Category Archives: Liturgy

The Holy Trinity Enthroned in our Hearts

I was asked recently to shed some light on various words and phrases used in our Mass. I think this is a very good idea as it can add a seriousness and understanding to our prayers. You may recall I spent several weeks going line by line through the Our Father. Many have told me that they found that series very enriching. Before that, I wrote on the Gloria as a Bouquet of praise.

I thought we would discuss that trinitarian formula that begins every mass “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The same formula also forms a suffix that is appended to so many of our prayers at Mass, “To you, God our Father, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.” The wording varies a little bit with each prayer, but all the elements are there again and again. In fact, with just a couple of exceptions, all the prayers of the Mass are prayed to God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

This trinitarian formula has its origin in Jesus, himself, who commanded his disciples to Baptize, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This commandment accomplishes three things. First, it explains how God can be love. Second, it explains how Jesus, while fully human, could also be fully God. Third, it explains how we, who are fallen humanity, can be united to God.

  • It explains how God is Love, since Love requires a lover (Father), a beloved (Son), and ta spirit that binds them together (Holy Spirit). Indeed, for God to be Love, he actually must be Trinity.
  • It explains how Jesus Christ can be fully human and fully God, as he is the Son of God and God the Son.
  • It explains how we can be united to God as, through the indwelling Holy Spirit of Love, we are adopted as children of God in our baptism.

St. Theresa of Avila reminds us in her Interior Castle that the Holy Trinity is not “somewhere in outer space” sitting on a throne like Zeus on Olympus playing chess with his universe. The Holy Trinity is enthroned in our inmost being, illuminating our souls with his light.

When we call upon God in this trinitarian formula, we invoke his Life, his Authority, and his Unity “who lives and reigns in unity.” And we declare, “World without end.” This is not just a fancy way of saying that God is eternal. It reminds us that we have a choice in our life. We can choose to focus on and live for success in this world that is doomed for destruction. Or we can choose to focus on and live for success in the next world that is eternal, world without end. The martyrs universally call to us that to lose this world is nothing, and that to gain the next world is everything.

Sanctus

This familiar hymn, commonly referred to by its Latin name, Sanctus, is sung at every Mass.

Holy, Holy, Holy. Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

This song has its origin in a vision of heavenly worship witness by the Prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah sees God on his throne with the six-winged seraphim surrounding him. The seraphim continually sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory.”

You will notice that this hymn follows the call to worship, “With angels, archangels, saints and all the heavenly hosts we sing…” So, in this hymn we are actually joining the heavenly chorus, singing the same hymn as all of heaven in constant praise of God. In that heavenly chorus are the angels, archangels, saints, and our loved ones who have preceded us into heaven. It is a chance for each of us to join a sing-along with those we now miss on earth.

The song is reprised in the Book of Revelation. Here the seraphim sing to Jesus, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” When they sing this chorus, the 24 elders, representing all the saints from the Old and New Testaments, bow down. They lay their crowns at the feet of Jesus and cry out, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you crated all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” That is why the priest normally profoundly bows during the Sanctus.

All present should remember that in this moment of worship we are laying at the feet of Jesus all that we are and all that we have. He is the source of our life and our being. We have nothing without him, so we give all to him. He alone is worthy to receive our gift. We give him our brokenness. We give him our doubts and confusion. We give him our failures. And we give him our successes and triumphs. For “the whole earth is full of his glory,” and the little glories we experience from time to time come from Him and return to him.

He came down from heaven…and became man

In the Creed we say, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven and by the Holy Spirit was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man.” This is a very special moment in the reciting of the Creed, and everyone genuflects or bows when these words are spoken.

The Incarnation, God becoming man, the Eternal Word becoming flesh, is the cornerstone of the Christian Faith. God loved us so much that he humbled himself, stooping so low that he became one of his own creatures to reveal himself to us. The prophets saw glimpses of God. The psalmists sang songs about him. The sages spoke of his wisdom. But until God became man in Jesus Christ, we really didn’t know God. The most respected prophet, Moses, only got a glimpse of his backside as he passed by. Indeed, man was always trying to understand God by the trail he left behind as he interacted with mankind.

But in Christ, we see God as he truly is. We can know God. We can love God. We can speak to God as friend to friend because Jesus called us his friends. Therefore, when we refer to the Incarnation in the Creed, we bow in worship to the awesome God who humbled himself to become one of us, for us.

Sit, stand, kneel – learn, pray, worship

We learn how to attend Mass as children, perhaps without questioning why we do things this way. One of the first things visitors to a Catholic church notices is the motion. We stand. We sit. We stand again. We kneel. Is there a reason for all this up and down?

It has sometimes been referred to as Catholic calisthenics, but these postures we use in Mass have meaning rooted in Scripture and ancient liturgical practices of the Church.

