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A Sunday calm rests over the little Greek village in the heart of Halkidiki. A few shutters have been opened to welcome the early morning sun, but the weekday busyness is absent. We have to look in the area of the katholicon, the village church, to see any activity. There the elderly pastor is opening the large doors of the narthex. Pigeons scatter from their roosts under the porch shed and a lazy cat moves out from its comfortable corner.
The heavy doors are open now to welcome the people. The priest shoulders his semantron, a board some eight feet long and a half-dozen inches wide, and takes up his wooden mallet. The quiet of the village reverberates with its rhythmic beat. Doors open and children emerge; a procession forms and grows as the pastor makes his way along the village streets past the homes of the people. By the time the shepherd leads the troop of his little ones down the main street directly toward the large open doors of the church, their elders are flocking in from all directions, joining the procession. The pastor is leading the people of God toward the house of God.
A few hundred miles away, on another day and in a very different setting, a Supreme Pastor walks in the midst of a portion of his flock, gathering them, too, to the house of the Lord, re-enacting a scene with centuries of history. It is Ash Wednesday, 1960, and we are on the Aventine, one of the seven hills of Rome. Good Pope John, John XXIII, has come to be with his people for the opening of the Lenten season. Following thetradition, they have gathered at the Church of San Eleseo, and now they make their way slowly through the crowded streets to the beautiful fourth-century basilica of Santa Sabina, a few hundred yards away. The bells ring out a glad summons. The people sing their hymns; soon they will chant their litanies.
It is the gathering of the people of God, the important initial act of the communal worship of the people of God. It is important because, like the whole of the liturgy, it is a sacramental act, signifying inner and transcendent realities.
In its strictest sense a sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. The Eucharist, surrounded by the other sacraments instituted by Christ, is at the heart of all liturgy. The Church, the people of Christ, following his example and inspired by the revealing activity of the Father under the old dispensation, has in its turn instituted a rich sacramental liturgy in which to set Christ's precious gifts, much like the way a guild of dedicated goldsmiths might create a rich, intricate setting for a collection of precious gems given to them by a great king. The setting itself can be a thing of great beauty, perhaps of great antiquity, with the labor of many lovers having contributed rich inspiration. In itself it can have immense value and say a great deal to us. But it remains ever subordinate to the gems and, above all, to the central gem. As a setting, its whole purpose is to set off the gems so that we can appreciate them more and respond better to their essential beauty.
If we do take the time to study different facets of a rich setting, we must never lose sight of its fundamental purpose. If worship is going to be integral and authentic, the elaboration of the various parts must always be kept in balance and in harmony and be viewed with regard to their purpose as a setting for the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is a memoria, a sacramental memorial, not only a calling to mind but a making present of the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. We tend to consider and to experience events as following one another like so many cars in the train of time, so many posts along the side of the road, so many vistas that present themselves as the human family moves along the highway of life. But in the eternal NOW of God it is not that way. Everything simply is, is now, is present. If we were to try to express this graphically we might say that we see things stretching out along a road whereas God sees them all piled up in one column. But whether we conceive all human activity as spread out along the route of history or as drawn together in a "now," the focus of all that goes before and comes after, the apex of the column, is the same. It is that supreme act of love (for God is love) whereby the greatest thing in creation, his own human life, was offered to God by God when God entered into our created time. And the Eucharist, the ritual act, the sacrament given to us by God, repeatedly reaches into the eternal NOW and makes that unique, supreme act present in our passing time.
As the supreme act of all creation, Christ's Passover draws to itself all else in creation: If the Son of God be lifted up, he will draw all things unto himself. It is a gathering act, a unifying act, the act that makes us one in love and in the realization of our participated being. That they may be one, Father, as you in me and I in you, that they may be one in us. The Mass, the Eucharist, is the ultimate coming together of the people of God made present now in our time. The people of God seek to make themselves more aware of this coming together, this "becoming one," by making it sacramentally present in the entrance procession, the coming together of that portion of the people who are now to celebrate the Eucharistic reality.
Our coming together is a response to a call, a call rooted in the creative act that summoned us from nonbeing to being and made us according to the image of the Creator. We were made to his image, in his likeness, so that we could be one with him not only in shared being but also in the bonding of mutual knowledge and love. This call was expressed much more personally when we were drawn down into the waters to die with Christ, the Son, so that we might rise up with him to share forever his risen life. A call expressed repeatedly in the urgings of grace, the sharing of faith, the words of Revelation. A call that echoes in the village in the rhythmic beat of the semantron, and in the city, in the peal of bells, great and small.
It is fitting that the divine call to gather, to Eucharist, has its sacramental expression. We want every liturgy to begin with the summons of a bell. The gathering bell will not only summon those who can gather physically. It will also invite those who cannot come to send their hearts. It will remind all that they are called, called by a God of love, that they are loved and wanted, that they have the dignity of one who is wanted, wanted even by a God. If we have ears to hear, the church bell can be for us a great cause of joy, a cause for hope, a reminder of our significance which is more than human. Every Christian community owes to itself to have a bell, at least one if not several, a bell that is regularly used. It owes it to itself, and to all who are physically, if not sacramentally, enfolded in its love. These latter may not yet hear its sound as sacramental, but faith does come through hearing. The bell does invite them to have faith, to gather, to recognize and experience their place in the Eucharist.
