You may have noticed that we recently added a veil, basically a white curtain, to the tabernacle. My mom actually made the veil with material left over from my Marian chasuble and some lace that she made. Aside from being beautiful, why should we have a tabernacle veil? A Vatican document from 1967 tells us the purpose of a tabernacle veil, “Care should be taken that the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is indicated to the faithful by a tabernacle veil or some other suitable means prescribed by the competent authority” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, 57). The idea of the tabernacle veil goes back to the Old Testament, and that history can shed light on the Mass and the Eucharist.
In the book of Exodus the Lord tells Moses how to make the Tent of Meeting, called the Tabernacle, to be a place for the people to worship God and offer sacrifice to Him. The Temples in Jerusalem were copies of this original design. The innermost room was the Holy of Holies and was reserved for the High Priest, who could only enter it once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies. The Ark was a symbol of God’s covenant faithfulness to the people of Israel and was considered to be like a throne for God. The lid of the Ark was called the “Mercy Seat.” There was a veil separating the Holy of Holies. The veil represented the presence of God because this place, the Holy of Holies, was set apart for the Lord God. The entire Temple was God’s house, but the Holy of Holies was the holiest part of the Temple.
At the moment of Christ’s death on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was torn down the middle (Mt. 27:50-51). Why was the veil torn? Jesus Christ is the true Temple (Jn 2:21), the true presence of God on Earth. When Christ gave up His Spirit, the Spirit of God also left the Temple in Jerusalem because the True Temple had been destroyed. The veil was torn as a sign that God was no longer present in the Temple.
However, Christ has been raised from the tomb and has ascended to heaven, and He’s left us the Mass as the memorial of His Cross and Resurrection. In every Mass the Spirit of God descends and changes (through Transubstantiation) the bread and wine into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. After Mass, the consecrated hosts are placed in our own Tabernacle, which houses the True Presence of God. The veil in the tabernacle is a sign that God is truly present there, but that veil is drawn back during every Mass as a sign that faithful followers of Christ will share His presence forever in heaven.
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).
Probably the largest change in the celebration of the Mass was the change from use of Latin for every prayer and reading of the Mass to the use of the vernacular or spoken language. Indeed, in many parish churches in the United States it seemed that, on November 22, 1964, Mass was celebrated as it had been their entire lives and on the next Sunday, November 29, 1964, the Mass had changed dramatically. The readings and many of the prayers were said in English and the people were encouraged to recite some of the prayers with him. By the end of 1969 the Church discontinued all use of Latin in the Mass. The problem was, this wasn’t what the Second Vatican Council called for or what Pope St. Paul VI envisioned.
This is what the Council said about it, “In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and “the common prayer,” but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people…Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them” (SC, 54). The Council called for the use of the mother tongue in the Mass, and the specifics were to be left to the bishops with the approval of the Pope, so that people could better understand the Mass and enter into it more fully. However, they also called for Latin to be retained in the Mass, especially for the Nicene Creed and the Our Father, along with many of the Eucharistic Prayers which are said only by the priest.
Why Latin? The first time I ever experienced a Mass in Latin was at St. Benilde Church in Metairie which had a Latin Mass every first Saturday. That’s why we celebrate a Latin Mass here at Lourdes every first Saturday, because I’m following that example. I was a seminarian at the time, and the experience actually opened up a new understanding of the Mass for me. Even though I couldn’t understand the language (I hadn’t started Latin classes yet), I was given a new understanding of the deep holiness and mystery of what is celebrated in the Mass. When we only celebrate Mass in a language that we understand, we can start to think that we know what’s going on, but the Mystery celebrated in the Mass, the Mystery of the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, is infinitely huge. Every time we participate in Mass we participate in something bigger than ourselves; we participate in something eternal.
