These are a few personal liturgical musings from some experiences I’ve had over the last two months.
Ye Watchers: At our parish in Metairie, they have “Watchers” at the time of Communion whose job is to make certain that all who receive the Host receive the Host and don’t walk away with it. It’s an excellent practice that I have always encouraged everywhere I have the chance to offer my 2 cents to a parish liturgy committee, as I almost always note people at the time of Communion walk away with Hosts unconsumed. Fact is, we cannot presume any more that there is any significant catholic cultural wisdom left that would restrain profaning the holy and properly inform people’s approach to the Awful Mystery, before which angels tremble. It may be true that ‘they know not what they do,’ but it’s the job of those who do know to make sure no one is unaware of the Body and Blood. The Church is tasked as Guardian of that supreme gift of the All-Holy God, so the more that can be said and done to guard the Mystery and those who approach the Mystery, the better. At my Dad’s Orthodox Church, I always thought this prayer before Communion, said by all, was a helpful signal to those who might be in any doubt:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of Thy Mystery to Thine enemies, neither like Judas will I give Thee a kiss; but like the thief will I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.
May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.
iRreverence: We were at a Mass recently (not our parish) at which people were using their Smart Phones during the Mass, and talking during Mass. One even brought coffee in during the Preparation of Gifts! For my thoughts on that, see above points.
Facing Godward: I was able to participate in a celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at the seminary last week. It’s been a few years since my last opportunity. I was struck in particular by the immense reverence given to the sacred species of the Eucharist — the countless genuflections, the candles held by kneeling servers, the opaque veil of incense and the haunting sounds of polyphony all created a milieu of awe, especially as the Holy Gifts were processed to the Predieu where communicants awaited Christ’s coming. Such a ritual menagerie seemed to almost coerce external and internal reverence by its very structure. I was also impressed by the irrelevance of the priest’s persona, as the thousand ritual gestures, whispered words of prayer, Latin murmurings, cloaking vestments and his Godward face (linking him intimately with the rest of us Godward-facing folks) all conspired to make Fr. X forgettable; even as we remembered Christ among us. I was especially reminded how important ritual is in cultivating our dispositions, and how good ritual can be at catechizing, inasmuch as it successfully exploits the rich meanings and graces compressed into both symbol and sacrament. Nota bene: I say these things not to privilege of this extra-ordinary form of the Mass, or to denigrate the Novus Ordo (which I love), but simply as an observation of how much power there is in ritual to shape the contours of reality and, as such, to confront minds and hearts with that reality. The question we must ask of our ritual is, Is the shape our ritual molds in harmony with the actual shape of the Real? Or not?
Holy Clothing: One thing my wife and I have found to be really nice about NOLA’s Catholic culture is the general practice of dressing up for Mass (of course there are exceptions). Very few jeans, shorts, t-shirts or even immodest dress. King David would be pleased, “Worship the Lord in holy attire.” 1 Chronicles 16:29