Explanatory Mass, The Why Behind the What We Pray, October 20, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
October 20, 2013
Ex 17:8-13, 2 Tim 3:14-4:2, Lk 18:1-8

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states (31): “It is also up to the priest, in the exercise of his office of presiding over the gathered assembly, to offer certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself. Where it is indicated in the rubrics, the celebrant is permitted to adapt them somewhat in order that they respond to the understanding of those participating. However, he should always take care to keep to the sense of the text given in the Missal and to express them succinctly. The presiding priest is also to direct the word of God and to impart the final blessing. In addition, he may give the faithful a very brief introduction to the Mass of the day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence), to the Liturgy of the Word (before the readings), and to the Eucharistic Prayer (before the Preface), though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself; he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before the dismissal.” 

Today, at the 8:30 am Mass for CCD students, an “explanatory Mass” was offered. To listen to the audio of the explanations (in the context of the Mass), please click below. (Please note that I made a mistake in the timing of the explanation of the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer, which was supposed to occur before the prayer over the gifts but was done after the Holy, Holy, Holy.)

The basic outline of the text of the explanations is below. 

Before Mass

Holy Water. Renewal of our baptismal Promises. Make the Sign of the Cross slowly, remembering how Jesus died for us on the Cross out of love and how we need his help to pick up our Cross each day and follow him.

Come to the Church, turn toward Jesus in the tabernacle and genuflect. Jesus is truly present. As we make the outward sign of our reverence, we should say a prayer on the inside, like “I adore you, Lord!” or “I love you Jesus!”

Then we should enter the pew and pray, preferably kneeling, closing our eyes and focusing on what we’re about to do. We’re about to enter into the Upper Room during the Last Supper. We’re about to enter Calvary to be with Jesus as he gave his body and blood to us for our salvation. We’re about to hear him speak to us and then share in his resurrection by eating his body and drinking his blood. Praying before Mass helps us to block out the things of the world so that we may really pray the Mass with faith. I would encourage you to use the prayer cards provided in the pews. I would also encourage you to go over the readings of the day to help you to grow in familiarity with them before the Mass begins so that they may have a bigger impact on you.

Then we get ready for the opening hymn of the Mass, which is a prayer that we say together. St. Augustine said that when we sing we pray twice. Singing helps us to pray together. It’s also more beautiful and puts us into a mood for prayer.

Initial Rites (after the beginning of Mass)

The priest kisses the altar. Sacrifice. Relics. “We pray to you, Lord, through the merits of all your saints, specially those whose relics are here, that you may graciously forgive all our sins. Amen.”

We started with the sign of the Cross. The sign of the Cross is not just what we do “before” or “after” we pray, but is already a prayer. It reminds us that we’re praying in the name of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We’re trying literally to enter into God.

We say, “Amen!,” which means “yes!!!!” or “so be it!” It comes from the Hebrew word “to uphold,” that we’re making what we say Amen to the foundation of our life, in this case, it means that we’re affirming that we’re seeking to do everything in communion with the Blessed Trinity.

There there’s a special prayer taken from St. Paul’s letters. The priest says that each of you will have the grace of Jesus, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. And you reply with the prayer, asking that it not just be with the priest personally as a fellow disciple, but with that part of him ordained to celebrate the Mass, that each of us may pray with the power, grace and love of God to God himself.

Then we turn immediately to what we’re about to do now. The beginning of Mass is called the penitiential rite. Jesus’ first words in his public ministry were “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” We always begin Mass calling to mind how much we need the Lord’s help, that we’re sinners in need of a salvation Jesus died to give us. When we call to mind our sins and failures, not only do we remember our need for his mercy, but we also remember how and how much we need the help he wants to give us in this Mass. So after confessing our commissions, omissions in thought, word and deed, we make emphatic our need for the Mercy Jesus paid such a precious price to obtain, saying Lord have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord have mercy.

