Dear Father Joe: I hear people say we need to be more reverent at Mass. Is that true?
First things first, you simply have to remember that the desire to be reverent at Mass is holy. That’s your gift to God. He sees your hunger to do justice to and for him and treasures it.
Let’s start with the definition of reverence. It’s really cool. We took it from the Latin for respect. The word “respect” is, in and of itself, really neat because it’s two different words stuck together: “re” and “spectare.” Re means “again.” Spectare means “to look at” (think of spectators or spectacles).So, when we are asked to be respectful or reverent, we are being asked “to look again.”
• We look again at where we are: a sacred place, doing a sacred thing.
• We look again and see in the readings the sacred word of God spoken to us.
• We look again and see in the host the very presence of the Living God.
• We look again and see the diversity of people around the body of Christ.
It’s an amazing thing to do.
For you and me to be reverent is to commit ourselves to not letting the familiarity of Mass lead us into unintentional disrespect. We need to remember to look again at where we are and what we are doing.
Now, we’ll quickly look at how to use our body and mind to help us be more reverent at Mass.
Let’s start with the mind.
If you catch yourself “drifting” at Mass, acknowledge and say, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Ask God to help you focus and get right back on track.
Also, we can use our mind to help us be reverent by investing a little time before Mass to get ready: Look up the readings for next Sunday’s Mass and read them every day that week to prepare. If you’re feeling bold, look up some commentaries about the readings and try to get the context of it all.
Reverence takes some discipline and patience. Crying kids and the motions of people are only distractions if we let them be. Pray for struggling parents. Pray for people who are around you. Let every invitation to be irritated be a chance to pray. Don’t focus too much on what you wish was happening; focus on what is happening. Our God was born in a barn during a census; chaos doesn’t bother him at all.
Let’s look at how we can use our bodies to increase our reverence.
Part of the genius of Catholicism is its recognition that we humans are body/soul unities. In some ways, our bodies are the portals to our souls. As physical creatures who worship a God we cannot see, it’s so helpful that our sacred Mass incorporates our bodies into it.
When we walk into Church, we should make a slow genuflection. Find the tabernacle, look toward it, and (if you can) put one knee on the ground, while the other is up. Quick-dip genuflections rarely get done the very thing they can help us accomplish: I am doing something unusual with my body because I’m in a place unlike any other.
Allow this thoroughness with our gestures to carry all through Mass. Do no motion without thought. Do nothing quickly and thoughtlessly. Pray for the discipline to truly engage our minds.
We don’t kneel often in everyday life. We kneel before Jesus, our savior, in the Blessed Sacrament. We kneel at the eucharistic prayers when we enter the Last Supper. We kneel because of our contrition. We stand to be attentive; we sit to listen and absorb.
Our celebration is filled with opportunities to use our bodies as a tool to focus our minds and bring us back to the wonder of what we are doing.
Since the first Mass was celebrated, men and women have prayed Mass with great love and great imperfections. Our call is not to fix other people to be more like us, but to enter nto the eternal sacrifice of the Mass.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
Send your questions to: “In the Know with Father Joe, “Harvest magazine, 510 Ocean Ave., Portland, ME 04103 or [email protected].