November 7, 2020 Column Father De Celles

Elections. Well I guess I am still a political junkie. I stayed up very late watching the election results on Tuesday, and as of this writing (Wednesday, noon) still don’t know who the next president will be. I hope by the time you read this, we all do know. God’s will be done.

The Month of the Saints. All during the month of November we remember the Communion of Saints: the Saints in Heaven, the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and the Church on Earth (you and me). Nowhere is this communion, or unity, made more apparent than at every Holy Mass, as Christ descends to our altar in the Eucharist, and the Communion of Saints comes together to worship Him.

            Last Sunday we read from the Book of Revelation how the saints in heaven worship God: “I had a vision of a great multitude…They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes…. All the angels stood around the throne…They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: ‘Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving… be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’” Similar descriptions of the heavenly liturgy are found throughout the Book of Revelation, including the description of the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb (Christ) and His Bride (the Church). We also find similar allusions throughout the Scriptures, including Hebrews 9:24: “Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that He might now appear before God on our behalf.”

            Every Holy Mass is a participation in this heavenly worship. Therefore, no Mass is a merely earthly activity, much less the activity of one congregation, but is taken up into heavenly realities, especially with the sense of wonder, awe and reverence that are really at the heart of the meaning of the words “worship” and “liturgy.”

            It has always been my goal to promote this sense of worship in my priesthood. Not because it is my preference, but because it is the amazing reality we are celebrating. So I encourage you, during this month of the Communion of Saints, to especially consider how you participate in Holy Mass. Ask yourself: “Do I actively and fully participate in Mass by focusing my whole being on Christ? Do I pray (and sing) reverently, realizing I am praying with the angels and saints?  Do I reverently join in the common gestures of the Mass, standing bowing and kneeling at the prescribed times [“the angels stood… They prostrated themselves…”]?

            I have to say, I am very proud of our parish because I think we celebrate the liturgy very reverently.  But we can always improve—always striving for heavenly perfection. Not to become a group of unthinking automatons, but to humbly  unite ourselves to the will of Christ, the tradition of the Church and the reverence of the saints and angels.

            However, I am afraid of what effect the Covid shutdown will have on all this, especially with so many parishioners staying away from Mass. It seems to me it would be very easy to just grab a cup of coffee and settle down on the couch in your pajamas and “catch” the Mass on livestream or TV. Now, I’m sure most of you are being very reverent even while watching the Mass at home. But just take this as a reminder to examine how you’re approaching watching the Mass at home. Do you dress neatly, respond to the prayers, make the appropriate gestures and adopt the appropriate posture? Do you pray or just watch?

And also consider if it’s time, factoring in all pertinent health and safety concerns, for you to return to Mass. There is no substitute for participating at the Mass in person.

            Clarifications. Sometimes I notice some confusion with regard to certain gestures at Mass. Let me offer some brief clarifications:

            — Bowing. During the Mass, from the opening greeting until the consecration of the Body of Christ, we bow at the waist toward the altar (not to the tabernacle, as is our inclination—see below). We also bow at the waist during the Creed at the line, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  Likewise, we bow our heads slightly whenever the name of Jesus, Mary, or the saint of the day are said, or when the three Divine persons are named together (i.e., “the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit”).

            — Genuflecting. We genuflect (touch our right knee to the ground and then rise) at various times during Mass. Note, the priest and ministers genuflect to Our Lord in the tabernacle at the beginning of Mass, but from then until the consecration, do not genuflect, but instead bow to the altar. This is because, although our Lord is present in the tabernacle, in the current form of Mass the Church asks us to move into an anticipatory mode, waiting for the Lord to come to the altar at the consecration before we genuflect again.

But note that after the consecration the priest no longer bows to the altar but begins to genuflect to the Host on the altar, and as he reposes the Host in the tabernacle. The people should generally do the same, although during the reception of Holy Communion they are allowed to receive either standing (after making some sign of reverence, e.g., bow of the head or body, genuflecting) or kneeling.

            Moreover, it is the universal and ancient Catholic custom that outside of Mass we genuflect to the Our Lord in the tabernacle whenever we approach or cross in front of it. Outside of Mass we should never merely bow toward the tabernacle, unless of course you are physically unable to genuflect.

            Hands. There are no explicit rules guiding what the congregants should do with their hands during Mass. But consider the norms for altar servers: when sitting, hands are rested on the knees; when kneeling, standing, or genuflecting, hands are folded palm to palm.

Some ask if they can hold their hands extended when they pray at Mass. While not specifically prohibited, it is not the custom and seems grossly inappropriate, since this is the gesture of the priest when he is praying in the name of Christ and the people.

Some folks hold hands during the Our Father as a sign of unity. This seems contrary to the norms and prudence, since the priest and servers are required to fold their hands at this point, thus nullifying the sign of unity. Covid, however, seems to be diminishing this practice.

Wednesday Adorers. We need more regular adorers during Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Wednesdays. If you’re interested, please contact Leslie Schratz  at 703-569-1940.

Snow Team: HELP!  We need some strong, able-bodied folks to help us clean up during snow season.  Equipment is provided. This is a paid position, but we will also happily accept volunteers.  For more information or to apply, please contact Mary Butler at the Parish office.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles