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Bishop Banks'
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 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinAugust 22, 2003 Issue 

The church's source of energy

We should celebrate Mass in a way that brings us strength, joy and hope


By Bishop Robert Banks

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. 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 celebrate.

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 Spirit."

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 Baptism."

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?


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