The Vatican Council talks about the Mass as a prayer directed to God while also being meant for our instruction, saying, “Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read ‘which were written for our instruction’ (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace” (SC, 33).
Everything in the Mass is there for a reason and has a meaning. Of course, the readings and homily are meant to teach us about God and His will for our lives, but even the prayers, songs, and the actions of the Mass should lift our minds to God and teach us about the faith. In the readings we hear the written Word of God which prepares us to receive the living Word of God in the Eucharist. The prayers are addressed to God, not to us, but they’re for us. God already knows what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling, so He doesn’t need to hear our prayers to know what we want and need. The prayers are meant to direct us to pray for the graces that God wants to give us.
The things we sing in Mass should also be prayers. In fact, the entire Mass is a song and is set to music so that it can be sung. Singing is a higher form of praying since we’re putting more of ourselves into the prayer when we sing. After the Mass itself, the next most important thing to sing in Mass is the Bible. Every Mass has a set of Bible verses, the antiphons, which are chosen for that Mass and are meant to be sung at the opening, the Gospel, the offertory, and during Communion. After all, what better to sing to God than His own Words? Finally, the hymns chosen for Mass should be designed for the liturgy. Not every Christian song is fitting to be sung at Mass, so the hymns must be chosen carefully so that they help us to enter more fully into the Mass and don’t distract us from it.
Finally, the actions of the Mass have meaning and are directed at helping us to lift our hearts to the Lord. The actions of the priest, like the elevations of the Blessed Sacraments and various genuflections, have meanings, but so do the actions of all the people. When you stand, sit, or kneel, when you make the sign of the Cross, and when you go forward to receive Holy Communion you are uniting yourselves to the prayers and actions of the priest and the entire Church as we offer ourselves as “a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.