Embracing the Liturgy

Why do we do this during Mass? ...and other questions about our faith.

January 2020: Stained Glass Windows

By most accounts, I would classify myself as a “visual learner.” Even to the point that when I am forced to put something together that has instructions, I look at the pictures and try to figure out how the pieces fit rather than reading the directions. The old saying, “When all else fails, read the directions” fits me perfectly.

If you have been following these articles, you may recall a few months when I used illustrations to help you “see” what I am trying to “say.” With such a reliance of pictures as a learning and expression tool, you would think I would have some ability to draw or paint. Nothing could be farther from the truth! My drawing skills are so bad that I am always last to be chosen for the team when playing Pictionary.

I suppose that is why I admire those who have the gift for artistry. Having an ability to look at a blank canvas, have an image in your mind, and using a medium to bring that image to life, must bring great joy to the artist. A good work of art allows us to see the story the author is wanting to tell us.

Telling the story through art is the idea and one reason stained glass windows are common in our churches. Even those stained glass windows that have nothing other than a colored design, allows the sun to shine through and bring beautiful color into the church. It is as if God is reminding us of His words in the beginning of Genesis: “Let there be Light.” But those that do have a design or a scene are meant to tell a story from scripture, depict a meaningful symbol in the liturgy, or possibly show the picture of a saint that is meaningful for that church parish.

To appreciate their importance, it is helpful to recall that long before people could read or write, their main source for learning scripture was hearing the readings at Mass and learning from the priest during his homily. Passing these stories to their children would certainly be aided by illustrations found in the windows of the church.

Though reading and writing are the customary methods of communication today and with the internet you can have the bible read to you by clicking a few buttons, stained glass windows still continue to be compelling ways to share the gospel. These images can include many symbols and intricate details that may require an explanation from someone knowledgeable about the stained glass. This is the case if you walk through St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Alexandria. They are some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have seen. Thankfully, there are brochures that explain each of the windows. Nonetheless, for us visual learners, they provide pictures to help us “see” what the Lord is teaching us.

So, the next time you attend Mass and see the light shining through a beautiful stained glass window, take a moment to study the scene to recall the story the artist is depicting and pray with that scene in mind. If you do, it will draw you closer to the Lord and help you to “Love the Liturgy.”

December: New Year's Resolutions – Discipline

Well, it is that time of year when we begin to take our self-assessments of 2019. It is a time to look back over the past year and reflect on all the good and bad experiences life has given to us. We may take great joy in recalling those accomplishments we are proud of and great sorrow in the loss of a loved one or some other difficulty we faced. Hopefully we see this time of year as a time to learn from the past and begin anew. It can also be a time of great hope and expectation for the future and a time many of us will list a few goals and make some “resolutions” for the year 2020.

These goals typically include things such as losing a little weight, eating healthier, or just taking better care of ourselves in general. As I am sure you have experienced, these are difficult because we live in the South where EVERYTHING is fried and tastes “Oh-So-Good!” Not only do we have good food to contend with, but we also live in a culture that shows our love through food. For example, I do not recall ever being invited to a friend’s house where they served a meal that consisted only of a salad with fat-free dressing and water. Instead, it is extra-large servings with all the “fixings,” which are too difficult to pass up. This is especially true during the holidays when we convince ourselves that it is okay to gorge ourselves with food, because “I am determined to begin a stringent diet and exercise program on January 1.”

When I was younger, I worked at the YMCA for several years. The facility had a workout room, swimming pools, and offered aerobics. The one thing we always counted on was a huge increase in memberships around the beginning of the year. We knew the pattern: people with the best intentions would begin the year exercising with the goal of living a healthier lifestyle. However, the crowds began to dwindle after a short couple of weeks until the only people left were the few faithful exercisers.

Though our intentions as we begin anew are good, I think we fail due to lack of self-discipline. You know which foods are good for you and what a healthy portion of food is, but we may lack the discipline to say “no” to that extra helping. Similarly, we know that we need to exercise on a regular basis, but it takes discipline to continue the workout routine. I am always impressed when I see the dedication and discipline of people walking around the block or at the gym really early in the morning. I’m hoping to get there one day because right now, the only exercise I get in the morning is with one arm, and that is hitting the snooze button. Not bragging or anything, but I’m really good at it!

On a serious note, just as self-discipline is very important to reach our personal goals, it is also important for our spiritual life! Praying regularly, reading scripture and spiritual books, performing acts of charity, attending Mass on holy days of obligation…are all things we know are good for us, but without self-discipline can easily be pushed to the side and replaced by worldly activities. Yes, I realize we are again at a disadvantage by living in “Sportsman’s Paradise” where there is always an LSU/Saints football party or a fishing/hunting trip to attend, or a hiking/camping adventure to go on. But we must develop a discipline to ensure these things do not replace our attendance at Mass.

As we begin a new year and list the areas we want to improve upon in 2020, remember to include your spiritual life. List activities which will ultimately bring your closer to Christ, knowing that if you make the effort, the Lord will not disappoint and you WILL reach your ultimate goal of getting into Heaven. The more you attend Mass and participate in the sacraments, the stronger your faith will become and the more you will Love The Liturgy!

November: Eucharist

I can recall during my childhood trying to make deals with my mother, especially around time of my birthday and Christmas. Deals such as: “If you buy me that new toy, I promise I will be good and never ask for anything again!” The older I got, the bigger the deals would be. I moved from toys, to bicycles, to the ultimate gift for a young person…a CAR. Of course I never kept my end of the deal. The newness of the gift would quickly wear off and I would be right back at being the not-so-good son wanting the next big thing. But no matter how many times I broke my promise of being good and never asking for anything again, my mother always remained kind, loving, and very generous. While I was an ungrateful son, she remained a faithful mother.

As I moved into adulthood, this pattern shifted to trying to make deals with God. You may have been guilty of doing this too: “Lord if I could just get that job, I’ll be set; I’ll pay more tithes; and will never ask for anything again.” But then it moves to “If she says ‘yes’ to my marriage proposal, our lives will be perfect and I will not ask for anything again.” Then “Lord, if the baby is born healthy, I promise I will never ask for anything again.”

But here is the thing, we do not need to make “deals” with God. God is the Good Father that knows the wants and desires of His children long before we can even formulate the prayer. Now I am not saying to stop praying, quite the opposite. For as Saint Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:16-18)

So we are called to be prayerful people depending on the goodness and faithfulness of God, not negotiators who will never live up to our end of the “deal.” God does not want our “deals” He wants our faithfulness and “Thanksgiving!”

If you read the scripture passage above again, note that Saint Paul tells us we are to give “thanks in all circumstances.” This is the part that many (myself included) easily leave out of our prayers. We are quick with our intentions and needs, but may be a bit slower in recognizing and being grateful for answered prayers.

