Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"In the very act of giving right praise to God,   we achieve an inner harmony."
--Dietrich von Hildebrand

The eye cannot see, nor the tongue tell,
nor can the heart imagine how many paths
and methods I have, solely for love
to lead them back to grace so that
my truth may be realized in them.
--St. Catherine of Siena

            When we set out to write down the story of our reconciliation with the Catholic Church we were primarily concerned that our family and friends hear from us, and not someone else, about our journey.  The longer we journeyed the more we realized how uninformed non-Catholics are about our historical Faith. One acquaintance upon learning that we were reconciling with the Catholic Church asked us why we would want anything to do with that "dog and pony show."   She doesn't know what she doesn't know and so ignorance can be her defense.  It is our desire to help dispel the intolerance that is spread through ignorance by providing our learned perspective on the Catholic tradition of the Faith. When you have completed the reading we realize that you may disagree with or reject what is written and recorded by history or you may not be interested in changing your own position because you are content where you are at in your faith community.  But at least, after reading our examination and hopefully exploring for yourself, you will be disagreeing with what the Catholic Church actually teaches rather than what you think she teaches.  That in itself will go a long way to restoring the Christian Faith to the unity that Christ intended when he authorized his first disciples to spread the good news of God's redemption of humanity through His Church. 
            At the outset of our tour through worship in the Catholic Church we want to give proper credit to five men's writings, primarily (there have been others), who have helped us formulate the language of description in these paragraphs. Father Robert Barron, Michael Dubriel Dr. Thomas Howard, Father Dwight Longenecker, and Dr. Edward Sri have been the guides of our enculturation into understanding the ancient traditions of worship. Traditions and rituals (read patterns of behavior) that remain saturated  with rightful, biblically ordered worship of the Triune God.  

Let us Worship

            The conformity of worship in the Catholic Mass with the biblically ordained purpose for worship of God is unmistakable. The Old Testament reveals the long history of God's covenant with mankind through the Jewish nation.  They were set apart from all nations by their worship and their conduct. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, fulfilled that covenant through his incarnation, death and resurrection.  He incarnated God's ultimate desire for humanity--fidelity to and worship of our Creator.  The disciples and early Church already knew how to worship God, but now they understood why they worshipped God, and God alone in the sacred tradition of the Old Covenant now New Covenant.  The wholeness of their lives depended on their rightly ordered conduct.  Their holiness also depended on the value they placed on rightly ordered worship of Almighty God, worship that was ordained by God through Moses.
            What the Catholic Church adheres to in the Mass is the continuation of the covenantal form of worship established through Moses and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is really a communal prayer to God. An ancient Jewish or Gentile Christian could walk into any Mass on any day at any place in history and recognize the actions taking place are worship of the Triune God.  The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist hold fast this Sacred Tradition of worship as they are offered up as prayer.
            The Liturgy of the Word is what we do utterly for its own sake, simply because it's good and beautiful to speak, read, and hear the Word of God to his Creation.  It is said that when we worship God through reading of His Word we become rightly ordered. The Mass is a place where the right order of things is preserved in the center of a sinful world.  As you will soon recognize, the Mass ("Go, it is sent," the "it" being the Church) is our participation and anticipation of the great heavenly liturgy, described by the prophets and St. John.  It is indeed, the right praise given to God by the saints and the angels just beyond the scrim of time.  In nearly every way, to the discerning eye, one senses the passing over of a sacred threshold when we enter into worship in the Mass.
            The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Mass this way, "The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church's life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church" (No. 1407). 
            When you enter the nave of any cathedral, you are immediately aware of the reverent silence of the worshippers.  Notice the centrality of the sanctuary where the altar and tabernacle of the Lord draw the eye toward things eternal, you cannot help but sense that something sacred and awe-inspiring is about to happen in the sanctuary.  Something very different than what typically happens during worship in a Protestant church. 
            But before we celebrate the Mass let us quietly talk about the sacred item next to the entrance to the nave.  The font contains  holy (blessed) water  that is a miniature reminder of a baptismal font.  It is said that it is appropriate that this water of baptism is the first sacred matter we encounter as you pass through the doors into the church. Each time we enter and leave the nave we remind ourselves, by dipping our fingers into the water and making the sign of the Cross of Christ on our physical being, that we have died to sin and we live for Christ. This is our own private moment to reverently, thoughtfully, gratefully offer a doxology of praise to the Triune God. "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen"

