How Come Mass Is Always the Same?
Canít We Do Something Different?
People sometimes ask why we donít do "something different up there" pointing to the sanctuary. I usually look over and ask if they mean Mass? Then they answer yesÖ and thus begins a talk similar to this one. Itís different only in that you came here freely, and youíre sitting down. First off, EVERY MASS IS DIFFERENT!!!! If itís not the readings constantly changing with the year and cycles, itís the homiliesÖ hopefullyÖ but I know priests that recycle a bit too much of their own material. Your secular year is pretty boring compared to my liturgical year, and you donít have me coming up to you telling you I want you to do something different for me today. I definitely have more variety in my year than you do in yours; because everyday is Christmas and Easter rolled into one, let me explain.
The liturgical year is divided into sacred seasons and feasts, each marked by special texts. I Think of it as a magnificent hymn of praise, a sonic journey. If that doesnít impress you, try this on for size. This yearly cycle, also called the ecclesiastical or Church year, reenacts the story of our redemption in dramatic form. The Church, with the faithful (thatís we who show up and participate), reenacts the life of Christ and at the same time unfolds a summary of our Faith.
The Liturgical year presents the history of Godís eternal love for us. It reminds us of the events of the Old and New Testaments, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the founding of the Church. It then traces the life and sufferings of the Church to the end of the world, to Christís second coming, and into eternity. You get it all in a liturgical year, blood and guts, puns, romance, hymns and homiliesÖ and most importantly a time with GodÖ itís never the same thing twice, and itís all there to help you pray deeper and fall further in love with your Creator. Letís start at the beginning of my yearÖ Advent.
The liturgical year begins with Advent starting four Sundays before December 25th ending with the Christmas Vigil Mass (Midnight Mass). There are two themes, both reflected by the term "advent" which means "coming." First, itís a period to prepare for Christmas (and Iím not talking about shopping), as we recall the first time that Christ came to us. Second, itís a time to reflect and prepare for Christís Second Coming at the end of time (and not thinking about Boxing Day sales). During Advent we remember the years the people of Israel waited for the Messiah, the foretelling by the prophets, and how Mary and Joseph were faithful to Godís plan.
The scripture selections and liturgical prayers reflect these two themes. From the start of Advent until December 16th the focus is on preparation for the coming of Godís Kingdom. From December 17th to December 24th the theme shifts to the anticipation of the birth of Christ. The readings from the Old Testament, especially from the Book of Isaiah, speak about this anticipation, while the New Testament readings reflect the Advent themes.
Since Advent is a time of expectation and preparation, the colors violet or purple are used in the vestments and decorations. Purple is a color that was reserved for use by royalty, and so itís used in Advent to symbolize the coming of Christ our King, as celebrated at Christmas and as we prepare for the coming of Godís Kingdom. Some people have asked about "that pink outfit the priest wears during Christmas", well itís not pink, and itís not technically during Christmas, itís the third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for "rejoice". The vestments worn that day are rose to symbolize the hope for the coming of Jesus.
Now we enter the Christmas season, which is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God who came amongst us, the Messiah. The Christmas season celebrates the early manifestations of Jesus, from his birth to the beginning of his public ministry. The central figures in the drama are Mary, Joseph, and John the BaptistÖ oh yesÖ and Jesus. A note on a term you might hear from priests and "people in the know" is the Octave of Christmas.
Because of the importance of Christmas, the Church extends the celebration of this solemnity (by the way, a solemnity is a happy time, not sad) to cover an eight-day period. This is known as an octave, which comes from the Latin octavus, which means "eighth." See, that Latin stuff is always sneaking in there. People tell me itís a dead language, well not quite, but itís on life-support at the moment. Anyway, Christmas Day and the seven days that follow are part of the Octave of Christmas and include the following feasts.
The Sunday after Christmas is the feast of the Holy Family. The gospel recounts Jesusí childhood, and the other readings concern the virtues of family life. December 26th is the feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr. December 27th is the feast of St. John, the apostle and evangelist. December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents. January 1st, the eighth day after Christmas, is the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The readings from scripture speak of the Blessed Mother and the giving of the name of Jesus.
