When we are conversing with any one, we give him our whole attention, and do not think of other people. So when we hear Mass, when we are in the presence of God, we should fix our thoughts on Him, and for the time forget everything else. This we should do all the more because to hear Mass is the highest and holiest act of worship we can perform, and if we do this carelessly, it will be without benefit to ourselves.
We ought to be very devout at Mass; that is, we ought to banish from our minds all that may cause distraction, and endeavor to unite our supplications to those of the priest, especially in the three principal parts of the Mass.
As it is only at the cost of great toil that miners extract precious stones from the bowels of the earth, so we cannot make the hidden treasures of grace contained in the Mass our own unless we take pains to assist at it with the utmost attention and devotion.
1. Whispering, laughing, looking about at the time of Mass must be carefully avoided; moreover it is unseemly to come to Mass overdressed.
It may be said of our churches, where God is present upon our altars, what God said to Moses out of the burning bush: “The place whereon thou standest in holy ground” (Exod. iii. 5). We gather from the indignation Our Lord manifested in regard to those that bought and sold in the Temple (Matt. xxi. 13), how abhorrent to Him is indecorous behavior in the house of God. The house of God is a house of prayer. You would not allow yourself to chatter and laugh, nor even to sit down in the presence of an earthly monarch; with how much greater awe and reverence ought you to behave in the presence of Him Who is above all kings and emperors, the Son of the most high God! Seven hundred priests and Levites ministered in the Jewish Temple of old; they slaughtered victims daily for the burnt-offerings; and all went on in silence so profound that it might have been imagined that one priest only was in the Temple. Alexander the Great once was offering sacrifice to one of the heathen gods; a young nobleman stood by holding a lighted torch; before the function was ended the torch burned down and scorched his hand, but such was his reverence for the act of sacrifice that he would not allow himself to fling it away. How much more ought Christians to avoid everything that would disturb the solemnity of this sublime sacrifice! The early Christians remained motionless at Mass, so that it was as still as if no one were in the church. It has always been customary to kneel during Mass, at any rate from the consecration until after the communion. A pious empress, who was in the habit of kneeling through out the Mass, was once begged not to fatigue herself in this manner: “What,” she replied, “would you have me sit in the presence of my Lord and God, when my servants do not venture to sit in my presence?” St. Elizabeth of Hungary used always to remove her crown while she heard Mass. Those who behave irreverently at the holy sacrifice deserve condign punishment; they certainly derive no profit from it. It is also most unseemly to come to Mass dressed to excess, in the height of the fashion. St. John Chrysostom animadverts severely upon women who apparently go to Mass to attract attention, and show off their fine clothes. “Thou popinjay! is this finery,” he says, “befitting a contrite sinner, who comes to entreat pardon? Such garments are more suitable for the ballroom than the church.” St. Ambrose says the more admiration such persons gain from men, the more they are despised by God. Some Popes and holy bishops have ordained that women should come veiled to church: St. Paul seems to have made the same rule for his converts, remarking that nature provided them with a veil, by giving them long hair (1 Cor. xi. 5, 14).
2. When assisting at the holy sacrifice, we ought to unite our supplications to those of the priest, but it is not necessary to use the same prayers as he does,
Meditation upon Our Lord’s Passion is the best method of hearing Mass, because in holy Mass the sacrifice of the cross is re-enacted, and it was instituted as a commemoration of the death of the Redeemer.
Those do wrong who repeat the prayers of the Mass out of a prayer-book in a formal manner, with their lips, not with their heart. There is nothing reprehensible in refraining altogether from vocal prayer during Mass if we substitute for it mental prayer. Those who repeat vocal prayers must take care not to disturb others by whispering. The five sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary are a very suitable devotion for Mass, because Our Lord’s Passion is thus set before us.
It is well to have a little singing during Mass, as it is conducive to devotion, is in itself a prayer, and promotes the glory of God.
Sacred music is most useful in exciting devotion. St. Augustine says: “How many tears I have shed, when hymns and canticles were sung to Thee, O my God! What emotions were aroused within me, when the church re-echoed with sweet melodies! Each note fell upon my ear like soothing balm, carrying conviction of Thy truth to my heart, and kindling within me the ardor of devotion.” Music is, more over, an efficacious prayer; it is a heartfelt and fervent prayer, for the feelings of the heart gain force when the voice expresses them in song. The Fathers of the Church cannot say enough in commendation of the use of vocal music in church; they say that it appeases the wrath of God, drives away the spirits of evil, attracts the angels, and leads the Holy Spirit to visit the heart of the singers; that on the wings of song the soul is aided to soar on high, that the voice of song awakens in the mind a longing for heavenly things, that it melts the heart and causes the sinner to shed tears of contrition and compunction. Vocal music is also an appropriate accompaniment to the sacrifice of the Mass; for it affords a means of expressing and manifest ing the intense feeling, the deep emotions evoked by an attentive consideration of what is being enacted upon the altar. And since it is in song that the heart gives vent to her inmost feelings most freely and touchingly, it is the most perfect and fitting means of honoring the divine majesty. As often as Holy Scripture speaks of giving glory to God by the lips of angels or saints, it is described as a sublime and exalted song of praise. Therefore vocal music may almost be said to be an integral part of the solemn celebration of the holy sacrifice; the Church could more readily dispense with magnificent structures, rich coloring, costly vestments, precious vessels, than with singing, for it is the language in which utterance is given to her prayers. We read that at the Last Supper Our Lord and His apostles sang a hymn, after which they went out unto Mount Olivet (Matt. xxvi. 30). And we know, from the testimony of the earliest writers, that the Christians of primitive times were wont to sing during the celebration of holy Mass; for the first Christian annalists employ the expression: “Sing to Christ a canticle of praise,” as synonymous with offering the holy sacrifice. In the present day some parts of the Mass are appointed to be sung by the priest. It is, however, important that the singing at Mass should be as far as possible in harmony with the prayers recited by the priest and with the festival of the day; for congregational singing is not a mere accompaniment to, an accessory of the Mass, but a means whereby the people take part in the service and join with the priest who officiates at the altar. But the singing should not be continuous, for this is disturbing to devotion. The Holy See has expressly forbidden the singing to go on during some parts of the liturgy, as at the consecration, and when benediction is given with the Blessed Sacrament.
