Peace To People of Good Will?

Sometimes I guess I am a bit slow on the uptake. The Catholic Church been using the new translation of the Mass since Advent of 2011 and there is one change I didn’t really notice until Mass yesterday morning. (Maybe everyone else talked about this at the time, and I just missed it.)

In the setting of the Gloria we sang at my daughter’s Church in Appleton, the refrain went:

Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest.
And on earth, peace on earth, peace to people of good will.

It took until the second time through for me to realize the line was bothering me. It was the last phrase that twisted my gut: peace to people of good will.

When we got home later in the day, I checked and found that the song words are consistent with the new translation of the Mass, which reads “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” In the old translation we prayed, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Apparently I’ve been praying the new words for over two years without hearing the difference. But the sung version of it highlighted the difference in a way I could not ignore.

Why in the world would be only pray for peace to people of good will? Don’t people lacking in good will need our prayer for peace as much as – or even more so – than those of good will? Jesus, after all, said “those who are health do not need a physician, but the sick do…that he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

It is hard to imagine a good justification for limiting those for whom we pray in this prayer. I understand the line is meant to call to mind Luke’s account of the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Jesus. But that seems scant justification. In various translations of the Bible, that line reads “peace, good will toward men,” “peace to those oh whom his favor rests.” Neither of those is quite so limiting and, even if it were, Luke’s birth story is not intended as a historically accurate account.

If Jesus came to call not the righteous, but the sinners, it seems to me we give greater glory to God by praying for peace for all people, not just those of good will.


The Kiss of Peace

I had an interesting experience at Mass this morning. During the Kiss of Peace, the man behind me gripped my hand and, looking me in the eyes, slowly said (these were not his exact words, but close), “Peace be with you. May you experience the peace of Christ through me.” Our encounter lasted about three or four times as long as the usual “Peace of Christ,” which is often accompanied by a brief touch of the hand and little or no eye contact. (The exception to the quick brush is family and friends, who often exchange hugs and loving greetings.) I really felt his attention on me and the sincerity of his words and I was deeply moved.

I know many people are not big fans of the Kiss of Peace. They have varied reasons for finding this element of the Mass uncomfortable or inappropriate.

I’ve never had any discomfort with the ritual; actually I kind of like it. But I wonder what different it might make if, instead of rushing to offer the kiss of peace to as many people as one possibly can reach before the priest begins to recite, or the cantor begins to sing, the “Lamb of God,” we just offered it to one to two as though we really mean it: making eye contact, really touching the other person, saying the words carefully and intentionally.

Just a thought.

After a Year, What’s Changed?

The beginning of Advent means Catholics have now completed a full year of the new translation of the Mass.

Most of us have gotten accustomed to saying “And with your Spirit” rather than “And also with you” (although I still hear people occasionally saying “And also with your Spirit”). Few seem to have trouble with remembering they are not worthy “that you should enter under my roof” rather than “to receive you.” Many, however, are still fumbling with the word changes in the Gloria, and even more are still struggling with the revisions to the Nicene Creed.

I recognize that talking about this risks my incurring wrath from almost every corner, but I’m clearly not the only one to wonder what the changes have wrought after a year. I actually started to write this post yesterday, but got sidetracked. Shortly after I did, some sent me a link to a survey asking people about their feelings about the changes one year out.

For myself, the conclusions I’ve come to are these. First, I’m not as bothered by some of the word changes as I thought I would be. I was not a big fan about either the process or the results of the new translation, but certainly there is nothing in the words that has hindered my appreciation of the Mass or my connection with God during Mass. (The fact that almost everyone in the pews has to hold up a card to recite the creed and that many priests are still reading the Eucharistic prayers and fumbling over some of the long sentences is a bit distracting, but that is a termporal issues and, I assume, will get better over time.)

But second, I can’t say that the new translation has done anything to increase my reverence or my connection with God during Mass. The short conclusion is that I like some of the changes and I dislike others, but overall, wonder what has really been accomplished by the changes.

Any views on this one way or the other?

Disposition, Reception and Going Forth

We attended Mass yesterday at Our Lady of Lourdes, since Elena was again singing there. Although I love my own parish, I enjoy masses at Lourdes, presided over by my friend Fr. Dan Griffith.

One of the points Dan made in his sermon had to do with the unity of the three fundamental aspects of the Mass: We listen to the Word of God, which creates in us a disposition of gratitude at God’s presence and work in the world. With that spirit of gratitude, we partake of the Eucharist, by which we are filled with the Body and Blood of Christ. Thus transformed, we go forth to bring God to those we encounter.

The relationship of those three elements is important for us to remember for at least two reasons. First, I have heard many people respond to criticisms of homilies at Catholic Masses by saying, “what’s important is the Eucharist, not the homily.” While we do speak of the Eucharist being “the sum and summit of our faith,” our disposition in receiving the Eucharist matters, which means the Liturgy of the Word is an essential element of the Mass. The breaking open of the Word in the homily is an important part of that.

