The Mass can become so familiar and routine that the faithful sometimes don’t appreciate the pair of miracles before them at every celebration, noted Archbishop Gregory Aymond, speaking at the Nov. 17 Mass marking the formal end of the “Year of Renewal: Offering a Worthy Sacrifice of Praise,” a period during which Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of New Orleans were invited to reawaken and deepen their understanding of the Mass through parish- and school-based catechesis and reflection.
“Every time we go to Mass, two miracles take place: God speaks and the hand of God feeds us the body and blood of Christ,” said the archbishop during the special Mass celebrated at Transfiguration of the Lord Church.
“Coming to this church and any church, as we hear God’s Word and let it touch us, (and) as we share in this eucharistic meal, we hope it never becomes a routine, but a sacred moment,” he said. “Hopefully, during this Year of Renewal, we have been so nourished in our understanding and our appreciation of the Mass, that when we walk into church we hear the Lord Jesus saying, ‘Wake up! Please listen to my Word, because I will speak to you. Wake up! Please see me and accept my body and blood, given to you.’”
The year of Mass-focused programming was launched by Archbishop Aymond in a pastoral letter dated Nov. 27, 2011, and named for the imperative Jesus gave to his apostles at the Last Supper: “Do This in Memory of Me.”
It was deliberately timed to coincide with the inaugural year of new English translation of the Roman Missal, which challenged Catholic Americans to reexamine the words of the celebrant and their responses at Mass for the first time since Vatican II.
Developed and implemented primarily by the archdiocesan Office of Worship, Year of Renewal programming included parish- and school-based workshops and mornings and evenings of reflection designed to reacquaint Catholics with the parts of the Mass, the concept of real presence in the Eucharist and eucharistic adoration. Among its many projects were parish- and home-based Lenten book studies of Msgr. James Moroney’s “The Mass Explained.”
“This study was very successful, and parishes have reported that the parishioners who participated now have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Mass and have become more involved not only in liturgical ministries, but also in their own participation as a member of the assembly by singing, responding to the prayers and through personal prayer and engagement,” said Betty-Ann Hickey, associate director of the Office of Worship. Hickey added that reflection sessions held in parishes across the archdiocese gave the laity – especially those involved in liturgical ministries – time to examine the Mass “as meal, sacrifice and divine encounter.”
“We had many lively discussions, and by the end of the sessions, the enthusiasm for the Mass and the love of the Eucharist that was expressed by so many of the participants was truly moving,” Hickey said.
What is God saying to me?
During his homily, Archbishop Aymond repeatedly urged Catholics to stay focused on the dual miracles that take place at every Mass.
“The sacred Scriptures are not the words of human beings, but the inspired word of God, and that Word is proclaimed to all of us every time you and I gather, whether it’s for Sunday Mass or any other time,” he said.
“There are always two important questions that we must ask as the Word of God is proclaimed: ‘God, what are you saying to this community?’ And secondly, ‘God, what are you saying to me? How can my heart be changed and my heart be nourished?’” the archbishop said, insisting that Scripture should not just be heard, but should “sink into our hearts” as a reminder of God’s unconditional love for us and of his followup call that we live a life of discipleship.
Fed at the table
Turning to the miracle of real presence, Archbishop Aymond urged congregants to consider the Eucharist as a family table where we can experience “the sacrifice of Christ offering himself again to the Father.”
“The hand of God literally feeds us through Eucharist, and a miracle takes place there – and that’s the only word we can use – a miracle,” he said. “Every time you celebrate Eucharist, Jesus says you have just eaten of my body and you have drunk of my blood. I live in you and you live in me.”
In a unique approach to the Prayers of the Faithful, those congregants who participated in Year of Renewal programs or who performed either prominent or behind-the-scene roles in the liturgy were asked to stand by their respective groups. The liturgical helpers, who included priests, deacons, sacristans, altar servers, extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, readers, ushers, greeters, music ministry members and church environment ministers, were asked to continue to be “the leaven” that brought others into full, active and conscious participation in the Mass.
“It is all those people coming together in their own unique ministry that provides for us the beauty of our celebration (of Mass) and that invites us more deeply into hearing God’s Word and into receiving Eucharist,” Archbishop Aymond said, noting that even when a reader flubs his words or the homily is subpar, “God is still present” at Mass.
Anticipating the archdiocese’s new year of observance – “The Year of Family and Faith” – Archbishop Aymond asked individuals and parishes for their assistance in three areas.
First, he asked liturgical ministers to help their fellow Catholics to embrace the mystery of real presence, a tenet of faith that only half of recently surveyed Catholics understand and accept.
Secondly, he asked Catholics to brainstorm ways schools and parishes could reinforce the idea of the Eucharist as a “family celebration,” and not just a personal encounter with the Lord.
Finally, Archbishop Aymond reminded those gathered to note changes in the priest’s words of dismissal wrought by the revision of the Roman Missal: Instead of saying “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” the priest now exhorts his flock to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” or to “Go in peace, glorifying God by your life.”
“That’s being sent forth – go and glorify God by the way you live,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I think that those new translations give us a real signal that at the end of every Eucharist, we don’t just depart; we don’t just leave; we are sent.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.