Sunday, September 18, 2011

Seek the Lord

Readings for Sunday, September 18:
Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalm 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Matthew 20:1-16

This past week I had the pleasure of visiting with each of our seventh grade classes here at the school and we got on the topic of the Mass. When asked how many of the class thought the Mass was boring, a large majority immediately raised their hands. And the main reason? They didn’t understand what was going on. My brothers and sisters, if we truly understood what took place in the celebration of the Mass we would not be bored; we would be speechless at the miracle that takes place before us.

The prophet Isaiah challenges us today in our first reading: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call him while he is near.” And what better place to find that Lord than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? This mysterious celebration wherein God becomes really, truly and substantially present on this altar and we can truly point and say “This is the flesh and blood of God!” It is clear, then, that the challenge is not in knowing where the Lord may be found. Rather, the challenge is actually SEEKING the Lord in that place. To seek after something does not mean to simply sit there and wait for it to come to us; it does not mean to simply be aware of what is going on around us. It means to try to discover something; to explore; to ask questions. To seek after the Lord, especially in the liturgy, is to ask questions, to try to discover, and to be actively engaged in what is taking place before us.

In the Second Vatican Council document on the liturgy it is said that the reforms of the liturgy were primarily done to allow ‘participatio actuosa’ in the faithful. This term is often translated as ‘active participation,’ but the more proper translation is ‘actual participation,’ which emphasizes the reality of each person’s entering into the celebration. The bishops wanted everyone to actually participate in what takes place in the celebration of the Mass. But how can we participate when we don’t know what is happening and why?

The order of things, the precise wording, the different actions, every single thing that takes place in the Mass has a reason for it being there and often has several hundreds of years of history and theology behind it. But we can easily miss all of the richness if we don’t open ourselves to it. Again, if we understand it, we won’t be bored.

You may have heard already that at the beginning of Advent this year, on November 27, we will experience some changes in the Mass. The ritual and actions will remain the same, but the prayers will be slightly different, often just a few words changed here and there. This is because an updated edition of the Roman Missal – the book of prayers for the celebration of the Mass – was issued in 2002 and has finally been translated in English. We’ve already begun to hear some of those changes as we introduce the sung Mass parts this weekend and will continue to hear more about the spoken prayers through homilies, bulletin articles and other handouts in the weeks to come.

While it will take some time to get used to praying these new words, it is a graced time for the Church in America. The little changes here and there will force us all to pay more attention to what it is that we’re saying and praying in Mass. Also, it is a blessed time because there is so much out there available at our fingertips to help with this transition and to help us deepen our understanding of the Mass. Two books that I would particularly suggest are: The Magnificat Roman MissalCompanion, which goes through the whole Mass with the new prayers and explains why the wording is important, and Fr. Matthew Buettner’s Understanding the Mystery of the Mass, which explains the depth of the ritual actions themselves. These are both small books split into sections that can easily be read in a few minutes and serve as great introductory materials for further study if so desired. In these coming months of grace, do not miss this special opportunity to seek the Lord where he may be found.

Other books helpful in understanding the depths of the Mass (though not about the changes to come):
Cardinal Ratizinger (Pope Benedict XVI) - The Spirit of the Liturgy
Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB - What Happens at Mass 
Fr. Robert Cabie' & A.G. Martimort - The Church at Prayer, Vol 2: The Eucharist
Fr. Adrian Fortescue - The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy (about the Pre-Vatican II Mass, but helpful in learning history and theological significance since much remains the same as before)