Thursday, September 30, 2010

What to do at Mass?

Mass Class
By Jeff Guhin, Jennifer Nestojko, Mike Hayes

OCT. 3, 2010 ( - So once you get to mass, what do you do? Well, it’s helpful to think of Mass as you would a dinner party. Here are five tips that will make it go well.

1. Get There

Try to arrive about 10 minutes or so before the start of the Mass.

This allows you plenty of time to greet others and it gives you some time to center yourself and meditate. There may be some churches where parishioners are urged to greet one another and talk. Mass is about celebrating relationships both with God and with your fellow Mass-goers, so it’s nice to be able to catch up with people before you get started. Think of it like a birthday dinner for a good friend: you wouldn’t want to walk right in when the dinner starts. You’d want to come by early, wish your friend a happy birthday, and then chat with your other friends at the party before dinner starts. If you don’t come to Mass early, it’s like missing cocktails: sure, you can do it, but it’s a lot less fun.

If you are a regular, be mindful of new parishioners and visitors. Welcome them into our larger family just as God welcomes every one of us.

If you’re running late, you have a lot of options. First off, there are later Masses at just about every church. Check out your local diocese’s website or to find out what times Masses start. However, if you’ve really got to go to this Church for this Mass, just be sensitive to the flow of the service-try to hang in the doorway or in the back of the Church until a convenient time to quickly find a spot. Again, it’s a lot like a dinner party: if the host is giving a speech, you don’t want to walk up to your seat and distract everyone.

It’s always better to go to Mass than to not go to Mass, but sometimes it’s best just to reschedule. If you’re running late because of totally unavoidable delays-and this is the only Mass you can attend-then you can still receive communion even if you come to Mass after the Gospel is read (which happens about halfway through the service). If you could have come to Mass earlier and just didn’t though, Catholics consider it a sin, simply because you’re treating Mass like a job to get done and ignoring the importance of your relationship to God and your community. After all, if your friend were having that birthday party and you barged in 45 minutes late, shook her hand, gave her a hot dog you bought at the 7-11, and then stormed out again because you had something else to do, your friend would probably wonder why you came at all. The same is true for Mass.

2. Getting in the Door

A) Walking into the church

As you enter the church, a member of the parish may greet you, and someone might hand you a song sheet, encouraging you to sing. Any Christian community should welcome newcomers, but it’s just as important that you allow yourself to be welcomed. If you march into the rear pew, look really solemn, and then march right out again, you’re not exactly making it easy for people to get to know you. If folks don’t talk to you, check your breath, use a breath mint if necessary, and then shake someone’s hand and say hello. Mass is a lot more meaningful if you know the people you’re going to Mass with.

B) Holy Water

The Baptismal Font or some dispenser of “holy water” is located near the entrance in most churches. Catholics dip their fingers in the water and make a sign of the cross. The water reminds them of the sacrament of Baptism and unites them with Christ, who said “all you who are thirsty, come to the water.” The water is called “holy” simply because it is blessed.

3. Get Thee to a Pew

Catholics are a respectful lot. So before entering your pew, be sure to bow or genuflect as a sign of respect for what’s before you. It might be a little odd, but just think of it like having to kiss your grandmother on both cheeks instead of just one.

The rules are actually pretty simple:


1. When you pass the tabernacle, which is a box usually in the front of the Church that contains the Blessed Sacrament. This shows respect to the presence of Christ contained in the Tabernacle.
2. At the beginning of mass, as you sit down, directing your genuflect towards the tabernacle, if it contains the Blessed Sacrament. You will know if it contains the Blessed Sacrament because a candle will be lit right next to it, or because you asked someone, or because you are God. The candle thing is probably easiest.
3. At the end of Mass, as Mass-goers leave their seat, directing the genuflection towards the tabernacle if it contains the Blessed Sacrament. (There is no need to genuflect before or after receiving communion.)


1. When facing the altar, if there is no tabernacle behind it, or if the tabernacle does not contain the Blessed Sacrament.
2. If you have to cross in front of the altar as a lector or a speaker.
3. If you’re Catholic and choose to receive Communion, you also need to bow before receiving communion in most places.

To genuflect, drop to your right knee to the floor in a solemn, slow way. Go as close as you can if you don’t think you can do that-while God may appreciate your sacrifice, fellow Mass-goers probably won’t enjoy the ambulance that will come to pick you up if you bust your knee out backwards.

4. Wake Up and Smell the Incense


The mass is not like the movies, where you passively sit and watch, and it isn’t even like a melodrama, where you get to cheer and boo on cue. Even if some Masses, like Palm Sunday, may seem like a melodrama, Mass-goers are not an audience. They’re active participants who make the liturgy happen. At most masses, it’s important that a community of believers is present. A priest is necessary for a Mass, but so are the Mass-goers!

