With the liturgical year coming to an end this weekend, and the Church entering into the season of Advent next, now is an opportune time to consider how we can more devoutly assist at Holy Mass. While the faithful are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, we are also expected to pray the Mass, entering into the liturgy completely, body and soul. Through her many saints, the Church has always spoke of the importance of our participation in the liturgy. Saint Peter Julian Eymard said:
“Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more, nor profit your soul more, than by devoutly assisting at it, and assisting as often as possible.”
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux also spoke directly to the power and efficacy of the Mass when he instructed:
“One merits more by devoutly assisting at a Holy Mass than by distributing all of his goods to the poor and traveling all over the world on pilgrimage.”
This is of course the reason why so many of the faithful have become advocates in recent years for the return of reverence and the restoration of beauty to our sacred act of worship. There is nothing greater we can do to honor God than to devoutly assist at Holy Mass. Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, writing in the 1945 Saint Andrew Daily Missal, speaks beautifully to this truth:
“What the priest offers to God as an acknowledgement of His sovereign dominion over all creatures, is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who, by His sacrifice on the cross has rendered to His Father and infinite act of worship, consisting of adoration, thanksgiving, expiation and impetration.”
Dom Lefebvre continues his explanation:
“The sacrifice of the Mass, by placing on the altar the Victim of Calvary, enables us through Him to adore God in a suitable manner, to thank him worthily for all His favours, to render Him full satisfaction by the offering of the Blood of Jesus, and to address to Him requests which are always heard because they are in His name, who by the very act of showing His glorious wounds to His Father, intercedes unceasingly for us in heaven and in the Eucharist on earth.”
It is clear then just how much of our active participation at Mass is actually an interior disposition. In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, and the subsequent promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missae by Pope Paul VI, far too many in the Church have confused liturgical participation with physical, or exterior, action. Speaking back in 2008, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith addressed this misunderstanding of active participation:
“This kind of participation in the very action of Christ, the High Priest, requires from us nothing less than an attitude of being totally absorbed in Him…Active participation, thus, is not a giving way to any activism but an integral and total assimilation into the person of Christ who is truly the High Priest of that eternal and uninterrupted celebration of the heavenly liturgy.”
As we continue to address the liturgical excesses and overall busyness too often found today, it is important for Catholics to learn how they can more devoutly assist during Mass. In many ways the Church has begun this process by expanding access to the Traditional Latin Mass in recent years. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass, with its more distinct differentiation in roles between priest and faithful, is helping many to gain a better understanding of their participation within the liturgy.
Returning to the Saint Andrew Daily Missal, we learn how the faithful can take an active part in the Holy Sacrifice. When assisting at Mass, Dom Lefebvre recommends four things that we should do:
1. Reconstruct the historic setting in which took place the event in our Lord’s Life, or in that of one of His saints which is being commemorated on the appointed day. In doing this much help may be gained from the Mass of the Catechumens with its different features: the vestments, the chant, the Introit, Epistle, Gospel, etc.
2. Offer to God, for His greater glory, the mystery of our Redeemer’s life which is being commemorated, or the acts of virtue which have been practised by the saint whose feast it is. This is done in the Canon of the Mass; it is not fitting to communicate before having made this offering which appeased the most High and brings us divine grace.
3. Ask of God (this is done in the Pater noster) and receive from Him by the merits and intercession of our Lord and His saints, the graces which they themselves received when they were living on earth.
4. To these three ways of interior or spiritual participation, which can be practiced at every Mass, we should, as far as circumstances allow, add exterior or material participation, which may consist: In reading liturgical prayers with the priest, in singing congregational and Gregorian chant at High Mass, in responding aloud at Low Mass, and best of all, in receiving Holy Communion with the priest during Mass. In this way we shall draw plentiful fresh draughts of the true Christian spirit at its primary source as Pius X wished.
As Holy Mother Church begins a new liturgical year soon, may we make it our resolution to more devoutly assist at Mass through our attentive participation. In addition, may we help others better understand how they can more actively enter into the Mass by introducing them to Dom Lefebvre’s recommendations.