"To speak of the cross is to reference the fact by which the Father
sent the Son into godforsakenness in order to gather us through the
Holy Spirit into the Divine life.  Because the Son went all the way
down he was able to bring even the most recalcitrant sinner back
into fellowship with God.  Thus when we invoke the cross at the
beginning of the Liturgy we signify the fact that we
are praying IN God and not merely to God."
--Father Robert Barron

            We are about to pray the greatest prayer any Christian can pray--the Mass, which is,  in effect, a prayer of confession, consecration, thanksgiving and praise gathered up into worship.  Therefore, after we bless ourselves with the waters of baptism, we genuflect and make the sign of the Cross facing toward the tabernacle at the front of the church before entering the pew where we will join in worship of the Triune God.  (Genuflecting is the humble lowering of ourselves onto our right knee until it touches the floor)  We are in the presence of the King of kings, what a fitting way to prepare our own souls for adoration and worship of his ultimate sacrifice.
            Other worshippers are reverently entering the church, young and old.  Families make their way to the pew like we just did.  Do you see that little family with small children?  Did you see their father lift each one up to the baptismal font so they could do exactly what their father and mother are doing?  Did you see the precocious 2-year old follow the lead of her mother by offering a wobbly little bow on her knee and clumsily crossing herself before entering the pew with her family?  Families worship together, parents imprint their children's lives with the actions of worship present in the Mass. 
            Our first action of worship to do in the pew is to kneel in prayer and meditation.  You may notice some fellow worshippers reading their prayers from a prayer book or praying while holding a rosary in their hand.  Others will be meditating on one of the many visual cues in the nave, giving thanks for a saint's life or silently releasing distraction from their minds while they focus on the Crucifix suspended from the chancel arch. 
            The visual schemes and elements present in a Catholic Church have been referred to as a Poor Man's Bible in that they illustrate the Life of Christ and other biblical narratives.  The ancient Church's worshippers were predominately illiterate; therefore,  the aim of every visual cue was to educate the worshipper in the faith.  A picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words!  Depictions of the Paschal suffering of Christ in the Stations of the Cross are found in every Catholic Church around the world, no matter how austere. Other figurative representations include statues, sculptures, or pictures of saints and prophets.  Magnificent stained glass windows in our cathedral are meant to illuminate the eyes of the body and the heart with representations of martyrs and saints, disciples and biblical accounts.  The testimony of their lives enlighten our faith and encourage us to live our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord God.
            When it is time for the Mass to formally begin a bell is rung.  This is nothing more than a non-verbal call for all to rise for worship, but it is a tradition that sometimes makes a non-Catholic wonder what's going on.  As we sing the opening hymn you will see a solemn procession make its way to the sanctuary.  It can feel like a wedding is about to begin, in actuality, it is!  Christ and His Church united through his Word and his Body and Blood.  A deacon or reader may lead the procession carrying the Book of the Gospels overhead.  Next comes the cross bearer holding high the sign of our salvation--our Lord's image on the cross.  The crucifix serves as a reflective illustration of John 3:16,  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. Often there are two altar servers holding candles walking beside the cross bearer. Last is the celebrant, the priest, who will preside over our worship together.

"By the sign of the cross all magic ceases; all incantations are powerless;
every idol is abandoned and deserted;
all irrational voluptuousness is quelled;
and each one looks up from earth to heaven."
--Saint Athanasius

