The Holy Mass – “Let the Whole World Tremble”

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From The Rhode Island Catholic

After attending Sunday Mass in Florida not too long ago I came across the following admonition in the Sunday bulletin: “Please come to Mass early enough not to disrupt. Leave late enough not to insult. (The Mass does not end until the final blessing). Worship reverently enough not to distract. And dress proudly enough not to offend.”

“Now that little blurb contains some very useful reminders,” I said to myself. It addresses a recurring problem in some our churches these days – an habitual lack of reverence for the sacred mysteries taking place in our midst, especially when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered.
While all of the points in the bulletin article have merit and should be observed, the reminder to “dress proudly enough not to offend,” might be the most relevant, especially now as we enter the hot and humid, casual days of summer. The sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass is something I’ve witnessed personally and regularly receive complaints about.

You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen it too. Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

These displays reveal a gross misunderstanding of the sacred space we’ve entered in the church and the truly sacred drama taking place in our midst. C’mon – even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck.

Every member of the worshipping community should dress appropriately for Mass, but the obligation is even greater for those who fulfill public ministries during the liturgy – ushers, lectors, servers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Because they’ve assumed a public role in the sacred liturgy and are in the public eye, it’s important that they give good example to others in the way they dress, speak and present themselves during Mass.

And what about the trend I’ve seen increasingly in recent years, even in our cathedral, of people coming to Mass carrying their water bottles and coffee mugs? Do they really need to be hydrated or caffeinated during that hour they’re in church? Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal? And I wonder how many people even think about the Eucharistic fast (one hour before receiving Holy Communion) when they prepare for Mass? I’m old enough to remember when you couldn’t have any food or beverage, except water, from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. It was a sacrifice, to be sure, but also a clear reminder of how special it was to receive Holy Communion.

And while I’m venting, I still find it inappropriate and disrespectful to have a church full of people talking and creating a boisterous atmosphere before Mass, completely ignorant of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and the spiritual needs of their fellow parishioners who wish to spend a few moments of quiet prayer with the Lord. The Church should always provide a sanctuary of quiet, peace and prayer for anyone who wants to escape the barrage of noise and technological intrusions of our daily routine and enter into the presence of the Living God.

No moment reveals our attitude of respect than during the actual reception of Holy Communion.

I’m not one who has a strong preference for receiving Holy Communion standing or kneeling – both are approved by the Church and both can be either reverent or irreverent depending on the disposition of the person. Nor am I one who will fight over the merits of receiving Holy Communion in the hand or on the tongue. Again, both are approved by the Church and can be either reverent or irreverent.

I am frequently amazed, however, over how many of the faithful, young and old, simply don’t know how to receive Holy Communion properly. This ignorance reached its pinnacle a couple of years ago when one lady, a Confirmation sponsor in fact, dropped the sacred host I had placed in her hand and then looked at me, giggling, saying, “I guess I’ll need another one of those,” like she had just lost her favorite snack cracker.

It’s easy folks, really. As you approach the minister of Holy Communion you bow reverently and when you hear the words, “the Body of Christ,” you simply respond “Amen” as you extend both hands carefully or put out your tongue. And note, you’re required to consume the host then and there and not take it with you down the aisle or back to your pew.

The title of this column was taken from a letter of St. Francis of Assisi to his friars, in which he reveals his profound respect for the Holy Eucharist. He writes: “Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under a morsel of bread.”

Would that we might display even a fraction of that reverence when we go to church, attend Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ!

For Fr. Z’s emphasis and comments on this article, see here.

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12 Responses to The Holy Mass – “Let the Whole World Tremble”

  1. johnhenrycn says:

    Good article. Good advice. Happy to say that most of the shenanigans referred to by Bishop Tobin (the writer) are rare in my neck of the woods, except for the one about proper attire, or rather lack thereof. I can’t understand why Catholics who make the commendable effort to get out of bed for Mass won’t go the extra 100 yards by dressing neatly, even if not in a way suitable for a garden party at the palace. And this does seem to be a problem mainly affecting Catholics, not Protestants. My experiences with the latter include many years in both the United (Methodist) and Anglican churches, and eyebrows would definitely have been raised in both of them at the sight of some/many of our fellow devotees. This has nothing to do with poverty, which is not a synonym of slovenly. Dress as if you are going to a house of worship, not to the House of Pancakes.

