The Father William Most Collection
Our Participation in the Mass
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
We begin with the fact that the Mass is a sacrifice. In a sacrifice there are two elements: the outward sign and the interior dispositions of heart. The outward sign is there to express the interior and perhaps even help it. But without the interior, the outward is of no worth. God once complained in Isaiah 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." The outward sign at the Last Supper was the seeming separation of body and blood--bread and wine. On Good Friday it was the physical separation of body and blood. In the Mass it is the same as it was on the Holy Thursday.
We may participate in both aspects. Our participation in the exterior sign consists chiefly in our answering the prayers, singing, and other externals. Unfortunately, many today think that is all or the chief thing in participation. We recall again Isaiah 29:13. Our interior participation is the essential: It means that we join our interior dispositions to those of Jesus on the altar. His dispositions center in His obedience to the Father: cf. Romans 5.19: "Just as by the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so by the obedience of the one man, the many will be constituted just." At the Last Supper He said: "Do this in memory of me," precisely so we could join with Him. He desires that the offering be that of the whole Christ, Head and members. We are the members. How do we carry it out? One way would be this: before the Mass take a few moments to think back to what I have done since the last Mass, in obeying the will of the Father. If I have done well, I have something to join with His obedience. If some things are poor, I add apologies. I could also look ahead to the time soon to come, and sometimes I will see something in which I do not like to obey. I ask myself: Do I really mean to obey? If not, this is not the place for me.
It is precisely at the time of the double consecration, which expresses the obedience of Jesus again, that I should join my offering of obedience to His. Of course, this can be extended somewhat, but that is the essential moment. I prepare for it in advance.
What of the kiss of peace? It is an optional part--the rubrics in the Missal say it is used or not used according to the custom of the place. It is good if done correctly. In some places it is done to excess.
There is a variety of spiritual attractions. Not all are moved by the same things in the same way. There are two levels of principles in the spiritual life. The basic level is that which no one can violate without taking a loss. But there is room for great variation on the secondary level. Compare for example St. Francis de Sales with St. Benedict Joseph Labre. Therefore in matters of the second level, even though one thing may be objectively better to have than not to have-this is true of the kiss of peace if done rightly--we need to respect the differences in people. Charity calls for that.
Reverence at Mass
1. Why do some not show signs of reverence at Mass? It may be that they have deep interior reverence, but do not show it. Some are more demonstrative than others. But it is also true that respect for the Blessed Sacrament is far down today. Some even leave at once after receiving and go out. They should learn that Holy Communion is not like magic--we must cooperate with it. John Paul II, in His first Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, §20 said this: "Without this constant renewed effort for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness, and there would be a loss, or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice." That is, frequent Communion may not only not bring any gain, but may cause spiritual loss if one does not work at it-preparation and thanksgiving. The Real Presence lasts as long as the species of bread last. That may be about 15 minutes after the time of receiving. Therefore there should be special thanksgiving and reflection during that precious time.
2. Why do some not show a communitarian type of attitude at Mass? There is as said before a variation in the graces of different people. Not all can profit equally from all external means.