Mass Instruction


We hear so often that people stop coming to church because they don’t really understand what’s going on.  That has nothing to do with the condition of Father Den’s voice.  It’s much more basic.  How well could YOU explain to a non-Catholic what goes on at Mass, not just the moves and motions, but the MEANING of the moves and motions?  Could you not only explain it, but do it with enough conviction and enthusiasm that they might want to give it a try?  We’re going to spend just a little time at each Mass for a while, EXPLAINING what’s going on and why.  Father promises this won’t make Mass LONGER – heaven forbid we spend any more time at worship than we absolutely have to!  But we hope that it will make Mass CLEARER.  There’s nothing secret about what we do here.  The doors are always open for anyone.  Let’s find out why!

The first thing we have to tell you is that next week, the entrance procession will begin at YOUR house!  How about that?  Well, it’s really nothing new.  It begins there every week, every time you come to Mass.  As you see the cars and the pedestrians, and the GO! Bus, and maybe some bicycles, all making their way to church, the procession has begun!  And you didn’t start it!  You might THINK you made the decision to come to Mass today.  Wasn’t that big of you, when so many people you know decided to do something else?  No, it is God’s call.  You’re responding to GOD’S call, along with everyone else who’s here.  God called you because he loves you, and he has something very important to show you here.  He takes delight in his people, and he loves it when we gather with him so he can tell us about and show us his love.  But he has to get us here first.  So he calls us, and we respond, and if we respond “YES,” we pro-ceed, or pro-CESS, to church.  The Latin word ecclesia (pron. ek-CLAY-zee-uh), which means “church,” copies two Greek words which mean, “those who are called out.”  As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are called out from all the other people in the world for a PURPOSE – and that purpose, that mission, is so that we can RETURN to those other people with the Good News that God loves them so much that he could just DIE for them.  (And in fact, he DID!)  Now THAT’S something to have a procession about!


Last week we talked about the entrance procession which begins the Mass.  Did you remember that it started at your house?  Well, now here we are.  Now the servers, the reader with the Book of the Gospels, and the priest JOIN the procession that has already begun.  The church bell rings for Mass for several reasons.  The very sound of the bell ringing makes a joyful noise to the Lord.  It signals a beginning for those who are here, and it lets those who AREN’T here know they’re missing something!  It’s part of that call of the Lord which we talked about last week as summoning his people, who then pro-cess from all over to the church building which is named for them.  In the seminary, our life was regulated and controlled by bells, all day long, bells to get ready for something, bells to start, bells to stop, bells to eat, bells to pray, bells to go to bed, bells to wake up.  We were wisely told that the bell is the “vox Dei,” the voice of God, calling us to leave one thing behind and turn to another.

As the final part of our procession begins with the ministers coming up the aisle to the sanctuary, we sing an entrance hymn.  Many of us are old enough to remember when the priest read the Introit (pron. IN-troh-it) psalm after going up to the altar.  It was a very shortened version of an entrance hymn, using the psalms themselves as the text.  Why do we sing?  Well, like the Seven Dwarfs singing, “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go,” we are off to our work of worship, praising God and giving him thanks.  Make no mistake about it, our singing is not an add-on, or even an option.  The ancient saying in the Church is, “The one who sings, prays TWICE.”  So lifting our voices in song is worship, and that’s what we’re here for.  Not singing in God’s house is like not shaking someone’s hand when you’re introduced.  It’s refusing to use a faculty that God gave you for a noble purpose.  So don’t snub God.  And don’t get any silly ideas about WHY we’re singing.  Some churches used to have the commentator say, “Let’s stand and greet our celebrant with song.”  That’s just wrong in so many ways, especially when the hymn is “Hail, Holy Queen,” or something like that.  The entrance hymn is worship of God, pure and simple.  And it helps get us in the mood for more.





We’re departing momentarily from our consideration of the entrance procession in our instruction to ponder the mystery of the Eucharist on this solemnity of Corpus Christi.  Listen to the wonderful words of the beautiful and familiar Latin hymn, the “Ave, verum Corpus,” a poem dating back to the 1300’s, which is a meditation on the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  The poem ties the Eucharistic mystery to the redemptive meaning of suffering in the life of all believers.  The most familiar musical setting of this poem was composed for the feast of Corpus Christi by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1791, exactly 225 years ago, and just six months before the composer’s death.  In English, it goes like this:

Hail, true Body,

Born of the Virgin Mary,

Having truly suffered,

Having been sacrificed

On the Cross for mankind,

Whose pierced side

Gushed water and blood:

Be for us a foretaste

[Of the heavenly banquet]

In the trial of death.

These few poetic words encapsulate so much of what we believe.  Let us ponder them in the Mass today, and in our procession with the Blessed Sacrament around the block immediately after Mass.  Those who are able may follow the Sacrament out the main door immediately after the Postcommunion prayer, as we honor Our Savior in his priceless Gift to us.





The entrance procession is finally complete.  We’ve made it to the altar, and there the priest and the ministers who don’t happen to be carrying the Book of the Gospels or the cross or candles or anything else, GENUFLECT in the direction of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.  This is the same physical gesture of adoration made by each of us as we enter church.  The word is a Latin word meaning, “Bend the knee.”  A little review of genuflection is in order.

We often make fun of people who think they have to impress an employer, for instance, by “bowing and scraping,” groveling before the boss in an awkward display that they fancy will assure their job security.  But some signs of politeness and deference are indeed often in order:  referring to a CEO as “Ms.” Or “Mr.,” allowing them to sit in a presiding chair, calling a judge “Your Honor” – those are things we should all be familiar with.  If they are appropriate in human society, how much more are physical gestures of adoration in order when their object is God himself!

Genuflecting is properly done on the right knee, not because right is better than left, but because some uniformity is appropriate when we do things TOGETHER.  Watching soldiers march if each were allowed to lead with whichever foot the individual troop preferred would make every parade ground look like a Laurel-and-Hardy movie.  The uniformity is not intended to crush creativity or individuality, but simply to be one sign among many of our doing something together.  So, if you are physically able, the right knee touches the floor in a genuflection.  We genuflect only toward the Blessed Sacrament, not statues, nor any human person of any rank.  It’s reserved for God.

If you’re in a Catholic church where the tabernacle is not centrally located, take a moment upon entering to determine where it is.  Ask around if you’re a stranger.  Near it there should be a sanctuary lamp, perpetually lit to indicate the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ reserved there.  As I always told our school children, the sanctuary lamp is like Jesus’ porch light.  If it’s on, you know he’s home.  More next week.