Words Matter

Words matter. Especially in the liturgy. Every word can be richly symbolic and expressive of our faith (if we don’t mess with them). We have to remember that the words, even pronouns like “his”, really do matter.

If you feel a rant coming on…you probably know me in real life. But bear with me as I explain… One of the things that really bugs me is not only when people decide on their own to change the words of the Mass (which is one thing) but also to teach other people the incorrect words, going so far as to give reasons why their words are better than those given to us by the Church! There are so many things wrong with this, including poor liturgical theology, that we can’t get into all of them here. Let us examine just one example and see why the change does not make sense.

Here is one part of the Mass I notice quite often people change the word “his” to “God”:

May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his holy Church.

Okay, step back and look at the prayer of the priest right before it:

Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.

First, notice that this prayer is addressed to God the Father. We are speaking about a specific role for this specific person of the Trinity, whose role is associated with male characteristics. This does not mean God the Father is anatomically male, but that he has characteristics of ontological male-ness, that is, the truth of his being has qualities of male-ness. Both man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, and I am not suggesting that we ignore that, but I am saying they are different. Despite what secular culture wants you to believe, men and women are not the same at a fundamental level of their being. In this particular instance, we are saying something about God as Father, and that is an important distinction. There are other times when we properly express other qualities of God. The words of the liturgy are completely interconnected, and to arbitrarily change “His” to “God’s” because you want to remove the male pronoun actually means you just didn’t listen to the prayer right before it.

Secondly, it becomes a grammatical error. We don’t want to imply that “Lord” and “God” are two different entities, which is what it often sounds like if you change these words. That would be a serious problem.

Finally, a very important principle to remember, which is reiterated in the Second Vatican Council (SC 22), is that no person, not even a priest, may change the Mass. This would include the words.

Think this week about the specific words you are praying, how they relate to the rest of the liturgy (as each prayer does not exist in a vacuum) and how these words express the different facets of our faith.

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The Lord’s Day

alleluia

“By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church celebrates the Paschal mystery every seventh day, which day is appropriately called the Lord’s Day, or Sunday.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1166/Sacrosanctum Concilium 106)  The entire week revolves around Sunday, as the “pre-eminent” day for the Church to come together.  Sunday is both the first day of the week, representing the first day of creation, and the eighth day, which represents the eternal day after the Lord’s rest, a new creation, the “day the Lord has made,” which has no end. (See CCC 1166).

Each Sunday is like a “mini-Easter”, celebrating Christ’s Resurrection.  Easter is not just one Sunday feast out of the year, but as the Catechism says, is the “Feast of feasts” and the “Solemnity of solemnities.”  Each Sunday represents and celebrates the saving work of Christ, his life, death and resurrection for us so that we might have eternal life.  That is why participation at Mass each Sunday is an obligation for Catholics (so there are at least 52 days of obligation during the year, not to mention the additional solemnities that are obligatory).  We are asked to keep holy the Lord’s Day, just as the early Christians did. It is at the heart of our life in the Church.

One of the most important texts from the Second Vatican Council is Sacrosanctum Concilium, or the “Consitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”  This is the document that addresses the Liturgy.  It contains a beautiful reflection on Sunday:

“When we ponder, O Christ, the marvels accomplished on this day, the Sunday of your holy resurrection, we say: ‘Blessed is Sunday, for on it began creation…the world’s salvation…the renewal of the human race…  On Sunday heaven and earth rejoiced and the whole universe was filled with light. Blessed is Sunday, for on it were opened the gates of paradise…’” (SC 106).

How do you keep the Lord’s Day holy?

Heaven

The_Assumption_of_the_Virgin

Heaven is radiant and light. It is detached from earthly things, and it transcends beyond all ages. It is populated with The Trinity, Saints (people we know are in heaven) and Angels (spiritual beings with no bodily form). Heaven is perfectly ordered.

The way we think about heaven informs the way we think about the Liturgy. We believe that at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we participate in the Heavenly Banquet. One way of thinking about it is that at the Mass we lift the veil between heaven and earth. We learn from Sacrosanctum Concilium that the purpose of Liturgy is to give glory to God (which is ordered praise, not self-expression), and to become more holy (sanctification). Becoming more holy means conforming ourselves to Christ, becoming a perfected version of ourselves. In order to this, we need God’s help, as we receive his grace in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

Remember that Sacraments both represent and make present the invisible heavenly reality. If heaven is perfect, ordered, and transcends all ages, then hopefully our Liturgical celebrations (which are sacramental by their very nature) approach this heavenly reality. This means that the Mass should be ordered and radiant, but also detached from earthly things and transcend beyond all ages. There must be an “other-worldliness” in the Liturgy, because it is basically training us for what heaven will be like. Heaven is not about autonomous self-expression, or a giant party; it is perfect union with God, joined with the choirs of angels in their unending song of praise.