After being called in and prepared in the Introductory Rites, and given a great gift in the Word of God, the congregation now sits for what is ultimately the most interesting—or most excruciating—part of the mass: the homily.

Theologically speaking, the homily is far from the most integral part of the Mass (it may even be omitted for serious reason); surely the reading of Christ’s words and receiving the body of Christ are more essential to the act of worship than what the priest comes up with each week. And yet, survey after survey marks the homily as one of the most important aspects of a good worship experience for church goers, and one of the most common reasons people choose to stop coming to Mass if they’re lackluster. It is something that pope Francis has spoken of multiple times:  our homilies must be more engaging.

It is a shame, frankly, that more people do not hear great homilies on a regular basis because it serves such an important role in the liturgy. In the words of the priest (or deacon), the world of Scripture intersects with our own worlds. It is his duty as the homilist to explain what we have just heard, giving context to the reading, while also showing how the readings are not simply 2000 year old stories but living accounts of God’s work in our world today.

For that is what this entire section of the liturgy is meant to do: to send us out. The homily, Creed, and General Intercessions serve to connect our own personal experience, in our own worlds, to the living Christ. In hearing the homily, actualizing our faith in the here and now, and calling to mind the places in the world that need Christ, we are given an opportunity to take what we’ve heard and put it into practice. While we do not physically leave the church just yet, our focus at this point is outward.

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Last year, Catholicism In Focus asked the question, “How Late Can I Come to Mass?” Officially, there isn’t a rule or an actual cutoff. There are no bouncers at the door. While most people would say that if you made it by the Gospel and Homily, you were good, this has simply never been the case.

But the very fact that most people thought this—and held to this conviction so strongly that they fought with me on social media when I presented this video—shows how engrained this notion was. Why is this significant? Because implicitly, the vast majority of people have been raised to believe that the what maters at Mass is the Eucharist, and everything else is secondary. “Oh, don’t worry, you just missed the first reading. You didn’t miss what really matters…” You might not find someone who actually says these words that bluntly, but the idea is certainly there.

This, quite obviously, is not what the Church wants us to think, and the problem was apparently so bad, that it had to explicitly state the opposite in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy: “The two parts which, in a certain sense, go to make up the Mass, namely, the liturgy of the word and the eucharistic liturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one single act of worship. Accordingly this sacred Synod strongly urges pastors of souls that, when instructing the faithful, they insistently teach them to take their part in the entire Mass, especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 56.)

The liturgy of the Word is not simply a warm up to what really matters. It is a gift in and of itself. In reading from Scripture, Christ is made truly present. That is pretty incredible, and something that we should take seriously!

Everyone knows St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua. They’re arguably the most famous saints in the history of the Church. Most people know of St. Clare, if for nothing else, that she was associated with St. Francis. And all throughout the world, the name Padre Pio has become more and more popular after being canonized a little over a decade ago. When most people think of the Franciscans, these names come to mind.

But… we’re an 800 year old movement. We are by far the largest religious family that has ever existed in the Church, and we’ve had some holy people along the way. Surely we have more than four saints, right?

Coming up with the exact number was hard to find (typical Franciscans, right?). If you include all of the saints who were professed as Secular Franciscans before becoming associated with another Order, the number is around 177, but even conservatively estimated, we’re well into the 100s.

That’s a lot of holy men and women. And I think we should remember them. In this week’s video, I’ve selected seven Franciscan saints that I think everyone should know, and offered my take on the holiness of our charism. If you stick around to the end, you might even get a quick joke at the expense of the Dominicans (no offense Dominicans!)

Going to church… can be a bit boring. Look out into the congregations of many churches and you will not find hoards of smiling faces, upbeat and excited about what they are doing. No, quite unfortunately, you will find many dour faces and low energy. The problem is so common, in fact, that Pope Francis even addressed it in one of his apostolic exhortations, bemoaning the loads of “sourpusses” he sees coming up for communion.

What a tragedy!

For me, there is nothing more life-giving in all the world than the community gathered for this sacrificial meal. It is the “source and summit” of our lives as Christians, the inspiration and strength we need to go out into the world. Catholics do not attend mass simply to get into heaven, as if it were something to be endured before we received our reward; no, we attend mass because it is a small taste of heaven itself. For those who know what is happening at the mass, it is the highlight of their week.

And I think that’s the key: “for those who know what is happening.” When you know what is happening, when you can follow the internal logic of the rite and can enter fully into the mystery before us, the experience is anything but boring. While the execution of the rite (stylistic choices, skill, personality, ability to follow rubrics) can obviously have an effect on the congregation’s experience (there are such things as bad presiders and choirs…) the Mass itself will always give life to those who understand.

And since I cannot fix every presider and choir or force every parish to be filled with joy and energy… the only thing I can do is shed some light on the rite itself, hopefully instilling in others the same love for the Mass that I have. With this series, my goal is to break the whole liturgy down to its individual parts, explain what each mean, and put them back together to reveal a coherent, artfully crafted act of worship that gives glory to God.

