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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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The Introit Chant or Hymn & Procession

A hymn or expanded Introit chant might accompany the procession to the altar.  If it is not recited or sung by the congregation then the priest will recite the antiphon verse at the altar, after the sign of the cross and greeting. The Introit opens the liturgical worship.  If not to accompany the procession then it should at least promote congregational unity and help turn minds to the mystery being celebrated.

An example of such an Introit is the following prescribed for Trinity Sunday: “Blest be God the Father, and the Only Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit, for he has shown us his merciful love.”  The antiphon for the Fifth Week in Ordinary time is as follows: “O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God who made us, for he is the Lord our God” (Psalm 95:6-7). As with psalms and chants used for the Offertory and Holy Communion, they might be expanded or sung antiphonally. The earliest liturgies do not use musical instruments but rely upon choruses of human voices. A trained schola becomes increasingly important. Today a hymn befitting the theme of the liturgy is often substituted on Sundays to allow for congregational singing during the processional from the church doors to the altar.

Kissing the Altar

Given the association of the altar with the sacrifice of Christ, the altar has come to signify something of Christ even though the real presence of Christ is acknowledged in the sacrament reserved in a tabernacle.  As so often happens after many centuries, there is an expansion of the meaning or symbolism of the gesture.  The kiss is augmented from a welcoming of Christ to a greeting of the Church, his bride. This latter meaning is advanced with the placement of relics from the saints within altars proper or in altar stones. Either way, the priest kissing the altar serves as a salutation toward the place where the divine mystery will be celebrated.  

Incensing the Altar

While the Jews traditionally employ incense in their worship and sacrifices, the early Christians in the gentile world often avoid it because of frequent use in the pagan cults.

“Thus shall Aaron offer his bull for the purification offering, to make atonement for himself and for his family. When he has slaughtered it, he shall take a censer full of glowing embers from the altar before the LORD, as well as a double handful of finely ground fragrant incense, and bringing them inside the veil, there before the LORD he shall put incense on the fire, so that a cloud of incense may shield the cover that is over the covenant, else he will die” (Leviticus 16:11-13).

However, with the final demise of paganism, there is a widespread transition from profane idol worship to sacred worship. Popular in the East, and employed in the West (particularly in processions) against the stench of filthy city streets, its use becomes increasingly esteemed.  The use of incense expresses a special festivity. Its perfume smell and the smoke readily lend themselves to religious symbolism.  Scripture affirms its use in Psalm 141:2 “Let my prayer be incense before you,” and the golden bowls of incense allude to the prayers of the saints in the Book of Revelation. Our prayers are compared to the smoke rising up to heaven.  The incensation of the altar shows it honor; but it is also a prayer gesture invoking purification (its singular usage) and divine protection for all who are drawn to it.  

The Sign of the Cross & Greeting

The liturgy will begin and end with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  We are all marked by this sacred sign as belonging to Christ.  The making of the cross is a dedication of all that we shall do as the work of our Lord.  It also expresses the great revelation of the Trinity that raises Christianity or Catholicism to a supernatural faith.  God reveals himself to us to facilitate a relationship with him. We participate or are in dialogue with the celebrant who is a sharer in the one high priesthood of Christ.  The Mass is our one great communitarian prayer or act of worship.  A priest offers one of several variations in greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” or something as simple as “The Lord be with you.”  The congregation responds, “And with your spirit.”

The Penitential Rite

The Confiteor

As with the Creed, while we say the Confiteor together, the language is expressed in the first person singular.  The priest who would come to the altar (along with the people whom he takes spiritually with him) must possess the essential characteristic of personal humility.  Each of us freely admits that he or she is a sinner and the priest acknowledges that he is the first among them. This part of the Mass is not about announcing or telling our many sins as in sacramental confession but rather is an admission of our sinful condition.   Indeed, the more with which one has been entrusted, the more accountable will that one be before the judgment seat of almighty God.  Nothing can be feigned, nothing can be hidden.  Each of us stands spiritually naked before the Lord. While it is said that this prayer finds its roots in the private prayers of popes at the foot of the altar, one has to wonder if it might have far older origins, from the days when a penitent would confess his sins to a priest before the gathered congregation. The priest and then the people would acknowledge their unworthiness and dependence upon the Lord. Like the earth and moon, the Confiteor always possesses a companion prayer, the Misereatur: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.”  A remnant prayer of sacramental absolution is removed with the Vatican II reforms, enhancing the moral weight of the Misereatur prayer.  What would serve as “a type of absolution,” the Misereatur, is more appropriately an intercessory prayer that works in tandem with the Confiteor: “. . . therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”  Our confession to God includes the Church, both in glory above and in pilgrimage here below.  Many other names and embellishments are eliminated centuries ago prior to the Missal of Pius V. Striking the breast is a common feature of the confession. The inspiration is Luke 18:13: “But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”