So what does any of this have to do with the liturgy? Well, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist (body and blood of Jesus) IS where we give “thanks.” The Greek word “eucharisteo” means “to give thanks.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the Eucharist is “an act of thanksgiving to God.” (No. 1329)

Remember that Jesus suffered and died for our sake, He does not want our “deals.” Instead, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to participate in Mass, receive the Eucharist, and then live a life that continues to show our “thankfulness” for ALL that the Lord has given us. If we recall this each time we go to Mass, it will help draw us closer to the Lord and we will “Love the Liturgy.”

October: Habits

I am sure I speak for most of us when I say that we are “creatures of habit.” For me it is the same routine for beginning and ending each day; I drive the same route to-and-from work; I even eat certain meals on certain days. It is as if I have done these things for so long, that my mind no longer really processes the actions, I just do them. I suppose it is a good thing because I could not imagine having to consciously decide each day: “Okay, do I brush my teeth before or after I drink my coffee?” “Do I put my right shoe or left shoe on first?” “Do I put my keys in my right pocket or left?” So, good habits certainly help us in the menial tasks of life. The problem with habits is that they can restrict us from seeing and experiencing new things. For example, if I go to work the same way every day, I may never see the beautiful garden or new construction just down the street. If I eat the same foods or go to the same restaurants, I restrict myself from experiencing new things.

I recently visited friends who rearranged some furniture in their home. When I entered, it was as if I was in an entirely different home. I wanted to show that I was observant, so I commented on their new furniture. They laughed at me because it was the same furniture, just moved around a little…so much for being observant. A simple change forced my mind to look at the same thing, but with an entirely new perspective.

My point is that habits can be beneficial, but can also limit our growth. The same can be said about developing habits with our spiritual and prayer life. Sure, the habit of saying daily prayers and attending Mass are good things. However, if we are not careful, our intentions while saying those prayers and our participation during the Mass can easily become just another habit.

Here is something to think about: Each time we attend Mass, we say the Lord’s Prayer. The real question is, do we say it, or do we pray it? Have we said the words so many times that it has become such a habit that we no longer consciously remember the deep meaning and impact the prayer has in our life? Or what about the Creed (or Profession of Faith) we say together during the Sunday Mass? Are we truly professing what we believe, or has it become just the words we say after the homily? The reception of the Eucharist is the most important aspect of the Mass. When the minister presents the consecrated host and says “The Body of Christ”, do we contemplate and remember that we are actually receiving the Body of Jesus? If these things have become a habit, we are limiting ourselves of the impact the liturgy has in our life and missing the rich blessings presented to us. So I encourage you to find a way to approach prayer and the Mass with a sense of renewal.

One way to shake things up a bit may be to do what my friends did with their furniture, move things around a little. We all have “our pew” that we are drawn to when we go to Mass. Before I was ordained and began sitting in the sanctuary, our family pew was the third pew from the front on the right side of the main aisle. I cannot explain why; it was just a habit. Occasionally someone would get there before we did and would (have the nerve :)) to sit in “our pew.” The interesting thing about changing where we sat was how different the Mass would be. Sure it is the same Mass, same priest, same prayers, but I experienced them in a different way. The simple movement of pews helped us break the habit we developed. Now I am not advocating to go and sit in “Mrs. Smith’s pew” who has been sitting in the same pew since the church was built, but think about changing it up every once in a while.

So your challenge for this month is to sit in a different location at one Mass. If you do, it will help break a habit, allow you to experience the Mass in a new way, and help you come to Love the Liturgy.

September: Go!

In writing this monthly column, it is my hope you are realizing the significance and beauty found in the liturgy of the Mass. From the moment we step into the church and bless ourselves with holy water, through the readings and reception of Holy Communion, we receive many gifts to strengthen our relationship with God and one another. It would be wonderful if we could just stay in the cocoon of the church, but that is not what we are called to do.

There is a word that is spoken at the end of Mass that many hear, but may not realize the significance of it. After the final blessing, the priest (or deacon if one is present) says one of the following dismissals: “Go in Peace”; “Go forth, the Mass is ended”; “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”; or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”. Did you catch the common word in each of the options above? It is the instruction to “GO!” But go and do what?? We are to leave the church, nourished with the gifts of the word of the Lord and the Eucharist and give those gifts to the people we encounter each day. We are to “go” and mimic the goodness of the Lord and serve those around us. We are to “go” and live our lives in a way that reflects the love and mercy of Jesus.

I recently had a profound experience regarding this call to be a reflection of Jesus to those around us. While visiting someone in the emergency room late one Friday evening, I heard people yelling in the room right next to us. I stepped out of the room just in time to see the nurse running to the nurses’ station saying she needed help with an unruly patient. Apparently this sort of thing happens pretty regularly in emergency rooms on Friday and Saturday nights, because about ten seconds after calling for help, there were four or five of the biggest security guards I have ever seen and two or three nurses that came to the rescue. I saw in their faces and body language that they meant business. The patient was yelling, cussing, and thrashing around as the group began to surround his bedside. I knew that whatever was about to happen was not going to be pleasant on anyone’s part.

Suddenly, in the midst of all the commotion and through the group of people, the patient and my eyes met. It is hard to describe, but in an instant I knew I was looking at the face of Jesus. When he saw me, he pointed to me and made the sign of the cross. However, the security guards and other nurses did not notice the encounter so they continued to approach him which caused him to begin to resist again.

I quickly walked into the room and began talking to him hoping to deescalate the situation so no one would get hurt. Once he saw me again, he made the sign of the cross. I explained that we were all there to help him and to trust the nurses and doctors. He immediately calmed down and allowed the nurse to give him medicine to calm him down. Thankfully the security team left with no incident.

This experience made me ask myself, “How many times have I walked right past Jesus without recognizing him?” It is easy to have an encounter with Jesus in the sacraments within the walls of the church, but it is not so easy to see Him in those who are struggling right next to us. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel we are given the model of the Corporal Works of Mercy and are called to: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the prisoners; bury the dead; and give alms to the poor. That is precisely what we are called to “go” and do.

So the next time you attend Mass and hear the instruction at the end to “Go…!” Take it to heart and bring the gifts you received at Mass to those you encounter on a daily basis. If you do, you will bring the Lord to those who need Him most and will find another reason to Love the Liturgy!

August: R.C.I.A. and the Real Presence

We have made it to the Fall Season. A time of “somewhat” lower temperatures, seeing the excitement of our young people beginning a new school year, and of course FOOTBALL! In the church, Fall is also a popular time to begin a new session of religious formation and catechetical programs such as R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and C.C.D. (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine). The R.C.I.A. program has a special place in my heart since I was a product of that program. In 1993, I was baptized, confirmed, and received my first communion by Bishop Sam Jacobs at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Alexandria.

That experience set the wheels in motion for my faith formation and spiritual life, which eventually led to my being ordained a deacon. It was during the R.C.I.A. program that I learned the teachings of the Church, and more importantly “WHY” we believe and practice what we teach (and preach). My experience was so life changing, that I have been involved with the program ever since.

