The church's source of energy
We should celebrate Mass in a way that brings us strength, joy and hope
By Bishop Robert Banks
Last week, I had a wonderful celebration of Mass at St. Joseph
Parish in Walsh. The congregation was really into it. When the
cantor, who has a beautiful voice, raised her arm to signal the
people to sing, there was no question that they were supposed to
sing - and they did. They filled the church with their voices, not
only when they sang, but when they made responses like "Amen," "And
also with you," and "We have lifted them up to the Lord."
It was the kind of Mass a priest or bishop likes to
In general, I think almost all of our parishes celebrate the
liturgy fairly well. There is no question that, in just about every
parish, considerable attention is given to the celebration of the
liturgy by the staff, liturgy committee and others responsible for
the liturgy. The participation of the people varies from place to
place, and even from Mass to Mass in the same parish. We have a way
to go yet before we become a "singing Church."
The desire to make the celebration of Mass the best it can be is
what prompted Rome to revise the Missal once again.
Now let me confess. Whenever I hear that Rome is going to change
what we do at Mass, I groan. My first reaction is usually: "Why not
let our poor people do what they are used to doing? Let's not upset
them again with more changes."
Once I work my way through that reaction, I dedicate myself to
make the changes as best we can and to use the changes as one more
opportunity to help all of us appreciate the importance and beauty
of the Mass.
So it is my hope that our efforts this fall will ultimately
result in our loving the Mass more and celebrating it even better
than we presently do. That certainly is the purpose of the new
GIRM, or General Instruction of the Roman Missal, that I
wrote about in my last column.
The GIRM starts by reminding us of the central importance of the
Mass in the life of the Church and the lives of individual
Catholics. "The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and
the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the center of the
whole Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as
well as for each of the faithful individually."
We need the reminder because there is, in each of us, a very
natural and human tendency to think we save the world and ourselves
by our own efforts. If we do everything just right, then St. Peter
has to let us into heaven.
But that is not the way it is, thank God. We don't have to rely
on our own, inevitably, imperfect efforts. God reaches out to us,
sending the Son to offer his life on the Cross and the Spirit to
fill us with the grace won by the Cross. Each celebration of the
Mass makes that dynamic real for us and for the world.
As GIRM puts it, "In it (the celebration of Mass) is found the
high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in
Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father,
adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy
Because the celebration makes present the saving action of
Christ on the Cross, it is the source of the Church's energy. The
Gospel is preached; the sacraments celebrated; Sisters feed, teach
and nurse the poor; married couples love and raise their children;
and martyrs die for the Faith because of the Spirit poured out
through the Mass. And it is in the Mass that we offer up all that
we do and enjoy and suffer in this life.
The GIRM states it more succinctly: "...the other sacred actions
and all the activities of Christian life are bound up with it, flow
from it, and are ordered toward it."
Therefore, we should try to celebrate the Mass in such a way
that priest and people draw strength and hope and joy from its
celebration. And this best happens when priest and people join
together in active participation in the Mass.
The GIRM is even more emphatic: "This will best be accomplished
if ... the entire celebration is planned in such a way that it
leads to a conscious, active and full participation of the faithful
both in body and in mind, a participation burning with faith, hope
and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and
demanded by the very nature of the celebration, and to which the
Christian people have a right and duty by reason of their
I like the GIRM's saying that our participation has to be
characterized by faith. The key to drawing something from the Mass
is bringing faith to it, faith that Jesus and his sacrificial love
are truly present in the Mass. It means believing that Jesus
participates more actively in the Mass than we do.
If the Mass is only a wonderful, prayerful sing-a-long, then it
makes sense to find any other religious service with a better choir
and preacher. But if the Mass is what the Church and faith tell us
it is, then where else would we want to be?
In the GIRM, there are also a couple of brief paragraphs that I
bet Pope John Paul II slipped in. It mentions that the Mass is a
powerful action of Christ, even when it is not possible to have
congregational participation. So it is recommended that the priest
celebrate Mass even daily, if it is possible.
The final section of this part of GIRM ends with several
paragraphs directed at the bishop and his responsibilities. But you
wouldn't be interested in that, would you?