Category Archives: Liturgy

Call to Thanksgiving

Following the Sursum Corda (“Lift up your hearts”) the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer opens with a call to thanksgiving, which, of course, it the meaning of Eucharist. Although there are many prefaces assigned to special days and seasons, they all begin the same. “It is truly right and just (“meet and right” -Divine Worship Missal), our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy.”

Additionally, many Eucharistic Prayers repeat that call to thanksgiving at the end of the Preface.

“You are indeed Holy, O Lord, and all you have crated rightly gives you praise…” Eucharist Prayer 3 based on the Anaphora of Saint James

“It is truly right to give you thanks, and truly just to give you glory, Father most holy….” Eucharistic Prayer 4 based on the Anaphora of St. Basil the Great

This call to thanksgiving is an invitation to experience the power of God activated in our daily lives through an attitude of thanksgiving in all things. “Rejoice always. Pray constantly. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

To give thanks in all things is not necessarily the same as giving thanks for all things. Even in our darkest hours, when we face grief and sorrow, we can still offer God thanksgiving, not for our sorrow, but in the midst of our sorrow, because we know God will give us the strength to carry our burden and find victory on the other side.

In Jesus’ darkest hour, as he prepared to undergo his Passion, he walked with his disciples from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane singing Psalm 118, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever.” This great Psalm of triumph continues, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Jesus focus was not on the pain and suffering of his Passion, but on the glory and victory of his Resurrection. Therefore, he could offer thanksgiving in the midst of his suffering, knowing the victory ultimately belonged to God.

In our re-enactment of Christ’s passion in the Eucharist, we open with a call to thanksgiving, following Christ’s example. The ability to offer God thanks in in suffering is the ultimate proclamation of our faith. We express our confidence in God’s ultimate victory even when nothing seems like it now.

As people share with me their pains and their requests for prayer, I am struck with how much sorrow there is in our congregation and the world. How do we carry such burdens? How do we hold onto our faith when grief is tearing our world apart? The same way Jesus held steady as he took the cross upon his shoulders and carried the weight of the sin of the world up the hill to Golgotha. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His love endures forever.”

Benedictus es

In the mass there are a few prayers the priest says quietly while something else is going on. One of those prayers is the Benedictus es, or “Blessed are You”. It is said during the offertory. After the gifts of bread and wine are brought up, while the cantor and congregation are singing the offertory hymn, the priest will lift up each of the gifts and pronounce a blessing. In daily masses, he will say the prayer aloud with those attending responding, “Blessed be God forever.” But on Sundays, because the offertory is being sung, he will simply say it quietly. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

This very ancient prayer predates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years. It was an ancient Jewish practice to thank God continually throughout the day using a formula known as the Berakah or Blessing. It was expected that devout Jews utter 100 blessings each day. The Berakah typically began “Blessed are You Lord God, King of the universe.” The second phrase of the Berakah then adds what it is that you are thanking God for. For example, before a meal one would commonly add: “Who brings for bread from the earth.” After a meal, “who feeds all.”

At the feeding of the 5,000, the Scripture tells us that Jesus took the bread and said a blessing. This would be the blessing Jesus spoke before the miracle. Similarly, the priest invokes the same blessing before the miracle of the Eucharist. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

The priest then lifts up the chalice of wine. To the ancient Hebrews, as well as modern Jews, this cup was known as the Kiddush. The Rabbi would intone, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.” Then, it continues to say, “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all nations, raised us above all tongues, and sanctified us by His commandments. And You, God, have given us lovingly.” Again, the priest utters a similar blessing. “Blessed are you. Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”

These ancient prayers link our mass with the prayer life of Jesus and his disciples. It reminds us of how ancient our tradition is, being built upon the Jewish roots of the first Christians.

Mass Intentions

“Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant Francis our Pope and James our Bishop, Steven the Bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the Order of Bishops, all the clergy, and the entire people you have gained for your own, especially….” Roman Missal

The Holy Mass is prayer, and like all prayers, every mass is said for an intention. Priests are instructed in Canon Law to intend masses “for the Christian faithful, especially for those in need.” Sometimes that intention is spoken, at other times not. Whenever a Mass is offered for a specific intention, the Mass applies special graces from God upon that person or intention. We often intercede for others by our personal prayers. The Church is able to intercede for us through the celebration of the Mass itself. One mass each Sunday is said for all the parishioners of the parish, both living and deceased.

Pope Paul VI said, “The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!” It has immense power and countless miracles and conversions have occurred throughout the centuries by offering Masses for a specific intention or person. Mass intentions are a great treasure of the Church and have a spiritual weight that is incalculable. Since the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” the Mass possess a power that most efficacious.