            We join our priest in making the sign of the cross to remind us of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that he died for us on the wood of the cross.  We are reminded again that the cross is a sign of God's love for us, that while we were sinners, He sent His Son to save us from our sin. We remind ourselves that Jesus by His cross has overcome the powers of sin and death.  What we did privately as we entered the nave, we now do with everyone gathered in the church.  The very act of crossing ourselves together is to remind us we are no longer alone, we are a part of the Church universal!  Every part of the Mass is a reminder that we are not alone...God is with us, and so are the believers that surround us, those visible and those invisible.
            From this point forward in the Mass you are going to speak, hear, and read words formed out of the three building materials of the Catholic Church. The priest will often thank the congregation for praying the Mass with "us" today.  The "Us" being the visible and invisible Church offering up the offering of the entire Mass, which is prayer to the Triune God. Much of what you hear or say will be recognizable to you.  We begin by hearing our priest say a version of Saint Paul's words in I Corinthians 1:3, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."  And we respond with hands lifted back to him, "And also with you."  It's a simple gesture, isn't it?  But, when you think of the state of mind we often come to worship in, what better way to remind ourselves that we bring peace and we are to offer peace. It is a moment to center our soul in Christ's promise to us. Consider the first hearers of Christ wonderful promise. The apostles were locked away, fearing for their lives when suddenly our risen Savior was greeting them, "Peace be with you." (John 20:26)  We, like the disciples dread, we fear, we doubt, we regret, we despair.  But our priest, Christ's representative to us, reminds us that Peace is among us. We are now ready to pray the Mass.

Confess your offenses in church and do not go up to your prayer
 with an evil conscience. This is the way of life.
--Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), A.D. 110

"There are saints in my religion, but that just means men who know that they are sinners."
 G. K. Chesterton

            St. John of the Cross compared recognition of sin as the soul looking through a pane of glass.  When we face away from the Light we cannot or will not see all the smudges and imperfections that cloud the glass, they are barely noticeable, easily overlooked.  But when we direct our lives toward the Light, every mark, every imperfection becomes visible.  It is the rebellious spirit that ignores what the Light clarifies.       
            Sin is anything that "breaks my relationship with God."  Sin can be as heinous as murder, but the sins that we often do not recognize and confess, perhaps because of our turning away from the Light, are the venial sins of jealousy, murmuring, anger, lust, gossiping, resentment and bitterness, fear, pride. We delude ourselves when we believe we are truly worshipping God while harboring venial sin in our heart, the pane of our soul is clouded over by pride.  Therefore, our next action in the Mass is Confession that we say with every other sinner present including the priest.  A brief silence allows us to consider what we are about to say.  This is our time to look at those smudges of sinful nature and release the sinful thoughts that keep us in the habit of sin.  We open up to the presence of God by recognizing the resentful thoughts we have against our spouse or the fretting over our possessions or the hidden habit of envy, as sin. Anything that clouds the glass of our soul disorders our lives.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do.  Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore, I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.      

            When we confess our sins we participate in a tradition from the ancient world when we say the words, "through my fault." We can see its origins in the scriptures. We declare our sinfulness in imitating the tax collector who, "standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner'" (Luke 18:13).  Our confession ends with a prayer of absolution by the priest.  It is a general prayer of absolution; it does not have the power to forgive us of all our sins.  In a general way, it reminds us that God has given the Church the power to heal the rift that existed between creation and God before the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. What began to unravel of God's image in us at The Fall is restored through Christ's sacrifice for the entire human race. We, together, accept God's mercy by responding either by singing or saying, "Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy." This moment has become one of the most cherished moments for us as we worship.  After all that has transpired in our lives we are profoundly aware that our Lord's mercy has protected us and continues to provide for all our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical needs.
            We rise together to sing the Gloria, which is referred to as the most magnificent prayers of the Tradition.

Glory to God in the highest,
and, peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit,
 in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