Then, outside of Advent and Lent, we sing the Glory to God in the Highest. We make our own the words of the Angels to the Shepherds in Bethlehem on Christmas morning. The same Jesus born in the City of David comes down on the altar in the Spindle City of Fall River. In it we praise, bless, adore, glorify and thank God for the gift of his Son. We ask him to receive our prayer for mercy. If you don’t know the melody by heart, please turn to p. 8 in your missalette and sing it.

Then we’re ready for the “Collect” or opening prayer, in which we turn to God the Father and pray through Jesus in the unity of the Holy Spirit for something in particular that will come out through the various readings. I’d encourage you always to listen carefully to this prayer and make it your own.

Let’s pray with faith the penitential rite!

Liturgy of the Word (before the first reading)

Readings

After the Opening Prayer we enter into the liturgy of the Word, which is a five-course meal.

The first part is a reading from the Old Testament or, during the Easter Season, from the Acts of the Apostles. The first reading almost always links with the Gospel of the day. That’s the reason why it was chosen. There’s an old saying of the saints that the Old Testament is revealed in the New and the New is concealed in the Old, and that connection happens between the first reading and the Gospel every Sunday. They help us to understand each other. Please listen with this in mind.

After the first reading, we have a second reading from the Old Testaments, which is one of the 150 Psalms or occasionally a canticle found in one of the Old Testament books. These were the hymns the Jews — including Jesus, Mary and Joseph — would sing during their worship in the synagogue, at home, during their journeys to the temple and more. These psalms are meant to be sung, which is why we sing them here. They’re called “responsorial psalms,” not because we respond to the psalm with a refrain but because they’re responding to the first reading. Something in the psalm is always a direct response to the first reading and it teaches us how to respond. Today, we will sing together, “Our help is from the Lord who made heaven and earth,” a direct response to the way God helped the Israelites in their battle against the strong Amalekites Always try to find this connection.

After the Psalm we have the second reading, which is taken from one of the New Testament epistles, mostly from St. Paul. Over the course of three years, we cover the most important parts of all of these applications of Jesus’ teachings to the life of the early Church and the life of the Church in every age. Today, St. Paul’s Letter to St. Timothy speaks to us about the importance of Sacred Scripture and to persistent in proclaiming the word

Then, we’ll stand for the Gospel. We stand because Jesus is about to speak to us in the Gospel and we stand for him, like we stand anytime a dignitary enters the room. We sing the Alleluia, which means “Praise the Lord!” and listen between the Alleluias to a Gospel verse, which always introduces and in some ways summarizes the whole meaning of the Gospel that is about to come. Please pay attention to this context. And then listen to the Gospel. The Church teaches that when the Gospel is proclaimed at Mass, it is Jesus who is speaking. Prior to the Gospel, the priest prays, “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.” We need not only clean lips but a clean heart, because we’re supposed to believe the Gospel in our heart and profess it with our lips. After the Gospel is announced, and we say, “Glory to you, O Lord,” we make the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, on our lips and above our hearts.” We should be praying as we do this, “May the Lord be in my mind, on my lips and in my heart,” in other words, may I ponder God’s word, speak God’s word, and love God’s word. That’s a good way to prepare to listen to the whole liturgy of the word.

I’ll mention the fifth and last course of this great feast of God’s word — the homily — when we get to its place after we’ve finished the Gospel…

I would encourage you, unless you’re hard of hearing or your English is not very good, to LISTEN to the readings rather than to READ them while they’re being proclaimed. Faith comes from hearing and the word can penetrate us much more easily when we’re listening to it than if we’re trying to read it while someone else is saying it aloud around us.

After the Gospel 

Kissing of the Gospel — love. “Per evangelica dicta, deleantur nostra delicta.” Through the words of the Holy Gospel, may our sins be wiped away.

