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home : bishop : columns

5/25/2017 8:30:00 AM
Revolution in your town: the Mass

A point needs to be made about the Mass.

I'm not talking about any "kind" of Mass in particular, like the "traditional Mass" or the Novus Ordo; nor the language of periodic revisions or translations; nor even the culturally-adaptable modes through which the Mass engages the five senses.

None of the rubrics or ritual accidentals that give form to the celebration at any point in time can completely define the eternal, ineffable mystery that every Mass is. It's more than a ritual; it's a revolution!

It's easy to disparage the limitations of human strivings to express this mystery. The skill of musicians, the weave of vestments, the aroma of incense, the acoustics and temperature of the worship space are all part of our liturgical experiences, forming fond or regrettable memories.

Yet none of these, alone or in concert, are ever enough to reveal or conceal completely the sublime beauty of what we really witness at every Mass.

One of the more frequent criticisms of the Catholic Mass from those outside our fold is that we really do not know what we are doing. There is some truth to that. The charge is that sometimes, it seems, we repeat our rites and rituals as if by rote, rushing through them like so many magical incantations, unaware of what we are praying or even saying.

What would leave people with such an impression? Those of us, like myself, old enough to recall pre-Vatican II Catholicism know that not all Latin Masses were examples of the dignified pace and diction due reverent worship. Truth to tell, much of what we hear in the vernacular today is also not beautiful, let alone intelligible.

At the very least, whatever language or rite is in use, a more prayerful attentiveness and reverence for the sacred mysteries by both celebrant and congregation might do at least something to dispel the suspicions of some critics.

Yet, there is more here than what we can or should do.

Seminarians of yesteryear were admonished that "the priest has no face" and it would behoove them to avoid any speech or gesture to distract the faithful from their sense of communion with the Most High -- and not themselves. However the practice began to announce the opening hymn of the Mass as if it were a paean in honor of the priest presiding ("Let us greet our celebrant, Father...."), I am not quite sure.

Today, the risk may be even greater that the persona of the celebrant or -- to say it kindly and in a "Catholic" way -- the liturgical environment might make all the difference between attracting and deterring a faith-seeker.

That brings us right to point: The Mass is the celebration of a revolutionary intervention that survives and transcends all human propensities (or threats) to diminish it.

Thank God for the faith and patience of the Catholic people! But, thank God even more for the sacrifice of the Mass, which Jesus gave us by investing Himself into it as its eternal center and foundation.

However dignified or banal a given experience of the Mass may be, it will always be more than what we can define or control. It is, first and foremost, a divine intervention into our history, as current today as on Calvary, of which it is more than a mere memorial.

The sacrifice of a God who dies for us to pour out His life in us is the revolution that reverses the curse of Eden, personally and presently, each time we consume the flesh and blood of the only Son of the Father.

This is heady stuff, but it is nothing less than what our lapse into sin requires, if death were ever to lose its grip on us. Every time we celebrate Mass, a revolution is going on, right in our towns and neighborhoods: a gracious, divine rescue mission that liberates us for eternal life.

If the Mass becomes a way of complementing (or critiquing) what we do, rather than what God does for us, its revolutionary power remains but a promise. What we do and celebrate flows from whom we believe Jesus really is.

One reason we fail to evangelize effectively is because Jesus is often reduced to the status of a wise man, and His divinity is diminished if not denied outright. This way of thinking makes it impossible to comprehend the radical novelty of Christianity: If Jesus is not the only Son of the Father, then God did not enter into the history of mankind.

The truth is that the incarnation is at the very heart of the Gospel. So, what do we believe? Does the way we celebrate Mass honor what it really is?

The Mass is our faith that God has entered into our history -- into us, actually -- and remains with us and in us. It is the very act by which God gives Himself in the broken body and outpoured blood of His Son, personally and presently. Calvary embraces and transforms us. Death dies. The world is changed. We live forever.

That's mighty revolutionary!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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