            Father Robert E. Barron refers to the first line of the Gloria as a kind of formula for a happy life. When we give God the highest glory, when He is clearly the supreme value for us, then our lives become harmoniously ordered around that central love.  Peace, as it were, breaks out among us when God, and not pleasure, money, power, distraction or entertainment, is given glory in the highest.  He goes on to say that the old English word, worth-ship is where our word worship comes from.  Worth-ship designates  what we hold dear. And the Liturgy is the place where we act out our worship, where we demonstrate, by word and gesture, what is of greatest worth to us.  And this is why it is essential to peace. 
            If you know much about the Jewish traditions in worship you are beginning to realize how much of the movement of the Mass has its roots in the Old Testament patterns of worship.  The first believers in Christ were Jews, God's chosen people; therefore, God continued his fulfillment of the Old Testament in the New Testament's traditions of worship. These were not little "t" traditions that cultures embrace as they form, these are big "T" traditions in that they are the acceptable and ordained form of worship according to God's point of view. That is Sacred Tradition.
            At Mass we join the invisible Church (heavenly hosts, saints and martyrs, and the great multitude of the faithful) with our visible worship of the Triune God. In fact, when you anchor worship in biblical understanding you see through a different lens the purpose of the Book of Revelation.  The historical understanding (up until about 200 years ago, but that's another story for another time) has always maintained that the book is a vision of the eternal heavenly worship.  The veil of eternity is lifted as we join all of heaven in worship of God.  In other words, the Mass is heaven's reality on earth.  Consider a brief section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1136 Liturgy is an "action" of the whole Christ (Christus totus). Those who even now
celebrate it without signs are already in the heavenly liturgy, where celebration is wholly communion and feast.
1137 The book of Revelation of St. John, read in the Church's liturgy, first reveals to us, "A throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne": "the Lord God."[1] It then shows the Lamb, "standing, as though it had been slain": Christ crucified and risen, the one high priest of the true sanctuary, the same one "who offers and is offered, who gives and is given."[2] Finally it presents "the river of the water of life . .  flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb," one of most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit.[3]
1138 "Recapitulated in Christ," these are the ones who take part in the service of the
praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan: the heavenly powers, all creation (the four living beings), the servants of the Old and New Covenants (the twenty-four elders), the new People of God (the one hundred and forty-four thousand),[4] especially the martyrs "slain for the word of God," and the all-holy Mother of God (the Woman), the Bride of the Lamb,[5] and finally "a great multitude which no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples and tongues."[6]
1139 It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate
whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments.

            We, the earthbound worshippers, are a great multitude from every nations, every tribe, every tongue who sing a heaven-bound love song with all the saints and martyrs to the Lover of our soul. The Mass from this point forward fulfills  what was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament, especially in St. John's Revelation: The Liturgy of the Word  and The Eucharist.  There is so much to learn about the ancient and authoritative understanding of worship and we cannot do it justice here.  Again, you may refer to our reading list if you desire to learn more.
            The Mass follows the same liturgical order the world over so if you were in Sudan or Indonesia or Sioux Falls, South Dakota on July 13, 2014 you worshipped in "Summer Ordinary Time" following the liturgical calendar.  The  liturgical calendar harkens back to the earliest traditions of using a calendar to mark the times of the year showing seasons, holidays, and special events.  Instead of marking the times of the year, the Catholic Church marks the major events in Christ’s life here on earth as He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation.  As we know, all events of the liturgical year that are recorded in the Gospels actually happened in history. The yearly cycle of reading Scripture from Salvation History perspective developed over time  in the first several centuries as the church defined the essentials of the faith. Here is the guide the Catholic Church follows every year in worship in the Mass:

ADVENT begins the start to the liturgical year and is the period of 4 weeks that looks forward to birth of Christ.
CHRISTMAS SEASON is 40 days long and celebrates the birth of Jesus and also includes Epiphany that commemorates the manifestation of Jesus to the whole world.
WINTER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where the church focuses on the life of Christ as he matures, ministers, and teaches up to the time of His death and Resurrection.
LENT starts with Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days where we reflect on what Christ did for us in His victory over sin. We enter into a season of repentance and reconciliation.
HOLY WEEK is the most solemn week in the church year that commemorates the events of Jesus’ life from the triumphal entry into Jerusalem until His Resurrection on Easter morning. It starts with Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday.
FIFTY DAYS OF EASTER celebrates the Resurrection of Christ and is culminated on Pentecost when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the people and is called the birthday of the church.
SUMMER ORDINARY TIME is a period of many weeks where we learn of Jesus’ teachings and ministry where we celebrate his life among us.

Now let's go back to recalling the 13th day of July, 2014.  It was the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Therefore, the scripture readings, antiphons and homily follow a meditation that's theme is woven throughout the Word of God, they are as follows:

The Liturgy of the Word:

Reading I (read by appointed readers): Isaiah 55:10-11/103
Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

Responsorial Psalm (led by the cantor and sung as a congregation) Psalm 65: 10-14

            "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest."