Second, I’ve commented before about people departing Mass immediately after they receive the Euchrist. I understand that on occasion people are rushed and need to get out of Mass as quickly as possible. (I have left a couple of weekday Masses that were running late immediately after communion where I’ve had someplace I had to be immediately thereafter.) But some people make a habit of behaving as though Mass is over as soon as they receive. It is a bad habit; the sending forth that ends Mass reminds us that our experience of the sacrament is not over when we walk out of Church. Instead we are sent forth to “love and serve” the Lord, to be Christ to those we encounter.

Disposition, reception, and going forth. All are important aspects to our celebration of the Mass.

Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist

Catholics and some Protestants believe that the Eucharist is the real presence of Christ. What they mean by “real presence” is the presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine that we then eat and drink.

That represents too narrow a view of Christ’s presence, however. As Fr. Lawrence Mick points out in Worshipping Well, the Second Vatican Council reminds us that

Christ is present in the Eucharist in at least four ways: Christ is present in the assembly – “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Christ is present in the priest…in the words of God…And…in the bread and wine shared in the Eucharistic meal. But the first and most fundamental presence, the presence of Christ in the assembly itself, is all too often overlooked. We do not seem to be very good at recognizing Christ in one another.

Fr. Mick suggests that part of our narrow focus is the result of a training that focused almost exclusively on the presence of Christ in the form of bread and wine. But he suggests that “part of the problem also seems to be a lack of awareness among many of the faithful of the dignity of their own status as baptized members of the body of Christ.”

Most Catholics, he suggests can easily see the priest as a minister of Christ, but are less quick to “expect Christ to be present through themselves or their fellow parishioners.” They forget that “Christ has chosen to be present in the world through them.”

Christ is present in bread and wine, yes, and I don’t at all want to minimize that. But we can focus too heavily on that – seeing Christ in the tabernacle or in the bread and wine we receive at Mass – and failing to recognize Christ outside of the bread and wine. That is a failing we need to work hard to rectify so that we can more fully be the means of Christ’s presence in our daily lives.

Invitations to the Table of the Lord

One of my struggles with Catholicism has to do with the question of who is invited to the Eucharist. Catholic teaching is that only those who are in “full communion with the Catholic Church” may receive Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.

I understand the words that explain the Catholic position – the belief that “the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship” – but it still makes me uncomfortable. I look at all the people Jesus shared bread with during his lifetime and I question whether Jesus would have adopted the same position.

Given that, I was moved by the Great Thanksgiving that was prayed immediately prior to the Sanctus at the Espicopal Mass I attended on Sunday morning. Here it is:

This is the table, not of the Church, but of God.
It is to be made ready for those who love God
and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little,
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because I invite you: it is God, and it is God’s will
that you who want God should meet God here.

For me, this approach expresses the power of the Eucharist more than does an exclusionary approach. I am less interested in using the Eucharist as a sign that we are one than as a way for us to become one. Not a symbol of what is, but that which helps us to what can be. It is not an orthodox approach from a Catholic standpoint, but, it seems to me that it has a lot to recommend it.

Sliding From the Head to the Heart

I’m not saying anything most Catholics don’t acknowledge to themselves, even if many don’t like to say it out loud, when I observe that the quality of homilies in Catholic Churches is often not very good. While I’ve been the beneficiary of some wonderful homilies from Jesuits at my retreat house in NY and from a number of the Vincentians at St. John’s University in NY, and at the law school from some of the priest who celebrate our daily Masses, I have been largely uninspired by many homilies in the various parishes I’ve attended on a Sunday. To give full disclosure, I sometimes find myself attending two Masses on Sunday: one on my own parish (so I can worship with my family) and a second at an Episcopal church, where I can be assured of a good homily.

Why it is the case the Sunday homilies at Catholic parishes are often lacking, I don’t know. My husband generously suggests it is that parish priests are overworked and simply do not have the time to adequately prepare. There may be other reasons.

But the bottom line is that a good homily adds something important to the liturgy. My daughter’s way of expressing what is a “good homily” is one that adds something to what she gets from simply hearing the readings proclaimed. A homily that brings the scripture readings together in a way that gives “added value.”

I agree with my daughter’s statement, and, since I often pray with the Mass reading of the day during my morning prayer, I love nothing better than a homily that opens a passage to me in a way differently from how it unfolded in my morning prayer.

But I think there is something else that is important also, and it was expressed in a simple line from a column in a recent issue of Commonweal. In Joys (& Fears) of Cooking: A Homilist’s Education, Fr. Nonomen writes about how he prepares for his Sunday sermons – a process that begins on the preceding Monday – and then expresses that his “goal is to make [his] words about the Scripture slide from the head to the heart.”

I love that expression: slide from the head to the heart. A good homily, I believe, doesn’t just address our head. It is not a summary or paraphrase of the readings and it is not academic exegesis. It instead is something that should touch our hearts, allowing us to experience God and the way God is at work in our lives.

