Friday, May 23, 2014

You don't expect people to be heroic do you?

Dear Rev. Know-It-All,

I heard an interview with some German Cardinal the other day where he says that the pope says everybody is going to get a do over marriage.  That sounds great! What do you think?

Yours truly,
Polly Gamus

Dear Polly,

Apparently you heard Cardinal Walter Kasper, the friendly ghost of Vatican II.  Former Bishop of Stuttgart, he has been a Vatican Apparatchik since 1999. At the age of 81, he is one of the young liberals of the new era.  Actually he has said some very lovely things about love and mercy. He has said some very disheartening things about marriage and the family. It is not to be forgotten that German Cardinals are not infallible. Only the pope is infallible and then only when he speaks “ex Cathedra”, or “from the chair”.

“When, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, (the Bishop of Rome) defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” First Vatican Council, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapter 4, 9
The Latin phrase “ex Cathedra” refers to a custom from the time of Christ. “Cathedra” means chair or throne.  Hence, a cathedral is a church where the bishop’s teaching chair is kept. Apparently, rabbis at the time of Christ taught sitting down. We see this in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus sits down before the Sermon on the Mount  — “When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them….” Matt 5:1. This is a solemn and deliberate act that means what is about to be said is of great importance. 

There is an ancient chair kept in Rome, enshrined in the great Bernini sculpture behind the main altar of St. Peter’s. This chair is said to be the rabbinical chair that St. Peter brought to Rome. It is probably from a later century, but may well look back to an earlier chair.  When the pope speaks in his capacity as the heir of St. Peter, he is said to be speaking “ex Cathedra.”  We Catholics believe that then, and only then, he is infallible, that is, guarded from error by the Holy Spirit. 

I believe this. I believe it because it is the promise of Christ to the Church. I also believe it because of the evidence of history.  The doctrinal consistency of the Roman Church over two thousand years is amazing. I don’t have time to go into it right now. If you want to learn more about it, read Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2, 000-Year History by H.W. Crocker III. The pope is infallible; bishops, priest, deacons and nuns are not. 

This brings us back to Walter Kasper, the former bishop of Stuttgart. As I mentioned he says a lot of things, some wonderful, some a little less wonderful. However, one thing he says disturbs me mightily. Hilary White of Lifesite News reported on May 9th that, in an interview with Commonwealth Magazine, Cardinal Kasper said that the high standards required by Church teaching on marriage could be considered an “ideal” to which the Church ought not hold people in the practical realm. “We cannot as human beings always do the ideal, the best. We must do the best possible in a given situation…..heroism is not for the average Christian.”
“Heroism is not for the average Christian…” 

This terrifies me.  It terrifies me because I am part of the German diaspora.  My ancestors, Hessian Catholics, left the newly created state of Germany to escape the militarism of the Prussian Empire.  My great, great grandmother went to Hanoverisch Muenden to put her 16-year-old son Karl on a ship. She knew she would never see him again, but she sacrificed him to save him from the military machine that had taken over much of the German-speaking world.  That seems fairly heroic to me.

The cousins who remained in Germany faced a century of war and indescribable barbarity that sprang from the conflict in the German soil, the conflict in my soul, perhaps the conflict in every soul, German or not.  Grandpa Karl was born in a little city, 2000 people, just west of the forest where the story of Little Red Riding Hood originates.  The Brothers Grimm scoured the area for old folk tales. There is a common thread in a lot of their stories. “Stay out of the woods.”  “Don’t get to far from home.” “Don’t step out of line.” “Stay with the group.” When you are trying to keep children safe, this is probably good advice.  Still, it can go too far. It can become, “Don’t be a hero!” 