            You visit the earth, give it water;
you fill it with riches.
God's ever-flowing river brims over
to prepare the grain. (Response)

And thus you provide for the earth:
you drench its furrows;
you level it, soften it with showers;
you bless its growth. (Response)

You crown the year with your bounty.
Abundance flows in your pathways;
in pastures of the desert it flows.
The hills are girded with joy. (Response)

The meadows clothed with flocks.
The valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy; yes, they sing! (Response)

Reading II (read by appointed readers):  Romans 8:18-23

Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

(The summit of the Liturgy of the Word has now been reached and we will now hear the Gospel proclaimed by the priest.  This is a very solemn moment in the Mass. We recognize and obey what the Apostolic Fathers mandated: 

And while the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters and deacons, and all the people, stand up in great silence; for it is written: "Be silent, and hear, O Israel." And again: "But do thou stand there, and hear."  --Apostolic Constitutions, A.D. 400)

Gospel Acclamation (led by cantor and sung by congregation)

            "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia."

            The seed is the word of God, Christ is the sower.
            All who come to him will have life forever

Several actions will occur at once as the Gospel Acclamation is sung and the priest prepares to read the Gospel passage: Congregation stands as the priest moves toward the altar to take the Book of the Gospels, he will genuflect toward the altar in acknowledging his solemn vow to proclaim the Word to the people.
·         Sometimes the Gospel is read while an acolyte gently swings a censor that is filled with incense (frankincense).  The use of incense is an expression of prayer in Judeo-Christian tradition of worship. In the Scriptures, ritual incensing of objects, people and places was for their purification or for making the object or person holy and worthy of God.  

From the farthest east to the farthest west, my name is honored among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice of incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering too, since my name is honored among the nations. (Malachi 1:11)

                        Let my prayer rise before you like incense O Lord. (Psalm 141)

·         The Gospel Acclamation is sung.
·         The priest declares, "A reading from the Holy Gospel."  We respond by saying together, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ"  while we join the priest in making the sign of the cross over our foreheads, lips, and hearts before listening to the reading.  We are following the Judeo-Christian tradition that anchors the listening with an action.  We recognize that listening to and obeying the Word of God guards our mind, tongue, and heart.

The Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43 (The priest reads the Holy Scripture)
Congregation responds, "Thanks be to God."

The Homily:
            A homily brings the Scripture into the present moment of each Mass. The priest's function at this point in the Mass is quite, quite different than what a Protestant may think his pastor's function is in delivering a sermon. The priest's distinctive role is to whet our spiritual appetite for the feast of the Eucharist-- "the heart and the summit of the Church's worship." He doesn't pick and choose his way through Scriptures nor does he fret over the thematic, relevant, tantalizing hooks of culture, he follows the authority of the Church dictated in the Liturgical Calendar.  He acts as a presider, a charismas of worship, with the single purpose of drawing worshipping hearts and minds to our Lord present in the Eucharist.
            As you have probably noticed by now, all the scripture readings and even the singing of the Psalms lead the heart of the listener on a path of meditation that centers around soil, sowing, weeds, harvest. Singing the antiphon, "The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest," leads our mind and heart through the natural rhythms of creation that we can touch, see, and taste.  Catholic spirituality recognizes and emphasizes that all of life is sacred. When we begin to live our faith in God in the natural rhythm of sacramental life, we begin to live our lives vertically centered.
            It may be helpful for you to recall the conversation Jesus had with the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection from the dead (Luke 24)  The priest, like Christ, puts the events of our lives into the context of what has been revealed in Scripture.  He guides us, the worshippers, in Salvation History as revealed in the Word of God. He prepares us as Christ prepared the disciples for the fulfillment of the New Covenant that we celebrate in the Eucharist. Christ calls us to look beyond was is seen to recognize the unseen.

The Creed:
            At every Mass we join with everyone in reciting either the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  The words will be familiar to you, but what you may not know is the very act of reciting the Creed is a remembering of the Church's victory in a very ancient struggle. (Remember the trowel)  The struggle against the Arian heresy of  denial of the full divinity and humanity of Jesus culminated with  the Council at Nicaea in A.D. 325, it was a standing or falling point for Christianity. Lives were martyred for what the Creeds declare, but the Church stood and held its ground.  Now some 1,700 years later, Sunday after Sunday the Church rises to declare the victory over Arius and every other idolatry both ancient and contemporary!

I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
Maker of all that is, seen and unseen.