One of the aspects of R.C.I.A is for each participant to have a Catholic sponsor. This person is to assist them through prayer, answer questions about the faith that may not be covered in the classes, and to journey along with them. One interesting thing I have experienced in the program is that many times the Catholic sponsor will come to me and admit that they are learning so much about their faith and the meaning behind the actions and words spoken during the liturgy.

There are other signs and information that point to the need for all of us to be involved in continuing religious education and faith formation. None more eye-opening than a recent article published by “The Catholic Spirit.” The article reports on results of a study conducted by the Pew Research Center which showed a majority of those who self-identified as “Catholic” do not believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Since the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the foundation of our Catholic Church, that would certainly explain one of the reasons there is an overall decline in those attending Mass. I probably would not attend either if I did not believe I was receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. “I can hear great homilies online or on television; I can pray and read scripture in the comfort of my own home…why would I need to go to Mass?”

Well, I go to Mass because I came to believe through my R.C.I.A. classes and additional studies that the sacrament of the Eucharist IS the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus. Armed with this knowledge and belief, how could I NOT go to Mass on a regular basis?

I am sure we can all agree that continued education and religious formation is needed at all levels. So what are some ways we can help Mother Church and her leaders catechize those around us? A few suggestions may include:

• Make a commitment to educate yourself more about the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great resource to have readily available. The more you learn about the Church, scripture, and the sacraments, the stronger your faith will be and the better equipped you will be in spreading the truth and teachings of the Church.

• Become an evangelizer by inviting those in your circle of friends and family to enroll in your Parish’s R.C.I.A. program and offer to journey with them. Do not be afraid to ask: “Would you be interested in learning about the Catholic Church?” You may be surprised when they answer “Yes!”

We should all see ourselves as the ones to spread the Good News of Jesus and invite our people to (or back into) the Church. The more of our friends and relatives attend Mass, the more people will have the opportunity to encounter Jesus and Love The Liturgy!

This month’s column is dedicated to the late Mrs. Paula DePriest who was the R.C.I.A. Coordinator when I went through the program at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. Her patience, love for the Lord and his Church, and her support of me in my journey is something I will always remember.

July: Adoration and Benediction

This month’s article will focus on Eucharistic adoration and benediction, and a beautiful experience I recently witnessed during one such liturgy at the Diocese’s Steubenville South Youth Conference held in Alexandria.

First you may ask: “What is adoration and benediction?” As Catholics, it is important for us to know that we believe in the True Presence of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. In other words, that is not just a simple piece of bread that we receive during Mass, but it is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This belief is based on the words of Jesus that we read in sacred scripture. In the 22nd chapter of Luke’s Gospel, verse 19, we find: “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” There are many other passages that refer to the true presence of Jesus, but to understand the importance and beauty of adoration and benediction, one must first understand that Jesus is indeed present in the Eucharist.

With this understanding of His true presence, our church encourages us to participate in Eucharistic Adoration. For adoration, the minister will place a consecrated host into an ornate vessel called a “monstrance.” The word “monstrance” comes from the Latin word “monstrare,” meaning “to expose.” During this solemn exposition, we are encouraged to spend time in prayer in the presence of our Lord. Eucharistic Adoration can be done in many forms and settings. Some of the popular terms you will hear are:

“A Holy Hour” where you spend one hour in adoration;
“Perpetual Adoration” during which time volunteers are assigned times to be in adoration around the clock;
“Eucharistic Procession” where a priest or deacon processes with the monstrance, allowing the faithful to be near the Eucharist;
“An Adoration Chapel” is typically a small chapel that is designed to allow the faithful to enter and be in the prayerful presence of our Lord.

There is also a liturgical service called Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. During this service, the minister exposes Jesus, allowing time for adoration. There may be a reflection or songs sung to help guide those present into deeper prayer and contemplation. The service is concluded by the minister putting on a “humeral veil,” which is a vestment worn over the shoulders and covers the hands as he lifts the monstrance which contains Jesus and blesses those present.

It was during the Eucharistic Adoration and Procession during the Steubenville South Youth Conference in June that I witnessed a beautiful moment and the power of this liturgy. After the monstrance was placed on the altar for a few minutes, the priest announced we would be processing with Jesus and he invited the young people, if they felt called to do so, to reach out and touch the tassel of the humeral veil (referencing the woman who was afflicted with hemorrhages that reached out and touched Jesus’ garment and was healed). As the master of ceremonies for this event, I was walking next to the priest and helped guide him along the route through the crowd of about 1,800 young people. I glanced ahead and noticed one young man in a wheelchair. I quietly told the priest to ensure he made his way to the young man. As we got closer, I saw this young man doing everything he could to reach out to touch the humeral veil. He wasn’t quite able to reach so I gently pushed the priest closer. As the young man was finally able to touch the humeral veil, he began to weep. His faithfulness deeply touched me for there was no doubt of his belief that the Lord was present and that he felt the love Christ had for him.

The Lord is present to us in many ways, but none more so than in the Eucharist. I challenge you to spend time in adoration and receive the blessings during benediction. May we all have the desire to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus, to be in his presence, and receive his blessings through our participation in adoration and benediction. The more often we spend time in this form of prayer and devotion, the more we will come to Love the Liturgy.

June: Proper Attire for Mass

The topic of proper attire for Mass (and other liturgical celebrations) can get a bit controversial. We all have different taste in clothing and opinions on what is “proper.” Some are of the belief that women should wear long dresses with a veil on their head and men should wear a coat and tie. Others are on the opposite end of the spectrum and think that the most important thing is that the person is at Mass, no matter what they are wearing.
So what does the Church have to say about this topic?

The Catholic Church is universal and exists in nearly every part of the world, it would be impossible for there to be one set of rules for all to follow that would adequately incorporate the various cultures. In this Diocese, we are a bit more relaxed regarding “Church Dress,” and a lot is influenced by seasonal heat and/or involvement with “Sportsman’s Paradise” activities.

Though there are no specific rules, the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1387 does give some insight for us to consider before leaving the house to go to Mass. It states: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” In other words, we should not dress or act in a way that draws attention to ourselves, but instead in a respectful and solemn way. Or what may bring a new perspective is to think about dressing in a way that would be pleasing to our Lord if we were to welcome Him as our honored guest.

Now don’t get me wrong, there will be occasions when you may be forced with the decision to either go to Mass a bit underdressed or to not go at all. My church parish is the Cathedral and we get many visitors on the weekends. Many times we have families attend who are in town for a tournament and are dressed in their sporting gear. One of the kids has his/her uniform on and the parents are obviously dressed to be at the ballpark after Mass. I can certainly appreciate their dedication and faithfulness to ensure they fulfill their Sunday obligation. Or if there is a church parish fair on the weekend and there will be outdoor games and activities after Mass, I could see where shorts and a t-shirt may be convenient. But on a regular basis, I do not think either of these would get a consensus vote as being considered “respectful and solemn” attire.