There are many ways that this can be accomplished. Some would explain the Mass in two parts, separating the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist; others would build the series around the three processions found in the mass; others still might focus entirely on the complexity of the Eucharistic prayer, breaking that down into four parts, with the Liturgy of the Word and Concluding Rites as bookends. All of these would make for fine explanations of what is going on in the rite, but they are not what I have chosen.

This series will be divided into six parts, a double series of three, following the same structural arc: Called in and prepared, Given a gift, and Sent out. 

Beginning first with the Liturgy of the Word, the first arc will begin with the gathering, call to worship, penitential rite, gloria, and collect. Through this series of actions, the congregation will be called in from their disparate lives and prepared to enter the worship. This will give way to the reading of Scripture and the recitation of a psalm, reaching its pinnacle in the reading of the Gospel. In this way, the congregation will be given the gift of Christ’s true presence in the Word. Bringing the first arc to a close, the homilist will make sense of what has been given, offering practical applications for lessons, and the congregation will respond with the prayers of creed and prayers of the faithful. All three components focus the attention of the congregation to the outside world where they are sent out to live what they’ve heard.

The structural arc will begin again with the preparation of the gifts, in which the congregation literally prepares for what is coming next: they not only prepare the altar for the physical sacrifice, but prepare their hearts for a spiritual one. The Mass then reaches its high point in the Eucharistic Prayer and reception of communion, in which the congregation is given the gift of Christ’s very presence in sacramental form. Having received this gift, the congregation has not just eaten a meal, but has become what it received: they constitute the body of Christ themselves. In this way, then, they are sent out to live as such in the world, announcing the Good News with their lives.

Called in and prepared, Given a gift, and Sent out.

Obviously, the Mass is a complex act of worship filled with more rubrics, history, and symbolic significance than can fit into a six-part series of 10 minutes videos. In preparing for this series, I read multiple Vatican documents, three different commentaries on the mass, consulted liturgists, and built upon my four years of theological study. Regrettably, there was a lot that I had to leave out, and decisions had to be made as to what to keep in. This series will not be the end-all-be-all of mass commentaries, nor will it be without its own flaws and personal biases. Since I had to choose what to include and what to leave out, this series, like any project, will ultimately be incomplete.

And I’m completely fine with that. My goal in sharing this work is not to provide the most complete, objective recitation of facts possible. No, my goal is to share the love that I have for the liturgy so that others may have faith. I do my absolute best to stick to the facts, never outright sharing my opinion on any topic, but there’s no question that my own experience and theology is behind the whole creative process. This series is about telling a story, not about reciting the official rubrics one by one. My hope is that, in sharing my passion for this great communal worship and offering the foundation for its logic, that others will be inspired enough to study the documents themselves and come to their own conclusions of what each part means, why they’re important, and how to share that experience with others.

If that sounds like something you’re interested in, or maybe something that would benefit someone else, I encourage you to join me each Friday for a new installment.

In some ways, the topic of this week’s Catholicism in Focus is a trivial one. It is the sort of topic that the Pharisees might have argued about, seemingly esoteric, having no effect on the lives of the poor and no relevance to a true faith.

In other ways, this topic finds itself at the very center of the most important aspect of our lives. How we answer this question is not simply a matter of preference or idiosyncrasy, but is rooted in the very theology that we bring to our Eucharistic celebrations.

Oh, and based on the comments on the video so far, it’s also a controversial question that is dictated more by emotion and nostalgia than a carefully tested Eucharistic theology…

The question that I tackle this week is of the placement of the tabernacle.

As you watch this video, I simply ask that you try to understand what the Church is saying and why it is saying it. Rather than trying to justify your own opinion or challenge what is being said, really try to get to the heart of the issue. In the interest of tradition and familiarity, many have already rejected the prescriptions of the Church, writing them off as irrelevant, out of touch, or just another mistake of the Second Vatican Council. They have looked to things they don’t like in the Church as a way to prove that this “new” practice is the cause. Even some bishops are trying to find their way around the rubrics and return to what the Church used to do. Try to fight this urge. Try to get beneath the surface, outside of your comfort zone, and see what is really at stake.

Reverence for the Eucharist is surely not what it should be. Our worship can definitely be lackluster at times. For some, this is reason enough to abandon our present practices and return to the old ones, a “magic bullet” to fix our issues. My opinion? While there are some obvious pastoral issues at play here and some clear problems that need to be addressed, the placement of the tabernacle is less of an issue than catechesis is. Putting it at one place or another might hide the issues we have, but it won’t actually address them if people don’t know what’s going on. Let’s address what’s going on under the surface, let’s correct what could be lacking in our Eucharistic theology, and none of this will be an issue.