The words and actions of Catholics at Mass are an active form of prayer, and a real chance to build a relationship with those around them and with God. For Catholics, Mass is a lot of things at once: it’s a re-enactment of Christ’s suffering and death, a celebration of community, and the chance to connect with the real presence of Christ’s body and blood. Not only is your participation vital to making all of that happen, but it also will make your experience of the Mass much more exciting.

5. Mass Manners

Mass is like any social event. It’s considered good form to be attentive to those around you and bad form not to. So, unless you expect a call from God, it’s a good idea to keep the cell phones and beepers turned off (or set to vibrate if you have an emergency situation). You might try leaving your cell phone at home, unless you’ve already become so addicted to it you’d shrivel up. If the room is available, you might take your crying baby to the “cry room” where you can see the Mass but not disturb others or simply take him or her outside. It’s just like if your friend were giving a speech at a big dinner, save for his retirement. Sure, you want to hear the speech, but if your kid is crying really loud it hurts it for everyone.

Mass is actually not that hard. Just follow along with what other folks do, be respectful of traditions, and try to enjoy it. After all, the dinner party isn’t only for Jesus. It’s also for you.

Jeff Guhin, Jennifer Nestojko, Mike Hayes

Monday, September 13, 2010

Virtues of the Newer Vernacular Mass

Virtues of the Newer Vernacular Mass

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

As a priest I have been privileged to walk in the “wide Church.” That is to say, I have been able for all 21 years of my priesthood to say the Traditional Latin Mass while at the same time celebrating the newer, Ordinary Form of the Mass in some very dynamic parishes.

I have always loved both forms of the Roman liturgy and this sometimes gets me in trouble since there are dynamics within the Church where, at times, people on both sides want me to choose sides. I have no problem that people have their preferences, but as a priest I think I am required to serve a very diverse Church. I thank God too for the gift to be able to do this and to really love the current diversity. I realize too that diversity has its limits and, thus, I stick to the rubrics in both forms of the Mass: “Say the black, do the red!”

I have discussed in the past why I like the Traditional Mass and the video at the bottom of this post is a PBS interview where I speak of my love for it. I would like to take a moment however and also say what I like about the newer Ordinary Form of the Mass and also my acceptance of the fact that the old Mass did have need for some attention.

1. Rediscovering the value of subordinate roles and ministries in the Mass – There was a tendency in the Traditional Latin Mass for the action of subordinate ministers such as the deacon, subdeacon, choirs and cantors, to be non-effectual. In other words, what they did, didn’t really count. The schola (or choir) might sing the introit, the Kyrie and Gloria, but what they did still had to be recited by the priest quietly as well. In effect, their singing didn’t really count. It might sound pretty and all but it was really only what the priest recited that mattered. The last version of the Traditional Mass in 1962 had begun to remedy this. Thus the priest was no longer required to read the Scripture readings quietly if the Deacon and Subdeacon were chanting them. It was OK for him to listen to what they were chanting. But the schola’s chant still had to be re-read by the priest to “count.” The newer, Ordinary Form of the Mass has restored the subordinate ministries to their own proper function. Hence, if the readings are read by a lector or deacon the priest does not have to re-read them. If the choir sings the communion verse or song, this suffices and it is not required that the priest re-read it. I like this about the new Mass.

2. I love the cycle of readings in the newer Mass. It is rich in its sampling of Scripture. The three year rotating cycle means that most of the New Testament is read every three years along with a rich sampling of the Old Testament. The Traditional Latin mass usually offered only a brief reading from the New Testament epistles and a Gospel pericope. It is very limited compared to the richness of the current Lectionary which includes, on Sundays, an Old Testament passge, a psalm, a New Testament epistle and a Gospel passage. Further the sequential reading from one of the four Gospels along with a matching Old Testament reading is helpful. The readings from the Traditional Latin Mass tended to skip around and its logic was not always clear. As a preacher and lover of Scripture I have been richly fed by the new lectionary. I could wish for a slightly better translation than the current NAB we use here in the States but in the end I feel very well schooled by the newer liturgy when it comes to Scripture.

3. Restoration of the General Intercessions – There is a strange moment in the Old Mass when, after the homily and creed the priest turns and says to the people (Dominus vobiscum (The Lord be with you) and they reply et cum spiritu tuo (and with your spirit). He then says, Oremus (Let us pray). But there is no prayer. He simply turns back to the altar and the people are once again seated. Many centuries before there had been bidding prayers here similar to our current “Prayers of the Faithful” or “General Intercessions.” They had been composed by Pope Gelasius but were later suppressed by Pope Gregory since they prolonged the Mass. But somehow the call to prayer (that odd little “oremus“) stayed there all those centuries.

