My earliest church memories were of Mass according to what we now know as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass, the Mass celebrated in Latin according to the rite used for 400 years until the late 1960’s.
I unashamedly confess a curiosity about this form of the Mass since it is the worship my parents, grandparents and generations of my ancestors before them were raised with and by which their relationship with Jesus was sustained and matured.
I even remember the first words of this Mass after the Sign of the Cross, with the priest standing at the foot of the altar steps. These opening words were from the psalm for today’s Mass for the Monday of this third week of Lent.
Many Catholics older than me can still respond to this verse from psalm 42 with the priest beginning: “Introibo ad altare Dei,” (I will go to the altar of God), and the server responding audibly (and the people silently) in the Latin they all knew by heart: “ad Deum qui lætificat iuventutem meam“… (to God who gives joy to my youth.)
I always liked the image of going towards the altar, literally the high place, the place of sacrifice, and not any altar, but the table of God.
When I pray I will go the altar of God this table image is rich for me.
I think of spending time at the table of friends, slow food and drink with people I love and trust, hours rich with conversation and love, all my physical senses engaged in this earthly foretaste of the eternal banquet.
As I step towards the altar of God my imagination is filled with thoughts of high points, the mountain-tops, places of perspective where an elevated view and a wider lens adjusts my vision enabling me to loosen my grip on today’s anxieties and move into tonight and tomorrow more peacefully.
I think of sacrifice, not my hard-gritted-teeth Lenten giving-ups, but the times when someone made sacrifice for me, and the many fewer times when I sacrificed for someone else and was immediately rewarded with knowing that it is in giving that I receive.
This is the altar that I am happy to go to not only for communal worship, but whenever I pray. “I will go…”
Routinely my prayer is the formal prayer of the Church, the Eucharist and the Hours which I pray with the whole Church The Prayer of the Church, morning, evening, night, remembering as I pray when alone that I am never praying alone.
Sometimes over my decades the circumstances of my life has been a bit tough and challenging, and there have been times when I know I’m walking but I’m not sure whether I’m walking towards or away from God. In these times I fear that I’m walking toward the superficial attraction and glamour rather than towards the adventure and action of Jesus with Jesus.
Then there are other times when, while I’m fumbling, that I sense that I’m being carried in the right direction. That feels a bit like walking through the carriages towards the back of the train that is moving forward. At least I know that I am being carried in the right direction and in these moments that is more than enough for me, being carried…
…towards the God who gives joy to my youth.
I love that! My realisation that youth-filled joy stays with the person who stays with Jesus since true youth and real joy is not a human achievement, It is God who restores both joy and youthfulness.
And then I remember that every time we go to God we savour the joy of being not an anxious 40 year old, a weary 50 year old or a worried 90 year old since we are created for a joy-filled eternity, and while on earth we are passing through the birth-pangs of entry to that paradise.
I’m reminded of the 100 year old woman who was asked if she had any comments on reaching 100 years of age. Yes, she said; If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!
- Which word or phrase in the reflection above gives you most hope?