Friday, March 13, 2009

Down in Adoration Falling

An interesting bit from CNS News Briefs (you'll have to scroll down):
Adoration is key attitude toward Eucharist, even at Mass, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Because Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, adoration must be a Catholic's primary attitude toward the Blessed Sacrament at Mass as well as when praying before the tabernacle, Pope Benedict XVI said. "Our task is to perceive the very precious treasure of this ineffable mystery of faith both in the celebration of the Mass as well as during worship of the sacred species," the pope told members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. Members of the congregation met the pope March 13 at the end of their plenary meeting, which was devoted to discussing ways to promote Eucharistic adoration. Pope Benedict said he hoped the meeting would result in the identification of "liturgical and pastoral means through which the church in our time could promote faith in the real presence of the Lord in the holy Eucharist and secure for the celebration of the holy Mass the entire dimension of adoration."
Interesting bit of irony: my spell-checker highlighted the word "eucharistic" (sic) in the penultimate sentence and suggested a capital letter at the beginning--the CNS story didn't have one. I made the change. Granted, it was probably only a typo, but things are pretty sad when a secular browser's built in spell-checker is more on the ball regarding Eucharistic piety than a CNS article, no? :)

That said, this is a wonderful thing to read. Many people have reported asking for Eucharistic devotions in their parishes, only to be told, with some shaky theology, that we don't do "that" anymore, that the Real Presence of Christ involves the whole community's presence at Mass (which isn't correct, anyway) and that therefore there's no point in adoring Christ in the Eucharist outside of Mass. But the Pope's reminder that the subject of Eucharistic adoration isn't an "either/or," but a "both/and," and that we our worship at Mass should be focused on adoring Christ, Who is really and truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

How can we better adore Christ in His Eucharistic Presence at Mass? How can we better impart that sense that we have come to church to worship Him?

I have a few suggestions; I'm sure there are more:

1. Eliminate all informal greetings, even if these take place before Mass actually begins. Our parish has just started that silliness of "turn and say hi to your neighbor," right before the processional hymn, and it's terribly distracting. Being called away from the spirit of worship to greet people, chat, find out who's visiting from out of town, announce anniversaries and birthdays, etc., is not the way to foster the sense that we're about to enter into worship and adoration of the Most High God, Who deigned to come among us as true God and true Man, and Who still comes among us hidden in the accidents of bread and wine. There are times and places to focus on each other, but Mass isn't that time or that place.

2. Work to cultivate a spirit of proper dress, posture, and attitude among the faithful. Now, I think there are right ways and wrong ways to do this; but perhaps the best way is to lead by example. Wearing our Sunday best to Sunday Mass whenever possible (recognizing that ours is a casual culture, and avoiding judging those whose dress is different from our own), carefully genuflecting if the tabernacle is behind the altar, or bowing if it is reserved in a different place (not ideal, in my opinion), avoiding unnecessary chatter or a too-relaxed posture in the seat or pew, and the like may do more than a lot of scolding or scowling will. Of course, it is always supremely helpful for one's pastor to give gentle reminders (perhaps in the bulletin) about these kinds of things.

3. Eliminate the Sign of Peace. I'm aware that there is a push to relocate this anyway, something which ought to be done; but until then, I believe that this is optional and may be eliminated at the pastor's discretion. Since it so greatly interrupts the solemnity of the Mass at this point I think we'd be better off without it.

4. Eliminate the communion hymn. I know, as a choir member this is practically music heresy. But there is no demand in the rubrics, as far as I know, for a hymn there, and the communion antiphon could be intoned, instead, as people prepare to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Then, some quiet music (in season) could be played, and the choir, returning from communion themselves, could go ahead and sing what is usually called a "communion reflection" song, from among the vast treasury of sacred music written about the Eucharist. Certainly parishioners could join in with any such hymn that is familiar to them, but no one would feel any pressure to join in the singing when they have just received Our Lord and would like to spend time in quiet prayer instead of singing more modern hymns, many of which contain dubious Eucharistic theology and/or melodies which are not appropriately solemn for this particular moment.

5. Greatly reduce the number of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. It seems distracting to many to have half a dozen or a dozen or more lay people rush to the altar, receive communion, and be parceled out all over the church with both the Body and Blood of Christ. In parishes with only one priest and no deacons it is probably necessary to have a few people assist Father with the distribution of the Body of Christ, but while I know that the practice of receiving communion under both species has many defenders I've never really understood the need to do this all the time. Christ is really present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the smallest fragment of the Eucharistic host or the tiniest drop of the Precious Blood; is it really necessary for every lay person who has made his or her First Communion to be offered the opportunity to receive under both species at every single Mass? The chances of disastrous accidents go up considerably; there usually have to be two people offering the chalices of Precious Blood for every one person offering the Body of Christ; the time it takes for the purification of the vessels increases, as does the risk that the vessels will not be properly purified at the appropriate time, and so forth--whatever benefits may be gained from having communion under both species must be weighed against these realities, in my opinion.

