Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Participating Fully at Sunday Mass
An Adaptation of Gather Faithfully Together:
A Guide for Sunday Mass
As bishop of the Church of Los Angeles,
I exhort you to enter into reflection with me on the Eucharist we
celebrate each Sunday in our parishes.
Pope John Paul II, in calling us to the
Jubilee Year, praises the Second Vatican Council and says this:
"The best preparation for the new millennium can only be expressed
in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the
teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and the
whole Church" (The Coming Third Millennium, #20).
My hope is that we can fulfill this mandate
by a singular and concentrated effort to strengthen Sunday liturgy.
Lacking that effort, we have no center, no identity as the Body
of Christ. With that effort, the renewal of every aspect of our
Church life becomes possible.
It seems to me that only now are we getting
glimpses of that wondrous experience when a parish lives by that
full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy by all the
faithful. The situation is unfortunately uneven. Only in some parishes
have we seen the sustained effort from well-prepared leaders to
work over many years toward a Sunday liturgy that is for the people
of that parish the nourishment they need, the deeds of word and
Eucharist they cherish. But there are beginnings here, and these
cause us both to rejoice and to focus on what can be learned.
The Jubilee Year calls out to us to take
those gifts the Spirit raised up in the Church at Vatican II. Take
them with the wisdom gained these last three decades. Come into
the new millennium doing gospel deeds throughout all realms of human
life because a compelling and contemplative celebrating of Eucharist
is our doing and God—s, Sunday after Sunday.
To fulfill the vision of Vatican II regarding
participating in the Eucharist, I challenge all baptized Catholics
to think of our own involvement in the following ways.
Participation at Mass: Full, conscious,
Come on Sunday knowing your dignity:
In Baptism, you put on Christ. You are the Body of Christ. Vatican
II, in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, said that
"full, conscious and active participation by all the faithful" is
the "right and the duty" of all the faithful because of their Baptism
It has taken more than three decades
for those profound insights to take hold. Most of us were satisfied
to look for something less than what was intended: We were happy
when a parish had good singing, and when lector and Communion ministries
were done well.
But good singing and good ministry are
not enough. You who are baptized have duties that are wrapped up
in that kind of participation the Council called "full, conscious
Full participation. This attitude brings us
to the liturgy, body and soul, with all our might. It begins long
before the liturgy in making sure that Sunday Mass is not just one
more thing on our "must do" list. Catholics let the time of liturgy
be first. They do not just keep the time of Mass from disruptions;
they give it room in their lives. They have some good habits: perhaps
looking over the Scriptures, or fasting until Mass, or not distracting
themselves in the early hours of Sunday. They come to Mass mindful
of their responsibility—to themselves, one another and God. Just
as they want the priest, choir and lector to prepare, they know
that they too must prepare to be good members of the assembly.
Full participation also means that a baptized person does
not mentally weave in and out of the liturgy. Our duty is not just
to be present; our duty is to be fully present. The songs are for
singing, the Scriptures for listening, the silence for reflecting,
the intercessions for pleading, the eucharistic prayer for immense
thanksgiving, the Communion for every kind of hunger and thirst
satisfied in partaking together of the Body and Blood of Christ
and the dismissal for going out to love the world the way God does.
Conscious participation. In addition, our participation
is to be "conscious." We must enter with great openness into the
chant and song, the processions and gestures, the words and silences
of the liturgy. "Conscious" participation is opening every part
of ourselves—body, mind and spirit—to what we do at the liturgy.
We stand consciously and with attention. If we reach out our hands
to the Body and Blood of Christ, we do so with grace, mindful of
our hunger and the world—s hunger, and of God—s goodness.
Another way to be "conscious" at the liturgy is to be
aware of our Baptism. We come on the Lord—s Day to the table of
the Eucharist because we have been through the waters of Baptism.