My overseas family was devastated by the wars.  I had a cousin (by marriage), Willie, who drove a tank at the battle of Stalingrad. He was one of the few who came home after the war, having spent 8 years in Siberia. Another cousin, Richard, was part of the pit crew for a U-boat in Holland. He was detained after the war in one of the horrific American concentration camps in Western Europe. Oh, you’ve never heard of them? Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, died, forced to live in tents through the post-war winter. Look it up. Cousin Richard survived only to come back to Neustadt during the starving time after the war.  Another cousin went missing on the Russian front and we have no idea where his bones now lay. 

These were fine people who had been taught to follow orders. Those few that I knew after the war were so kind to me. I loved them and now in my old age I think of them often. They were good people who had been taught not to step out of line.

I had another cousin who had a bit of a difficult streak. He was only a child when the Nazis took over. He didn’t want to join the Hitler Youth. He thought it was all nuts. The Hitler Youth Leader came to house one day when he was ten, dragged him out and rubbed his face in the muddy little drainage ditch that always dribbled past the house, shouting,  “When we’ve taken care of all the Jews we’ll come back for all you white Jews!!!”  Theo was forced to join the Hitler Youth. When the war was over and the Americans had secured the town, along with the huge ammunition factory in the woods just west of town, my cousin Theo marched over to the Hitler Youth Leader’s home, dragged him out and rubbed his face in the same mud puddle!

Theo told me how his father and mother had always been good to the poor Jewish peddlers and rag pickers who passed by. They could always get a bite to eat at our family’s farm on the edge of town. The family was mocked by the anti-Semites who had taken over the town. The cousins were called the “weisse Juden” —  “white Jews.” 

Cousin Theo told me how frightening it was in that little town when, on Kristallnacht, the Nazis burned down the town synagogue and broke all the windows of the Jewish homes. Though they weren’t Jews, the windows of the family’s farmhouse were all broken and the family spent a long, terrifying night in the barn. This still didn’t stop Theo’s father who was arrested toward the end of the war when it was discovered that he had continued to help Jews. He survived only because the war ended before he could be deported to a labor camp.

I have a friend, up in years now, who owns the Volkswagen dealership in town. Once, as a boy, he saw a party member beating an old Jewish woman in the street. People stood and stared. But Ludwig, too young to know any better, jumped on him yelling, “Why? What did she ever do to you?”  I remember how at the age of 80 he sat weeping, as he told me the story of his best friend and the friend’s grandmother who had walked all the way to Holland hearing that you could still get a boat out. They arrived late, and walked the 300 miles back to Neustadt. They were gone by that evening. A conscientious citizen had called the authorities to let them know that some undesirables were back in town. Of three hundred Jews in the little town of Neustadt only three survived the war.

I think of ordinary people like Father Franz Stock, a priest who risked his life in Chartres, France serving the prisoners of the Nazis. At great personal risk he smuggled messages in and out of the prison. After the war he did the same for German prisoners of whom he was now one. He established a seminary in the post-war Allied concentration camp, all this despite a serious heart condition that he hid until it killed him in 1948.

I think of Franz Jaegerstaetter who believed that the Nazi war effort was immoral and refused to go. He was very saddedned after a discussion with the local the bishops who refused to confront the moral questions he had asked. Even the local priest tried to talk him out of his objection to Nazism when he visited Jaegersaetter in the local jail. He was martyred in 1943.

I have lived a life surrounded by heroes. I cannot count the Vietnamese I knew in a former parish who were interned for their Catholic faith, or the Polish and Cuban heroes I have known. I have a Romanian friend who resisted the Marxist Ceausescu government and still resists the religious intolerance that remains in his homeland.  I could go on and on.

My life has been irradiated by heroes, like the heroes who have children when it is not convenient or cost effective, heroes who have been imprisoned by resisting the murder of the unborn. Heroes surround me. A hero is nothing more than an ordinary man or woman who cannot talk himself out of doing the right thing.  The Nazis believed that there were uebermenschen and untermenschen (supermen and underlings). The uebermenschen were natural heroes, the untermenschen were lesser beings bound to follow the uebermenschen. Not much could be expected from the untermenschen.

