Hi Donagh! Kathy here. I like your website. I look forward to the new pieces each month. What a joy to read. I have a question, rather a request. The Mass limps for me. It was not always so, perhaps, it is the sameness, we have become addicted, afflicted really, to the rapidly changing stimului of the box and radio. I would appreciate a few words from you on the Mass. Sometimes I read one of the Eucharistic Prayers by myself and that's is a help. Remind me of what it is about and the meaning of presence. Thank you. Cheers. Kathy Heath
Thank you for writing. Yes, it's true: however beautiful the thoughts we have about things, the experience on the ground can be…well, pedestrian. But something tells me to make a case for the pedestrian! Catholics apply the "daily bread" of the Lord's Prayer to the Eucharist (among other things), and those two words, 'daily' and 'bread', suggest a celebration of the ordinary. Of course if we think about the Eucharist it is something truly extraordinary. But it is first and foremost something we do - and something we do frequently, even daily.
This, for me, has been a key to open up something about the Mass. It is something we do, it's a lot of different things we do: standing, sitting, watching, reading, listening, responding, singing, walking, eating, being silent…. It is a rite, or ritual. 'Ritual' is not a favourite word today, and it often goes with the word 'empty'. But this betrays a disregard for the external and visible. We are in the age of psychology, which puts a powerful emphasis on internal experience, often at the cost of the external. But we can't live on internal experience alone. We live also in a world of material things and visible activities. The ritual of the Mass acknowledges this. Another thing about ritual: it is repetitive. This too is out of favour. As you say, radio and TV provide us with a rapidly changing barrage of stimuli. Newness is their nature: they are news and entertainment providers. Likewise the print media. No newspaper will carry the headline "Canterbury cathedral still standing," or "Big Ben continues to strike the hour." Yet what would life be if all the things never mentioned in the news were suddenly to disappear? We depend our lives on lots of things continuing to be the same and continuing to behave the same as always. The ritual of the Mass, by being always more or less the same, expresses this too.
I lived in Rome for seven years, in a 12th century house attached to the 12th century church of San Clemente. In the 19th century archeologists discovered the extensive remains of a 4th century church beneath the 12th century one! The walls were covered entirely with frescoes, depicting scenes from the Scriptures. Some of the original flooring was still intact. It is a very moving experience to go down there: to walk on the floor where Christians walked in those early days, to look at pictures that countless eyes looked at in that remote past. One of the frescoes shows St Clement saying Mass. What he is doing is instantly identifiable. Somehow you feel connected. We are not spinning aimlessly and pointlessly in space in this 21st century, we are in connection with all that went before: what they did involves us, what we do involves them.
The Mass, of course, goes back beyond St Clement to Jesus himself. There is a very precious early Christian document called the Didachè, discovered only in 1873, though Christian writers through the ages always knew of its existence. It was written sometime between the years 50 and 100, and so it is even earlier than some of the New Testament. It contains the very first use of the word 'Eucharist'. Here is a paragraph from it that I often read: "At the Eucharist, offer the eucharistic prayer in this way. Begin with the chalice: 'We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy Vine of your servant David, which you have made known to us though your servant Jesus. Glory be to you, world without end.' Then over the broken bread: 'We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge you have made known to us through your servant Jesus. Glory be to you, world without end. As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.'"
Despite all the new means of communication in our time (including the internet!), many feel alienated and absent from one another. I find the Mass to be a most intimate connection not only with the people who are present but with all the ages of the past and with people from "the ends of the earth." All those ages mysteriously live again for us; they become present. Above all, it is the deepest kind of communication - in fact identification - with the Lord himself, and through him, with God, the eternal source.
Having said that, I believe that very many priests stand in the way of the Mass, not allowing it to appear as it is. There's a lot of carelessness and sloppiness - and routine (which is ritual that has lost its soul). There are homilies that have neither a thought nor a feeling in them. Yet there never were so many aids to Liturgy and preaching as there are now in circulation. It is when you see it done right that you become aware how bad it normally is. But don't lose hope….
I hope these thoughts may be of some use to you, Kathy. If not, keep searching. God bless you now and always.