The practice of Mass intentions goes back to the first centuries of the Church. Inscriptions in the Roman catacombs demonstrate Mass intentions were being expressed as early as 150 A.D. Then, as now, Mass intentions were offered for the repose of the soul of a loved one, for special occasions such as an anniversary, or for individuals.

Anyone can request a Mass be said for a specific intention. Generally, a small offering is made so the one making the request becomes a sharer in the mass. As King David once said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24) In our diocese, there is no minimum offering, but there is a maximum of $10. In some poor countries this offering is a large part of the priest’s income. In the U.S., where priests receive a regular salary, this offering goes to the general church fund.

The Mystery of Faith

Before the most recent edition of the Roman Missal, when the priest said, “The Mystery of Faith,” all would respond. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” That simple declaration encapsulates the accomplishment of Jesus of Nazareth. He died as the payment of man’s breaking covenant with God. He rose from the dead to defeat death so that man could live eternally in accordance with God’s original plan for mankind. He will come again to establish his eternal kingdom, where man reigns with God over the entire universe. This declaration is the mystery of the Gospel. This gospel, declared on the lips of martyrs, transformed the world. It was proclaimed by the apostles to the first church in what scholars refer to as the kerygma. That proclamation was passed on to the modern church in the form of the Apostle’s Creed, which is our baptismal covenant.

With the new edition of the Roman Missal we now say, “We proclaim your death and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Not only is it the proclamation of the apostles, it is our proclamation as well. The work of the apostles is not done until has heard and understood the Gospel, the mystery of faith. Not all will receive it, but all should be given the chance.

It is easy to become complacent in modern America in which there are churches seemingly on every corner. We might think the job is done. But can we think our job is finished in a culture so riddled with falsehood and violence?

The mystery of faith is not just something we memorize. It is a responsibility. We are responsible for proclaiming it to our time and our culture. If our culture is different from that of the primitive church, then it is our task to develop new means and methods to proclaim it in a way that will be meaningful to our age.

So when we say, “We proclaim your death and profess your resurrection until you come again.” Let us not miss the fact that we are not only professing what Christ has done, but what we will do. It is our job to partner with Christ who purchased our salvation by proclaiming that mystery to all. Every time someone accepts that mystery, the world becomes a little more peaceful and a little more holy.

Liturgy of the Word

In the earliest description of the mass, written by Justin Martyr around 150 AD, Justin says, “On the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are being read as long as it is allowable.” Even in the New Testament, Paul instructs Timothy to “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13) The Second Epistle of Peter speaks of the public reading of Paul’s letters, referring to them as Scripture and encouraging a carefully guided understanding. (2 Peter 3:16) These early references show us that from the first days of the Church, the public reading of Scripture and an explanatory homily was a crucial part of Christian worship.

The Liturgy of the Word, then, is not just a preamble to the Eucharist. It is a conduit of God’s transformative grace that renews our minds and changes our lives. St. Paul refers to the Scriptures as “God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

Receiving the Holy Eucharist gives us food for the journey. It cleanses and strengthens us to live the life of God in this life. But the Liturgy of the Word is no less important as it give us direction and understanding. Without it, we could be carried away by the personal opinions, conjectures, and agendas of “those who distort the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16)

The importance of the Liturgy of the Word has become even more apparent in this time when so many do not have access to the Holy Eucharist because of the pandemic restrictions. I know those who cannot safely attend mass rightfully long for the day they can return to the reception of the Eucharist. But during these trying times, we should not belittle what God gives us in his Holy Scriptures. There is power in the Word of God. It was through the Word of God that all of creation came into being. And the Word of God can encourage, guide, and strengthen you in the days ahead and throughout your life.

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.

Do this in memory of me

In every Mass during the words of consecration the priest repeats the words of Jesus, “Do this in memory of me.”

In our culture, to remember something is simply to call it to mind. If more thought is given to the subject, we would likely use words like “consider,” or “reflect upon.” However, in Jesus’ culture, to remember had a much deeper meaning.

From the beginning of time, worship involved remembering through re-enactment, and in that process, making present the effect of a past act of God. We see this in the Jewish celebration of Passover, where re-enacting the Hebrews deliverance from Egypt through the Passover liturgy and sacred meal made the reality of God’s deliverance present to the Jewish family. Going back to 10,000 BC in the ruins of the Gobekli Tepe, we see that the worship of ancient man involved a re-enactment of the Eden story.

To remember is to participate. In the Mass the events of the Passion of Christ “become in a certain way present and real… When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present. The sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the Cross remains ever present.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church Para. 1363, 1364)

The Mass makes the sacrifice of Christ truly present as the bread and wine become the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. In the Mass, we become the disciples at the Last Supper, in Gethsemane, and at Calvary. In this memorial/re-enactment, we are invited to join our sacrifice, the living sacrifice of our lives, to Christ’s sacrifice, so Christ can present it along with his to the Father.


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.