Walter Kapser seems to still believe this when he says that the ordinary person is not called to heroism in marriage. Faithfulness and permanence can’t really be expected of the weak, of the untermenschen. Perhaps the beloved homeland of my cousins and ancestors would not have lost its soul had there been more ordinary people who thought they could be heroes.


Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, May 16, 2014

Let me talk a bit about funerals...

The Reverend Know-it-All is at a convention. Something called “Hebrew Pot Shards and the Visionary Christian.” He has asked a local pastor to fill in for him.

Dear Friends,

I am fat. I am about 70 pounds overweight. 

“Oh no, Father, you’re just big boned.”  Or, “But you carry it so well!”

Nonsense! I’m fat. I weigh about 285 pounds. When I was edging toward the 300 mark my doctor told me that people who weigh over 300 pounds tend to die in their early sixties. I managed to lose about 15 lbs. It’s not for want of trying. I have been to Weight Watchers; I have done Atkins, South Beach Low Carb, Susan Powter Lo Fat and endless years of calorie counting. I won my college’s weight lifting record and used to run three miles a day. I still go to the gym almost every day, where I amble around on the track like some old hamster in a maze. But I am still fat. I heard a wonderful lecture the other day that pointed out with lots of graphs and charts that the single best way to gain weight is by going on a diet. So I guess I will be fat the rest of my life, or the next ten or twenty years if I am lucky.

I am old. I am on a collision course with my 65th birthday this year, if the fat clogging my arteries doesn't do me in, fulfilling my very thin doctor’s dire predictions. “Oh Father, you’re not old, 65 is the new 64!” Face it. I am old. I have worked two and three jobs since I was ordained, and though the two I have now — a wonderful parish and a very enjoyable radio gig — are pretty good, I have had some pretty stressful jobs arguing with committees and I am worn pretty thin, considering how fat I am.

I say all this, not just to gain your pity, though I will take all the pity I can get. I say it as a prelude to the very impolite letter I am about to share with you. As I see the end of life’s little conveyor belt coming at me fast, I realize I haven’t the time to be excessively polite.

As my own draws closer, I find that I don’t like funerals. They are huge source of stress in my life. I love my parish. Great folks. When one of them dies I take it pretty personally. It is hard to lose people like the ones I see in church every Sunday.

Most funerals that I offer, however, are the first time I am meeting the guest of honor. I don’t even mind this. What I mind is the angry letters that I get from people who “…aren’t from your parish but I found your performance at the funeral substandard.” I have actually gotten letters like this. I regularly hear that I was cold and impersonal. I have a hard time feigning intimacy with people I have never met. People who can convince total strangers of their deep affection are also found in an old though not particularly honorable profession. I have never had the desire to convince total strangers that I love them, no matter how much they pay me. All I can do is offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for repose of the soul of the departed. I am not a professional mourner, or a professional anything else for that matter.

The scheduling of funerals is also extremely stressful since I am pretty much the only fuse in the fuse box around here. An undertaker will call and say, “We have a request for a week from Tuesday for a funeral.”  “
Sorry I can’t be there I’ve scheduled a whale-watching trip and annual silent retreat in Tierra del Fuego next week.”

Silence on the other end of the phone...... “But Father this is the only time that the whole family can be there! Can’t you postpone your trip?”

So you postpone your trip. You do the wake service and realize that you don’t recognize a single face, not even the one in the coffin. But it’s your job! At the Mass the next day it is apparent that no one in the congregation is an active Catholic, they don’t even seem to know the Our Father. At the internment you share the stage with a Baptist Minister who is from the wife’s side of the family or perhaps a shaman burning sage and chanting mantras while new age poetry is read. You have spent two days failing to satisfy the strange demand of people who wouldn’t know a Catholic priest from the Easter bunny, and frankly they would have preferred the Easter bunny. 

Funerals have gotten out of control. I can’t take it anymore.