3. At the three principal parts of the Mass we should to a certain extent suspend our private devotions, and fix our attention upon what is done upon the altar.
It is evidently the intention of the Church that we should discontinue our private prayers or singing during the canon of the Mass and at the communion, as a bell is rung to call our attention to it. At the offertory the priest says: “ We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation,” and the faithful ought on their part to make an act of offering, to verify his words.
In the course of the Mass we are required to do as follows: When the priest commences the Mass, we should make the sign of the cross, and direct our intention.
The priest also offers the Mass for a definite intention. Ask your self for what intention you should offer the holy sacrifice. In some places it is customary for the people to stand when the priest goes up to the altar, as a mark of reverence to him as Christ’s representative.
At the Gospel all stand up, out of respect for the word of God; we should at the same time cross ourselves on forehead, lips, and breast, to testify our belief in, and our readiness to confess and follow the teaching of the crucified Redeemer.
At the offertory we ought to offer to God the oblations upon the altar, ourselves, and all that we possess.
At the Sanctus we ought to give praise to God, and hail the coming of the Son of God Who is about to descend upon the altar. The words of the Sanctus are like the thrice holy of the angels (Is. vi. 3), and the cries of the people at Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem (Matt. xxi. 9).
At the consecration we ought to kneel and adore the Redeemer Who comes down from heaven upon the altar.
Imitate at the consecration what you see the priest do; he falls upon his knees, and reverently adores the Lord and God Whom he holds in his hands. Do as the three kings did in presence of the Infant Christ, or as the apostles on Mount Thabor. When the priest elevates the Host, look upon it with veneration; Our Lord once revealed to St. Gertrude that those who did so would have greater joy hereafter in the contemplation of God. If looking upon a brazen serpent in the wilderness brought healing (Numb. xxi. 9), what must it not do for us to gaze in faith upon the sacred Host! It is not well to drop one’s head immediately, as if one would hide one’s self. For what purpose does the priest elevate the sacred Host and hold it up on high but that we may behold it? Every one should remain perfectly silent, in trembling awe, when the King of kings comes to be immolated for the faithful and given to them as their spiritual sustenance. Before Him the choirs of angels move, covering their faces, singing songs of praise with great jubilation. “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. ii. 20). Some people keep cold and unmoved at the consecration, just as if Our Lord were not present; they are like a man who, when a friend comes from a distance to visit him, does not so much as bid him welcome on his arrival, but leaves him standing as if he were a stranger. The whole court of heaven makes preparation for the consecration, and we miserable mortals look on with indifference, scarcely seeming to heed what is enacted upon the altar. Oh! did God but open the eyes of our soul, what marvels would be disclosed to our spiritual sight! But because we do not perceive with our senses the abasement of the Son of God, we think little of it, whereas the angels gaze on it with trembling.
4. It is an excellent practice immediately after the consecration to make to our heavenly Father a definite act of offering of His divine Son sacrificed upon the altar, and of His Passion and death.
The priest officiating at the altar recites a prayer of offering. We may use some such words as these: “I offer Thee, O heavenly Father, Thy well-beloved Son, here present upon the altar; I offer Thee His sufferings and cruel death, beseeching Thee to have compassion upon the souls in purgatory” (or any other intention, such as the recovery of a sick person, or in thanksgiving for favors received). How pleasing it is to the eternal Father, when you honor Him in this manner! How rich a return will He make for the gift you present to Him! If any man possessed the whole world, and offered it to almighty God, he would not give Him so great a gift as when he humbly offers to Him His beloved Son in the Mass. The power of Christ’s precious blood is all-prevailing to appease the wrath of God; by it we can obtain the conversion of sinners and the deliverance of souls from purgatory. Even the most grievous sinner may hope to obtain pardon, if he offers up the Passion and death of Christ to His divine Father. This may be done at other times than at Mass, but with less efficacy.
5. At the communion if we do not communicate actually, we ought to do so spiritually.
The early Christians communicated daily; but now few Christians lead so perfect a life as to be able to communicate daily. When the priest gives the blessing we should cross ourselves, at the same time imploring the blessing of God and giving thanks for the graces we have received. At the Last Gospel we should do the same as at the first.
6. It is not possible to hear two or more Masses at the same time; therefore when in church we ought to follow one Mass attentively, and not more than one.
We should endeavor, if we are present when several Masses are being said, to hear the one which is said where we can see it best, and follow that alone. In some dioceses it is the rule that if several Masses are celebrated simultaneously, the bell should be rung at one altar only, and that the principal, or at any rate the most conspicuous one. Yet though we cannot hear more than one Mass at the same time, if we are where several are being said, we profit in a certain measure by all, since every priest prays for all who are present.
This article, 9. DEVOTION AT HOLY MASS is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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