Proper attire goes for other liturgies as well, such as weddings, confirmations and the like. I have been the wedding coordinator for the Cathedral for about 25 years and have worked with over 400 wedding parties. I used to say that I have “seen it all” when it comes to people dressing for weddings, but I stopped saying that because I think the Lord took that as a challenge. I do understand and appreciate people wanting to look their best, but the reason we attend church should be to worship, pray, and receive the sacraments. Since we celebrate the liturgies in a community setting, we should also have the best interest in mind for those around us. So before walking out the door to go to the church, look in the mirror and ask yourself: “Is what I am wearing flashy (or fleshy) to the point that I will draw attention away from the liturgy?” If so, you may want to reconsider your attire, for we should be present in a way that allows ALL focus to solely be on receiving the Lord through His Word and the sacraments.

Being in prayer while in the church, moving and singing with reverence, and being dressed appropriately all have an impact on the liturgical experience. If we do these things well, there will be less distractions which will allow us to focus on the celebration at hand and ultimately increase our Love for the Liturgy.

May 2019: Corpus Christi Procession

Now that our journey through the season of Lent has concluded and we have celebrated the Resurrection of the Lord, many have participated in First Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation. These are two important milestones in our spiritual journey so it is wonderful to see many of our church parishes celebrate these important sacraments with much fanfare. Our young people and parents alike come well-dressed and excited about these most special days. It is a chance for all of us to celebrate the goodness of God and participate in a public proclamation of our belief in Jesus and the importance of having faith in our life.

What if the special attention given to receiving “First Communion” was extended to include each time we receive communion? The preparation, the contemplation of receiving JESUS, dressing our best, being on our best behavior, inviting friends and family to join us in the experience…after all, receiving the Eucharist IS special each time we receive Him. For it is the sacrament of the Eucharist that sets Catholics apart from our protestant brothers and sisters and something we should always approach with the same excitement and awe as we did the first time we received Him.

To ensure we recognize the importance of the Eucharist, Mother Church has a solemnity (a feast day of the highest ranking) called “The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” or more commonly known as “Corpus Christi”. This Solemnity is celebrated on the Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity Sunday which this year will be on June 23, 2019. The focus on the Mass and likely the priest or deacon’s homily is on the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.

This leads to this month’s question: “What is the significance of a procession outside of the church for Corpus Christi?”

There is a tradition that is making a nice comeback throughout the United States with a “Eucharistic Procession” to celebrate this solemnity. Many do not realize that the last words spoken to us at each Mass is for us to “GO” and take what you have received at the Mass, i.e., Jesus, in both Word and Eucharist, and bring Him to those we encounter on a daily basis. So the procession helps remind us that we are to bring Jesus outside of the Church as we promote and honor the goodness of our Lord. As St. Pope John Paul II taught: “Our faith in the God who took flesh in order to become our companion along the way needs to be everywhere proclaimed, especially in our streets and homes, as an expression of our grateful love and as an inexhaustible source of blessings.” The procession will likely consist of servers carrying the cross and candles while the priest, wearing a humeral veil, carries Jesus in a monstrance. For outdoor processions, there should be a canopy over the priest carrying the monstrance which serves both as a protection from outdoor elements and it creates a “sacred space” for the Eucharist.

So I challenge those who are able, to prepare as if this year’s Solemnity is again your “First Communion”. Prepare yourself by making a good confession, dress your best, invite friends and family, and receive our Lord with the same excitement you had the first time you received Him. Whether your church parish has a Eucharist procession or not, GO and spread the Good News of Jesus by your words and actions! By doing so, you will be a beacon for others so they too can come to “Love the Liturgy.”

April 2019: The Significance of the Paschal Candle

If you attended the Holy Saturday or “Easter Vigil” liturgy, you likely experienced the blessing of the fire and preparation of the Paschal Candle followed by the procession into the Church. If you did not attend that Mass, you surely noticed a large candle near the altar or ambo when you attended Mass on Easter Sunday. This leads to this month’s question regarding the liturgy: “What is the significance of the large candle that is prominent at Mass during the Easter Season?”

To fully appreciate the beauty of the symbolism surrounding this “large candle,” it is helpful to recall what happened on Good Friday. It is the day we commemorate the death of Jesus on the Cross. And if Jesus is the “Light of the World,” with his death, that light was extinguished and we were left in complete darkness. So it is at the Easter Vigil (which is not to begin until sunset or darkness) where we bless a new fire and a large candle that is called the “Paschal Candle.” It is the Paschal Candle which becomes a representation of Christ as “The Light of the World.”

The Paschal Candle is used throughout the year so learning more about the preparation of the candle during the Easter Vigil will help us appreciate its significance. After the blessing of the fire, the priest uses a stylus to draw the “Alpha” and the “Omega” on the candle (see diagram below) which are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This is done to indicate that Christ is the beginning and the end of all things. Next, the four numerals of the current year (2019) are traced into the candle because all time belongs to the Lord. Finally, five grains of incense and nails are inserted into the candle in the form of a cross to represent the Five Wounds of Christ. While these are inserted, the priest says: “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ the Lord, guard us and protect us. Amen.”

The candle is then lit from the new fire while the priest says: “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” This new “Light of Christ” is processed into a dark Church and typically takes a prominent place in the sanctuary through Pentecost and then is likely placed near the baptismal font.

There are two other important liturgies that occur throughout the year where the Paschal Candle is typically used. The first is during baptisms. The priest or deacon will light the candle prior to the ceremony and once the baptism takes place, a “baptismal candle” is lit from the Paschal Candle and given to the newly baptized (or to the parent for the baby) with these words “Receive the light of Christ.” This is a representation that the newly baptized no longer lives in darkness but has been enlightened by Christ.

Another liturgy where you will typically see the Paschal Candle used is during a funeral liturgy. Here the candle is to remind us of the deceased person’s baptismal vows and of those words we recite in the Creed when we say: “… I confess one baptism for the for forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”

Now that you know that it is more than just a “large candle,” look for the Paschal Candle the next time you attend Mass, a baptism or a funeral. When you locate it, reflect on what and who it represents. If you do, you are surely to “Love the Liturgy.”

March 2019: Sights and Sounds during the season of Lent

I readily admit that Lent is my favorite liturgical season. It is during Lent when we have the Rite of Election for those adults who are joining the Church; it is the time we have the Chrism Mass when the Bishop blesses the oils and consecrates the Chrism. These oils are used throughout the diocese for anointing the sick, those being baptized, and for confirmation. Lent is also the time the Church gives us to commemorate Jesus’ journey in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. It is during these days we are called to more intense fasting, prayer, and penance.

To help remind us of the importance of Lent, there are distinct differences in the Church, both in the simplicity of decorations and in the liturgy. These lead us to this month’s question: “What are the major differences in Mass during Lent and what are their meanings?”

