Note: This is the second installment of a series Fr. Joe is writing over the next several weeks on the history of the Mass and what's going on when we do what we do as Catholics. Some of these things you will already know. Some will be new. We invite you to read all of them, because, even if you have heard them before, it's a good refresher as we start a new liturgical year. These will be posted and archived here.
When we arrive in the Church, we are called to prepare ourselves for what is about to happen. We are preparing to enter into heaven and participate with all the angels and saints in the eternal banquet of the lamb and joining Mary and the Beloved Apostle standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus offers himself for our salvation. So great a mystery deserves our attention and preparation. When one is invited to an audience with a president or king, he does not arrive with no time to spare or even make his host wait. In the same way, we should do all we can to arrivebefore Mass is to begin since we have been called to the court of the King of Kings.
In order to prepare, the Church calls us to observe silence in the church as we turn our attention to our loving Father (cf. GIRM 45). When we walk into the church, we bless ourselves with holy water. This sacramental reminds us of our baptism and, when devoutly used, forgives venial sins (confession is still necessary as the ordinary means of forgiving mortal sins). Once we find our pew, it is customary to genuflect to the tabernacle before taking our seats. We must always remember that Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is truly present, body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. If we are at a church that does not have a tabernacle in the sanctuary, we are called to make a profound bow (from the waist) to the Altar.
As Catholics, we acknowledge four distinct and important "presences" of Christ in the Mass. First and foremost, he is present in the Eucharist, in which he is really and substantially present, hence, the tabernacle enjoys a place of honor in the church and the altar is the center and focus of the sanctuary. Second, he is present in the Scriptures which, according to the Catechism, the Church venerates "as she venerates the Lord's Body" (CCC 103). Therefore, the ambo, the table from which the Word of God is proclaimed has a place of honor in the sanctuary. Third, Christ is present in the person of the priest who celebrates the Mass in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the head. The priest has the awesome responsibility to pronounce the very words of the Lord and consecrate the Eucharist to be shared by the faithful. Finally, Christ is present in the people gathered to worship. Christ, himself, tells us, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). Hence, the Nave, where the faithful sit during the Mass, enjoys its own importance in the layout of the Church. In the traditional shape and architecture of a Catholic Church, these four elements, themselves,form a cross as does the whole church building.
Throughout these articles, I will cite a few different Church documents. I will do my best to let you know what those documents are, but I will be using the commonly used abbreviations for each. CCC - Catechism of the Catholic Church GIRM - General Instruction of the Roman Missal (This is the document that gives us instructions for how to say the Mass).BACK TO LIST