The Kyrie

The supplication, “Lord, have mercy” is very much the cry of God’s people that finds resonance in the sacerdotal (priestly) oration. This plea for clemency transports us to the very first days of the faith in the gentile or Greek speaking world.  Indeed, the fact that the Greek language is retained is a residual testimony of its antiquity.  Finding its source in the Gospel, it fits neatly into the admonitions of John the Baptizer, of Christ and later of his Church, “Repent and believe.”  While early Jewish Christians delight in being the chosen people who get to witness the realization of the ancient promise entrusted to them of a long-awaited messiah; the gentile believers initially wrestle with providence, finding it hard to believe the good fortune that has come to them.  They are made inheritors of a new faith that begins with another people. While not the direct beneficiaries of the covenant with Abraham and Moses; the new covenant of Christ consummates the old and is given to them as an unwarranted gift.  The apostle Paul struggles to get them to fully appreciate that they are now of the same standing as the believers in Jerusalem.  They keenly feel that they are undeserving.  The Kyrie Eleison is a cry for mercy but it is also a witness that this petition is efficacious and not made in vain. God hears their plea for mercy and he comes to their rescue.  Contrition and sorrow for sin is the necessary disposition for faith and for the graces that come from the divine mysteries. The Kyrie Eleison emerges in the worship of the Church as a repeated litany.  Why is it repeated?  Such reflects the fickle human condition.  We struggle to be good.  Despite our best intentions we sometimes fail.  Again and again, we ask for forgiveness and reaffirm our faith and desire to be faithful to the commandments.  When we look at the trajectory of this litany, it shares something of its history with the restored bidding prayers, general intercessions or Prayer of the Faithful.  “Lord, have mercy” is often interchangeable with “Lord, hear our prayer.” Given various attached intentions, tropes find themselves frequently inserted into the prayer.  While some authorities argue that the three petitions refer to the Trinity, the truth is that the prayer is directed to Christ.  This becomes clear with the second invocation, “Christ, have mercy.” Reconciliation with God is made possible by the saving intervention of Jesus Christ.  The priest or deacon may lead the congregation but oftentimes a choir or cantor assumes this direction— emphasizing once more that the Kyrie Eleison is a prayer from God’s people in the pews, not just the clergy.  While the direction is often neglected today, it remains customary for the priest and people to focus upon the crucifix during these petitions for mercy. 

The Gloria 

The “Glory to God” hymn like the “Lord, Have Mercy” litany is not a composition intended originally for Mass. Over time it is added to liturgies of great festivity, such as Sundays and solemn feasts. The Glory to God highlights the meaning and the obligation to give adulation to almighty God.  While praise is directed to God; in return, it brings us God’s peace. The early Church utilizes and imitates the Hebrew psalms in the creation of its own Christian treasury of sacred song. The sources for the texts come from the Scriptures and the living faith of the Church.  If the Kyrie is an expression of sorrow for sin and the need for mercy; the Gloria builds upon this sentiment by acknowledging divine forgiveness and breaking out in a hymn of great joy.

While there are varying versions of the Gloria, we can trace the development of what we know in the West through the Greek Alexandrian school of worship and faith. The teachers of Alexandria emphasize the mystery of the incarnation.  Thus, the Gloria begins with the hymn of angels over the nativity scene and later makes numerous references to Jesus in a Christology that emphasizes his divine identity or personhood and the profound unity between his human and divine natures. A defunct Nestorian version would tend toward the heresy of “adoptionism,” undermining this unity and his divinity.         

The oldest Western text is traced back to 690 AD. The Gloria is composed of three sections:  (1) the hymn of the angelic host at the nativity as detailed in Luke 2:14; (2) the various forms of praise enunciated of almighty God and claimed by various names or titles; and (3) the invocation of the Lord Jesus Christ who is “Only Begotten Son,” “Lord God,” “Lamb of God,” and literally the one Way to the Father.  The obvious emphasis is “God as God” and then Christ. The mention of the Holy Spirit at the end seems only tagged in passing or to make the hymn complete.  The Eastern churches and the more contemporary Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church have sometimes been critical of the minimization of the Holy Spirit in Western theology and worship. This issue is demonstrated in the Gloria.  Yes, our religion affirms the oneness of God (natural faith), the mystery of the Trinity (supernatural faith), the significance of Christ (redemption) and the importance and operation of the Holy Spirit (giver of life and sanctification); but the Holy Spirit is the least spelled out.  The tendency of the Gloria is to emphasize a duality between God the Father and God the Son just as similarly reinforced in the writings of St. Paul. 

The “peace” in the Gloria is brought down from heaven to earth by Jesus Christ.  The “people of good will” does not mean good or well-meaning recipients of the Lord’s peace; rather, it refers to “divine” good-will, pleasure, favor or grace.  Men are graced by the good news they receive.  The selection of these men is not a matter of capricious accident but of God’s providence and grace.  The two truths of the nativity hymn are in regard to the laud of God and the peace given to men.  This glory and peace must not be seen as something locked into the past or as just predictive of the future.  The hymn is realized every time it is sung, either by angels or by men in worship.  The truth of Romans 8:28-33 is realized:

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.  For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.”