Let’s start with the more obvious changes, those things we see (or do not see) when entering the Church during Lent. When envisioning a journey through the desert, you likely think of dry/dusty simplistic terrain with no greenery or flowers. Likewise, we are to reflect on this simplicity of life as we are reminded when we receive our ashes at the beginning of Lent (on Ash Wednesday): “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” (or “Repent and believe in the Gospel”).
Just as there are no flowers in the desert, there are to be no flowers on the altar except on Laetare Sunday and possibly feasts days or solemnities (GIRM 305). Some church parishes will substitute the flowers with bare sticks or some other visual to help remind us of the season. Another obvious visual is the purple vestments worn by the priest (and deacon), with purple representing a sign of penance.

We are approaching the end of Lent, so you may see the cross (and statues) veiled from the fifth Sunday of Lent through Good Friday. This is not a liturgical requirement, but is a tradition known in the old liturgical calendar as Passiontide. Some see this veiling as a way of “fasting with our eyes”.

Just as we visually see a shift to the simplicity of the Mass, there are also auditory changes during Lent. For example, the Gloria is not said or sung on Sundays; nor is the Alleluia before the proclamation of the Gospel because these are songs of exaltation and joy (GIRM 53 & 62). If music is played, it will likely be solemn and only played to support the singing during Mass (GIRM 313).

All the sights and sounds (or lack of) are in place to aid us in our spiritual formation. Intensifying our prayers during Lent and experiencing the simplicity of sights and sounds during Mass will strengthen our faith. If we walk faithfully with the Lord during this time in the desert, we will come to appreciate the celebration found in the glory of the Easter celebration and in turn come to Love The Liturgy.

Send your questions
and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

February 2019: Marriage and Annulments

The Diocese of Alexandria is blessed to have dedicated people working in many ministries to spread the love and mercy of Jesus. Whether these efforts are through retreats, faith formation programs, or just within their social gatherings, the sharing of your faith story with others is the most impactful way to evangelize. Part of evangelization is listening to those around us who may be struggling in their faith, many who may have even left the Church for various reasons, and help to guide them back home. My favorite part of ministry is helping to heal the hurts of the past, walking with people who want to come into communion with the Church, all the while hopefully showing them the love and mercy Christ has for each one of us.

One fairly common struggle I have found with adults who wish to join (or recommit) to the Church is their concern with being divorced and/or divorced and remarried. I realize this edition of The Church Today is about marriage and I certainly do not want to dampen the spirit with discussing divorce, so please know I am addressing this question to say that even though each situation is different, divorce and/or being divorced and remarried does NOT necessarily permanently disqualify you from receiving the sacraments.

So here is this month’s question: “I am a baptized Catholic, but divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church. I want to reengage in my faith and have my marriage blessed. Is that possible? If so, where do I begin?”

If the National average of divorces in the United States is correct, this question is likely a common one with our readers (either from personal experience or with family and friends). As mentioned above, each situation is different and there really is no absolute answer that will apply across the board, except for the answer…“It depends.”

Our Catholic Church teaches that a wedding (and subsequent marriage) is indeed sacred and its sanctity must be protected at all costs. With that said however, there are instances where an impediment or serious defect of consent may have existed on the day of the wedding. If the impediment is proven, it may be grounds to declare that, though the vows may have been exchanged, there was no true intention to fulfill them by one or both parties. The familiar term for the process of proving this is getting your wedding “annulled”.

It is unfortunate that the stigma associated with going through an annulment brings much fear and stress to those facing the process. I suppose knowing you may have to recall some of the difficulty in your past can be unpleasant and overwhelming, but it can also be a time for healing and bringing closure to that part of your life. Please do not let the anxiety of the unknown regarding the process keep you from moving forward.

So, where do you begin?? My suggestion is to start with speaking with your pastor. Tell him about your specific situation and ask for guidance. He will be able to provide spiritual support and direct you to the resources that will help. Another valuable resource is the Diocese of Alexandria’s Tribunal Office. They are the experts and are dedicated to assisting you in the annulment process. To see their information (including an outline of the process and/or to begin the online application) visit our website at: www.Diocesealex.org, look for the tab “Our Diocese”, and then “Tribunal/Marriage Annulments”.

The only way you will know the answer to your specific situation is to ask the question. So if this topic applies to you or a loved one, I encourage you to take the steps to find out more information. If you do, and you are able to come into full communion with the Church, I know you will come to have a better appreciation for the sacrament of matrimony and will Love the Liturgy.

Send your questions and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

January 2019: Catholics and Cremation

I have recently spoken to a few people and answered questions about the Catholic Church’s stance on cremation. Though some are uncomfortable discussing this, I think it is important for Catholics to know the Church’s teaching on this topic.

From personal experience, I can attest that end of life decisions (either for our family or for ourselves) can be difficult to make. However, making these decisions and informing our loved ones of our wishes makes things much easier for them during the emotionally difficult time of death.

Knowing we are honoring our loved one’s decisions can certainly help us as we grieve.

One such decision is the funeral liturgy, specifically the disposition of our body. Some wish to have their bodies cremated and inquire if it is allowed in the Catholic Church, and if so, if they can have a Catholic funeral with the cremains.

The short answer is “Yes,” since 1963, the Catholic Church has permitted cremation. But please do not stop reading there because we must ensure that we respect the cremains. To ensure that we do so, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued guidelines for us to follow.

According to the guidelines, if one chooses cremation, the cremains must be kept intact and treated as one would treat a body. They are to be placed in a proper vessel and interred in a proper place, such as a cemetery. Therefore, the ashes should not be scattered, kept on the mantel, or divided among the family, etc., but instead treated with the same respect and reverence as a body at a funeral. For as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states, “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the “prison of the body.”

As long as the cremation and guidelines set by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith are followed, one may certainly have a Catholic funeral liturgy.

After reading this article, odds are that some of you may have the cremains of your loved ones in your home. If this is the case, I would encourage you to speak to your pastor to ensure you take the proper steps to inter the remains.

Knowing that Mother Church cares for us in life and at the time of our death, certainly strengthens faith and helps us to Love the Liturgy.

Send your questions and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

For more information concerning the Church’s teaching on cremation, please visit www.diocesealex.org, or search for “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cremation” for the Vatican’s official document on the topic.

December 2018: First Friday and First Saturday Devotions

Though the Catholic liturgy is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” and “the font from which all her power flows” (SC, 10), we are also blessed to have numerous “devotions” to help us in our daily efforts to live a life that will lead us to heaven. Most of the popular devotions have specific prayer formulas and have attached special graces one may receive if remaining faithful to the devotion, however, we must be careful and not treat a devotion as superstition. Instead, the devotions exist to help keep us close to our Lord by practicing the virtues and avoiding sin.

This month’s question asks for more information about two popular devotions – First Friday Mass and First Saturday Mass. Many of the church parishes throughout our diocese offer these two special Masses each month, so hopefully this column will give you a better understanding of their history and significance.

Though similar in name and time of the month in which they are observed, and that they are devotions for reparation, they differ in their intentions. Let’s take one at a time:

The First Friday devotion began when a nun named Margaret Mary Alacoque had an encounter with Jesus (vision) in the late 1600’s where he asked that the Church honor His Most Sacred Heart. Jesus asked the faithful to turn their focus back to God and “receive communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months.” Our Lord made a promise to St. Margaret Mary that for those who completed this request (assuming communion is received in a state of grace) and who have a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, will receive the Twelve Promises listed below:

1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.

