Last week, we looked at two ways in which we can enhance our Lenten practice by making some basic changes in our way of participating at Mass (Liturgical Resolutions — Part I, 03/03/19). I would like to continue our suggestions this week so that Lent may be a time of spiritual renewal for our whole congregation. For when individual parishioners work at making the Liturgy more meaningful for themselves, it benefits the whole parish. So here are some more suggestions:
3. Sing or at least Look at the Word
Have you ever seen or been present for a Protestant Church’s Service? I have on a number of occasions. It was truly thrilling to hear the whole congregation sing a hymn together! Most Catholics have never experienced this before! Hymns are prayers that when sung have a double efficacy. St. Augustine says plainly: He who sings prays twice! Sometimes, Catholics say that they cannot sing since they don’t know the music of the hymn. But I have observed that even in the Christmas season, when the Carols are known by everyone, still you hear the organist and the leader of song, but the congregation stands mute! Who can say that they don’t know “Silent Night”? Why Catholics don’t sing has spawned many books and explanations, but it is a blotch on our faith and its expression. Even if you do not know the hymn, and maybe are too shy to raise your voice in praise to God, you can at least open the Missalette and follow the words of the hymn! What a wonderful thing it would be to see everyone with the Missalette open and following the course of the prayer. To stand or sit and stare during a hymn is a statement of unbelief in the sacred action of communal prayer and spreads bad example to new members of a congregation. Even this simple suggestion can make of our experience of the Liturgy something powerful and loving!
4. Stay Until the End of Mass
In Thomas Merton’s landmark coming-of-age spiritual journal “Seven Storey Mountain”, he relates that, soon after his conversion, he went to a parish Church in Queens near where his grandparents lived. The Church will go nameless, but I will say that it is not ours! He writes about arriving early for Sunday Mass and being almost trampled by people exiting the previous Mass when the Priest had not even ended that Mass! Not a great legacy for a congregation! While sometimes the priest over the “usual” one-hour and one needs to get back home (to stir the sauce!), to habitually leave immediately after receiving Holy Communion or before the priest has gotten to the doors of the Church in the recessional procession screams out, “I don’t want to be here and the sooner I get out the better!” Making a simple Act of Thanksgiving after Mass is a beautiful way of ending our time at Mass each week (or each day!). It balances the advice I gave last week about coming early for Mass. It says to oneself: this is important and I am going to take my time with it.
5. Live the Christian Life Intentionally
Sometimes my Dad argued with my Mom about being forced to go to Church on Sundays. He went every day to Mass before work at the Shoe factory in SoHo. But he did not like Church law forcing him to go on Sunday. He thought it should be freely chosen. The argument he used was about a neighbor in the building we lived in. When she got home from Church, you could hear her screaming at her husband. My Dad would call attention to this and say to my Mom: “Sunday Mass did not make a big difference in that house!” He had a point. If we really and truly understood the greatness of the Mass, our lives should change for the better. When the Priest says, “The Mass is ended. Go in peace”, there should be a discernible difference in us. It should make our lives and the lives of our loved ones better and more peaceful. In the end, it’s my Dad’s criterion of action which is the most clarifying. If we truly attend Mass with the right dispositions and try to participate with an open heart, it should make a practical difference in our lives. It is it’s own validation. Attendance alone is not enough.
It is my hope that these five Resolutions will, if accepted, change your spiritual and liturgical outlook for the better during this year’s Lenten season!