I  believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Prayers of the Faithful:
            Prayers are offered up on behalf of the Body of Christ.  His Body extends across the world and it transcends time and space; therefore, we pray for the faithful, the living and the dead.  The members, invisible and visible, of the Christ's mystical body. We recognize that the Church is not a club that concerns itself with who's in and who's out or who's up and who's down.    The judgment of all people is left to God and how that all unfolds is a mystery to us here on earth.  We, Christ's Church, are an organism and we act out our mystical identity as we pray for one another.

The Offering:
            During the collection of gifts from the congregation, the altar is prepared.  The altar is the center of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, much in the same way that the ambo (pulpit) was the center of the Liturgy of the Word.  There are timeless details attended to in these moments and they are done with a hush of reverence that reflects the sacramental offering we are about to offer up in worship.
            A hymn is sung while the altar is being prepared and the gifts are being assembled.  In the early Church, gifts of bread and wine to be used at the sacrifice of the Mass were brought by members of the congregation and presented to the presider. They would also bring other food gifts to present to the priest for his own sustenance (these traditions reach back into the Old Testament, remember the mortar).  That gift giving is memorialized in the presentation of the bread and the wine to be used at the Mass.  Our financial contributions are presented at this time as well.  These monetary gifts are the modern equivalent of the earlier food gifts brought for the priests.
            Just as the procession at the very beginning of the Mass held the Book of the Gospels for the Liturgy of the Word.  The procession of the offerings signify the Eucharistic Liturgy. The gifts: the water and wine, the bread, the money, represent the congregations thanksgiving and so the "we" of the congregation (usually a family) proceed with the offerings to the front of the church where the priest waits to receive the offering to offer back to God in the blessing of the bread and wine.         
            Father Robert E. Barron eloquently states that "the ancients, including the Jewish nation, made animal sacrifice to offer praise to God.  A person would take one small aspect of God's creation and return it to its source in order to signal his gratitude for the gift of his own existence and, indeed, the existence of the world.  These small offerings of bread, water, wine are representative of the entirety of Creation.  Bread and wine implies wheat and vine. And to say wheat and vine is to imply earth, soil, water, wind and sunshine. And to say earth, soil, water, and wind is to imply the solar system and indeed, the cosmos itself. "

The Blessing, the Berakah prayer, is prayed by the priest:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, Creator of the fruit of the earth.
The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”

We know that God does not need anything we can offer, he has no need.  However,  we need sacrifice in order to reorder us and restore our communion with God.  Sacrifice produces communion, and it is this distinctive logic that is the trowel, mortar and brick of the Eucharist.  We now are prepared to receive the Mystery of Faith in the Eucharistic feast.  We sense you are beginning to have questions you want to ask about what is happening.  It may be  very hard for you to believe that we actually believe that Christ's body and blood are consumed when we receive the Eucharist.  For now, let's just continue to reverently observe what is happening around us.  We'll talk more about the union of Sacred Scriptures and Sacred Tradition in the Mass, but for now let us continue in our worship of Almighty God.  

This is the ultimate knowledge about God,
to know that we do not know.
--St. Thomas Aquinas

Liturgy of the Eucharist:
            The Mass is truly an encounter with the Triune God, distilled to the simplest terms it is a conversation and meal with our Host, the Lamb of God. In the Scripture readings, the Liturgy of the Word, we listened. In the responsorial Psalms we responded to God with our voices.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we will now eat together.  The Mystery of Faith is that Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross becomes truly present, re-presented in the Mass.  We now enter into a realm of other earthiness were the invisible is unveiled.  When we approach the Eucharist as the Old Testament foreshadowed in the Passover and the New Testament revealed in the Passion of the Lamb of God and in St. John's revelation of eternal worship,  the veil of eternity is lifted and the reality of the Mass becomes profoundly life-altering!

There is no communion with God without sacrifice.
This is true because sin has twisted us out of shape,
and therefore intimacy with God will involve a
twisting back into shape, a painful re-alignment, a sacrifice.
--Father Robert E.  Barron

It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1410)

Not only do we say that it is the Church that celebrates the Eucharist, we believe that the celebration of the Eucharist also makes the Church. Although we are already one in Christ through Baptism, Eucharistic “Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1396).