2. I will establish peace in their families.

3. I will console them in all their troubles.

4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.

5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.

6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.

7. Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.

8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.

9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.

10. I will give to devotees of My Heart the power of touching the most hardened hearts.

11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.

12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under My displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

This First Friday devotion grew in popularity once Sister Margaret Mary was canonized a saint in 1920.

The First Saturday devotion began as a request by Our Lady of Fatima, who appeared to three children on December 10, 1925. Our Lady said to Lucia (the oldest of the three): “I promise to assist at the hour of death, with the graces necessary for salvation, all who, on the First Saturday of five consecutive months, confess their sins, receive Holy Communion, recite five decades of the Rosary, and keep me company for 15 minutes meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, with the purpose of making reparation to my Immaculate Heart.”

Now that you know a little more about First Friday and First Saturday Masses, challenge yourself to find time on your calendar and adopt these devotions or look into other devotions. These devotions, and others like them, are here to help draw us closer to the Lord and help spread his Good News to those around us. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we will come to Love the Liturgy.

Send your questions and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

November 2018: Do Catholics read the Bible?

Last month we learned that the Ordo helps ensure each Catholic Church throughout the world hears the same readings at Mass each day (with some exceptions for days with “optional readings”). As promised, this month’s column will discuss more on how the Church organizes the readings to ensure all scripture is proclaimed at Mass.

One of the things that frustrates me most is when I hear someone say or read that “Catholics don’t read the Bible.” That could not be further from the truth! In fact, if you read the “Daily Readings” (listed in the Ordo) either at home or by attending Mass, you will join the Church in reading through (most of) the Bible every three years. One thing that may feed the idea that Catholics do not read the bible may be because for Mass, the lector does not read from a bible you buy at the bookstore. Instead the lector reads from a book called a “Lectionary.” Don’t let that fool you though, because it contains the same scripture as found in the bookstore bible. It is used because it arranges the scripture into themes and corresponds to the readings prescribed in the Ordo. These individual readings are called “periscopes” which is a Greek word that means a “section” (USCCB). The lectionary allows for easier management of reading the proper readings each day and reduces the possibility of confusion from flipping to different books of the bible during Mass. When I refer to the Lectionary below, remember that it IS scripture readings from the Bible.

The questions still remain: “How are the readings arranged and how do we read the bible in a three-year cycle?” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, usccb.org, explains the arrangement of the Lectionary quite well:

“The Lectionary is arranged in two cycles, one for Sundays and one for weekdays.

The Sunday cycle is divided into three years, labeled A, B, and C. 2017 was Year A, 2018 is Year B, and 2019 will be Year C, etc. In Year A, we read mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. In Year B, we read the Gospel of Mark and chapter 6 of the Gospel of John. In Year C, we read the Gospel of Luke.

The Gospel of John is read during the Easter season in all three years. The first reading, usually from the Old Testament, reflects important themes from the Gospel reading. The second reading is usually from one of the epistles, a letter written to an early church community. These letters are read semi-continuously. Each Sunday, we pick up close to where we left off the Sunday before, though some passages are never read.

The weekday cycle is divided into two years, Year I and Year II. Year I is read in odd-numbered years (2009, 2011, etc.) and Year II is used in even-numbered years (2010, 2012, etc.) The Gospels for both years are the same. During the year, the Gospels are read semi-continuously, beginning with Mark, then moving on to Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of John is read during the Easter season. For Advent, Christmas, and Lent, readings are chosen that are appropriate to the season. The first reading on weekdays may be taken from the Old or the New Testament. Typically, a single book is read semi-continuously (i.e., some passages are not read) until it is finished and then a new book is started.
The year of the cycle does not change on January 1, but on the First Sunday of Advent (usually late November) which is the beginning of the liturgical year.

In addition to the Sunday and weekday cycles, the Lectionary provides readings for feasts of the saints, for common celebrations such as Marian feasts, for ritual Masses (weddings, funerals, etc.), for votive Masses, and for various needs. These readings have been selected to reflect the themes of these celebrations.”

So, there we have it…Catholics DO indeed read the bible…every three years! Now, we are all called to take what we hear and read in scripture and spread that Good News to those around us. So even if you cannot attend Mass on a daily basis, challenge yourself to read the daily readings. If you do, you will have a deeper love for your Lord, and will come to Love the Liturgy.

Send your questions and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

Daily readings can be found at usccb.org/bible or through the iphone app, Laudate.

October: How do we know what readings to read?

One of the most fascinating things that many do not know about the Catholic Church is the fact that every church parish uses the same scripture passages for their Sunday Mass(es). So whether you attend Mass at your local church parish or you are visiting Rome and get a chance to snap a picture with Pope Francis, your local priest (or deacon) will be preaching on the same scripture as the Holy Father. The homily (for better or worse) will of course vary, but not the sacred scripture.

I suppose this is so fascinating for me because I find it difficult at times to get a small group of people to remember a meeting, much less get tens of thousands of churches in multiple languages to read the same readings on their appointed days. So this month’s question: “How do priests know what readings to read and what color to wear at Mass?”

The answer to both of these questions is found in the ever important “Ordo” (pronounced awr-doh). This is a small paperback book found in most sacristies (where the priest and deacon prepares for Mass) and it lists many details about the day based on the liturgical calendar. Among other important information such as proper prayers to pray for the day, a brief history of the saint(s) of the day, are the options for readings and the colors to be worn during the Mass. For daily Masses, there are often options for readings (such as feast days) which the priest can choose to use.
During daily Mass, I cannot help but chuckle when the priest has opted to use a different reading than is found in the Mass leaflet and people start turning the pages thinking they are on the wrong day or that the priest made a mistake. No mistake was made, the priest just chose a different Mass setting.

If you ever get the chance to look at an ordo, just be warned that it is filled with abbreviations that can be a bit tricky to decipher. However, knowing how we are all united in one voice for the Lord hopefully helps you appreciate the universality of the Catholic Church and in turn help you “Love the Liturgy”.

Next month we will talk more about the liturgical calendar and how the Church systematically compiles the readings in such a way that most of the Bible is covered in a three-year cycle…and they say Catholics don’t read the Bible…

Send your questions and/or share your comments with Deacon Mitchell via email to: WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

September 2018: Bread and Wine = Body and Blood

This month’s question regarding the liturgy of the Mass is on the Eucharist.  Several of you want to know: “At what point during the Mass is the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus?

At the offertory, after the altar has been set, we (the people of God) bring our gifts of bread and wine (and often monetary gifts) and offer them to the priest.  The priest takes our offerings to the altar and we transition into “The Liturgy of the Eucharist”.

This begins with the priest holding the bread slightly above the altar and says: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.

The same is done with the chalice (cup with wine).

