Monday, February 10, 2014


Feb. 10, 2014
You do not attend Mass looking at your watch, as if you were attending a performance and counting the minutes. You go to participate in the mystery of God. This was the theme of Pope Francis' homily during the Mass he celebrated on Monday morning, 10 February, in the Chapel of Santa Marta. This “is not a tourist excursion. No! You came here, we are gathered here, to enter into the mystery. And this is the liturgy”.

To explain the meaning of this encounter with the mystery, Pope Francis said that the Lord has spoken to his people not only with words. “The prophets”, he said “recounted the Lord's words. The prophets proclaimed them. The great prophet Moses gave the commandments, which is the Word of God. Many other prophets too have told the people what the Lord wanted”. However, “the Lord”, he added, “also spoke in another way and in another form to his people: with teophanies. That is, when he comes close to his people and makes them feel, makes them feel his presence among them”. The Holy Father referred to the First Reading (1 Kgs 8:1-7, 9-13) which refers to other prophets.

“The same thing happens in the Church”, the Pope said. He does this through his Word which is recounted in the Gospels and in the Bible; he speaks through the catechesis, through homilies. He not only speaks to us but “He makes himself present”, the Pope said, “in the midst of his people, in the midst of his Church. The Lord's presence is there. The Lord draws close to his people; he is present with his people and shares his time with them”. This is what is taking place during this liturgical celebration, which is certainly “not a social affair”, he said, “nor a gathering for the faithful to pray together. It is something else”, because “in the Eucharistic liturgy God is present” and, if possible, he makes himself present in “the closest way”. His presence, the Pope said, “is a real presence”. “When I speak of liturgy”, the Pope explained, “I am mainly referring to the Holy Mass. When we celebrate the Mass, we are not representing the Last Supper”. The Mass “is not a representation; it is something else. It trulyis the Last Supper; is truly living again the redemptive passion and death of Our Lord. It is a visible manifestation: the Lord makes himself present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world”.

Pope Francis then proposed, as he usually does, actions that are common among the faithful: “We hear and we say, 'I cannot now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to listen to Mass'. But you do not listen to Mass, you participate in it. And you are participating in a visible manifestation, in the mystery of the Lord's presence among us”. It is something that is different from all other forms of our devotion, he pointed out, using the example of the living nativity scenes “that are organized by parishes at Christmas time, or the Way of the Cross that we do during Holy Week”. These, he explained, are representations; the Eucharist is “a real commemoration, a theophany. God draws near and is with us as we participate in the mystery of redemption”.

The Pope then referred to another very common behaviour among Christians: “How many times”, he noted “do we count the minutes... 'I only have a half an hour, I have to go to Mass...'”. This “is not the right attitude that the liturgy asks of us: the liturgy is God's time and space, and we must put ourselves there in God's time, in God's space, without looking at our watches. The liturgy is precisely entering into the mystery of God; bringing ourselves to the mystery and being present in the mystery”.

The Holy Father continued, looking at the faithful who were gathered there for the celebration, saying: “For example, I am sure that all of you here have come to enter into the mystery. But perhaps someone has said 'I have to go to Mass at Santa Marta, because it is one of Rome's touristic excursions, to go and visit the Pope at Santa Marta every morning... No! You came here, we are gathered here, to enter into the mystery. And this is the liturgy, God's time, God's space, the cloud of God that surrounds all of us”.

Pope Francis went on to share some childhood memories: “I remember as a child, when we were preparing for our First Holy Communion, they made us sing 'O holy altar guarded by angels', and this made us realize that the altar is guarded by angels, and it gave us a sense of God's glory, of God's space, and of his time. Then, when we were practicing for our First Communion, we brought forward the hosts and said 'these are not the hosts which you will receive; they are not worth anything, because the consecration comes later'. It was good for us to distinguish one from the other: it is a memory of the commemoration”. Therefore to celebrate the liturgy means “to be willing to enter into the mystery of God”, in his space and his time.

