RESPECT LIFE MONTH
The Respect Life Program, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, started in 1972 and begins anew every October. The entire month is set aside as “Respect Life Month.” This year’s theme is: Do Not be Afraid. Indeed, we cannot be afraid when it comes to fostering respect for life in our country and world. Did you see the news reports about U. S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn’s campaign announcement being removed by Twitter because of her clear and direct message about being pro-life and working to stop the selling of “baby parts”? We need not be timid nor afraid in our efforts to protect life from conception to natural death because Jesus is with us: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) Let us continue to invoke God’s help and the intercession of Mary, our mother, in our work to end abortions and foster respect for all life.
We are all saddened to hear of so many of our brothers and sisters hurting due to the recent string of natural disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated Puerto Rico and parts of the southern United States. Wild fires in California have ruined homes and acres of land. Lives have been lost. So many have lost their homes. Then there was the terrible incident of the shooting in Las Vegas. Again, so many lost their lives; so many have suffered. It is heartening, however, to see the outpouring of care, help and support. Millions of dollars have been given to help the people in need. Millions of prayers and expressions of support have been offered for those hurting. Here in the Diocese of Crookston, the special collection for the victims of Hurricane Harvey netted over $88,000. Thanks to all who reached out to help those in need. Keep praying for those who are suffering. Contributions are still being accepted for distribution through the USCCB.
BORED AGAIN CATHOLIC?
A grandmother took her little granddaughter to the local Pentecostal Baptist Church service. The little girl had never been there before and was astonished at the exuberance demonstrated by some of the congregation members. As the Scripture passage for the day was read, some of the congregation shouted out “Amen” and others shouted “Hallelujah.” Some even jumped high into the air. Others danced in the aisle. The little girl asked her grandmother: “Is all that jumping into the air important?” The grandmother answered: “Oh no dear, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is what they do when they come down.”
I sometimes think of that story when I hear someone say that the Catholic Mass seems so flat or boring when compared with some of the services in some of the fundamentalist Christian denominations. It does take a little work to understand and appreciate the beauty and depth of the Mass. Yet, if we do the work, “the beauty of the Mass can change not only us but the whole world,” wrote Timothy P. O’Malley in “Bored Again Catholic: How the Mass Could Save Your Life.”
In a recent column, we began a look at the Mass with the Entrance Rites. We saw how these beginning rites help us understand that we come to Mass because Jesus invites us to come. In the Entrance Rites, we make room for Jesus and one another. We come to Mass not to be entertained but to join with other believers and engage our minds and hearts in worshiping our loving and living God. In the entrance procession, we see in the priest the presence of Christ, the Head of the Church. We see the lighted candles that remind us of the lights of heaven. In the incense, we see an image of the cloud of glory, the Shekinah that was found in the holy of holies of the Temple. The Entrance Antiphon and/or Entrance Song call our attention to God’s presence in history. We mark ourselves with the sign of the cross, identifying ourselves as believing Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ.
The priest kisses the altar. Why? It is the place where the sacrifice of Jesus will become present. No blood will be spilled, but the one sacrifice of Jesus will be made present. Thus the altar is reverenced and also the crucifix as signs of Jesus’ total love-gift to us. Bread and wine will be placed on the altar and with those gifts we will offer ourselves. Sacrifice is about transformation and on this altar bread and wine will be transformed into the Body and Blood of
Jesus Christ; in this Eucharist we will be transformed to be more like Christ. The priest offers the greeting which calls us to recognize that God is indeed with us and that his love is already active in us: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship (koinonia=communion) of the Holy Spirit be with you.”
In the Penitential Rite, we acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sin has real effects on our relationships and on our world. Before God and one another, we ask forgiveness and purification that we might more worthily come to worship. In our confessing is also acknowledgment that the God we come to worship is a forgiving God who heals. We next praise this God in the Gloria. We sing the song the angels sang at the birth of Jesus announcing the beginning of God’s reign of peace. Our recognition that God’s glory comes to us is important for our celebration of the Mass. God’s glory is coming to us in our being present with one another, in the proclamation of the Word, in the sacrifice on the altar and in Holy Communion. We sing the Gloria, a song of praise honoring the Trinity. O’Malley writes, “And every time our voices enter into this praise, the glory of God revealed through Jesus Christ becomes present to us once again.” The Entrance Rite is concluded with the Collect prayer offered by the priest. Why the name “Collect”? This is a prayer which collects all the thoughts, hopes, desires, the individual prayers that have been welling up in our hearts that have been taking place in Mass so far. These Collect prayers are some of the oldest and most beautiful prayers in our liturgical history. According to O’Malley, they express our hope and desire that “the way God has acted in the past will inform his action within the present.” In closing, I share this prayer from O’Malley’s book: “O almighty Father, through the sweet speech of your Church, you have formed us to offer praises and prayers to you. Teach your Church to marvel at the gift of your Son for the world and give us faith, hope, and love so that we may become this gift for others. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.”