There was need to attend to this. Either restore the prayers or drop the call to prayer. The current, Ordinary Form of the Mass has restored these prayers or general intercessions. I think this is a valuable aspect of the Ordinary Form of the Mass if it is done correctly. We ought to to pray for others as is so beautifully done in the Eastern Rites of the Church. It seems suitable that, after hearing and reflecting on God’s Word, we be drawn to pray for ourselves and the world.

However there is a tendency in some parishes to misunderstand the nature of these prayers. They are general intercessions, not particular ones. The prayers ought to be of a general nature not for every one’s sick cousin, aunt, or brother, mentioned by name with a full medical report included in the prayer. Rather we pray for the sick in general, for the poor, for Church leaders, Government leaders, for abundance of the fruits of the earth, for peace and so forth. Specific political and idiosyncratic prayers are wholly to be avoided.

If these norms are observed, the general intercessions (or prayer of the faithful) is a beautiful and ancient practice restored in the ordinary and newer form of the mass and it also links us more to the practice of the Eastern Rites.

4. The general rediscovery of the existence and role of congregation is a good part of the newer Ordinary Form of the Mass. In the Traditional Latin Mass, especially in its recited form the congregation had little to do but watch the Mass. The priest interacted only with the servers who made the responses on behalf of the people. Even when the priest turned to say something to the congregation he was instructed to look down.

If members of the congregation did wish to interact and make Latin responses this was made more difficult by the fact that the Mass was largely whispered by the priest. In the 1950s attempts were made to remedy this by encouraging the people to learn their responses in the Mass and use missals to follow the Mass carefully. Permissions were given for the priests to say the Mass in a louder voice and microphones were even added to some altars. But the lengthier Latin responses were still difficult for many ordinary Catholics to make and keep up with.

Today, in the newer liturgy the role of the congregation is respected and they are expected to play an active role in the Mass and make responses proper to them. It is true that there has been some obsession with this by overzealous liturgists. At times some of them demand that the people do everything and that there is never a place for a choir to sing a more advanced setting of something. But in general, the integral involvement of the congregation in the newer and ordinary form of the Mass is something I value highly.

5. The Vernacular is also a positive development. I love the Latin Language but I also know that it is a great advantage to have many parts of the Mass in the local language. This has assisted in greater participationof the faithful in the Mass to an immense degree. It is difficult to expect the congregation to take a routinely active role if the Liturgy is almost wholly said in a language they do not know. Simple Latin responses are one thing, but try to get the whole congregation to say the confiteor (I Confess) well together. It can be done in some self-selected congregation where there is interest in Latin, but in more general settings it would be difficult.

That said, it is a true loss that most of the faithful have become completely separated from any experience of the Mass in Latin. This is something not envisaged by the Council which permitted a wider use of the vernacular but also commended the use of Latin and foresaw it’s continued common use in the liturgy.

A further point here is to lament how poor our vernacular translations have been for years and how good it is that a more accurate translation is on the way. Praise God.

6. Flexibility and the wider possibility for inculturation is also something I appreciate about the newer Ordinary Form of the Mass. Careful balance is needed here and rubrics need to be followed but the greater allowance for wider forms of music and cultural expression has allowed the Liturgy to flourish in different settings. I have a vibrant African American Catholic Parish wherein gospel music and extended preaching along with a charismatic enthusiasm give real life to the Mass in an authentic manner.

It is true that not every experience of inculturation with the new Mass has been as successful. This is especially true in more suburban American settings where culture is more secular and ephemeral and too many worldly forms find their way into the Mass. But where is a sacred tradition to draw on, it is nice to have some flexibility to incorporate this.

There is no doubt that the newer Ordinary Form of the Mass has some serious issues. It emerged in a time of great cultural tumult and emerged as if out of a whirlwind. We are still waiting for the dust to settle in many respects. But there are good and wonderful things as well. Pope Benedict is helping a great deal to reconnect us to tradition and to see both forms of the Liturgy as beneficial to each other.

It is fine to have a preference but I am blest to love both forms and serve vibrant and passionate communities using both forms. Both communities love the Lord and are serious about the liturgy and deeply connected to it. What a blessing to look out each Sunday and see, not boredom, but engaged and passionate people, alive and aware that the Lord is ministering to them in the sacred liturgy. What a blessing, a double blessing!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Biblical and Heavenly Roots of the Sacred Liturgy

The Biblical and Heavenly Roots of the Sacred Liturgy
By Msgr. Charles Pope

Catholics are often unaware just how Biblical the Sacred Liturgy is. The design of our traditional churches, the use of candles, incense, golden vessels, the postures of standing and kneeling, the altar, the singing of hymns, priests wearing albs and so forth are all depicted in the Scriptures. Some of these details were features of the ancient Jewish Temple, but most all of these are reiterated in the Book of Revelation which describes the liturgy of heaven.