Fr. Simon

P.S. I can recommend a few Funeral Directors with whom I am happy to work. My favorite among these is Haben in Skokie. Smith Corcoran is also pretty good.

Here is the letter. Enjoy.

P.P.S. I mean it.

An open letter to Funeral Directors:

I am writing to define policy at St. Lambert’s.

There are essentially three kinds of funerals these days. They can be identified by the congregation’s response to the statement, “The Lord be with you.” Often it is a mumbled “Okay.” This means that the mourners are un-churched and have no idea what kind of building they are in. The second response is, “and also with you.” This means that the congregants were raised Catholic, but no longer go to church. The third is, “and with your spirit.” This means that mourners are practicing Catholics and a Funeral Mass has great meaning for them.

I am not writing to say that we will not bury those in the first two groups, I am writing to say that there are things that I will allow done at a funeral Mass for an active Catholic, and things that I will no longer allow. Let me first clarify my reason for writing.

The First regards the scheduling of funerals. There are a decreasing number of priests and there are more and more one-priest rectories. This creates a problem if Father has a day off planned. Funerals always trump a day off for Father — that is if he is a good and pastoral priest. This is nonsense.  When a person loses a loved one it is one of the most important and difficult moments of their life. For you and me it is a rather regular occurrence. The business of funerals is not my job in the same sense that it is yours. For me it is a matter of personal concern if I know the person and have a genuine pastoral relationship with them, as it is with one of the “and also with you” crowd.

Second.  People are clueless as to how to behave in church. This pertains to clothing. I will be absolutely brutally frank on this point.  It is customary to get some young woman who hasn’t been in a church since she was seven to read at Grandma’s funeral. I had a construction crew working here a while back and they were always glad to have their work interrupted by a funeral. They would stand at the window ogling the grieving young women mincing by in stiletto heels wearing the little black dress with the low high hemline and the low neck line. The young women in the little black dress usually turns out to be the lector. The lectors have often never stood in a pulpit before. They have never even seen a pulpit before. By what logic are they fit candidates to exercise a ministry in the church?

Third. Eulogies. Eulogies are not allowed at Mass. Some brief words of remembrance about the faith of the deceased are allowed. The problem is that usually the deceased and the mourners have no faith to reminisce about. I have been at funerals during which eulogies droned on for an hour that principally spoke of vacation trips, beer and sporting events. This is ridiculous.

Fourth.  Music. The “Okay” crowd wants Broadway show tunes and “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” The “and also with you crowd” wants the songs they liked in first communion class when they were kids. “On Beagles Wings,” “Don’t Be Skeered,” “A Maze of Grapes” and “How Late thou Art.”  Group A and group B don’t think highly enough of the sacrifice of the Mass to come to one now and then they don’t have the expertise to plan a liturgy and should not be allowed to.

Fifth. The wake service and the internment. I have been at wakes during which mourners just stared at me in bewilderment. They had never seen me or anyone else in a black shirt and plastic collar and they wondered why everybody shut up when I started talking. They weren’t going to shut up for some rude fellow in a plastic collar. This is the usual reaction of the “okay” crowd.

So here are the rules for St. Lambert’s: 

We will say a funeral Mass for any baptized Catholic not under church sanction, who has died. The presence of a priest or some other minister at a wake service or internment should not be assumed. The family may request it. If the person arranging the funeral is registered and active member of the parish, a priest or deacon will be available for vigil service and internment and from them, no stipend or gift is expected. If they are not registered and active, the undertaker may find a deacon who can assist at the wake and or internment. I would suggest a stipend of $150.00 per service for a deacon or other minister who is hired. If paid by check the check should be made out to the minister and not to the parish. It is not a religious donation and as such it is not tax deductible.

No one may enter the pulpit at St. Lambert’s who is not a registered and active member of the parish, not as lector, eulogist, or singer. An exception will be made for family members of registered active parishioners who present a letter of recommendation from their pastor. For those entering the sanctuary, there is a dress code. Suit Jacket and tie for men, dress with sleeves and over the knee hemline or appropriate slacks and blouse with or without jacket. If the reader does not have appropriate attire, appropriate vestments will be provided.