The priest then washes his hands asking the Lord to cleanse him from his sin, and then leads us to the preface and Eucharistic Prayer.  During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest who is in “Persona Christi” (meaning it is Christ saying the words through the priest) holds the bread slightly above the altar and says the same words spoken at the Last Supper found in Matthew 26:26 and saying these words is the moment in Mass when the change occurs: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for THIS IS MY BODY, which will be given up for you.”  After saying those words, the priest genuflects in adoration because with those words it is no longer bread, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.  He does the same with the chalice.

Now that you know “when”, the natural question next is “how are the bread and wine changed”.  In short, the Church teaches us it occurs through the process of transubstantiation.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as follows: “…by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.” (CCC 1376)

This real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the foundation of the Catholic Church.  So the next time you are at Mass, listen for those beautiful words during the Eucharist Prayer: “This is my body…This is my blood”.  And at those words, remember what the Apostle Thomas said when he saw that Jesus lives and was present in his midst: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).  Knowing that Jesus continues to be with us and nourishes us through the sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass will surely help you Love the Liturgy!

August 2018: Importance of Extraordinary Ministers

It is said the best way to stay engaged in an activity is to be involved in the operations of it. This is true whether it is with a project at work, your involvement with a volunteer organization, or a hobby you would like to master. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

The same can be said about the liturgy of the Mass. We are more likely to continue attending Mass if we are an active participant and feel as if we are part of the liturgy. Sure, we are all called to participate in singing the songs, responding to the prayers, and being mentally and spiritually prepared to meet our Lord in the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist... but there are other opportunities.

So, this month’s question is about a special ministry seen during the Mass.

The question: “I have noticed there are times my church parish does not have enough ministers to distribute communion. I would like to volunteer, but need to know more about it. Are there special requirements and training?”

There are two types of ministers who distribute Holy Communion. The first are priests and deacons who are considered “Ordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.” If your parish has multiple stations for Holy Communion during Mass, a priest/deacon should fill those positions. However, there are typically not enough priests and deacons to fulfill that need. For those circumstances, the Church allows for the second type of ministers to assist... the “Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.”

These are members of the lay-faithful who have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, are in good standing with the Catholic Church and have received training from their pastor (or designated trainer). This special ministry extends to more than what you see at Mass. Sure these men and women have the honor and responsibility of distributing the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Church.

However, many volunteer to travel to those who are unable to get to the church. By visiting the sick and shut-ins, these ministers bring Jesus to them in two ways: the sacrament of the Eucharist; and with face-to-face personal contact with those in need of prayer and companionship.

So what are some of the things you will learn during the training? Each program is a little different regarding when to approach the altar, where to stand when distributing... but other issues you will learn are what to do if a Consecrated Host is dropped or what to do if the Precious Blood spills. You will learn the proper way to transport the Eucharist to the sick and shut-ins and prayers to say with those you visit. If you see the need and feel the calling for this ministry, the more you will “Love the Liturgy!”

Send your questions about the liturgy to: whydowe@diocesealex.org.

--Deacon Richard Mitchell

July 2018: Prayers and Postures during Ordination

This issue of the Church Today includes many pictures of the most recent ordinations in May and June. What a blessing it is for our diocese to have one new priest and nine new permanent deacons in active ministry doing the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus. These pictures capture the fact that the liturgy throughout an ordination is filled with beautiful postures and prayers which contain rich meaning that is often overlooked as we become caught up in the moment or due to us simply asking the question: “Why do we…?”

The most common question regarding an ordination is: “Why do the men being ordained lay on the floor during the ceremony?” To fully understand and appreciate this posture, it is important to take a small step back in the liturgy. Before the elect prostrate themselves (lay face down on the floor), they are asked a series of questions to ensure they intend to uphold the office for which they are going to be ordained (priesthood or diaconate). While the elect make these promises, they also understand they are not worthy of this calling to ordination and will need all the graces and prayers possible to fulfill these promises. So as a sign of their unworthiness, the elect prostrate themselves while we invoke the intercessions of the Saints to pray for them and indeed to pray for us all. Having been on that floor completely surrendering myself to the Lord, I can attest that this posture is the most vulnerable and defenseless position one can take; yet is very moving because it is here that one must rely on God for protection and can hear the support of the people’s prayers as we sing the Litany of Saints.

Another question I hear after a priesthood ordination is: “What is the significance of putting oil on the hands of the new priest?” Using holy oils during a liturgy is not that uncommon. At a baptism, holy oils are typically used to anoint the baby; Sacred Chrism is used during confirmation, and holy oil is used during the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick; so the use of holy oils is a familiar sight to us. However, the significance of the Bishop using Sacred Chrism (consecrated oil) during the ordination is to anoint those hands that are now most important to us. For it is those hands that will now be the instruments used in the sacrament of Eucharist; those hands that will anoint us and our families when we are sick, baptize our children, and bless us in the sacrament of reconciliation and in times of need…those are more than just hands, but are indeed anointed hands used to do God’s work.

Please continue to pray for your priests and deacons that they may always have the strength to fulfil their promises made at their ordination in doing the good work of the Lord.

Keep those questions coming! You can write to Deacon Richard W. Mitchell at dcnrmitchell@diocesealex.org or send questions to: whydowe@diocesealex.org

May 2018: Our gestures at Mass

This month’s questions revolved around the gestures we make upon entering the Church and during the celebration of the Mass. So this article will be dedicated to explaining a few of the actions most of us have done a thousand times, but may have never really understood why.

So, upon entering a Catholic Church, we touch the Holy Water located in the font and bless ourselves with it by making the sign of the cross. This gesture is done as a renewal of our baptismal covenant, those promises we made to reject sin and turn to the Lord by being a disciple of Jesus. We do this as we enter, to prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and then again as we exit the church to remind ourselves we are representative of Jesus as we enter into society.

Generally, our next gesture is to genuflect (or bending one knee to the floor) before entering into the pew. But why?

Well since we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and most of our church parishes have a tabernacle (a special place the hosts consecrated at Mass are kept which is distributed to those in the hospital or homebound), we are genuflecting towards Jesus to respect and honor His presence.

Psalm 95:6 states: “Enter, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us”.

Since some are not physically capable of genuflecting, a profound bow or some other form of reverence is certainly acceptable. However, if there is no tabernacle or if the tabernacle is empty (such is the case on Good Friday), there is no need to genuflect, for Jesus is not physically present.

As Mass begins and if the priest chooses the Penitential Act that begins with “I Confess…”, about half way through we strike our breast as we say: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…” If you recall above, part of our baptismal promises are to reject sin. However, we are indeed sinners so this gesture is to acknowledge to one another that we have indeed failed and are asking for mercy.

As Mass moves along, we participate in the Liturgy of the Word. Part of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Gospel where we both stand and make the sign of the cross on forehead, lips, and heart. We stand out of respect for the Gospel readings are the words of Jesus. The sign of the cross is in itself an outward sign of our redemption in and through Jesus. As we make the cross on our forehead, we are asking Jesus to be in our thoughts and purify our mind; on our lips as we ask Jesus to be in the words that we speak and help us to spread His Good News; and in our hearts with the desire to strengthen our love for Him and our neighbor.