The liturgy here on earth is modeled after the liturgy in heaven and that is why it is so serious to tamper with it. The Book of Revelation describes the heavenly liturgy and focuses on a scroll or book which contains the meaning of life and the answers to all we seek. It also focuses the Lamb of God, standing but with the marks of slaughter upon it. Does this not sound familiar? It is the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

We do well to be aware of the Biblical roots of the Sacred Liturgy not only for our own edification but also as an answer to Protestant Christians who have largely set aside these rituals and, some of whom, criticize our use of them. Many people consider our rituals empty and vain, “smells and bells.” Some consider austere liturgical environments devoid of much ritual to be “purer,” and closer to the worship in “spirit and in truth” that Jesus spoke of in John 4.

To such criticisms we must insist that these rituals, properly understood, are mystical and deeply biblical. Further, they are elements of the heavenly liturgy since almost all of them are mentioned as aspects of the worship or liturgy that takes place in heaven. In this light it is a serious mistake to set them aside or have a dismissive attitude toward them.

With that in mind we ought to consider the Biblical references to the most common elements of Catholic and Orthodox liturgies. I place an ocassional note in Red where it seems appropriate.

Candles -

  • Rev 1:12-13 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man. In traditional catholic parishes there are six candles on the high altar and a seventh candle is brought out when the bishop is present.
  • Rev 4:6 Seven flaming torches burned in front of the throne.

Altar -

  • Rev 9:13 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.
  • Rev 8:3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne.

Chair -

  • Rev 4:1 and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne! And he who sat there appeared like jasper and carnelian, and round the throne was a rainbow that looked like an emerald….
  • Daniel 7:9 As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat;… In the sacred liturgy the Chair of the priest is prominent. But, as he takes his seat we are invited not to see Father Jones, but rather the Lord himself presiding in our midst.

Priests (elders) in Albs:

  • Rev 4:4 the elders sat, dressed in white garments…..

Bishop’s Miter, priest biretta –

  • Rev 4:4, 10 With golden crowns on their heads……they cast down their crowns before the throne…. In the Liturgy the Bishop may only wear his miter at prescribed times. But when he goes to the altar he must cast aside his miter. The priest who wears the biretta in the Old Mass is instructed to tip his biretta at the mention of the the Holy Name and to lay it aside entirely when he goes to the altar.

Focus on a scroll (Book) The Liturgy of the Word -

  • Rev 5: 1 And I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I wept much that no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” In the ancient world books, as we know them now, had not been invented. Texts were written on long scrolls and rolled up.

Incense, Intercessory prayer -

  • Rev 8:3 another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God…..
  • Rev 5:7 and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints;

Hymns –

  • Rev 5:8 – And they sang a new hymn: Worthy are you O Lord to receive the scroll and break open its seals. For you were slain and with your blood you purchase for God men of every race and tongue, and those of every nation.
  • Rev 14:1 Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads… and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth.
  • Rev 15:3 And they (the multitude no one could count) sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and wonderful are thy deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are thy ways, O King of the ages! Who shall not fear and glorify thy name, O Lord? For thou alone art holy. All nations shall come and worship thee, for thy judgments have been revealed.”

Holy Holy Holy

  • Rev 4:8 and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,

Prostration (Kneeling) -

  • Rev 4:10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne.
  • Rev 5:14 and the elders fell down and worshiped - In today’s setting there is seldom room for everyone to lie, prostrate and flat on the ground. Hence, kneeling developed as a practical solution to the lack of space but amounts to the same demenor of humble adoration.

Lamb of God -

  • Rev 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,

Acclamations –

  • Rev 5:11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”


  • Rev 5:14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!”.


  • Rev 8:1 When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (and you thought your priest paused too long after communion?)

Mary -

  • Rev 12:1 And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

Happy are those called to his “supper”

  • Revelation 19: 6Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;… And the angel said£ to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Golden Vessels, vestments -

  • Rev 1:12 – And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
  • Rev 1:13 – and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest
  • Rev 5:8 – the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense
  • Rev 8:3 – Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, at the golden altar before the throne.
  • Rev 15:16 – The angels were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes around their chests.
  • Rev 15:17 seven golden bowls

Stained Glass -

  • Rev 21:10 [The heavenly city] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates,… The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. (The image of stained glass in our Church walls is hinted at here).

Here is but a partial list, drawn only from the Book of Revelation. I invite you to add to it. You might also read The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn, and The Mass: A Biblical Prayer,by Fr. Peter Stravinskas.

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