No one may schedule a funeral at St. Lambert’s except the pastor. Do not say to the grieving family that “It will be fine to have the funeral next Monday.” The pastor or the church may not be available. The days of urgency in funerals are gone. People plan funerals sometimes weeks in advance. If funerals are planned according to the schedule of the undertaker and the mourners, the schedule of the pastor should be taken into account as well. Gone are the days when there were three or four priests waiting around for the phone to ring.

There may be no eulogies given in church. If a person is a registered and active member of the church, some brief word of remembrance may be shared. These remarks should be no longer than five minutes, delivered by only one person and submitted to the pastor in typed form or electronically before the day of the funeral Mass.

Only registered and active parishioners may choose songs, prayers or reading. An exception may be made if the deceased is a parishioner and the funeral planner is an active Catholic and can provide me with a letter of recommendation from his or her pastor.

Again, we will provide a funeral Mass for any baptized Catholic who is not under church sanction. However, only those who are church members may be involved with the planning of liturgies. The use of favorite songs, non-biblical readings and eulogies are your precinct at the funeral parlor. My job is to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased.

So here are the rules: 
  1. Only the pastor may schedule a funeral
  2. Upon request a priest will be present for wake services and internments provided the deceased of the family are registered and active parishioners.
  3. There will be no eulogies
  4. Before the Mass there may be brief words of remembrance by someone who is an active Catholic provided the deceased was an active and registered Catholic.
  5. No one may plan any part of the liturgy or exercise a liturgical role who is not an active Catholic.
Fr. Richard T. Simon