Concluding his homily, the Pope invited those present to “ask the Lord today to give us all this sense of what is sacred, to understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray in Church, to pray the rosary, to pray many beautiful prayers, to do the Way of the Cross, and to read the Bible; but it is quite another to celebrate the Eucharist. In this celebration we enter into the mystery of God, on that path which we cannot control: he is the only one, he is the glory, he is in power. We ask for this grace, that the Lord may teach us to enter into the mystery of God”.


Anonymous said...

He's right, I don't go to Mass looking at my watch. My kids are the ones who keep looking at my watch. Especially when the music starts.

Rood Screen said...

I think people tend to watch their watches more during the sermon and announcements than at any other liturgical time. I think sermons could correspond in number of minutes to the number of candles on the altar. A ferial sermon, if one is delivered, could be two minutes long, while a Sunday or solemnity sermon could be four to six minutes long, but no longer. A bishop could deliver a seven minute sermon.

Православный физик said...

Well, if Gather us in starts the Mass, you bet I'm looking at my watch…seems like Pope Francis has had a few meetings with our dear Emeritus….excellent words Pope Francis.

Henry said...

JBS: The most liturgically apt prescription for sermon length ever! But to make it purely numerical, you could say zero to two minutes for a daily Mass sermon (and preferably the former).

Incidentally, #474 in the 1962 rubrics says that "especially on Sundays and holy days, a short homily should be preached to the people if convenient." Apparently a long sermon is non-rubrical.

Anonymous said...

Look at the footage of Pope Francis' inauguration Mass as he leaves St. Peter's and is standing in the portico, the litany is being chanted and their he he looking at his watch. Just sayin'

John said...

Put back the 42nd Psalm. Delete the sign of peace.Priest ad orientem. Sing the Proper. Put back the deleted offertory prayers. Well, just say the EF with more vernacular would do it.

John Nolan said...

I think JP II was the first pontiff to wear a wristwatch with Mass vestments (it was one of those digital ones popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s). It doesn't look good at the Elevation, and priests should leave such mundane accoutrements in the sacristy.

The mystery is not best served by one of the worst aspects of the OF as commonly performed (I hesitate to say celebrated), viz. lack of attention to detail. I once saw a priest, in a cathedral no less, with an alb twelve inches too short displaying a pair of frayed blue jeans. It didn't help that he was one of those idiots who preach while walking back and forth which drew attention to his sartorial shortcomings.

Anonymous 2 said...

I am probably going to get pounced on for saying what I am about to say but I did not read anywhere in Pope Francis’s words that the attitude at Mass he rightfully commends is in any way dependent on whether the homily is too long, the music is awful, the priest wears blue jeans rather than a cassock underneath his vestments, announcements are made, the OF is used, the priest faces the congregation, or some other perceived deficiency is present.

I do understand, of course, that different people will find different styles and demeanors more or less inspiring and sacred. I get it. But what I think Pope Francis wants us to get is that, despite all the ways in which we may think the Mass falls short, there is one way in which it can never fall short. Despite all the ways in which we might muck it up, it is still, and always will be, God’s space and time, not ours. In short, doesn’t he want us to focus on the essence rather than the incidentals, on the awesome theophany that we believe takes place on the altar and in which we are then privileged to share at communion; to ask for the grace to “see” with the eyes of faith, through all the obstacles that might get in the way, the God Who cannot be kept away?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we should not try to enhance the reverence and sense of sacredness at Mass. It does mean that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Rood Screen said...

Anonymous 2,

Pope Francis stated in Evangelii Gaudium that such things as the length of the homily affects the attitude of the faithful, and he recommends shorter homilies.

I'm struggling to find the logic in your comment. You seem to simultaneously say that attitude is all that matters, without needing to purify liturgical actions, and that purification of liturgical actions can enhance this attitude. You seem to see a contradiction in the comments of others that you do not identify clearly in your own comment.

As for the perfect opposing the good, which comment proposes the perfect as the only means of achieving the good?

Gene said...