Hopefully understanding the significance of these few gestures will help prevent them from just becoming a habit and instead give you a better appreciation for “Why?” we do these things and ultimately help you come to Embrace the Liturgy!

--Deacon Richard Mitchell

April 2018: Liturgical vestments worn by the bishop

One of the aspects that makes our Catholic Liturgy so beautiful is understanding that everything you see, every sound you hear, and every action taken during the Mass has a rich and meaningful tradition that is there to lead us closer to our Lord as we worship and pray. The vestments worn by the clergy are no different, which leads us to this month’s question: “Why does Bishop Talley wear more ‘gear’ than a priest and carry a stick during Mass?”

I am a visual learner, so to help with explaining what is being worn, I have included an illustration here and labeled each of the items (or “gear”) he wears. But why the extras?

Explanation of Bishop's vestments.

Well I suppose we should begin by first defining who or what a Bishop represents in the diocese.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “…by the imposition of hands and through the words of consecration, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given, and a sacred character is impressed in such wise that bishops, in an eminent and visible manner, take the place of Christ himself, teacher, shepherd and priest, and act as his representative.” (1558)

In other words, Bishop Talley represents the great authority of Christ as he shepherds our diocese. And every good shepherd needs a Shepherd’s Crook or what is properly referred to as a crozier. It, along with his miter are visible signs of our Bishop’s authority as being our shepherd who is tasked with leading us, his flock, to the arms of Christ.

But have you noticed throughout the Mass there are several exchanges between the Bishop and the Master of Ceremonies and altar servers? I mean, what’s with all the taking the miter off, putting it back on, taking it off again, putting it back on…handing off the crozier, getting it back…I must admit, when I first became a Master of Ceremonies, it was a bit confusing and distracting to me, too. I literally had nightmares about either forgetting to get the miter or putting it on him, backwards! I only came to appreciate it when I learned the symbolism behind the actions.

The general rule (with a few exceptions) is the Bishop wears the miter when he sits and removes it when he stands. Sitting with the miter is a sign of his teaching authority, so it is logical that this is done during the scripture readings. However, when we all stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, he takes off his miter but he then clutches the crozier. But why? This is a symbol that he, our Bishop, is our shepherd and he is holding his Shepherd’s Crook as The Good Shepherd speaks to us in the words of the Gospel.

After the Gospel, the Bishop does have the option of sitting, putting on the miter and preaching from his chair (again as a sign of authority). You will typically see this at major ceremonial events such as ordinations more so than at daily Mass or Sunday Mass.

So the next time you see Bishop Talley and he is either wearing his miter or holding his crozier, comment on them using the proper terms and
he will be most impressed with your liturgical knowledge!

Remember to keep those questions coming by emailing WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org or mail to P. O. Box 7417, Alexandria, Louisiana 71306-0417.

--Deacon Richard Mitchell

March 2018: What’s going on around the altar?

The response to the idea of this column, designed specifically to answer YOUR questions, has been great. Through emails and through just talking to people around town, there is apparently a lot of interest and a strong desire to learn more about our participation in the Mass.
So, let’s get started.

“Why is there a saint’s relic in the altar of the Church?”
For those unfamiliar with a “relic,” it is a part of the physical remains or some personal effects of a saint. Many, but not all, altars may indeed have a relic sealed inside the altar in such a way that it is not easily removable.

But why??  This is a tradition that continues from the early Church when the remains of martyrs were placed in above ground tombs. During the times of persecution, the people of the Church would gather around the tomb which would be used as the altar to celebrate the Mass. There are some Churches built above the tombs of martyrs including the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul outside the walls in Rome.

“Why does the priest/deacon kiss (or reverence) the altar at the beginning and at the end of Mass?”
At the very beginning of the Mass, (and at the very end of the Mass) the priest (and deacon) will bow down and kiss the altar. This is done mainly to honor the altar of sacrifice (which represents Christ) where the miracle of the Eucharist takes place. Secondarily, it is to continue the tradition of reverencing the relics of the saint or martyr placed in the altar.

“Why does the priest break off a piece of the Eucharist and place it in the Chalice?”
This is a great question that some may not even notice during the liturgy of the Eucharist because it is done immediately after the “Sign of Peace” while we are singing (or speaking) the “Lamb of God”. Since it is a quick action with a prayer that is said silently by the priest, it can be easily missed by the congregation.
However, the priest does indeed break off a piece of the host and place it in the Chalice saying: “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.”

But why??  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (also known as the GIRM) states: The priest breaks the Eucharistic Bread as a gesture of Jesus breaking the bread at the Last Supper. The priest then puts a piece of the host into the chalice to “signify the unity of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the work of salvation, namely, of the Body of Jesus Christ, living and glorious.” (GIRM 83)
So, this coming Sunday, when you are participating in Mass, take notice of these two actions:
• The priest reverencing the altar with a kiss at the beginning and at the end of Mass
• The priest uniting the Body and Blood of Christ after the Sign of Peace.

Keep those questions coming! You may either send an email to WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org or mail them to Deacon Richard Mitchell, P.O. Box 7417, Alexandria, La. 71306-0417

February 2018: Questions and Answers

Have you ever been asked a question about a part of the Mass or other liturgical ceremony and did not have the answer? See if you can answer these popular questions:

Why does the priest wear the different colored vestments and what do the colors mean?

Why do we bless ourselves with Holy Water before entering the nave of the church?

Why do we genuflect before entering the pew?

So…How did you do? Were you able to confidently answer each of them?

Each year I hear the same thing from Catholics who are accompanying or “sponsoring” their friend or family member in the R.C.I.A. program (R.C.I.A. is a program used by most Church Parishes to educate and prepare adults to enter into the Catholic Church). When we begin to discuss general questions and I explain “why we do what we do” in the Catholic Church, sponsors (who are willing to admit it) will often say: “I’ve been Catholic my entire life and I never knew that”.

Well, beginning in next month’s issue of the Church Today, the Office of Divine Worship will begin a series to help answer your questions and explain the meaning associated with each part of the Mass and other liturgical ceremonies.

I am a firm believer that those who embrace the liturgy and truly understand “why we do what we do”, will not only grow in faith, but will also be better prepared to evangelize and Spread the Good News of Jesus. So what better name to call the new column than “Embracing the Liturgy”.

Since this column is designed to answer YOUR questions, you are invited to send your inquiries regarding the Mass or other liturgical ceremonies (weddings, baptisms, funerals…) in an email to WhyDoWe@diocesealex.org.

By the way, no names will be included in the articles, so do not be afraid to ask your questions!

Our goal is to go through and explain each part of the Mass and incorporate the answers to your questions along the way.

I hope you will enjoy it and will join me in “Embracing the Liturgy”!

--Deacon Richard Mitchell