Pastor, St. Lambert

Friday, May 9, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 6

(The Mass explained. Letter to Churchill Lafemme continued)
Now we come to (8) the canon of the Mass. Canon not cannon. The Mass has nothing to do with heavy artillery, except in the spiritual sense. The word "canon" comes from the 5,000 year-old Akkadian language, through Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Old French and finally English. It means cane, or reed and finally measuring stick. A canon is an unchanging measure to which other things are compared. 
The canon of the Mass is an unchanging, formal prayer. There is no improvisation in a canon. There are four primary canons which may be used for Mass, the first or Roman Canon which is the oldest continuously used canon in the Latin Church (us). This form of the central Mass prayer was pretty much in place by the year 600. It remained largely unchanged until 1970 when three more canons were added. The second canon is an adaptation of an ancient Roman canon of the 2nd or 3rd century. The third canon is a recent composition in which a graduate school project (I kid you not) combined elements of three Eastern Rite canons and the fourth canon is an adaptation of the Eastern Rite canon of St. Basil. There are also canons that can be used for celebrations of the Mass for special intentions such as reconciliation and unity. These are rarely used. The fourth canon is also rarely used simply because it is so long, so there are really three canons that are in common use, but these should not be improvised. That is why they are called canons.
The essential elements of a canon of the Mass are the calling down of the Holy Spirit called the “epiclesis” a prayer during which the priest extends his hands over bread and wine as a priest in the temple would have done with any sacrifice. There are the words of the Lord’s Last Supper, “This is my body... this is the chalice of my blood....” There are prayers for the Church and the world. There is a final offering of the transformed bread and wine, now become the flesh and blood of the Son of God. “Through Him and with Him and in Him…” the congregation ends with an “Amen.”
We move now to the receiving of Communion. The Mass is a covenant sacrifice. When we receive Holy Communion, we give ourselves to the Lord and the Lord givers Himself to us. When we come up to the communion rail, the place where heaven and earth meet, we are in effect saying that as Christ lay Himself body, blood, soul and divinity on the altar for my salvation, so I lay myself, body, blood, soul and imperfect humanity on the altar for love of Him and, with Him, for the redemption of the world. I don’t come to Mass only to get, but to give, to join myself to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, to “make up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24)
Now we move on to sing or say (9) the “Our Father” the prayer Jesus taught us. In the Our Father we state the terms of the covenant. It is the prayer of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane right before His crucifixion. Like Him we call on God as our Father, asking that His will be done and not ours as we join ourselves to Christ’s sacrifice on the altar of the cross. We then pray for peace and exchange a sign of peace with those around us in church. 
To prepare for communion (10) We ask the sacrificial Lamb of God to Have Mercy on us three times. Then, hearing the words of St. John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God…” (John 1:29) we kneel before that selfsame Lamb of God and ask for healing, though we are unworthy, using the words of a Roman centurion in the New Testament “Lord, I am not worthy....”(Matt 8:8) as the priest lifts the sacrificial body and blood of the Lord in the form of bread and wine before the congregation.(11)We then come up to receive the body and blood of the Lord sealing our covenant with Him as would have been done in the temple when those offering sacrifice ate some of the sacrifice, bringing about communion with God. During communion a hymn or another psalm verse may be sung. (12) There is a final prayer, a blessing and a dismissal. And that’s it! So there it is, really quite simple:
(hymn or psalm verse)
1.    Greeting and Confession of sin
2.    Song of Praise (Gloria)
3.    First prayer (Collect)
4.    Bible Study or Liturgy of the Word (Including a psalm and two or three bible sections)
5.    Statement of faith (Creed) and intentions
(Psalm verse or hymn)
6.    Offering of bread and wine (Offertory)
7.    Invitation to prayer (Preface)
8.    Calling down of the Holy Spirit, Words of the Lord’s Supper and Prayers (Canon)
9.    The Lord’s Prayer and prayers for peace
10. Preparation for Holy Communion
11. Holy Communion
(During which a psalm or hymn can be sung)
12. Final prayer Blessing and Dismissal
(After which a hymn may be sung)
Here is a description of the Mass from around 150 AD
On the day called Sunday, all.... gather together to one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given.....
And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology LXVII)
Bible study, offering of bread and wine, consecration of the bread and wine and then communion in the flesh and blood of the Lord. There are many different forms and many different adaptations of the Mass over the past 20 centuries, but in essence, it is the same thing since the first century. St Justin Martyr would recognize what will happen in every Catholic church this Sunday. In fact he will recognize it, because he will be in attendance. All the saints and angels that ever were, go to every single Mass, because there is only one Mass ever said, there is only one Calvary, there is only one heavenly banquet, there is only one last supper and every Mass everywhere and in every age is part of it. It is heaven come to earth. See you there.
Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, May 2, 2014

RKIA Explains the Mass -- part 5

The Mass explained. Letter to Churchill Lafemme continued)
Now on to the Mass!

The Mass usually begins with a verse from the Psalms, or a hymn (optional). Hymn is just a Greek word for “song of praise.” Psalms are ancient Hebrew Songs of Praise called “Tehillim” in Hebrew, in Greek “Psalmoi”, meaning “instrumental music” or “song lyrics.” There are 150 psalms in the Bible, some of which were possibly written by King David three thousand years ago. The traditional chant melodies by which these songs are sung are very ancient, some of them actually seem to go back to the melodies by which they were sung in the temple.

Then we have the greeting. We begin with the sign of the cross saying, “In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We are here not in our own name, but in the name of - for the sake of - by the authority of - GOD, and not for our own purposes. Then the priest greets us by saying, “The Lord be with you” or some variant of that. We always respond “and with your Spirit.” The word “Spirit” has already been mentioned twice and we’ve hardly begun. This is to remind us that we are entering into something that is real but can’t be seen with the eyes of the body alone. We are entering the spiritual world by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are going back to the timeless sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, and forward to the great Marriage Banquet of heaven.