Will every homily be successful in touching every person who hears it? Clearly not. But it is not too much, I think, to hope that that is the goal of those who have the privilege of preaching every week.

Real Presence

Unlike some Protestant traditions, which view the bread and wine consecrated at Mass as a symbol of Christ’s body and blood, Catholics (and some Protestants) believe, in the words of the Council of Trent in the 16th Century, that the Eucharist is “truly, really, and substantially” the presence of Christ.

There is a danger that we misunderstand what that means in the context of the Mass. In an article I recently read by Father Scott Detisch, he expressed the worry “that people think that Christ is not present in the liturgy until the Consecration of the bread and wine and so everything up to that point is merely prelude and not important.” This leads, he suggests, to what he terms “some disturbing habits,” such as complacency about arriving late to Mass, impatience at efforts to get people to sing and perfunctory recitation of the readings.

It is important that we not let our acceptance of the consecrated bread and wind as the body and blood of Christ blind us to the fact that Christ is already present prior to the consecration. Pope Paul VI, in his 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei, made clear that the assembled congregation, the presider, the scripture readings, and bread and wine are all the “real presence of Christ.”

As Fr. Detisch observes, “We receive the Real Presence of Christ as consecrated bread and wine because they are part of a wider context of Christ’s Real Presence in the eucharistic meal that begins with our act of gathering. Thus, the whole liturgy is important.”

A good reminder, one that should help us to avoid some of the “disturbing habits” of which Fr. Detisch complains and make the entirety of our Eucharistic celebration more meaningful.

Preparing for Mass

I am reading a wonderful little book titled, I Am Food: The Mass in Planetary Perspective, written by the late Roger Corless. I became acquainted with Corless’ work in the course of writing the book on which I am currently working, which adapts Tibetan Buddhist analytical meditations for Christians. Corless viewed himself as a dual practitioner of Buddhism and Catholicism, and this book, which provides a spiritual commentary on the Mass shows how his Buddhist experience has influenced his undersratnding of the central Christian celebration.

Before I was a third of the way through the book, I already had a list of things I wanted to go back to, such as Corless’ discussion of the difference between pilgrimage and journey, or the problem created by an overemphasis on either God’s transcendence or God’s immmanence and the need for both, or the meaning of myth.

What I thought about last night, however, was a quite simple point, but one we don’t tend to pay much attention to – the need to prepare ourselves for Mass.

At most Masses in my parish, large numbers of people rush in at the last minute, barely making it to their seats before the priest has reached the altar, let alone being in their seats before the entrance processional begins. This is not unique to my current parish; the same was true in the parish to which we belonged in New York, before moving here to Minneapolis.

After talking about remembering, as we enter church, that we are entring a holy place and mentioning the custom of reverencing the altar, Corless writes

It is appropriate to remain kneeling for some time before Mass begins, in order to maintain the awareness of Servant status. Private prayer at this time should be concerned with what Buddhists call Correcting Motivation. Ask yourself, “Why am I here? Fear of punishment if I don’t show? Custom? Hopes of meeting that certain man or woman and making a date? Desire to escape the world and go to heaven?” All these are trivial reasons. The only reason for going to Mass is to worship God in such a way that it results in better service of other creatures. When your motivation has come around to this, you are ready to begin Mass.

However we frame the question to ourselves, it seems to me valuable to take some time before Mass begins disposing ourselves to be open to the mystery in which we are about to partake. At the end of Mass, we will be sent forth to love and serve the God and one another. We will be better able to handle that charge if we have opened ourselves to God’s grace as fully as we are able. And it seems to me that allowing ourselves a few unrushed minutes before the beginning of Mass is a valuable aid in that process.

The Penitential Rite at Mass

Yesterday morning I attended mass at St. John’s Episcopal Church with my friends Richard and Russell. As those who have attended an Episcopal mass know, it bears a striking resemblance to a Catholic mass, except that the order of the mass parts is not quite the same.

The change in sequence that had an impact on me this morning was the placement of the Penitential Rite near the end of the Liturgy of the Word and before commencement of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, rather than at the beginning of the service, as at a Catholic mass.

For me, that had the effect of making the Penitential Rite more meaningful. That is to say, the process of listening to the preaching of the Gospel and reflecting on the words of the sermon (which was really a quite good message about the salt and light gospel), prompted me to think of particular things I wanted to bring to God during that prayer of confession. Coming to it after the hearing and reflecting on God’s word, my participation in the Rite seemed much more intentional and mindful than it often otherwise is and, thus, I found it a much more powerful experience.

I am obviously not suggesting that the order of the Catholic mass ought to change because I had an experience like this at an Episcopal Mass. But my experience does make me think it is worthwhile to think about how to bring that same intentionality and reflectiveness to the Penitential Rite every time I go to mass.