Various synonyms of praise give accent to what God gives. We thank him for his great glory.  Christ’s kingdom breaks into the world first through the person of Jesus and then through his mystical body, the Church. A new order is established through the grace and love of God.  The Gloria like a knife slices through any and all narcissism and egoism.  God is glorified just for being God. God is called by many names and then there is the saving name of Jesus Christ who is acclaimed as the Lamb of God and repeatedly invoked to “take away the sins of the world,” “have mercy on us,” “receive our prayer,” and “have mercy on us.”  Jesus Christ makes possible true worship.  The praise of God transitions to praise of Christ. Over time this festive hymn is applied to all festive Masses. 

The Collect

The Collect or Opening Prayer concludes the introductory rites of the Mass.  It is really the only priestly prayer within this section of the liturgy.  The celebrant makes the sign of the cross to start the Mass and extends a brief greeting to the assembled.  He may lead the people in the Confiteor and/or the Kyrie but these prayers are offered by the people. He acknowledges these prayers with a short absolution but that is about it.  He might intone the Gloria but here again all sing or recite the hymn.  The Collect or Opening Prayer is included in take-home missals but not pew missals.  After saying, “Let us pray,” he alone says the prescribed words. The prayers of the people are left unspoken, the quiet intentions they have brought to the Mass. It is the first of three important orations in the Mass, each coming after a significant section:  the introductory rites, the offertory, and the Eucharist and rite of Communion.  The priest collects or gathers the people and their intentions into the worship.  He speaks for them to the Lord.    

Some of the ancient fathers and modern day liturgists would argue that public prayers should follow this pattern:  (1) praising God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; (2) thanksgiving to God; (3) confession of fault, weakness or dependence; (4) petitions for heavenly things; and (5) a closing doxology. However, the Collects of the Roman Rite do not do this and are predominately prayers of supplication or petition.  Note for instance the Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter or the Divine Mercy:  “God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

The petitions are either direct or subjunctive in nature.  While they can be descriptive, they are often quite brief.  As with the example here there can sometimes be a bit of a rhetorical flair about divine attributes or about what God has done for us.  The content of the Collects can be quite general with little in the way of a clear thematic link to the liturgy.  The priest on our behalf is asking to be heard.  As a supplication prayer, we beseech God for help from his benevolent good-will, assistance by his infinite power, light against the darkness of ignorance, protection against evil and danger, guidance to be good, forgiveness of sins, and the meriting of salvation.

The formulation of the Collects will sometimes include a mirroring of contrasting notions:

  • “. . . that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy” (3rd Sunday of Lent).
  • “. . . make this most sacred night radiant” (Easter Vigil).
  • “. . . have conquered death . . . rise up in the light of life” (Easter Sunday).
  • “. . . we may be worthy for him to live with us always on earth, and we with him in heaven” (Ascension Vigil).
  • “. . . where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope” (Ascension).
  • “. . . grant that from out of the scattered nations  . . . may be gathered by heavenly grace” / “. . . the confusion of many tongues. . . into one great confession of your name” (Pentecost).

This back and forth literary convention is frequently found in the writings of ancient Christian writers and in sermons.  Indeed, it is a pattern that echoes from the Bible and the kerygma of faith.  We must die in Christ so as to rise with him.  We have to be poor in forsaking material things so as to be rich in embracing spiritual treasure. We belong either to the world or to the kingdom of Christ. There is the comparison of the passive receptivity of Mary as the “better part” over Martha’s active “doing” in terms of discipleship. We can live for ourselves or for others. We can think of our bellies or mortify ourselves with fasting and abstinence.  We are children of the light, not of the darkness.  We must proclaim the truth and not be a people who succumb to deception.     

The appeal in the Collect is to almighty God.  Despite the Church’s dependence upon Christ, the Council of Hippo in 393 AD insists that these prayers address God the Father. However, the most recent translation of the Mass prayers into English restores a literal address to “God” where before there seems an excessive substitution of the word “Father.”  Further, the corrected translations restore the Latin use of dependent clauses were a simplification of the prayers previously seems to imply a pelagian view of salvation and violates the intercessory role of saints in the sanctoral calendar. We cannot save ourselves.  When a Collect announces the memorial or feast of a saint, the oration still addresses God and supplication is made to him through the intercession of the saintly patron.  The basic rule of thumb must be kept— true worship is always directed to almighty God.  Indeed, for the first thousand years of the Church’s history, despite our trust in the saving work of Christ, there is not one case where Christ is immediately addressed here instead of God the Father.  Given the influence of the French church, this would change.  A current exception to the rule is the Collect for Corpus Christ. It appeals to Christ, his Passion, his Body and Blood, and the fruits of his Redemption. The ordinary location for mention of Christ is as part of the closing doxology.  The prayers end with the following formula:  “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” Our prayer, indeed the entire Mass and its saving mystery is made possible through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is our eternal high priest who stands before the Father. Look to his relationships.  He is God’s Son and he is our master.  We belong to him.  He has purchased us at the great price of his blood.  The “Amen” is our assent to the priestly prayer.    

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