1. Next we admit our sins, and ask the Lord for mercy. There are a few variations of this part of the Mass.

2. Then we sing hymn of praise called the “Gloria.” This is sung or said on Sundays and important feast days except during Lent and Advent. It is a sort of “private” psalm that doesn’t come from the Bible but was composed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Christ. It was originally part of the morning prayer services. In the West it became part of the Mass. The western version of the song is usually attributed to St. Hilary of Poitiers, who lived around 350 AD. It starts with the song of the Angels at the birth of Christ and then moves on to the praise of the Holy Trinity.

3. From there we move on to the first prayer of the Mass, usually called the “Collect.” It also called the opening prayer. It is called the Collect (accent first syllable), because it gathers the people and all their prayers into one voice. It was probably the original opening to Mass in the first centuries, the confession of sin and the Gloria being a sort of preparation for Mass. The collect is not a spontaneous prayer. It is mandated in the Missal and it is a beautiful thing that one billion people throughout the world are lifting their voices to God in the same words. Humanity is collected, gathered together in way that no political organization can come close to matching.

4. Then we move on to Bible study. On Sundays and important feast days there are two readings, usually one from the Old Testament, then a psalm and then one from the New Testament other than the Gospels. This is followed by another verse from a psalm. Last, a section of one of the Gospels is read. On weekdays there is just one non-Gospel reading — Old or New Testament — a psalm, then psalm verse followed by a Gospel reading. The readings all come from a fairly strict calendar of readings, thought there may be some variance. No reading is allowed at Mass except for those taken from the Bible. In fact, the Bible was probably formed from those books read at Mass by the early Christians. 

The Mass is, in a certain sense, the mother of the Bible! If you go to Mass for three years running you will hear most of the Bible read out loud. (Tell that to someone who says the Catholic Church doesn’t read the Bible!) The readings are usually followed by a homily or sermon. Homily is a Greek word for “comparison.” Sermon is a Latin word for “a speech.” So here you have the “Liturgy of the Word.”
a) Old Testament reading
b) Psalm and response
c) New Testament reading
d) Psalm verse and response
e) Gospel
f) Homily
— Six parts or less to the Liturgy of the Word. Easy Peasy!
5. After this we move on to the Creed. Before we move into “second gear” we make sure that we all agree with each other on the basic points of the faith, especially that Jesus is both God and man, that He became flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin and that He died and rose from the dead for our salvation, because in a few minutes that flesh, born of the virgin Mary, will become present on the altar in the form of bread and wine and we will be transported back to His crucifixion and His resurrection in the timeless spiritual realm. 

6. After this we offer bread and wine to the Lord. This section of the Mass usually begins with a psalm verse or a hymn and if there is a collection taken up it is usually taken up here. The Mass was modernized in the 1960's and this is the part of the Mass that changed most. The prayers now used are essentially the same ancient prayers that Jews still use for the blessing of bread and wine. This takes us way back, 4,000 years ago. The high priest Melchizedek offered bread and wine to the Lord when Abraham, the ancestor of Jesus and our spiritual ancestor, defeated his enemies. This offering of bread and wine has never stopped since then. Often incense is burned during this part of the Mass as was done in the Temple in Jerusalem. This part of the Mass ends with a prayer prayed by the priest.

7. After the sacrifice of bread and wine, the priest again greets the people and invites them to “lift up their hearts” to the Lord. There is a prayer called the Preface. It is a variable introduction to the most important parts of the Mass. The congregation responds by singing or saying a very ancient prayer that comes to us from the temple liturgy. The first part of the Sanctus comes from Isaiah 6:3. It is the song of the six-winged, fiery angels (seraphim) who stand before the throne of God. It is similar to the vision of angels in the Apocalypse (4:8). In synagogues, a similar prayer is said during the Kedusha, (sanctification prayer) which is a part of the Amidah (18 Blessings or the “standing prayer”). We repeat the words of the angels because we are about to enter into their presence and stand in the court of God in heaven. So, fasten your seat belts you are about to be rocketed beyond space and time.

(To be continued)