The Church teaches us that the purpose of the Homily is not to entertain us, although hopefully it does keep the attention of our heads and our hearts. It’s not principally to explain the readings to us,  although hopefully it does help us to understand what they mean better. The second Vatican Council says that it’s meant to bring us to “conversion” and “holiness.” It’s supposed to help us to change, to begin to think not like everyone else thinks, but as Christ thinks, and to live not as the crowds do but together with Jesus. So it’s meant to challenge us to examine whether we’re truly living in a holy way and then to show us the help Christ wants to give us so that we can in fact let go of our old ways and begin to live more with him. When you listen to homilies, please listen with this question in mind: “How is this Word of God supposed to change my life forever?” The homily I’m preaching at the other Masses today is focusing on how Jesus calls us to persevere in prayer, which is a sign of persevering faith in the struggle for God and against evil. The homily is intended both to instruct us and inspire us to convert and no longer quit on prayer or live in a way in which we pray just a little, but to seek the holiness that Jesus proposes to us through a life of faith that prays perseveringly.

After the homily, we respond to all the five course of the Liturgy of the Word by renewing our faith. The Creed we say has been prayed by Catholics, Orthodox and most Christians for the last 1700 years. So many Christians have lived for this profession of faith; many others have died for it. It has 12 main themes in it. In order for us truly to pray the Creed rather than just say it, we should ponder the truths we’re affirming and entrust ourselves to God the Father, God the Son, God and the Holy Spirit and the one, holy Catholic and apostolic Church. Bow at the words of the Incarnation.

After having renewed our faith in God, we turn to Him with the Prayers of the Faithful, also called the General Intercessions. These are the prayers we make to God as a community. We always pray for the Church, for her leaders, for those who serve in public office, for the sick, for the dead and for other timely needs. It’s important for us to listen to what we’re praying for so that we can wholeheartedly pray to the Lord. I think the prayers of the faithful is one of the easiest parts of the Mass to get distracted in. If the lector were to pray, “Destroy us now with a nuclear weapon; we pray to you, Lord!” that half of those in attendance would just say, “Lord, hear our prayer!” This is also a time in which we could call to mind all our own prayers.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

Offertory (before the offertory occurs)

The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the Offertory. The altar is prepared. The congregation brings up the gifts of bread and wine, which will be completely changed into Jesus’ body and blood. The Eucharist is not only God’s gift — fruit of the earth, of the vine — but also the work of human hands. And the offertory is when we offer not only our work, not only our generous donation of money for the upkeep of the Church or, in the second collection today, to help the missions, but our whole lives to the Father together with His Son Jesus. Sometimes people will say, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass!” That’s probably, Archbishop Sheen used to say, because they’re not putting anything into the Mass. The procession of gifts is an external sign that we’re giving ourselves to the Lord together with the offerings. That’s why it’s important for people to want to do it.

We normally sing during the Offertory on Sunday Mass. This offertory hymn is meant to be a bridge from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, linking the two together. It’s often a reflection on what we’ve heard and a preparation for what we’re about to do. I’d encourage you to sing along heartily.

The priest offers first the bread and then the wine to the Father, thanking him for his generosity and begging him to turn them into his Son, the Bread of Life, and our Spiritual Drink.

The priest has several private prayers he says, which are a beautiful way to pray the Mass.

“By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” We’re praying to be made divine through entering into Communion with Jesus.

“With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” We’re praying for humility and sorrow, recognizing we’re not worthy of what we’re about to do, but asking God to accept this sacrifice as a pleasing one.

“Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins.” The priest remembers with the words of Psalm 51 that he is a sinner and is asking God to purify him so that he may worthily offer this sacrifice.

Then the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours.” We’re all supposed to uniting the sacrifice of our lives to God, all our hardships, all our hopes. We stand as we say those words to show we’re ready to make that sacrifice, to say, “Yes, we can!” as SS. James and John did. We all pray that the Lord will accept the sacrifice, for the praise and glory of his name, for our personal good and for the good of the entire Church. Those are the intentions of the Mass: for God, for others, and for ourselves.