Standing is the posture of prayer. Notice how Jesus assumes his disciples will stand to pray. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone.” Mark 11:25.

The ancients would stand in the temple court to pray. Sometimes with hands uplifted. Other times with hands folded, as catechumens still practice when approaching the Eucharist. Since the entire Mass is a prayer, through most of Church history, the people stood throughout the Mass. The elderly and infirmed often leaned against a pillar or a pole placed there especially for that purpose. When the general congregation was allowed to sit, standing was still observed for the Gospel reading and other specific prayers. In Mass we stand at the Penitential Prayer, the Gloria, the Creed, and the Our Father.

Kneeling is the posture of worship. When a subject came into the presence of his king, he would kneel as a form of submission and recognition of authority. Many Catholics kneel before Mass recognizing that they have entered into the presence of the body of Christ in the tabernacle. We also kneel for the prayer of consecration, as the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ and at the prayer of humble access since we are about to approach the body of Christ.

In our culture students sit when they attend a lecture while the professor stands. In Jesus’ day, it was the opposite. That is why we always see Jesus sitting when he teaches, and those learning stand around him. In the modern Mass, the congregation sits during the homily. They are like students listening to their teacher who is explaining the Gospel to them.

Sitting is a modern allowance. It makes Mass more comfortable, and in practical terms, keeps those who cannot stand for an hour from embarrassment. But even when you cannot perform the postures physically, it is helpful to be mindful of them and stand or kneel in your heart.

You give life to all things and make them holy

You are indeed Holy, O Lord and all you have created rightly gives you praise.…You give life to all things and make them holy. Eucharistic Prayer III

To be holy means ‘to be set apart.’ A common example is the chalice used for the Holy Eucharist. It is sanctified (made holy) for use in the Eucharist. Being set apart for holy mysteries, it cannot be used for a common cup at a dinner party.

There is actually a biblical example of this. In the Book of Daniel, King Belchazzar takes the holy chalices and pattens his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem. He used them at a dinner party, during which a disembodied hand wrote on the wall that his would be destroyed. (See Daniel chapter 5.)

This prayer begins by stating that God is holy. He is set apart. He is different from everything else. There is no one like God. There is nothing in the universe like God. Too often we try to describe God with terms arising from human emotions or experience. God is not like us at all. He is holy.

But then, the prayer goes on to say that God gives life to all things and makes them holy. What does that mean. Everything in the universe, including us, have been created by and made alive by God for a specific purpose. By setting humanity apart for the specific purpose he has given to humanity, he makes us holy. But holiness is only realized when we live for that purpose for which God has made us. What is that purpose?

The 1891 Baltimore Catechism put it simply:
            To know God 
            To love God
            To serve God
            To be happy with God forever.
Jesus would add to that “and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

That is God’s purpose for humanity, but God also has a specific purpose for you. He created you with certain gifts, talents, and inclinations so that you would have your own individual style in which you fulfill God’s general purpose for all humanity. The gifts, talents, and inclinations God gave you may direct you to be a businessperson, a teacher, a religious, a homemaker, an artisan, or an athlete. When you discover what God created you to do and do it with all your heart to the glory of God and for the benefit of mankind, you will find lasting fulfillment and true holiness.

An Offering to you

“May he make of us an eternal offering to you, so that we may obtain an inheritance with your elect.” Eucharist Prayer III

Often, we think of an offering as some money we put in a basket, probably something we can do without. We consider it our responsibility to support our parish, so the bills can be paid, and we can have a place to worship. But do we ever consider that we are the offering? The gift we place in the basket is just a practical way to present an offering of our time and sustenance to the God who has given us all things. Before we can give ourselves, our very body and soul, God must make us an offering. In other words, we are not the giver, but the gift that God gives to his Church.

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

So many of you give yourselves to the work of God here at Guardian Angels and Our Lady of Hope: to build up the Body of Christ, to work towards unity in the faith, and to journey toward the discovery of the fullness of Christ. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of this great group of Christian faithful.

I could single out so many here in gratitude for your selfless acts of service and giving. I could embarrass all of you. However, I do have one I would like to mention, knowing just how angry I am about to make her. Sister Linda Barringer has given herself to Christ through decades of service as a religious. For the last 17 years she has given herself to the body of Christ as a teacher and equipper at Guardian Angels. Many of you reading this letter have benefited from her instruction. Some she guided into the Catholic Faith. Others she has instructed more deeply in the Faith. And for others she has instructed your children. It is unfair that she has come to her retirement at a time of such turmoil when traditional retirement parties cannot be held in her honor. She deserves better, and I hope we can do something more official for her in the fall. For now, please honor her by saying a prayer for her.

Whenever you hear in Mass, “make of us an offering to you,” consider the example of Sister Linda, priests, religious and lay people who sacrificially give themselves to the Body of Christ. And seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit of how he would give you to Christ and his Church.