  2. toadspittle says:

    The writer (anon, alas – unless, perhaps, there is only one Catholic on Rhode Island – it is very small, after all) deprecates and abominates “…mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much.” And he?she is right to do so.
    Wearing skimpy clothes that “reveal way too much,” should be the province of immature women only. We are all agreed on that, no question.

    “I’m old enough to remember when you couldn’t have any food or beverage, except water, from midnight before receiving Holy Communion.”
    ..or else you would go straight to Hell. Right, Gertrude?

  3. toadspittle says:

    “That the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation he hides himself under a morsel of bread.”.
    I was under the impression that the Lord of the Universe was supposed to be in the morsel of bread, not hiding under it.
    In fact, I thought he was supposed to be the morsel of bread, not just in it.
    …But what do I know?

  4. GC says:

    perhaps, there is only one Catholic on Rhode Island – it is very small

    Erm, Toad, it didn’t occur to Toad that it might just be the name of the Catholic newspaper in smallish Rhode Island?

    The writer, in fact, is the bishop there.

  5. Could it be the liturgy itself that has created this disaster? Maybe The Rhode Island Catholic should also print this: http://goo.gl/KXsQOm

  6. johnhenrycn says:

    That link failed, RJB. No worries. Been there. Done that.

  7. cheryllee84 says:

    This article was a wonderful read as I too have some issues that have been addressed in it. I leave early on a Sunday so that I can pray before Mass begins but, at a certain point, the noise levels increase to an almost unbearable level. The same applies at the end of Mass, the noise levels are terrible sometimes! I personally – after Mass – like to kneel and pray for a little while longer. When I finish, the sanctuary is almost empty.

    The other day, I got so agitated at someone very quietly talking after Holy Communion. It actually annoyed me so much that I prayed that God would help through the frustration that I was feeling! It left me wondering – more so on Sundays – if anyone believes in the Real Presence that’s before them.

    How can we deal with it? I would love to approach my parish priest about it but wouldn’t even know what to say without feeling like I’m trampling on anyones toes. Sacred silence and stillness is something that seems lost in my parish and I still want to observe both but find difficult to concentrate.

    Thanks for the article, God bless!!

  8. toadspittle says:

    The link works for me.

  9. johnhenrycn says:

    Cheryl, why not mail your pastor (anonymously) a copy of Bishop Tobin’s letter? And keep on mailing it once a year or so until he responds to it in one of your weekly bulletins?

  10. kathleen says:

    Could it be the liturgy itself that has created this disaster?

    Well certainly all the “disasters” Bishop Tobin numerates appear to have seeped into the way people attend Holy Mass once the vernacular became the language of the Mass, and the Liturgy was altered… so therefore I think that is a very relevant point Robert! (And another great article from Liturgy Guy – Brian Williams – about the great value of Latin too, re your link.)

    We go back to the much-quoted lex orandi, lex crendendi to understand that the more liberal a parish is, the more glaringly evident become the evils of Modernism therein. I have occasionally heard good priests make a call from the pulpit for people to dress appropriately when coming to Mass, but that still doesn’t seem to stop some from sauntering into the ‘Meeting of Heaven and Earth’ (i.e., the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) in the most immodest and skimpy clothes, with seemingly no shame at all!
    The decibels of loud chatter before and after Mass also appear to be a characteristic of how ‘liberal’ or ‘traditional’ a certain parish may be, with the more liberal often being as noisy as the bar over the road! How can anyone pray with all that din around them?

    Bishop Tobin is surely a good bishop, but it is strange that he does not seem to be aware of the connection between the reverence in kneeling and receiving the Sacred Host on one’s tongue rather than just standing and holding out one’s unconsecrated hand, nor the excessive use of laymen as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, nor the lack of Tridentine Masses with its sublimely beautiful Liturgy, etc., as all ways of lending to this general casual behaviour and lack of devotion among many of the congregations in our Catholic churches these days.

  11. Michael says:

    I don’t remember where exactly he said this, but at one point Cardinal Ratzinger decried those parishes that have “such a preference for [liturgical] banality as to make one shudder” (or similar words). The content of this letter shows how true those words are!

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