Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting More Out of the Mass - Part 1: Joining in the One Voice of the Body of Christ

(This is the first in a projected series of posts based on the talk I gave on the new Roman Missal at my parish this week, describing the changes in the words of the Mass, but along the way, helping people understand their role at Mass as the Assembly. I want to expand some points and share - in hopes that some would use these to enrich catechesis on the Mass. )

It has often been said we get more out of the Mass if we put more into it.  But what should the average person in the pew "put in"? We teach children and young people - and adults entering the church -  external participation: that they should sing, say the words, and do the postures (stand, sit and kneel). But do we teach them what should be going on inside? Internal participation is what should be going on in our minds and hearts as we do these physical things and during the spaces and silences in the Mass which are specifically there so that we can add our part of the prayer. Why do we go to Mass? Not merely to sing and say the words. Not merely to do the same postures and gestures that others are doing. These are external signs of an internal disposition.

Every Catholic pretty much knows they should enter the worship space, genuflect to the tabernacle, and kneel for prayer to prepare themselves for Mass. But from what I see as a cantor, facing the Assembly, many are not quite so clear on their role in the song during the Entrance Rite.  We are not merely there to listen to the music and watch the procession of the presider and ministers.  However, from the number of people who do not even open the songbook, even in a community where many do sing, it is clear no one has ever told them why it is important to do so.

Why should everyone join in the song-- even if we hate our voice and think we cannot sing?  (A common excuse, by the way.)  What is the purpose of that song? Quite simply to help us to "park our egos" at the door. By joining our voices to the song, no matter if it is repeating the chanted entrance antiphon or a congregational through-composed song, we become part of the one voice  - the one sound of the assembled Body of Christ. For the hour we are at Mass, we take on our proper role as members of that Mystical Body. We claim our identity not as individuals, but as members.  This is true full and active participation. It signifies our assent to taking on the role of members of the Assembly - the People of God at worship, doing our "work" in the liturgy: lifting our prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, with the leadership of the ordained priest in his proper role.

This internal disposition as part of a corporate identity is why, later, at the Creed, we say "I believe..." - it is a statement of belief - that we say in our oneness,  not just as individuals.  It is also the same reason the Church asks that national symbols remain outside the worship space - as demonstrated by the rubric which asks that flags be removed from a casket at a funeral, and replaced with the pall, symbolic of our baptismal membership in this gathered assembly. As members of the Mystical Body, we have no individual identity as belonging to a particular nation.  This is an attitude. It is what makes Mass not "about ME".

Want to know more? Read Mystical Body, Mystical Voice, by Douglas Martis and Christopher Carstens (Liturgy Training Publications) and Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.

Next: The Sign of the Cross.

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