the Mass

Mar 9, 2012

When we gather each Sunday, what are we doing?

This is a very important question. Thanks be to God we do not have to invent an answer.  For two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has clearly and consistently communicated the purpose and importance of Sunday Mass in the life of a Catholic.

Vatican II – 50 years on

There is a common perception that the Catholic church changed some understandings of the Mass in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The Council is seen as a point before which the Mass was ‘mystery’ and ‘sacrifice’, and after which the Mass is ‘community’ and ‘celebration’. 

This is a significant misunderstanding. Community and celebration have always been at the heart of the Mass. It is a tragic loss whenever mystery and sacrifice are not also understood as the heart of the Catholic Mass in 2012. 

It is appropriate in this golden jubilee year of the gathering of the first session of the Second Vatican Council (October 1962), to embrace a rediscovery of the gift and beauty of the Mass.

It is true that the Mass does appear to take many forms and appearances. A feast-day Mass celebrated by the pope at St. Peters in Rome looks a bit different to a Sunday morning Mass at Hawarden or Waiau.  Yet the same miracle happens in each place: Jesus Christ becomes real in the form of bread and wine. 

prayers and postures revised

The prayers the priest prays in Culverden or on Pitt Island are exactly the same as the prayers of the Mass prayed by the pope. The postures and gestures are the same across the world, because in every place, in every generation, the Mass is primarily about God. The Mass is our worship of God, in the form and Tradition revealed by God through the history of the actively worshipping Church.

In the last couple of years in New Zealand our revised texts and postures bring us into even greater unity both with the worship of our parents and grandparents, and with the contemporary worship of Catholics in every part of the world.

full and active participation

The Council did call us to a renewed appreciation of the method and importance of every worshipper being engaged in “full and active participation” during the Mass.  

This participation is primarily a project of the human heart, not (as sometimes wrongly understood) an activity of the body of the minister who reads the scriptures or distributes Holy Communion.

revised texts, same Mass

Last Sunday throughout New Zealand we heard the revised texts of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass for the first time. We now have received and implemented all the text changes of the Mass. 

Some of the prayers will be familiar and comfortable. Other turns of phrase might seem awkward at first. You might think ‘we don’t talk like this normally, why in the Mass?‘   There is a good reason. This is a very good question. 

pray what we mean?  mean what we pray?

In our personal prayer we often seek to pray what we mean. We might try to express ourselves to God. In the Mass we are seeking to do something much more. And this is the heart of the matter.

In the Mass we desire to hear God communicate himself to us. Therefore in the Mass we seek not primarily to pray what we mean, but to mean what we pray.

This means that we use texts that are pregnant with the ultimate meaning of life, rather than words that convey the bit of meaning that I can cope with or understand at the moment.  These texts are gifted to us by generations and continents of worshippers.  These texts, with their subtle nuances and turns of phrase, along with some hefty words (eg “consubstantial”), are a proven highway for God’s journey into human experience and reality in every Mass.

It might be helpful to use an analogy. 

When you went to the lawyer to make your Will, you might have found the words she used to put your last wishes to paper, a bit ‘quaint’ ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘unusual’.  “How about we use normal everyday language for the Will you might ask?”  Well, you could, but the chances are that this less-formal way of writing my Will is too ambiguous for something so important.  My words in my Will could easily be misinterpreted resulting in my wishes not being carried out.

The language of the Liturgy…

…is even more important than the language of my Will. If my Will is misunderstood, the wrong person might end up inheriting my house in the country with room for the pony. 
If I think of the Mass primarily as a human activity of celebration and community-building, I may well miss the God of mystery and sacrifice, inviting me to the fulness of life.


There are significant periods of silence in the Mass. This silence and stillness is not a gap between ‘full and active participations.’

Instead the stillness and silence in the Mass, and in the minutes before the Mass begins, is an opportunity to move beyond the compulsive busyness and tiring demands of life, to peace and intimacy with God. In the Mass we simply gather, and the God we seek not only comes to us, but (in the Eucharist) God comes IN-TO us.

New Missals and Hymnbooks

Last weekend we began to use new missal / hymnbooks in the Hurunui parishes. While we might still use the overhead projectors, the Order of the Mass pages (at the start of the book) provide all the prayers of the Mass, and the remainder of the book offers a selection of dignified hymns.

You might be able to arrive five or ten minutes before Mass, and turn to the readings section of the book to ponder the readings you will hear during the Liturgy of the Word.


Pope Benedict emphasises the importance of chant in the prayers of the Mass. When we chant we are not singing. We are simply elevating our speech.  Since we are familiar with the prayers of the Mass it is easy for us (reciting the prayers) to slip into a racing ritualism. The congregation when chanting slows and more visibly merges into one voice in praise of God. Since this is not singing but ‘elevated speech’ anyone who can speak can chant. Being tone-deaf is no obstacle!

(to be continued!  J.O’C)


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