Embracing the Liturgy

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


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