The Sunday between January 2nd and 5th is the second Sunday after Christmas. In Canada, the Epiphany of the Lord, traditionally January 6th, is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2nd and 8th. The Sunday following January 6th is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and ends the Christmas season and the color of the vestments for this season is white or gold to show our joy. Older Catholics are upset that the three wise men seem to arrive at different times each yearÖ well the guys were riding camelsÖ We then enter Ordinary Time.
The term "Ordinary Time" may be misleading. In the context of the liturgical year the term "ordinary" does not mean "average or boring." Ordinary here means "not seasonal." Ordinary Time is the Liturgical Year lying outside the seasons of Lent-Easter and Advent-Christmas. In Ordinary Time, the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ in all itís aspects.
Ordinary Time in the Churchís year occurs in two sections. The first part begins on the Monday following the Christmas season, which ends with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday following January 6th. It lasts through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. Ordinary Time resumes after the Easter Season, on the Monday after Pentecost, and continues until the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent.
Got that? There will be a quiz later.
When the readings for Ordinary Time resume after Pentecost Sunday, the selection depends on the length of the season that year. When there are thirty-four Sundays in Ordinary Time, the week to be used is the one that immediately follows the last week used before Lent. When Ordinary Time has thirty-three Sundays, the week that would consecutively follow after Pentecost is omitted. This is to assure that the texts assigned to the last two weeks of Ordinary Time about the coming of Godís Kingdom are proclaimed correctly. The Church has learned you donít mess with the way God wants it done.
During Ordinary Time the readings are not chosen according to a theme. Rather, they present in a continuous fashion, the life and work of Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke. Johnís Gospel is read principally during the liturgical seasons. The readings from the Old Testament correspond to the Gospel passages and bring out the unity between the Old and the New Testaments. So we go on like this for a while until we hit Lent.
Lent, the time when all good Catholics boast about what they gave up to anyone listening, and keep on doing what they supposedly gave up in their homes away from those they boasted to. Remember, God is like Santa ClausÖ He knows when youíve been bad or good soÖ
Lent is the time of preparation for Easter, the greatest feast of the Church. During Lent, we are asked to focus on changing our lives through prayer, penance, and love. In doing these, we try to become more like Christ in his love for God and others by His dying and rising to new life. The figures in the readings for this season are Jesus, the disciples, and prophets. Itís also the time when the members of our R.C.I.A., complete final preparation for the sacraments of initiation.
On the Sundays during Lent, the scripture readings present the prophetsí call to repentance. Over the course of three years the readings provide a presentation of the total mystery of salvation. The gospel readings for the First and Second Sundays of Lent recount the Temptation and the Transfiguration of the Lord, with the accounts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
On the next three Sundays, the gospels about the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus are found in Cycle A. Because of its importance the in process of Christian initiation, these selections may also be proclaimed in Year B and Year C, especially where there are candidates for baptism. Otherwise, in Year B the gospels come from John about Christís glorification through his cross and resurrection. Year C offers Lukeís texts on conversion.
The Old Testament readings during Lent concern the history of salvation. The selections from the New Testament complement the Gospel and Old Testament readings and provide a connection between them.
Holy Week, which extends from Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) until Holy Saturday, includes the last days of Lent and the first days of the Easter Triduum. The week begins with a procession recalling the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. The gospels during this week recount what Jesus said and did during the week before his death. The colour used during Lent is violet or purple, which symbolizes the efforts for penance and reflection.
Now we get into the clergy marathon known as the Triduum. This is without a doubt the time that takes the most preparation on the part of the parish communityÖ Iím hinting here that weíd like a bit of help that week for the preparationÖ donít make me volunteer youÖ youíll get the bad jobs if I have to do that!
The Easter Triduum begins on Holy Thursday when we remember the Last Supper and that Jesus gave himself in the Eucharist. We recall that Jesus chose his apostles to serve and lead the Church. Remembering that Jesus washed their feet at the Last Supper, the priest washes the feet of members of the parishÖ CLEAN members of the parish. Holy Thursday is a special day for all priests since itís a day to mark the beginning of the ordained priesthood we usually get a pretty good dinner down at the Delta Chelsea prior to the Chrism Mass, thanks to the Cardinal Archbishop and the archdiocese. That eveningís Mass is a beautiful and joyful celebration. During the singing of the Gloria, bells are rung and then remain silent until the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday night. Because Holy Thursday is a feast day of the Blessed Sacrament, there is a procession of the Eucharist after the Mass to an altar of repose set up for the occasionÖ rememberÖ I need volunteers. Then the main altar is stripped.
