Catechesis on the Mass
Each Sunday worship aid at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas includes an insight into the liturgy. If you have questions about the liturgy, you may email Aaron Brown.
Why do we bow during the Creed?
Gesture is important to Catholics. As Catholics we worship not only with our mind, but also with our entire body. Bowing is one of the gestures we use in the Mass. Using common gestures as an assembly creates unity. The Church tells us “a common bodily posture… is a sign of the unity of the members of the Christian community gathered together for the Sacred Liturgy, for it expresses the intentions and spiritual attitude of the participants and also fosters them” (GIRM #42).
From 1570 until 1970, it was the custom to genuflect at the words “et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine. Et homo factus est” (“and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”) Now days we make a profound bow during these words, with the exception of the solemnities of the Annunciation (March 25) and the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas) when we genuflect. By bowing or genuflecting we show reverence to one of the great mysteries of the faith: God took on human flesh and dwelt among us. Bowing with our bodies reflects the humility of our heart.
Why don't we sing a Closing Song at UST?
You may have wondered why we don’t sing a concluding hymn at UST, despite a song at the end of the liturgy being the norm in most Catholic parishes in the US. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (an official book that explains how Mass is celebrated) describes that at the end of Mass the dismissal of the people is given by the deacon or priest and then the ministers bow to the altar and leave. There is no mention of a concluding song!
At UST we choose to follow this rubric literally, so that the last words we hear at the Mass are in the dismissal. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal tells us that the dismissal is given “so that each may go back to doing good works, praising and blessing God” (no. 90). The following options are given for the dismissal: “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” and “Go in peace.”
The dismissal is linked to the mission of the Christian people. Together we have celebrated the great liturgy of thanksgiving. We have been transformed by the power of the Mass, in great or small ways. When Mass has ended we go forth to likewise transform the world. Let us each take the dismissal at Mass seriously, and truly go forth in peace to bring the compassion of Christ to all those we encounter. Through the strength we receive in the Mass, we can be agents of change in great and small ways.
What is Full, Conscious, and Active Participation?
“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people… is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy no. 14). We are not mere spectators when at Mass, but we all play an important role. What does it mean to participate fully, consciously, and actively?
- Give of your entire self while at Mass – mind, body, and spirit.
- Be fully present at each moment of the Mass.
- See yourself as an important part of the assembly, and your neighbors as equally important.
- Be aware of the gestures you make, and their meaning (Sign of the Cross; crossing forehead, lips, and heart at the Gospel; bowing).
- Think about the words you are saying, like in the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.
- Listen attentively to the words the priest proclaims.
- Sing with full voice.
- Confidently speak the parts of the Mass that belong to you, like “And with your spirit”, “Amen”, and the Lord’s Prayer.
- Use silences in the Mass for contemplation and prayer.
What is the importance of Sunday?
For Christians, Sunday - the Lord’s Day - is a very special, holy day. It was on this day that Christ rose from the dead, shattering the bonds of sin and death. That is why we gather as a Christian community week after week. We mark each Sunday by gathering as the Body of Christ to receive the Body of Christ.
The central activity of each Sunday should be attending Mass, where we give thanks for the work of salvation, offer praise and petition to God, and support one another in lives of discipleship. Mass is not to be seen as something to “get out of the way” so that we can enjoy brunch, shopping, or other recreation. Rather, the Mass is the greatest expression of our Christian faith, and should be celebrated with joy, reverence, and fullness of mind. This is why our Sunday Masses are not rushed and why they express joy through singing, signs, and symbols.
As our society becomes busier, it is made clearer that time is needed for rest. As the holiest day of the week, all our activities on Sunday should likewise transform us for the better. It is a day to spend with family and friends, to take a nap, to go for a walk, to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and to do charitable works.
Let us always remember the important place that Sunday has in our week, and how the Mass is the central activity of the day.
Why do we sing in Latin?
Many people believe that the use of Latin in the Liturgy was ended at the Second Vatican Council. This is not the case! The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, a document on the Liturgy issued at the Second Vatican Council, says that “the use of the Latin language is to be preserved” (no. 36). Furthermore, the U.S. Bishops have told us that “care should be taken to foster the role of Latin in the Liturgy, particularly in liturgical song. Pastors should ensure ‘that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them’” (Sing to the Lord no. 61).
Why is Latin important to the Liturgical life of the Church? Latin is the official language of the Catholic Church, and has been for many centuries. Using Latin gives us a sense of the universality of the Church. Latin provides a common language for all the members of the Church, so it is useful for large gatherings where a diversity of languages and backgrounds are present. Praying and singing in Latin connects us to our rich liturgical heritage, and opens up a wealth of music for our prayer.
