Reverence During Mass

(Homily for Twenty-Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A)

Today’s readings foretell a messianic banquet. Isaiah, chapter 25, describes the meal as both earthly (“on this mountain”) and heavenly (“he will destroy death forever”). Jesus employs the banquet as a parable of the kingdom which, though only fully realized in the future, does have a present embodiment – the Mass. I will explain that a bit more at the conclusion, but for now please note that the banquet, while it first appears a gigantic free-for-all, turns out to require a certain order, formality and reverence. In that light I would like to use this parable as an opportunity to give some instructions for a more reverential participation in the Mass.

A few weeks back Archbishop Brunett asked all priests and deacons, as well as various lay representatives, to attend a liturgy workshop. It focused on the General Introduction to the Roman Missal which gives the rubrics (instructions) for proper celebration of the Mass. I found the workshop encouraging because, overall, it reinforced the way we are doing things here at Holy Family, for example: the use of chalices made of "noble" metal (not glass or pottery), kneeling from after the Sanctus through the Great Amen and the introduction of chant responses.* We do have small areas to correct, which we will do at the appropriate time. This Sunday I bring to your attention some things we can do right now to make our celebration more reverential.

The rubrics mention two times when people should bow, that is, incline the head forward from the shoulders or waist. The first is during the Profession of Faith at the words “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Bowing at that point will help remind us that the Incarnation, God taking human flesh, is the very center of our faith.

Another moment when we recognize God coming to us in a material form is right before reception of Communion. The rubrics indicate that when the person in front of you is receiving, you should bow your head in order to prepare for Jesus to enter your body and heart.

Besides showing reverence to God, we must also show appropriate reverence to others attending Mass. Again, two areas: One is the custom of holding hand during the Our Father. There is no rubric saying we should do that. Nor is there, at present, an instruction saying one cannot. If you are next to a friend or relative, you might want to join hands. However, please be sensitive to those who may not wish to do so. A member of my family told me he does not like Mass because during the Our Father, people reach for his hand. I thought he was making an excuse so I said, “Oh, you’re crazy.”

He replied, “I may be crazy but shouldn't people with mental problems also feel welcome at Mass?” He has a point. We need sensitivity – reverence – for others, especially during the Eucharistic celebration.

Another area of sensitivity is the Sign of Peace. In our culture the custom is to offer a handshake, but there is no specific rubric. When I was in Peru, the Aymara Indians gave each other a formalized embrace by extending their hands to the other person’s elbows. It was lovely. There are people who, because of culture or hygiene, do not like to shake hands. A woman once told me an elderly gentleman in front of her was adjusting his choppers right before the sign of peace, then turned around to shake her hand. She did not feel like doing so. A wave, a smile, joining hands while making a slight bow are all fine. The key is reverence. We want to express a desire for reconciliation, not add one more offense.

In today’s parable Jesus mentions a requirement for attendance at the banquet. We must be “dressed in a wedding garment.” (Mt 25:12) The significance of that garment has provoked much speculation. Most likely, it refers to Sanctifying Grace, which is necessary both for receiving Communion and entering heaven. The image itself suggests solemnity, order, formality, in a word, reverence. People wear special garb at a wedding not to put on a show, but to enact - and bring about - a profound reality.

Even though the king (God) will gather people “bad and good alike” from the streets and farms, still he requires them to be re-clothed in order to participate in the banquet itself. When we come to Mass we should not only wear appropriate clothes** - that is a topic for a whole other sermon - but ask God to re-clothe us interiorly by forgiveness of sin, gratitude and a deep spirit of reverence.


*Regarding kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer, I am speaking from a United States context. If one goes to Peru (or other Latin American country) a Catholic will follow their practice of kneeling from the epiclesis through the consecration. Likewise, since the Latin American bishops did not request an indult for Communion in the hand (and the Philippines where they applied and then, on account of abuses, changed back to only on the tongue), a visitor would receive on the tongue, as a Latin American coming to the U.S. would kneel during the entire Eucharistic Prayer. These small differences should not blind us to the importance of "rowing together" whenever and wherever we attend to Mass.

**See earlier homily concerning Modesty in Dress

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 3
2011: For Many
2005: Taste for God
2002: Reverence During Mass
1999: Why Some Do Not Enter

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)

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(September 2011)

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"On the eve of Respect Life Month 2002, I want to share with you my deep concern about a growing threat to human life that could have grave implications for the church: the campaign by abortion advocates to deny Catholic health care providers their fundamental human right of conscience to refuse to take part in morally evil actions such as abortion and euthanasia." (Message from Archbishop Brunett)

See also: October 10 Letter from Archbishop: "As I write this, it appears that our country is moving inexorably toward war with Iraq...."

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