I think that changing the practice to reserve communion under both species for certain high feasts (Christmas, Easter, Holy Thursday Mass, etc.) and certain sacramental occasions (First Communion or Confirmation Masses, Nuptial Masses, perhaps funerals if the deceased's relatives request it) would cause a greater appreciation of the reception of the Precious Blood, and a greater reverence generally for the Eucharist, than we have now. One extra chalice besides the priest's could always be made available for those parishioners who suffer from celiac disease or other impediments to receiving the Body of Christ but who are capable of receiving the Precious Blood in churches where this is an issue, of course.

6. If announcements must be made before the close of Mass, keep them to a minimum and make sure the announcements do not unduly interfere with parishioners' time to adore the Eucharistic Lord Whom they have just received. There is nothing more jarring than finishing one's prayers, returning to a seated position when the Blessed Sacrament has been reserved, pondering quietly the Mass in one's heart--and then having someone get up and in an incongruously jovial manner read off the entire bulletin to the congregation, taking the opportunity to extemporize and try to get a few laughs from the congregation. While it may at times be necessary and important to announce things at Mass (such as a change in a weekly Mass time, an upcoming Holy Day of Obligation, or something of similar importance) it is not necessary to list the dates and times of parish group meetings, fund raisers, religious education events, and the like. These should be listed in the bulletin, posted on a board in the church if possible, and highlighted on the parishes' well-designed and regularly updated website. If the parish doesn't have a website, perhaps the confirmation candidates could make it a service project (I'm only partly kidding).

7. When the Recessional Hymn has ended and Father has left the altar and proceeded to the vestibule or out of the church, silence should be maintained in the church proper. Noisy, happy conversation should certainly take place--in the parish hall, parish basement, school gymnasium or other weekly post-Mass gathering place, where, hopefully, coffee and doughnuts are being served and fellowship is being encouraged. Such conversation should not be taking place inside the church itself, where parishioners may choose to remain a while in silent and adoring prayer, and where in some churches people will be gathering for the next Mass.

I think that all of these things, if implemented into a parish's Sunday Mass celebration, would go a long way toward reminding us all that we come to Mass to adore our Lord in the Eucharist, and toward creating a fit environment to do exactly that.


Anonymous said...

I love your suggestions, except the last one. I agree that silence in the church after Mass is the ideal. But where I live, the real is that there IS no post-Mass gathering place, and no place where fellowship is being encouraged. It would be nice. But it's not happening, so people build fellowship in the church, because the alternative is no fellowship.

But you have me thinking about ways to change that...

scotch meg

MommaLlama said...

Right on, Erin!!! Now if we can only toss out the currently hymnals and restore appropriate, dare I say, SACRED Music for Mass!

Rachelle said...

You are right on the button. I would like to pass this on to our priest and get his take on it as I wonder why these points are not implemented. And the comment from MommaLlama about the music. Why do we have these songs in the Catholic church that are clearly not Catholic. And I especially wonder about the ones where the congregation sings as though they themselves are Christ. ie "I am the bread of life..."

Maggie said...

@ 3:
The sign of peace was celebrated by the Early Church and I think we ought to uphold that tradtion. HOWEVER, I do feel that its placement after the Consecration is so strange. It always has felt like a seventh inning stretch to me, and hardly foster an attitude of reverence among people who are moments away from receiving Jesus. Rather, at my parish at least, it's a time to make lunch plans and say hi to friends. Not the least bit appropriate. The Ambrosian rite has their Sign of Peace early in the Mass; I think it's between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is more appropriate. I would even like to see it moved all the way up, as part of the Gathering Rite.

YES!! I think Extraordinary Ministers are a bit riduculous actually. Maybe it's because I'm a convert and wasn't raised in a pre- VII era, but their main function seems to be to get Communion distributed as fast as possible so people can get home and watch football. If you really want to receive Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, you can darn well wait in line with everyone to receive from a priest or a deacon. Also, many Extraordinary Ministers in my experience are very uncomfortable with people receiving on the tongue, which is maybe why receiving in the hand is the most common way nowadays.

@ Rachelle:
YES!!!! I always am very uncomfortable with hymns where choir/congregations uses "I" or "we" as if they were God. I am certainly not the Lord of see and sky, nor am I the Bread of Life. It's a big musical pet peeve of mine.


Melanie B said...

This is a great list of suggestions. Thank you.

Like scotch meg we've lived in a parish where there was no real gathering place for people to meet and greet after mass except the church vestibule. It always bothered us, but realistically there was no alternative. The church basement had been converted to a St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop and a food pantry and the parish hall was a cold walk to make on a wintry morning in New England. Plus it was often in use after mass for CCD classes. But I do agree that where possible all socialization should be moved out of the church and into a more appropriate locale.

Jeannette said...

And no clapping!! Please, no clapping.