Because we died to our old selves and became alive in Christ, we
gather on Sunday, not as isolated persons, but as the Church, with
its diversity of cultures, languages and races. This is difficult
for those accustomed to think of themselves as autonomous individuals—workers,
taxpayers, citizens. But here, the liturgy is celebrated by the
Cultivate, then, your deep awareness that it is not so
many individuals who are standing here singing, but the Church.
It is not individuals who are coming forward to the table, but the
Church. It is not even individuals who are going forth to live by
the word they have listened to and the Body and Blood of Christ
they have eaten and tasted. It is the Church going forth as a leaven
in the midst of the world God loves. This is perhaps the most difficult
part of the whole renewal.
Active participation. "Active" is the third quality
of the baptized person—s participation. Please do not see "active"
as the opposite of "contemplative." Some of our activity at liturgy
is contemplation. Part of the genius of the Roman rite is that it
presumes a beauty on which our spirits can feast. If we have too
often seen "active" as "busy," consider the liturgy and see the
wealth of silence, as well as the powerful reading of Scripture,
and preaching and singing of psalms to engage our contemplation.
"Active" participation also calls us to attend to others,
to a kind of presence. This is crucial to what Catholic liturgy
is all about. Such attention to others has at least two manifestations.
First, we are here not to make our own prayer while each
other person in the church at the same time makes his or her own
prayer. We are baptized people standing with other baptized people.
Our thanksgiving is in the Church—s thanksgiving. Our attention
to God—s word is in the assembly—s attention. Our intercession is
in the Church—s intercession. The mystery of our transfiguration
in Christ is in the whole body of baptized people transfigured (Catechism
of the Catholic Church, #1136-1141).
To create solidarity, be attentive to where you take your
place and set a good example. Go as close as possible to the eucharistic
table. Go to the middle of the pew and sit next to somebody and
make room for others next to you. The Body of Christ has to be visible,
audible, tangible. Pope John Paul II recently called for bishops
to attend to the quality of the signs by which the liturgy takes
place, and he stressed that "the first sign is that of the assembly
itself. . . . Everyone—s attitude counts, for the liturgical assembly
is the first image the Church gives" (March 8, 1997, address to
the French bishops).
Second, "active" participation means the awareness that
at liturgy we never close out the larger world. The liturgy shows
us gospel living and how to be in the world. Catholic morality,
how we deal in justice and charity day by day with great and small
matters, is to be encountered and uncovered from our active participation
in the liturgy.
Ministering to the assembly
Ministry is an area where the Churches
in our country have taken the renewal of Vatican II to heart. It
is clear that many ministries are best done by members of the assembly
who have the talents and training to do them well.
The core of ministry is the assembly:
Ideal ministers have been and continue to be exemplary assembly
members in their full, conscious and active participation. These
people understand what it means to step forward and proclaim a reading,
minister holy Communion or sing in the choir. Parishes might set
a limit on the number of years a person serves in a ministry, asking
that each person take off a year after four or five years in a single
ministry. This limit would refresh people in their primary role
as assembly members.
The best floor plans manifest the entire
assembly as the body enacting this liturgy, so that the ministers
come from the assembly rather than sit as a separate group. Many
of us remember living with an understanding that the liturgy was
simply the work of a priest. Now we have begun to grasp in what
way the assembled Church, the Body of Christ, celebrates the liturgy
together with the presider. What, then, is the ministry of the ordained
priest at Sunday Mass?
In our Catholic tradition, the one who
is called by the Church to the order of priest is to be in the local
parish community as the presence of the bishop. The bishop remains
always for us in a direct relationship with every parish of the
diocese. He is also our bond with the Catholic Church through the
world and the Church of all the ages. But the bishop, since the
early centuries of the Church, has laid hands on other worthy members
of the Church and sent them to be his presence with the scattered
On Sunday, the one who presides, the
ordained priest, comes not only as other ministers do, from the
assembly, but also comes as the one who "orders" this assembly,
who relates this assembly to the bishop and to the larger Church.