Prayer over the gifts, Preface and Sanctus, Eucharistic Prayer (praying before the Prayer over the Gifts)

We turn to God the Father and we pray over the gifts for something in particular for this particular Mass. Today we will aspect him for an honest appreciation for all his gifts and so that we may be made holy by the mysteries we’re about to celebrate.

Then we get straight into the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer. It begins with an ancient prayer in dialogue.

The priest prays that the Lord be with you and you pray that he will be with that part of the priest ordained to celebrate the Mass. This needs to prayed. We really want the Lord with the other.

Then the priest instructs with the words of St. Paul to lift up your hearts and you respond that you’ve lifted them up to the Lord. Our hearts at that point should be with the Lord. If they’re with the Lord, then they’re “all in” to the prayer, their treasure is with God, they’re seeking what he seeks.

The priest encourages us to give thanks to the Lord our God. The Eucharist as a whole is thanksgiving. It’s right always to thank God. It’s just or fitting to do so. We pray this on Christmas and Easter and at weddings. We also pray it at funerals. It’s right and just always to give God thanks and praise.

Then we come to the Preface. We turn to God the Father and we pray for something in particular. It’s a beautiful prayer, that varies according to the celebrations. We call to mind we’re not the only ones praying, but we’re joining in the praise of the angels and saints forever and ever in heaven, as we prepare to join into what the Prophet Isaiah saw happening in heaven and to what the people said as soon as Jesus was preparing to enter into the holy city on Palm Sunday. It points out that in the Mass we’re not only entering heaven, but Jesus comes to us. It’s a uniting between heaven and earth. That prepares us to say to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” and “Hosanna!” or “Save us, Savior in the highest”

After the Holy, Holy, Holy, comes the most solemn part of the Mass, which cannot be interrupted. It’s the Eucharistic prayer. There used to be only one that could be used, what we called Eucharistic Prayer I or the Roman Canon. Now there are Four main Eucharistic prayers, two Eucharistic Prayers of Reconciliation and Four Eucharistic Prayers for Various Necessities, for ten. All of them are different. All of them are beautiful. Today we’ll be using what is believed to be the oldest, Eucharistic Prayer II.

What’s the same in every Eucharistic Prayer are the words of consecration.

We begin by praising God the Father.

Then we ask for the Holy Spirit to come down to change the bread and wine into Jesus’ body. The bells ring for the first time when that happens.

Then we have the words of institution as Jesus says the words himself through the priest. At the words of consecration, during the elevation, we should say something to Jesus in adoration, thanks or petition, like “My Lord and my God!” “I love you Jesus!” “Jesus unite me fully with you!” “Make me holy!” “Jesus, I adore you devoutly.” When he’s lifted up we’re supposed to be adoring him.

After we have the memorial acclamation, in which we actualize the prayer for ourselves now and apply it to ourselves.

Afterward, we pray that the Holy Spirit may transform us to become one body, one spirit in Christ. That he help the Church, and all her leaders.

We pray for the dead and for all those in need.

And we finish by offering through, win and in Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit all glory and honor to the Father, to which we all respond, “Amen!” So be it!

Communion Rite (before the Our Father)

After having given all praise and glory to the Father, we then turn to the Father with the words Jesus taught us to pray. It’s important that we not just recite but mean the seven things for which we’re asking. It’s also important for us to grasp that we’re praying “Our Father” because we’re supposed to be praying as a family.

After the Lord’s Prayer, we have what’s called an embolism as we reinforce the prayer we’re saying. We ask to be delivered from evil, for peace, for mercy, for freedom of sin and distress.

We show our true relationship to God when we say next, “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever!” All glory is his not ours. That’s what we seek as Christians. Protestants normally add this to the end of the Our Father, from a version of the prayer written in the Didache, a Christian book from about 80 AD. But Catholics don’t add it to the Our Father because that’s not in the Gospel of St. Matthew. We mean it, though, just as much.

