Category Archives: Liturgy

The Altar Stone and Relic

The altar is a symbol of Christ’s Sacramental presence. It is the Table of the Lord where we join with Christ in his heavenly feast. Catholic altars always contain a relic of a saint, usually a martyr. This reminds us of the early Christian era when Mass was often celebrated in the catacombs on the sarcophagus of a saint. Once Christianity was made legal by Emperor Constantine, it became the custom in the Roman Church to build Churches so that the altars stood directly over the tomb of a martyr. For example: St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is built over the tomb of St. Peter.

The respect or veneration of relics is a very ancient practice. It was practiced in ancient Judaism, as evidenced by the care given to Joseph’s bones when the Israelites left Egypt. But the practice is more universal and ancient than that.

Respect for relics, sometimes called the “religion of remembrance,” was common among almost all peoples. In many instances, some attempt was made to render the departed present by means of an object in which it was believed something of the deceased remained. Among certain ancient peoples, this developed into the custom of erecting elaborate funereal monuments such as the pyramids and using them for commemorative gatherings, frequently with some religious significance.

The theological basis for this practice is the belief that our bodies are sacred. God created our bodies and called them “good.” In the incarnation, God walked among us in a human body. As Christians, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

To respect the relic of a saint is to venerate what God has done in the world through his Church and particularly through the life of that individual.

In Persona Christi

From the very beginning of the Mass to the end, the priest acts in persona Christi. By this, it is understood that the priest is not acting as his own person, but as the person of Christ. It is Christ, not the priest, who affects the Sacrament. The priest is empowered by the Church through apostolic succession to celebrate the Mass, but it is Christ who makes the miracle.

“Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species [of bread and wine]. By his power he is present in the Sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

“Christ, indeed, always associates the Church with himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. the Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord and through him offers worship to the eternal Father.” . . . which participates in the liturgy of heaven

“In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.” CCC; ⁋ 1088-1090

How are a priest and deacon different?

Priests and deacons are both ordained ministers of the Gospel. However, their service to the Church is quite different.

The deacon’s ministry originated in the Acts of the Apostles to serve the Church in many practical ways.

The Twelve called together the entire community of disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, brethren, we direct you to select from among you seven men of good reputation, men filled with the Spirit and with wisdom, to whom we may assign this task. We will then be able to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The entire community found this proposal to be acceptable, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch who was a convert to Judaism. They then presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them. Acts 6:2-6 NCB

A deacon, therefore, is a servant of the Church. Like the priest, he is an ordained clergy. However, his functions are limited and somewhat analogous to those of a Protestant minister. He:

  • Preaches
  • Baptizes
  • Marries
  • Buries
  • Ministers to the sick
  • Offers service to the poor

A priest is ordained to serve in persona Christi. He performs all the ministries of a deacon. But additionally, he celebrates the Eucharist and pronounces absolution.

What Holds the Mass Together

From the first days of the Church following the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, believers gathered for Mass daily. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” Acts 2:42 (NAB)

This fourfold pattern of worship continues to the present day. In each Mass, believers gather to listen to the writings of the Apostles in the gospels and their epistles. We come together in fellowship: greeting one another, discovering needs for assistance and prayer, and sharing our lives with one another. We celebrate the breaking of the bread, that is, the Eucharistic Feast. And, we pray for one another.

Over the last 2,000 years, the celebration has become more organized. We call this organization of worship liturgy. However, liturgy is not something cold and detached. Liturgy is an act of worship. The Greek word, liturgia, is translated “the prayers” in the verse quoted above.

In ancient Greece, ‘liturgy’ described a voluntary service to the state. In the Church, it has come to mean our service of worship to God. In the Mass, we gather for the Liturgy of the Word (reading of and reflection on Scripture) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the re-enactment of the sacrifice of Christ proclaimed in his Last Supper, experienced in his Passion and made present in each Mass.) Above all, the Eucharist is a celebration of thanksgiving, which is what the word ‘eucharist’ means. It is thanksgiving for the saving act of Christ by which we are redeemed from eternal death and made friends of God.

From the beginning, Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies. It is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

We carry out the Lord’s command by celebrating the memorial of his Sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine. By the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, these gifts become the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus, Christ is truly and mysteriously made Present.

The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.” CCC ⁋ 1356-1357, 1360

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.