August 12, 2018
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi
The bread of life which Jesus gives his disciples are both his teaching and the sacramental breaking of bread that we call the Eucharist. It is easy to forget that the precepts of the Gospel are a communion with Christ comparable to the grace we receive through the sacraments. So, the Church teaches us that Christ is present in the Mass not only in the bread and wine transformed into His Body and Blood but also in his word. (GIRM #27)
The table of God’s word and the table of the Eucharist go together. They cannot be separated—the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are one inseparable act of worship on which the Mass is founded.
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, which lays out the Church’s understanding of the Mass, states the following about the Liturgy of the Word (GIRM #29): “When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel.” God speaks! Christ is present!! We need to pay attention and listen carefully.
In the Scripture readings at Mass, the table of God’s word is spread before us like a great banquet, so we might taste and see the goodness of the Lord. It is appropriate that our response to this gift is one of gratitude: “Thanks be to God.”
In order to fully benefit from this living bread come down from heaven, we have to prepare our hearts and minds to receive this great gift. In order to receive the seed of the living word of God, we need to prepare the soil of our hearts.
So, it would be a good practice during the week before coming to Sunday Mass to take 5-10 minutes to read the Sunday Scripture readings. You can also come to church early before Mass, pull out your hymnal, and prayerfully read over the Scripture readings. The hymn board always lists the number where these readings can be found. When we prepare in this way, then we can actively listen and receive more fully this living bread come down from heaven. I encourage you to actively listen to the Scriptures proclaimed during the Mass by putting aside your hymnal and resisting the temptation to read along. Instead listen and be surprised by what you hear. Because people are actively listening to God’s word, do not come into church during the proclamation of the Word of God. Our eyes control what our ears hear, so we can be easily distracted by movement and then stop listening attentively to the word being proclaimed. The ushers have been instructed to only allow people into the church during the singing of the Responsorial Psalm between the first two readings or during the singing of the Alleluia.
Therefore, prepare to receive the living bread of God’s word by being at Mass on time. The Introductory Rites of the Mass leading up to the Liturgy of the Word— the opening song, the Kyrie, the Gloria– all prepare our minds, hearts, bodies and souls to be fed by God’s Word.
In the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, the Church also notes that Christ is present at the celebration of the Mass in the assembly gathered in His name. (GIRM #27)
How can we best honor Christ’s presence in others at the Mass? I’ve already mentioned one way—come early for Mass so you can enter fully into worship with brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.
Come early, but do not leave early! God is not asking much of us—one hour out of 168 hours in a week to worship Him in communion with our brothers and sisters. After all, as Matthew Kelly points out, the founder of the movement of those who leave right after taking Communion is the one who left early during the 1st celebration of the Eucharist—Judas Iscariot. Certainly there are exceptions when you may have to leave early, when there is something very important, like having to get to a job on time, but this should be the exception, not the norm. Stay through the singing of the closing song. After the singing of the closing song, we have a tradition here at Holy Spirit of everyone kneeling in silence to say a short prayer in gratitude.
We honor Christ present in others by being hospitable in the pew. Don’t be a pew-end hugger, making people crawl over you, but move to the middle of the pew so that others will feel welcome to sit in your pew.
Show respect to others by not leaving the church during the Mass, unless for an emergency. Parents may need to leave Mass with an infant or small child in order to calm them down or take them to the nursery, but children should not be leaving during Mass on their own. Parents please take your kids to the restroom before Mass begins, so that they will not be leaving Mass and serving as a distraction to others.
The way we dress for Mass is also a way of honoring Christ present here. This is not a sports arena or stadium where we come as spectators to be entertained but rather the temple of the living God where we meet the King of Kings. The way we clothe ourselves should reflect this knowledge, and also be a way of respecting the presence of Christ in others here. People dress up when they go to a wedding. Here we are participating in the wedding of the Lamb. Here we receive the one who has “married” humankind by becoming one with us, and who joins his body to ours in an intimate communion of love.
Finally, do not remain in church after Mass talking to others for more than a few minutes. Extended conversations should be carried out in the gathering area or hall or outdoors out of respect for your brothers and sisters who want to remain in the church and pray, or out of respect for those coming to the next Mass to pray.
Christ Jesus is present in those who gather in His Name to celebrate the Mass, and we honor and respect Him by the way we honor and respect one another.
Our Communion is not just a gift from God. It is not something we get. It is something we become. When the gift is accepted, it changes us and becomes a bond by which we become a people in covenant who care for those around us and for all who are children of God.
You cannot put our your hand or open your mouth to receive the Body of Christ without receiving the whole body and all its members. The bond of our friendship in Christ is reflected in our attentiveness to each other.
Look around at your sisters and brothers, who are the dwelling place of Christ. See the beauty and the suffering, the young and the old, the tired and the lonely, and those filled with promise. In communion, we are all of these things.
When we are exhausted from trying to be kind, compassion, and forgiving, when we are worn out from trying to be who we are—the Body of Christ, God will provide a little cake or some water, some nourishment to get us going again on this wonder-filled journey of faith.