After this we speak to Jesus present for us in the Eucharist, reminding him of his promise of peace and asking, with the faith of the Church, for peace and unity. Then we immediately act on that prayer by giving each other the sign of Christ’s peace. That’s not a time just to say hello. It’s a prayer. We’re called to say to each other, “The peace of the Lord be with you!” That’s peace through the forgiveness of sins.

Then we have the fraction rite, which we break the host in two, a symbol of the way Christ’s flesh was broken in his passion. We begin to pray the Lamb of God. It’s important that we pray this. We say twice, “you take away the sins of the world” and then “grant us peace,” knowing that the Lamb of God gives us peace precisely when we’re free from sin and in a right relationship with God.

The priest during this time prays a beautiful prayer that can teach us all how to prepare for Holy Communion, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world. By your holy body and blood, free me from all my sins and every evil. Keep me faithful to your teaching and never let me be parted from you.”

Then the priest says, with the words of St John the Baptist and the Book of Revelation the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb,” and we all pray with the words of the Centurion in the Gospel, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” We need to mean those words. We don’t have a right to receive Jesus. He wants to feed us but our souls must be healed and cleansed. He does that in the Sacrament of Confession. We should not come to receive Holy Communion unless we’re morally certain that our souls as clean, that we have no sin on our souls.

Actual Reception of Holy Communion (after the “Lord, I am not worthy”) 

When we come to receive the Lord, we should come with great reverence. We should bow reverentially with a prayer interiorly as we approach to receive. The preferred way to receive Holy Communion, the Church has taught and continues to teach, is on the tongue. An indult has been granted in the United States and in some other countries to receive Holy Communion on the hands, but if we’re going to receive on the hands, we should make a throne in the form of a cross, with our dominant hand underneath the other. We should then consume the host immediately, not blessing ourselves with the Host, not walking away, but stepping to the side and immediately consuming the king of kings with love. If for whatever reason we don’t have access to using both our hands, because we’ve got a cast on, or we’re carrying a baby, or using a cane, or something else, we should receive reverently on the tongue.

We should always receive in a spirit of true adoration and prayer. We should be asking Jesus something, like, “Lord, make me holy!” or “Love, give me strength to face this difficulty,” or simply, “My Jesus help me to live in you and you in me.”

When we return to our pews, we should be praying with a tremendous sense of thanksgiving. We now have God inside of us! We’re not worthy of this gift but the Lord has given himself to us besides! Sometimes the thanks can take the form of a specific prayer. Other times we can just say, “thank you, thank you, thank you!” On other occasions, we can thank him by praising him with the words of the Eucharistic hymn. But it’s a time for us to pray, not to look, for example, at the others going up to Holy Communion. It’s certainly not a time to leave. If we were to receive intending to leave immediately, we really wouldn’t be receiving him worthily.

Closing Prayer and Dismissal (before the prayer after Communion)

The Prayer after Communion always links the awesome privilege of having just received Jesus within to some concrete way Jesus wants to change us. Today, for example, we will pray to the Father that after having received within the treasure of heaven to help us here on earth we may be prepared for the gifts he wants to give us forever in heaven. The connection between the Eucharist and heaven.

We normally have announcements. This is a necessity I’d prefer not to have to do, but the reality is many people come to Mass and they don’t read the bulletin at all when they go home. For that reason, we need to call attention to some important things. I’d love over time not to have to do it!

Then there is the final blessing and the dismissal. We receive the blessing of the Trinity to strengthen us as we go to live a life in total holy communion with the One we’ve just received. And we receive a commission from God, to “go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”  or to “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by our life.” We have an important task to spread the faith by our words and by our witness. Having heard God’s word at Mass and received him in Holy Communion, we are strengthened to do just that.

And we finish Mass joyously by praying together in song. It would be a bad habit to leave Mass early. If you have that habit, I’d ask you in the Lord’s name please to stop. Let’s pray and praise God all the way until Mass really ends.

As we’re leaving Church, we should always genuflect toward Jesus in the tabernacle and thank him once more for the priceless gift of his presence among us and his incredible love.