It takes some work to become familiar with singing in Latin the parts of the Mass that belong to the assembly, but it’s an effort that is well worth it. When you are singing parts of the Mass in Latin, imagine the many people throughout time and geography who have sung these very same texts.
What is the Lenten Cleansing?
Cleanses and detoxes are becoming increasingly popular. It seems that we will try any sort of concoction to rid our bodies of harmful toxins that make us sluggish, cause illness, or increase weight. Whether the detox consists of juice diets or swallowing garlic cloves, people usually detoxify their bodies for a set length of time following a very specific regimen.
The Church has its own time for cleansing and detoxification. It’s called Lent. This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we begin this important season. Dietary detoxifications usually involve both giving up some things (gluten, sugar, meat) while taking on other things (exercise, herbal tea, juices). Similarly, in Lent, we might give up something (social media, gossip, eating or drinking too much) and take on other things (prayer, fasting, almsgiving). Lent is a chance to re-set our spiritual self, to remember our dignity and responsibility as Christians, and to cleanse our spiritual lives of the toxins that build up over time.
Even our Lenten liturgy will take a cleansing. We will not hear preludes before Mass, the décor of the chapel will be reduced, the liturgy will seem starker, and we will be invited to enter into longer periods of silence.
Let’s use this time of spiritual detoxification to rid our lives of those toxic things that hinder our relationship with God and one another.
What is the importance of the Liturgy and Social Justice?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Social Justice as “the respect for the human person and the rights which flow from human dignity and guarantee it. Society must provide the conditions that allow people to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and vocation.”
The Catechism tells us that when we come into the world, we are not equipped with everything that we need for developing our bodily and spiritual life. We need others. We are all different - these differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual and moral aptitudes, and socio-economic status. It is God’s plan that we receive what we need from others, and that those endowed with particular resources share with those who need them.
At the Mass we are told to go forth, to go and announce the Gospel of the Lord, or to glorify the Lord by our life. This is where our faith meets action. In the Mass we are transformed by the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ. Following Christ’s example - and left with his instruction to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned - we as Christians act as Christ’s own body on earth. As St. Teresa of Avila wrote: “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
What is Ordinary Time?
Today we celebrate the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. What does the Church mean by the name “Ordinary Time”? “Ordinary” in this sense does not mean “plain” or “uninteresting.” The season of Ordinary Time is “ordered” and “numbered” - that is where the season gets its name and why we name the Sundays of Ordinary Time in numerical order.
Ordinary Time occurs twice in the church year: between the Christmas Season and Lent (where we are now) and after the Easter Season until Advent (during the summer and fall).
During Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter the Gospel readings have a theme that correspond to the season. During Ordinary Time, however, we read through the Gospels systematically. We are currently reading through the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
The priest wears green vestments during Ordinary Time, the color of hope and growth. We don’t celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ during Ordinary Time like we do in other seasons, but rather the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness. During this time we come to know the crucified and resurrected Christ and strive to become his faithful disciples.
What is the Penitential Act?
The Penitential Act occurs at the beginning of Mass as a part of The Introductory Rites. You may have noticed that there are several options for the Penitential Act. In fact, there are three forms of the Penitential Act: 1) “I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters…” We are using this form during Lent. 2) Priest: “Have mercy on us, O Lord.” People: “For we have sinned against you.” Priest: “Show us, O Lord, your mercy.” People: “And grant us your salvation.” This form is not used very often in most parishes, but it’s a beautiful expression of our need for God’s grace. 3) This final form consists of three “tropes” or texts that amplify and embellish our understanding of God’s mercy. For example: “You were sent to heal the contrite: Lord, have mercy” and the people respond “Lord, have mercy.” In this final form of the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, eleision or “Lord, have mercy” is combined with the Penitential Act. In forms 1 and 2, however, the Kyrie, eleision follows the Penitential Act.
During the Penitential Act we do not call to mind our individual sins as we do in the Sacrament of Penance (confession), but rather, as a gathered community, we acknowledge our need for God’s grace and mercy.
What is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA)?
This Sunday we welcome several members of our community who wish to become fully initiated members of the Catholic Church. During the next several months you will hear references to “catechumens” and “candidates.” Catechumens are those adults who are seeking baptism and full initiation into the Catholic Church. Candidates have already received baptism in another Christian faith tradition but now seek to fully enter the Catholic Church.
Today the catechumens and candidates will be greeted at the entrance of the church, where they will be asked about their intention. They will be claimed in the name of Christ, and signed with the cross.
