singing. At various times during the liturgy we have processions, which are symbolic of the People of God on their way to the Kingdom. The entrance procession, the procession of the Book of the Gospels, the procession of the Gifts at the offertory, the procession of the reception of Holy Communion, and the recessional at the end of Mass are all times that, at different times in the history of the Church, the entire congregation would participate. For practical reasons, we don’t all get up and walk together, which would definitely make a greater impression of the symbol on our hearts. Instead, usually ministers of the Mass process, and everyone else participates in these actions by singing. Yes, singing!
Singing has powerful unitive effects: we are the voice of Jesus in his journey to the Father, gathering up all of his creation in the Mass and bringing us home!
God bless you.