The Mass begins with a call and a gathering. And the people do gather. A formal procession through the streets, as in the village of Halkidiki or on the Aventine, may rarely, if ever, be possible. But it may be more possible than we might first imagine, and a very meaningful event for a community on Easter night, a patronal feast, or other occasions.
Each time there is a Eucharist, people, his people, gather. As we move toward the church or chapel, whether we are on foot or in a car or bus, it would be well to be aware of what we are doing, to be reflective and share this reflection with others. We are being called and we are responding, we are a people and we are gathering, we are not just going to church or fulfilling a duty. The cars following one another into the parking lot, perhaps with a slowness that demands much patience, are a procession. If we see it in this way, what has been a matter of routine or a trial becomes a moment of grace, a real part of our communal worship.
We can sacramentalize the ordinary and let it speak to us. As a Christian people we want also to create sacraments, rituals, that can speak to us. If the natural flow of the people into the church speaks of our gathering, it is still good to have an entrance procession that explicitly calls us to a reflective awareness that we are a gathered people.
The entrance of the president of the assembly, the celebrant, is always a significant act. But he does not want to come alone. He is the president of a people, a shepherd with a flock. Others who will be ministering with him quite naturally join with him as he enters into the ministry: readers, commentator, acolytes, wardens or ushers, musicians, Eucharistic ministers, deacons and concelebrants, if there be any. But we want some representation of the people: singers, the choir, those who will bring the gifts and make the petitions, those who prepared the altar and flowers, those who provided the stipend or for whom the Mass is especially offered, and some of the old and the young, the poor and the disabled. Let my people come. It may take a bit of effort to gather and organize a significant entrance procession. This effort itself can be sacramental and meaningful ministry, a way of involving others, perhaps some of our neglected young adults. It may also help to fill up some of the front pews.
Even if the entrance procession involves only a small group, or especially if the entrance procession involves only a small group, we want to give it enough time to have an impact. Let it pass through the midst of the people, in so far as possible, so that they can be drawn up into its movement. And we want the movement to have a certain dignity about it, even splendor, on due occasions, so that it does not seem merely a necessary or, worse, a hurried getting from place to place. The entrance is done with enough significance so that it can speak and with enough time so that it can be heard.
Music can play a big part in all of this and the words set to the music can be the interpretation of what is going on. We want to choose entrance hymns that speak explicitly or implicitly of gathering. They may well speak of the particular occasion or feast the community is gathering to celebrate, but the idea of gathering is never to be wholly absent. In its cupboard the Church has a rich repertoire of traditional entrance pieces called introits. These usually consist of a relatively brief antiphon that sets the tone of the gathering. Gaudeamus, "Let us rejoice on the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praising God together with all the holy angels." This is sung first by the cantor and then repeated by the community, who repeat it again and again as the cantor sings appropriate verses from the Psalms, and finally a Gloria Patri: "Glory be to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be." Such a simple and meaningful way to let music and word gather us is certainly not passe.
The entrance rite is a sacrament of Christ gathering us all into the oneness of God through the Eucharist. It is a sacrament of our gathering as a people. It is also a call to us to gather ourselves interiorly so that we can worship with our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole soul, and all our strength. The personal and interior dimension of gathering is important; we do not want to neglect it. Otherwise the exterior could end up being only an empty sign rather than a true sacrament. We come to the gathering with our many cares and fears, hopes and desires, from the full activity of everyday life. All of this is not to be left behind. It is the stuff out of which our offering with Christ's offering is made. But it all needs to be gathered together. This is one of the fundamental labors of our lives: integration. It is dispersion that saps our lives and destroys us. It is the undue autonomy of certain aspirations that sidetracks us and even turns us from our true goal.
In the Eucharist we have a powerful force, an infinitely powerful force to draw together, heal, and integrate our dispersed thoughts and desires, energies and projects. The sacramental, ritual gathering invites us to begin to open ourselves to and cooperate with the grace of unification. Again, we see here the importance of a sufficiently spacious entrance rite so that the call to gather oneself can be heard and can receive an immediate response. Then we, as individuals as well as a community, will be ready to present ourselves before the Lord.
|Our Family Home||8|
|Purify Me, O Lord||15|
|Glory and Prayer||21|
|Breaking the Bread of the Word||37|
|Blessed Art Thou||46|
|In Heavenly Places: Holy, Holy, Holy||53|
|In Memory of Me||58|
|The Roman Tradition||65|
|The Prayer of Our Mediator||76|
|In the Spirit of Byzantium||94|
|Let the Children Come||107|
|We Want More||124|
|A Word to the President||139|
|One With the Father||150|
|Anaphora of Saint Basil||173|
|Anaphora of Saint Mark, Evangelist||182|
|Anaphora of Thomas the Apostle||186|
|Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles||190|
|A New Eucharistic Liturgy from India||195|