On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus. According to an ancient custom, Mass is not celebrated on this day or before the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. The celebration of the Lordís passion and death takes place in the afternoon. There are three parts to this liturgy: the Liturgy of the Word; Veneration of the Cross; and Holy Communion with Hosts consecrated Holy Thursday.
On Holy Saturday the Church meditates on the suffering and death of Jesus. Then the Church gathers to celebrate the Easter Vigil, which is in four parts; the Service of Light; Liturgy of the Word; Liturgy of Baptism; and Liturgy of the Eucharist.
During the Service of Light, all lights in the church are turned off and a fire is prepared outside. Then the fire is blessed and the Paschal Candle is lit from the new fire. The candle is carried into the dark church. Itís a sign of Christ, the Light of the World, who has overcome the darkness of sin and death. Then, from the flame of the Paschal Candle, the congregation lights the small candles theyíre holding. The flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lit candle. The light from the Paschal Candle and all the small candles provide the only illumination in the church during this portion of the liturgy and concludes with the singing of the Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet.
During the Liturgy of the Word, the story of Godís great love for us is proclaimed in readings from Old and New Testaments. There are seven Old Testament texts to be readÖ volunteersÖ you know you want to read at the Vigil. The readings recall the great events of salvation, beginning with the creation story and were selected to dispose people to celebrate the sacraments of Christian initiation with great faith.
During the Liturgy of Baptism, those who have been preparing for Baptism and their godparents (sponsors) are called forward. After the candidates are baptized, all present stand with lit candles and renew their baptismal promises showing they share the new life of Jesus through his resurrection.
On Holy Thursday for the Mass of the Lordís Supper, white is used to signify the joyful events this liturgy recalls. Red for Good Friday liturgy signifies the passion and death of Jesus. For the Easter Vigil, white signifies the joy of Christís resurrection. Are you still with me?
The Easter Season flows from the Easter Vigil and concludes fifty days later on Pentecost Sunday. Itís a joyous season in which we celebrate Christís resurrection and ascension, as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church. This is a time of rejoicing, when the Alleluia should be sung with some gustoÖ not the usual whining noise I hear sometimes.
On Easter Sunday the gospel is Johnís account of finding the empty tomb, and the gospel selections until the third Sunday of Easter recount the appearances of the risen Christ. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter the reading speaks of the Good Shepherd. The gospels for the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter present the teaching and prayer of Christ at the last supper.
In accord with an ancient custom, the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles instead of a selection from the Old Testament. The life, growth, and witness of the early Church are presented every year of the three-year cycle.
On Easter, the second reading from Paul speaks of living out the paschal mystery in the Church. For the following Sundays of Easter, the selections for the second reading come from a different apostle for each cycle. For year A, the writings from the First Letter of Peter are read. For year B, theyíre from the First Letter of John. For year C, they come from Revelation and reflect the joyful faith and confident hope of the Easter season.
Pentecost Sunday, the last day of the Easter season, celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Church here on earth. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the great events of Pentecost. The second reading comes from Paul and speaks of the effect of the Spirit on the life of the Church. The gospel tells of Jesus bestowing his Spirit on the disciples on the evening of Easter.
The color used during the Easter season is white, signifying the joy of Christís resurrection. The last day of the Easter season is Pentecost Sunday, on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. On this day red is the liturgical color, representing the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Well, thatís my boring year in a nutshell. Every day there is something new to revitalize my faith and love of God, and every day I discover more about myself and what God has in store for me. Each day we are all called upon to make this journey with Christ, and yet we often do "the guy thing" and donít ask, or want directions.
So how do you make your year exciting? Godís asking you over to His house this very day because heís having one heck of a party, and weíre all invitedÖ especially the volunteers!
Edited: December 29, 2006 -
Copyright © Sts. Martha and Mary Parish, Mississauga 2005 - 2007