Elevating Your Experience Of The Liturgy
After more than a year of dispensations from attending the Mass, Catholics around the world are taking a look at the liturgy with fresh eyes. As the saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” For a few, the pandemic may have been a cause for greater separation from their Sunday obligation, but many Catholics are finding themselves hungry for a more authentic liturgical experience.
Many Catholics (especially young people) are seeking a deeper understanding of their participation in the Mass. Christ gave each of us the liturgy as the source and summit of our lives. Through the liturgy we can participate in the perfect act of worship offered by Christ himself, and we receive the source of all goodness, Christ’s very body and blood, in the Eucharist. Then at the close of the liturgy, having been filled up by the grace of God, we are sent out on mission. The words of dismissal in Latin “Ite, missa est” literally mean “Go, she [the Church] has been sent.” The words ‘mission’ and ‘mass’ both have their origin in that word of dismissal, ‘missa’. We are sent out from the liturgy into the world to spread the Gospel.
Elevate The Liturgy With Source & Summit
Before we can be sent out on mission, though, we must first be filled up at that summit which is the liturgy. We will discuss 5 ways we can elevate our experience on that mountaintop of the liturgy so that, when we are sent out on mission, we may go filled with the power of Christ to have great effect in the world below.
5 Ways To Elevate Your Experience Of The Mass
- Sing the Mass
“[The Liturgy] engages the faithful in the new life of the community and involves the ‘conscious, active, and faithful participation’ of everyone” (CCC 1071).
Many have heard the phrase “Full, active, and conscious participation”, but may not be entirely sure of what that means. This phrase comes from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which calls this participation both our right and our duty as baptized Christians. This conscious, active, and faithful participation is not a spectator sport. We don’t come to the liturgy just to join in a few ritual actions and then to receive Communion. We come to the liturgy to participate in the work of Christ himself. Liturgy literally means “service in the name of/on behalf of the people” it is sometimes mistranslated as “The work of the people” but in reality, the liturgy is the work of God which he calls us to participate in. So how do we respond to that call to participate?
The word ‘sing’ or ‘sung’ appears 90 times in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. In fact, most of the liturgy is meant to be sung. A melody exists for nearly every text of the Mass. That is why the number one way that you can elevate your experience of the liturgy is to sing the Mass, which means to sing the very words of the Mass itself (including the responses, acclamations, antiphons, Psalms etc…) and not just the hymns. A quote that is often misattributed to St. Augustine says, “To sing is to pray twice.”
Singing is a way to engage with the texts of the Mass in a fuller way, and to join your voice to the angels and saints who sing praise to God in heaven. Many of us in the pews are often too proud, too embarrassed, or eventoo bored to sing, but I heard it said once about singing at Mass, “God gave you that voice, and good or bad you should give it back to him.”
- Set the Liturgy apart from other good spiritual practices.
“[The liturgy] must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion” (CCC 1072).
Everything in its proper place. Before a person can participate fruitfully in the liturgy, they must first be evangelized out in the world so that they can have a conversion of heart where, as a devotee of Christ, faith can grow. These things normally happen outside the liturgy. Too often we try to cram every part of the life and mission of the Church into the Liturgy, but that isn’t what the Church teaches us to do. The Liturgy is set apart from all of the activities of the Church. We don’t just need to leave the world behind to participate in the liturgy, but we need to set aside our efforts to evangelize and our personal devotional practices in favor of a form of worship that transcends them all. In this way we can make room for him to fill us with his grace when heaven touches Earth in the liturgy.
Filled with the heavenly grace that we receive in the liturgy, we can be filled with new life in the Spirit to invigorate our discipleship, we can engage in the mission of the Church to spread the Gospel, and we can bring all people toward the unity that can only be found in Christ. We need to set aside, for a time, our efforts to evangelize and our personal devotional life to sit upon that mountaintop of the liturgy. In a post-Covid world it’s important to reiterate here that watching Mass on the TV or praying the rosary on a Sunday are not replacements for your Sunday obligation to attend Mass. We must return to the liturgy as soon as possible within the guidance of our local bishops.
- Stick to the script.
“The liturgy is also a participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1073).
The liturgy is the “Opus Dei”, the work of God. As members of the assembly, we offer our
worship by uniting ourselves to the prayer and work of Christ in and through his Mystical Body the Church. We are called to participate in the liturgy of the universal Church, not to create the liturgy or to customize it to our preferences. We should unite ourselves to the prayers and the actions prescribed by the Church for liturgy neither adding to them nor taking anything away. There is a significant difference between a liturgy, and any other type of service. In the liturgy we participate in Christ’s own prayer. Our words, sung or spoken, and our gestures during the liturgy should be united with the Body of Christ around us. We should stand, sit, kneel, move and speak in union with those around us, and not in our own unique way. We come to participate in the work of God, not to create a work of man. Each of these actions have significant meaning and purpose that open a window for us to the divine.
4. Be docile.
“Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in
the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the
transformation of men” (CCC 1074).
Docility is a virtue. In our culture we think of it as having a calm, unthreatening demeanor, or as being easily persuaded, but as a virtue it means much more. It is a readiness to receive teaching and a willingness to listen. A desire to be taught.
Understanding the role of liturgy in catechesis we see that it is more than just receiving a homily, but allowing oneself to be catechized by the whole of the system of signs and symbols in the liturgy as well. Especially the Antiphons, Readings, and prayers, but also in art, architecture, in sacred music, the cadence of the liturgical year, etc…The words aren’t just something we say without thinking, but they transform us as well, if we internalize their meaning. The words of the liturgy are the words of Christ, the Word of God. We receive Christ during the entire liturgy, not only at Communion. Singing helps us to do this in a more conscious, mentally active way. When we sing the words that come out of our mouths more readily enter our hearts and minds.
5. Practice the fundamentals
“This Catechism, which aims to serve the whole Church in all the diversity of her rites and cultures, will present what is fundamental and common to the whole Church in the liturgy as mystery and as celebration…” (CCC 1075).
All of us have practiced something: a sport, an instrument, or maybe our ability to write. Any type of practice has an element of making the fundamentals come naturally, like dribbling a ball, or the finger position on a saxophone. Why should practicing Catholicism be any different?
The liturgy should present what is fundamental and common to the whole Church. Just as the techniques of writing are common to all writers so the fundamental elements of our faith should be common to all practicing Catholics. In the realms of devotional life and evangelization, all manner of good and beautiful diversity exists. But in the realm of liturgy, at the summit of the life and mission of the Church, we should be unified in what is common and fundamental to the whole Church. That’s not to diminish the value of inculturation, but inculturation should be at the service of bringing us into the culture of the Church, and ultimately the culture of heaven.
These fundamentals are the signs that lead to what is signified, the visible which leads to the invisible, these are the things we should dwell on, so that when we are presented with a sign or a visible element of our faith within the liturgy our minds naturally grasp the truth, the invisible reality, that these signs signify. Through the authentic practice of our faith each week in the liturgy, we are drawn more deeply into these mysteries present to us in our participation in the heavenly liturgy.
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