The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.
Recently I listened to an interview with Michael Sledge, author of “Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen.” What captured my interest was the emphasis on ritual, always precise, dignified and bearing tradition. Sledge noted that when soldiers serve it is done so in the shadow of every person who has served before them.
In my ministry I have the privilege of attending parishioner’s burials, of which many include military honors. I know exactly what the soldiers will do next because I have seen it done so many times before in exactly the same manner, yet as I look at those around me, we are all choked with emotion.
Our Catholic Mass is also ritual, very precise, dignified and bearing tradition. Each time we pray the Mass are we moved with emotion? We often hear “the Mass is boring.” Perhaps we find it boring because we do not value the ritual experience that unites us in Christ and to the communion of saints.
The Mass you celebrate in your church this Sunday will be the same as one celebrated in Indiana or even Africa. There may be a few cultural differences, but the Mass remains universal because of something we call the “rubrics.” If you were to look into the Roman Missal, the large book that the priest uses during Mass, you would not only find all the needed prayers, but sentences that are printed in red. These rubrics tell the priest how the Mass is to be celebrated. A priest does not bow, genuflect or even say “The Lord be with you” at his own whim. He is following the rubrics, which preserve our ritual and tradition.
Engage yourself in the rubrics of our Mass. Note that at the beginning of Mass the priest makes a profound bow or genuflection and then kisses the altar before moving to his chair. Observe the various placements of the presider’s hands, since a different intent is expressed when the hands are extended or when they are folded in prayer. When the priest or deacon signs his forehead, lips and heart with a cross prior to the Gospel, or when he bows at the mention of the Incarnation in the creed, remember that you too are supposed to be carrying out those ritual actions as well. Watch for when a few drops of water are added into the chalice of wine, symbolic of the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side. Do not miss the epiclesis, the powerful gesture and prayer, where the priest extends his hands over the chalice and host invoking the Holy Spirit to come and be present. Embrace the times of silence, knowing that even these, are carefully placed within the liturgy.
Do your best to celebrate liturgy well, for in its ritual we find the guardian of all the beauty, mystery and tradition that has been passed down to us through the ages.
Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.