A Catholic Mass – A Whole Body (and Senses) Experience
We humans are complex creations. It cannot be denied that we are “fearfully and wonderfully” made by our God. The earthly bodies He gave us are composed of miraculous functions and capabilities. Among them, our senses not only aid our survival, they collaborate to bring richness to our lives.
We’ve all experienced the mental lift of a favorite song (hearing), the comfort stimulated by the smell of Christmas baking (smell), and the breathtaking beauty of a particularly colorful sunset (sight).
As inhabitants of this world, we are also expected to maintain certain standards of behavior and appearances, for the sake of those around us and for our own self-respect. For example, special occasions, the presence of luminaries, or job interviews demand a certain visible respect in the way we dress and behave.
Even those we love become more appealing when they present their best to our senses. Babies’ cherub cheeks, glowing after an evening bath, the minty breath of a lover, and the well-kempt appearance of wives who have not “let themselves go” — all of these enhance their desirability.
Why, then, would our worship of God deserve any less?
Our Senses and Liturgy
Sensory creatures that we are, the gift of our senses helps us experience the fullness of God’s creation. It follows that our senses would also come into play in our worship of God. There are many ways that we can complement our understanding of our ancient liturgy and show honor to God.
- When we see the architectural beauty of our churches, our eyes tell us that we have entered a sacred place. There is the formality of the edifice and the orderly ranks of pews, that speak to a certain structure and discipline.
- Ornate statuary and the Stations of the Cross elicit the faithful lives lived by the saints, the purity of the Blessed Mother, and the God Man, Jesus – who came to take away the sins of the world. The crucifix is seen as a poignant reminder of the ultimate price paid for our sins – both past and future.
- The various colors of the priestly vestments inform us of the Liturgical Season and the tone of our worship. White, red, green, violet, black, rose and gold all symbolize differing liturgical seasons, purposes or intents.
- The rubrics or General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) provide a written manual that meticulously choreographs postures, words, and actions during Holy Mass. In addition, the Roman Missal itself provides the details of the words and actions of the celebrant (priest) during Mass by allowing him to simply “say the black, do the red”, as Fr. John Zuhlsdorf fondly asserts.
- Hymns, composed and chosen, illuminate what we believe. We should do our best to raise our voices in His glory because we participate to sing His praises — not our own. If, instead, it becomes a concert or a prideful show of talent, we diminish this God-given gift that we are offering back to Him in song. It becomes about us and not about true worship. Benedict XVI has written some enlightening words concerning the Liturgy and Sacred Music in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.
- Although they are an option (according to the priest’s inclination), when bells are used at Mass, they gloriously appeal to our ears as a signal that something very extraordinary is happening. They beg our silence and turn our rapt attention to the greatest sacrifice ever made — Jesus giving His life for our sins and Himself to us as food. That we are once again at the foot of the cross with Him!
- Frequently used in the Latin Mass or during special times in the Novus Ordo, incense delights our noses and draws our attention, both through smell and sight. The rising smoke draws our minds to the prayers ascending to Heaven in praise, petition, penitence and worship.
- An oft-neglected aspect is the clothing with which we choose to cover ourselves. How we dress speaks to our recognition of appearing before our King, the Lord of Lords. As in the parable of the wedding garment, dressing for the occasion is an outward expression of the reverence we feel, the homage we pay, and the respect that is required by merely existing in His presence. Veiling is also an optional, special acknowledgement of a woman’s humility, her emulation of the Blessed Mother, and the gift of femininity. This devotion is not concerned with finery but displays a desire give honor to the best of our ability.
Both Scripture and Tradition Give Us Direction
Acknowledgement of these and other manifestations of our senses are of great importance. Yet both Scripture and Tradition (tradition) have given us a perfect examples. Reverence for the House of His Father, certainly mattered to Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that, “Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God” because “for him, the Temple was the dwelling of his Father, a house of prayer” (CCC 584). When he saw the lack of decorum shown by the sellers and money changers, “he was angered that its outer court had become a place of commerce”. As He drove the merchants out He said, “You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade”. We are further told that his apostles retained their reverence for the Temple even after the Resurrection.
If you want more on Scripture and Tradition click here for a blog St. Michael’s posted recently.
Of all of our actions, prayer and pleasing God our Creator should stand above any other. How much more important than any other quest is our approach to the sacrificial altar for the Divine Liturgy? What are our actions saying when we take the glory and worship of our God in vain? Do we present ourselves grudgingly or carelessly for that brief hour each week? Or are our efforts fitting and pure?
Perhaps we could become more aware and make some improvements for the New Year. How will we show our respect and honor for Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Will we inspire new outward signs of reverence for ourselves and other that will carry over for the year? Do you see any actions in particular that speak to you in relation to the dignity given to our Sacrificial Lord?
Share your thoughts and experiences with us so that we may learn from one another. No one deserves respect more than Our Lord Jesus Christ! Let’s resolve to give Him His due to the best of our ability!