No, Anon 2, what you say, essentially, is anything goes as long as you swallow that wafer and drink that wine. This is exactly the mindset of the people I see every Mass who receive and then head straight out the door to their cars. Many come in late, just in time to receive, then leave immediately after. Now, as a Calvinist, I learned that nothing we do, no behavior or act of will, can alter the efficacy of God's will and grace. However, Catholics believe that, for instance, our choices can alter God's will…as in continuing in sin can cause one to lose God's preserving Grace and go to Hell. So, my question is, does not continuing abuse of the Mass on the part of many vitiate the efficacy thereof?
We might also review the OT and the strict rules for worship and the consequences of violating those rules. Sure, many of our reactions to the form of worship are impressionistic and subjective, but are all of them? So, at what point does taking liberties with the Mass cross the line? And, at what point does the theology of the Mass change…and, with that change, at what point does it begin to affect doctrine? Christology and liturgical theology are inseparable…mess with one and you mess with the other. Anon 2's attitude is just the kind of indfifferentism that many on this blog have warned about. What if the Priest sailed the wafer to me like a frisbee? What if he squirted the wine into my mouth with a water pistol? No big deal?

When I was in grad school and seminary in the 70's, we had an ecumenical service in which a Catholic Priest gave communion to a room full of mixed denominations with candy bars and Coca Cola. He elevated the Candy and the coke, prayed the words of institution, and passed them around. The music playing for Communion was "Bridge Over Troubled Water." His homily was to the effect that, "Christ is in everything. He comes to us in any way." Well, just great. Is this what we want? (The Priest was from Notre Dame, interestingly enough.)

Anonymous said...

Francis's Mass looked pretty social at World Youth Day, what with all the "pop music," dancing, and bikini-clad beach going. Or like his Mass as an archbishop with all the circus acts and entertainment.

Anonymous 2 said...

JBS and Gene:

It seems I was not clear enough, because you misunderstand me, so let me try to be blunt and to the point this time. I worry that if someone has an attitude of negativity and complaint when at Mass, it will get in the way of entering into the mystery of God of which Pope Francis speaks. Judging from the comments here and on other threads, I suspect that some are always on the “lookout” for deficiencies and shortcomings, for something to criticize, when attending Mass. Indeed at least one person has said that he would decide NOT to attend Mass rather than attend one that does not meet his expectations. This attitude, then, in itself creates barriers and closes one off from entering into the divine mystery.

Now you can blame the priest for his, or the bishops, or the Pope, or progressives, or traddies, or whomever, and you can raise good questions as Gene does, but at some point it is our responsibility to deal with whatever reality we have to confront. I am not saying this is easy. That’s why we need to ask for grace. Nor am I saying that we should not hope for, seek, and support those reforms we might consider desirable. But that is a different point from the one I am trying to make.

I believe that Pope Francis is calling all of us to a greater participation in the Mass, an entering into the divine mystery, an immersion in the “cloud of God,” when we attend Mass and in this he is surely right – even, as I say, if the priest wears jeans underneath his vestments or the folk group shakes its tamborines (Gene’s “reductio ad absurdum” and “parade of horribles” notwithstanding), or even if almost the entire Mass is sung by the priest in a way that some find distracting or the Mass is celebrated in a language (Latin) that some find incomprehensible.

So, you see, I am addressing progressives as well as traditionalists. I am also addressing myself because I have to work on trying to attain the appropriate interior disposition also. So yes, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Or, to paraphrase a former president: “It’s the metaphysics stupid.”

Gene said...

Anon 2, one does not have to search for deficiencies in the Mass when they reach out and take your hand…literally. The Mass is a mess everywhere.

Rood Screen said...

Anonymous 2,

I think you are quite right, and that the usual commentators here agree with you. They have long experience going to some considerable lengths to participate in distracting celebrations of the Roman Mass.

However, if the commentators seem picky, it is because they understand that participation in the Holy Mass is not primarily by means of the intellect, and that we cannot attract sinners to the Mass primary by an appeal to reason. Reverent rites invite both the faithful and converts into the Sacred Mysteries more effectively than any mental efforts.