The seven habits of highly effective Mass-goers, part three

Not a piece specifically for parents, but a tremendously helpful piece  for any Catholic on how to truly participate in the mass. By David Philippart, used with permission from U.S. Catholic magazine

5. Give it up!

When we come to the heart of the Mass, the great prayer of thanks and praise, put your heart into it! After you make your donation, stop for a second and think of all the things you are most thankful for right now. As you watch the gifts of bread and wine being placed on the altar, remember that you put yourself alongside that bread and in that flagon when you first came in. Know that you (and we) are being offered to God under the signs of bread and wine.

And here’s the miracle. The God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, the God who wove the night sky and buttoned it with stars, the living God accepts our gift of self under the sign of bread and wine. Then God changes those gifts into the Body and the Blood of his beloved child Jesus Christ and gives it back to us.

Our medieval ancestors wanted to know precisely at what point the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood. They settled on Christ’s very own words that the priest repeats in the middle of the eucharistic prayer, and these words came to be called “the consecration.” Today we are aware that the whole Eucharistic Prayer consecrates the gifts. It would be a grave mistake for a priest to omit all but the words of consecration. In fact, a few years ago, the pope approved an ancient Eucharistic Prayer for continued use in some of the Eastern churches. it’s called the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. It does not contain the words of consecration but in other words calls down the Holy Spirit to make the gifts the Body and the Blood of Christ. The pope said that this prayer still consecrates.

It’s easy to check out while the priest says the long Eucharistic Prayer. Don’t do it! Don’t miss out on the divine gift exchange. Especially important are our acclamations that are part of this prayer: the Holy, Holy, the Memorial Acclamation; and the Great Amen. Sing them from your heart, and remember that in doing so we are joining in the singing of the angels and the saints before God’s throne.

Next we pray the Lord’s Prayer together, and it’s easy to simply recite it from memory without thinking much about it. Here’s where posture can help. Our bodies can help keep our minds centered on the meaning of these most beautiful words. If your parish holds hands, then hold hands. But otherwise, try this: Pray the Lord’s Prayer standing in the orans position. Stand straight with your arms extended from the elbows, hands open, fingers relaxed, palms facing up. Raise your eyes to heaven, too.

This is an ancient prayer gesture that the priest still uses in the Mass today. But it is not a priests-only gesture. It used to be used by all Christians.

The kiss of peace is probably the most misunderstood part of the Mass. But like the general intercessions, in the early church giving the kiss of Christ’s peace was something reserved to those who were baptized. Although in the United States we have changed the kiss to a handshake, there’s nothing “how-do-you-do” about this gesture. When two baptized people wish peace to each other, they are imparting to each other the blessing of Christ’s peace.

So enter into this gesture knowing that you are giving and receiving Christ’s peace. Don’t chit-chat. Look the other person in the eye. If you don’t embrace, then clasp – but don’t shake – hands. Hold the other person’s hand in both of yours. Wish him or her peace. Share the peace with those around you. This is a symbolic gesture, so you don’t have to reach everybody.

6. Sing, walk, eat, drink

Going up to Communion is not meant to be like going through the drive-through at a fast food restaurant. it’s a communal procession in which we walk and sing together in order to eat and drink together. The communion that we share is on two levels: our communion with Christ and our communion with each other.

So sing as you walk! Most music ministers now use Communion songs with short refrains so that you won’t need to carry a hymnal or song sheet. (If they don’t, you might suggest it.) Walk with the music. If you receive Communion in your mouth, walk with hands folded. If you receive Communion in your hand, walk forward with your one hand cupped in the other, palm upward, ready, eager, to receive.

Don’t pass by the cup! (Unless of course, you have a very specific medical reason for doing so.) The chances of catching a cold or worse are minuscule. But the chances of catching Christ’s life and spirit as well as communion with Christ and your sisters and brothers is high.

If it’s your parish’s custom to bow before receiving the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine, then do so slowly, deliberately, gracefully.

Sing on your way back to your place. Even though most parishes in the U.S. don’t do so, the official posture during Communion is to stand until all have received. But if your parish kneels or sits, then do what you are comfortable doing. Keep singing. This song is not distraction, but one of the methods that Christ uses to make us one with him and with each other.

If you were taught to kneel and bury your face in your hands after Communion, you may want to rethink this practice. it’s not that it’s bad or wrong, although it is hard to sing this way. Rather, on further reflection, there may be practices that better enable you to participate fully in the Mass at this point. The Mass is not time for private prayer – it is thoroughly a communal act. This may sound harsh, especially since many of us yearn today for moments of solitude.

The Mass, especially at this point, is not about solitude, but about communion, being one with others in Christ.

Try this: While singing the Communion song, watch the faces of others going to and coming back from the altar. See in each face the face of Christ. Remember that after his Resurrection, Jesus often appeared to his followers in the guise of a stranger. But it was in the breaking of the bread that they recognized him.

There should be a period of communal silence after all have received Communion and the singing is completed. Here is our opportunity to “rest in the Lord” for a moment before finishing up and going back into the fray of daily living. Here, you may bow your head and close your eyes if that helps you pray. Whatever posture you assume, don’t fidget with your belongings or read the bulletin. Simply say “thanks” to God in the silence of your heart.

7. Go to do likewise

Participating fully in the Mass trains us to live more fully outside of church, too. When we recognize Christ present in our neighbor-parishioners, we learn to recognize Christ in all people, especially in the poor. When we train our hearts to listen to God’s Word, we become better listeners for those we love. Our ears are better attuned to the cries of the poor.

When we intercede for those who are too downtrodden even to ask for help, we find the strength and wisdom to help them. When we offer ourselves to God with the bread and wine, we learn to be bread for those who hunger and wine for those who thirst. And when we share together in the Lord’s supper, when we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, well, you know what they say: You are what you eat.

At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter featuring practical wisdom for busy parents, has won the 2010 and 2011 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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