Many of the rites and symbols used in the RCIA process have ancient origin, and convey through signs, declarations, and acceptance the conversion of the catechumens’ and candidates’ lives to Christ. The season of Lent will be a time of intense preparation for those who wish to be baptized.
Because they are not yet members of the Christian faithful, catechumens will be dismissed after the Liturgy of the Word during Mass until they are baptized at the Easter Vigil. At the Easter Vigil, as fully initiated members of the Church, the newly baptized will proclaim the Creed, take part in the Universal Prayer (Prayer of the Faithful) and receive Holy Communion.
Let us keep our catechumens and candidates in our prayer during this important time of their spiritual journey.
What is the importance of the Sign of the Cross?
Christians began marking themselves with the sign of the cross as early as 220 A.D. Tertullian, a prolific early Christian writer, says that “at every step and forward motion, at every arrival and departure, when dressing, putting on shoes, bathing, eating, lighting lamps, going to bed, when sitting still – whatever common thing occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign [of the cross].”
The sign of the cross marks our spiritual journey. At baptism we are signed with the cross on our forehead. At confirmation the bishop anoints our forehead with oil in the form of a cross. At our death the sign of the cross is again traced on our forehead at the wake, and a cross may be placed on our casket.
The sign of the cross is not only an action, but also a statement of faith. It expresses faith in the Trinity. It acknowledges and reminds us of our baptismal identity. When Jesus ascended into heaven he commanded his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When we cross ourselves we are reminded of our mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to all those we encounter.
As we make the sign of the cross, let us be mindful of all that it means. Let our gesture be intentional and big, for it is the sign by which sin and death were defeated, and by which we have the promise of eternal life.
Why do we have so much silence?
Last week we explored how silence can be a response to the Universal Prayer. In addition to that silence, you will also notice more silence in other parts of the Liturgy. For instance, between the readings, after the homily, and after the reception of Holy Communion we take time to be quiet.
The official documents of the Catholic Church speak often about the importance of silence in the Liturgy. Music in Divine Worship states that “music arises out of silence and returns to silence. God is revealed both in the beauty of song and in the power of silence... Silence in the Liturgy allows the community to reflect on what it has heard and experienced, and to open its heart to the mystery celebrated” (#118). Furthermore, the Church instructs that “the Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided” (GIRM 56). Silence allows the Holy Spirit to speak to our heart so we can grasp what was heard in the readings. Silence allows us to form a response to God who has spoken to us.
Our society constantly bombards us with stimuli during all waking hours. We get little time to simply be in the presence of God. During the Liturgy, if we actively allow ourselves to enter into silence and focus our mind on what we have just heard or received, then we give the Holy Spirit the chance to transform us. Let’s allow ourselves to take a step back and fully celebrate the sacred silence found in the Liturgy.
What is a Silent Response?
During Lent our response to the Universal Prayer will be silence. Also known as the Prayer of the Faithful, the Universal Prayer is the time when the assembly offers prayer for the Church and the world. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says “The people, for their part, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said in common after each intention or by praying in silence” (#71). So, during the time of silence after each intention, we should actively pray.
The Universal Prayer is to be expressive of the entire community. That is why the intentions are stated with general rather than specific language. These prayers are our response to the Word of God that we have heard in the readings. Inspired by God’s word, and challenged by the call of the Gospel, we intercede to God for the needs of the world. By offering prayers for the world, we are exercising our baptismal Priesthood.
In this broken world it is important to make intercession for the Church, for world leaders, for those who suffer, and for ourselves. We must take seriously our priestly duty to offer intercession. Through these prayers we are invited to develop a broader compassion that reaches beyond our local surroundings and extends to unknown people and places.
Why should I sing at Mass?
The US Bishops have given us some very good reasons why we should sing at Mass. It was God himself who has given us the gift of song, and God is present whenever his people sing his praises. When we all sing, we express in a powerful way the unity that is created in the gathered assembly.
Sometimes we don’t feel like singing. Some of us feel like we don’t have a good enough voice. We may not like all of the musical choices that are made. Some songs are not familiar to us. These are not good enough reasons to keep from singing at Mass! Our call is to rise above our insecurities and to join in the singing. The Church tells us that “the quality of our participation in sung praise comes less from our vocal ability than from the desire of our hearts to sing together of our love for God.”
If you aren’t used to singing in church, give it a try. Uniting our hearts, minds, and voices is the best way to create a community of belonging and acceptance. If everyone chooses to participate fully in the Mass, what a truly transformative and moving experience it will be.