True to our Catholic soul, we understand our Church bonds to be
more flesh and blood than theory and theology. Here, in this human
being, is our bond with the bishop and with the other communities
throughout the world and the centuries.
Steps you can take
I will be asking priests and others in
leadership in my archdiocese to begin preparing themselves and the
parishes to make much progress by the year 2000 in our Sunday liturgy.
Here are several habits that each churchgoing Catholic can begin
to cultivate that will bring us together into a life-giving liturgical
practice Sunday after Sunday.
1. Become people who worship in the
midst of the Sunday liturgy. Know which Gospel and New Testament
letters we are currently reading on Sundays, and use these for daily
reading. Bring to the prayer of intercession on Sunday all that
you pray for; take from it persons to be remembered daily by you;
when you hear the news of the community and the world, hear it as
a Christian who must in prayer lift up the world—s needs.
Mark with prayer your morning rising
and your evening going to bed: the Lord—s Prayer certainly, but
also some song or psalm from the songs and psalms of Sunday liturgy
in your parish.
2. Become people who prepare themselves
for Sunday liturgy and people for whom Sunday liturgy is preparation
for the week. Seek little ways that can help you make the Lord—s
Day as much as possible a day when liturgy has room. Find some habit
for Sunday morning that helps you anticipate being together as a
Church to do the liturgy. Find just one steady practice that makes
you stretch toward the Reign of God we glimpse at Mass: It might
be a way to make more real the collection that happens on Sunday
for the Church and the poor; extending the peace of Christ that
you receive each Sunday to others in need of that peace; or fasting
from food or distractions and so becoming thoroughly hungry for
God—s word and the eucharistic banquet.
In ethnic communities we find many examples
of practices that resonate with the Sunday liturgy, such as the
blessing of children that is so much to be praised in Hispanic families.
3. At the liturgy, be the Church.
Know the awesome responsibility you share for making this liturgy!
Do not hide; do your private praying in the other hours of the week.
Welcome one another, be at peace with one another. Sit together.
Sing songs from your heart. Do not be afraid to show in your eager
attention that you are hungry for God—s word when the readers read,
hungry for Christ—s Body and Blood when you come forward in holy
Communion. Give thanks and praise to God by your great attention
in the eucharistic prayer. Keep your eyes open to one another and
do everything you can to build up the Church, the Body of Christ.
If the presider or homilist needs help, do not criticize—help.
4. Apart from the liturgy, be the
Church. Remember we are always the Body of Christ, always in
communion with one another. Know that you can ask for help from
one another. Let others know that. In the simplest deeds of daily
life at work or at home, be conscious of this life we share in Christ,
of its joy and its hope. Do not set yourself as separate from others,
but understand that we who are the Church are one with others. In
us, God is calling and blessing and sanctifying the world God loves.
Look at the liturgy as a remote preparation for your week. Listening
to God—s word on Sunday morning is preparation for the listening
we do for God—s word in our lives all week. The thanks we proclaim
at the eucharistic prayer is a preparation for thanks over all tables
and all meals, and also over all. The common table of holy Communion
is a preparation for looking at the whole world.
5. Give thanks always. Pray grace
at meals even when you are alone in the traditional prayer of "Bless
us, O Lord," or a phrase as simple as "Let us give thanks to the
Lord our God; it is right to give thanks and praise!" Sing when
you are with others at table. If your morning and night prayer is
not permeated with praise and thanks to God, enrich it with verses
of psalms and prayers from our tradition. (For example, "We worship
you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory," "Te bendecimos,
te adoramos, te glorificamos, te demos gracias por tu santa gloria."
Or, "Blessed be God for ever!" "Bendito seas por siempre, Se—or,"
or any or all of Psalm 148.) Cultivate moments of contemplation
even during the busiest day, when gratitude can flow from the goodness
of a person, any element of creation or any good work of human making.