Sunlight on the Forest Floor: Mass and Liturgy

My husband Matthew, recently confirmed, invited me to Mass one Sunday when we were dating. With the decision to join him, I embarked on a sort of odyssey, but it would be years before I reached any kind of shore.

I had this notion that Catholic Mass was very rigid, probably boring, and I had heard many people say that it left no room for the movement of the Holy Spirit; it was too scripted.

Mass is indeed scripted according to the words of the most awesome Author; it follows Scripture. That was what struck me that first Sunday.

I heard the most basic, scriptural teaching of our faith in the Nicene Creed, and the line that struck me most forcibly that first time was, He will come again to judge the living and the dead/ And his kingdom will have no end (Acts 10:42-43, Isaiah 9:6-7). I held hands with others as we prayed the Lord's Prayer just as Christ had taught when the apostles asked of Him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." (Luke 11:1-4). Then came the exchange of, "Peace be with you," in imitation of Jesus' greeting to his disciples after the resurrection, followed by the response, "And with your spirit." (John 20:19, John 14:27, 2 Corinthians 13:13, Ephesians 6:23) And we proclaimed with those in Jerusalem who watched Jesus pass on a humble colt as the Lord entered the city before his passion, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." (Mark 11:7-9, Psalm 118:26)

All that still may not have been enough to make me fall in love with this strange Mass. Then....I heard the words of Christ at the Last Supper pronounced by the priest at the consecration, and I fell. I was in awe. The priest used the exact words of Christ Himself; he cannot add or omit anything. Nor did he begin or conclude, as I have so often heard elsewhere, "Now, this is merely symbolic..." I had never seen communion treated with such reverence anywhere. I have been in a few churches where tiny plastic containers holding wafers and grape juice were passed out. To me that was not communion. Who could put Christ, or something they believe is symbolic of Him, in a plastic tube with a peel-off wrapper?

So with the consecration I began to get somewhere through the grace of God, but more amazing is that it continues these nearly twelve years later. The more I attend and listen at Mass the deeper I delve into the mystery of Scripture. For instance, I have never been a lover of the Psalms, despite the fact that I have listened to them sung at every Mass for years. Recently, however, I have found myself paying far greater attention to them, because it was pointed out to me that these songs were prayed by Jesus, too, in the Jewish synagogue. Through studying them more openly, I have learned that these songs of David are wonderful inspiration for prayer at diverse moments in our life. In Psalm 51:11-14 we find a poignant plea for mercy to guide all repentant hearts and in 118:19-25 a joyous prayer of thanksgiving and praise.

But I have not only discovered the Psalms. Just a mere two years or so ago on this journey, I also began to truly listen to and appreciate the words we pray right before receiving the Eucharist:

Lord I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed

Here we echo Matthew 8:5-8 in the words of the centurion, the man of whom Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith." We do this every Mass. Every Mass we declare Jesus Christ is Lord and join in faith with that faith-filled centurion who professed that he was not worthy for Christ to enter his home but believed Jesus could heal his paralyzed servant simply by saying the words. And He did. And so we believe he can heal our souls in the same way. That is beautiful.

I leave here now with this thought:

Is it even possible that this liturgy, overflowing as it is with the Word, could fail to invite the Holy Spirit to move among the hearts of the faithful? Yes, I have been in a Protestant church and felt the exhilarating presence of God's Spirit, because God was there - that does not surprise me. But I have also felt Him surrounding me as I listened to the communion hymn sung by the Christian family in my parish, my head bowed over a kneeler in silent Thanksgiving.


One Bread, one body, one Lord of all
One cup of blessing which we bless
And we, though many, throughout the earth
We are one body in this one Lord
 

From One Bread, One Body, music composed by John Foley and words based on 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, Galatians3:28, Ephesians 4:4-6

Comments

  1. One God, and Father of all. Lovely, Hoodoo.

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  2. Thank you, Papa, for teaching your children about their Heavenly Father so faithfully. I wouldn't be where I am today without that. Thank you.

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