The Eucharistic Prayer (This is the climactic prayer of the Mass.  We have chosen to include the words as they are prayed by the priest and said or sung by the congregation during this solemn climax of our worship):

Father, it is our duty and salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

He is the Word through whom you made the universe, the Savior you sent to redeem us. By the power of the Holy Spirit he too flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

For our sake he opened his arms on the cross; he put an end to death and revealed the resurrection. In this he fulfilled your will and won for you a holy people.

And so we join the angels and saints in proclaiming your glory:
Holy, Holy (The "Sanctus", based on the praise of the seraphim in Isa 6:3):

All:  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Epiclesis (calling upon the Holy Spirit):

Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness. Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Before he was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he took bread and gave you thanks, He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body which will be given up for you.

When the supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.

Memorial Acclamation:

Priest:  Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
All:  When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.

Anamnesis (recollection), Offering, and Intercessions:

In memory of his death and resurrection, we offer you, Father, this life-giving bread, this saving cup. We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you. May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.

Lord, remember your Church throughout the world; make us grow in love, together with [Francis] our Pope, {name of local bishop}, our bishop, and all the clergy.

Remember our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of rising again; bring them and all the departed into the light of your presence. Have mercy on us all; make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with the apostles, and with all the saints who have done your will throughout the ages. May we praise you in union with them, and give you glory through your Son, Jesus Christ.

Doxology and Great Amen:

Priest:  Through him, with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever.
All:  Amen, Amen, Amen! (congregation sings together)

The Lord's Prayer (prayed together as a congregation)

The Sign of Peace:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  --Matthew 5:23-24

The sign of peace that we make with fellow congregants differs according to where in the world we are worshipping.  A handshake, an embrace, a kiss, even a peace sign made with two fingers is acceptable.  The action serves as a reminder that we are to live at peace with our family and our neighbor, what better place to start than with the one you are standing next to as you worship the God of all peace.

Lamb of God
            One of the most worshipful moments in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is when we kneel  as a congregation of worshippers of the eternal Lamb of God and sing together with the angels, saints, martyrs, and the faithful who have proceeded us into our eternal worship of God:

            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
            Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Priest: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
            Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
People: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
            but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Receiving the Eucharist:
            We have observed two processions to the altar up to this point in the Mass: the first when the priest and altar servers entered the church at the beginning of the Mass, and the second when the congregation's representatives presented the gifts of our financial offerings, the bread, and the wine to the priest.  It is now our turn to leave our pew and process toward the altar to receive our Lord in the Eucharist.  You will notice how quietly and reverently the worshippers proceed.  This is a moment when we can reflect on our dignity as God's creation.  We proceed humbly, yet purposefully, knowing that our identity as children of God cost Him everything and He gave it willingly because He is LOVE.  Therefore, we do not take or grab Communion, we receive Jesus in this Communion, in this mystical union of the Bride of Christ. We bow as a sign of reverence toward the Eucharistic Lord of Love. We take in his body in the Divine Mystery of the Eucharist and it nourishes in us what cannot be nourished by anything else humanity offers up for consumption.

Concluding Rites:
            After Communion, what is referred to as the "concluding rites of the Mass" bring our corporate worship to an end.  Our priest invites us to pray.  We all stand and there is a brief moment of silence for us to direct our hearts to the prayer that the priest will say in our name.  These are no ad hoc prayers.  The Liturgy of the Mass for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time on 13th day of July, 2014 has been thoughtfully ordered by the Sacred Tradition to sum up what we have heard in the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  And what we continue to be amazed by is that the words of the prayers echo what our spirits have longed to pray in response to what we have heard and consumed.  The Word of God is indeed living and active, and sharper than a two-edged sword!
Blessed and sent: 
            We have gathered as a family, heard the Word, professed our faith, prayed for one another, offered sacrifice to the Father, and received the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are, at least in principle, more properly formed and hence, ready to go out to effect the transformation of the world. 

And let the deacon say: Bow down to God through His Christ, and
receive the blessing...And the deacon shall say, Depart in peace.
--Apostolic Constitutions, A.D. 400

            Now we receive a blessing from our priest. We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures.  Usually the blessings occur when someone is taking leave of another.  We remember Christ's blessing of his disciples. "Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven."  --Luke 24:50-51
            This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too.  The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that literally means "Go, you are sent."  We are being sent on the mission of all the ages--we are sent in peace to bring peace into each of our corners of the world. 

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