I believe the Council Fathers were wise to insist on a mix of Latin and the mother tongue. If we don’t understand anything that’s going on, then we’re tempted to mentally check out, or to think that the Mass is for the priest and we just happen to be there. The use of our own language in the Mass helps us see that the Lord is speaking to each one of us personally and inviting us to enter into the life of Christ. The use of Latin, on the other hand, connects us to centuries of Christian tradition, thousands of saints, and the Mysteries that are being celebrated right in front of us.
We use Greek (Kyrie Elieson) and Hebrew (Amen and Alleluia), and we sing some of the parts in Latin during Christmas and Easter, but if you’d like to experience a Mass celebrated with a mix of Latin (most of the prayers) and English (readings, homily, and prayers of the faithful), then come join us on any first Saturday at 8 AM.
“Holy Mother Church is conscious that she must celebrate the saving work of her divine Spouse by devoutly recalling it on certain days throughout the course of the year. Every week, on the day which she has called the Lord's day, she keeps the memory of the Lord's resurrection, which she also celebrates once in the year, together with His blessed passion, in the most solemn festival of Easter.
Within the cycle of a year, moreover, she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, from the incarnation and birth until the ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the coming of the Lord.
Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord's powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace (SC, 102).”
The Church celebrates the liturgy according to a liturgical calendar which celebrates the life of Christ throughout the course of the year. Every year, we celebrate the entire life of Christ, from His conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary on March 25, to His birth at Christmas, His public ministry, His suffering and death at the Triduum, His Ascension to heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. We consecrate our lives and time itself by celebrating the life of Christ and uniting our lives to His.
There were some changes made to the calendar after Vatican II, and you can look up the details if you’d like. They mainly tried to simplify the calendar. To do that, they removed some things from the calendar, like the Octave of Pentecost, the ember days, and some saints feast days, although we’ve added quite a few saints since then. The ember days were 12 days of fasting and abstinence. They happened on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays following the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost Sunday, the Exaltation of the Cross (Sept 14), and the feast of St. Lucy (Dec 13), because Christ was betrayed on a Wednesday, crucified on a Friday, and in the tomb on Saturday. They were supposed to teach us to appreciate the gifts of nature, to use them in moderation, and to assist the poor. In the current calendar we only fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and we practice abstinence on all Fridays of the year. Of course, just because they’re no longer mandatory doesn’t mean that we can’t still fast in some way on those days.
As we celebrate the life of Christ, the mysteries of the faith, and the lives of the saints throughout the liturgical year, we can try to truly unite our lives to the life of Christ. We can unite our joys to Christs and our struggles and sorrows to His as well. We can also be inspired and motivated by the lives of the saints and deepen our understanding of the mysteries of the faith. Most of all, we can let the life of Christ sanctify our lives.
The document that governs the liturgical reforms of the Mass, sacraments, and sacramentals of the Church is Sacrosanctum Concilium, which was promulgated (published) in December 1963. After that, the Church began to put together commissions to work on the various reforms that the council called for, and the work of these commissions was ultimately overseen by the Holy Father, Pope St. Paul VI, and the bishops. One of the biggest changes was to the cycle of Bible readings used in the Mass. The Council wrote, “Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony” (SC, 24).
The Mass comes from the Bible and the Bible, in turn, is infused in every part of the Mass, from the prayers to the very structure of the Mass, and this has always been true. However, in the course of the centuries, the number of readings at Mass was reduced. In the early Church, it wasn’t uncommon to have many readings at every Mass, like the Easter Vigil still does (it has 9 readings plus the psalms). Before Vatican II, there was a one year cycle of readings with only 2 readings at each Mass, with few readings taken from the Old Testament. Also, most weekdays simply repeated the readings from the Sunday Mass, except during Lent and on Ember Days.
The Council Fathers of Vatican II called for an expansion of the readings used at Mass, “The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years” (SC, 51). That’s why we now have three readings every Sunday, with one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. Weekdays got their own readings, although they only have 2 readings with one from either the Old Testament or Epistles and the other from the Gospels. The Sunday readings follow a three year cycle and the weekday readings a two year cycle. These readings are often arranged to point out the connections between the Old and New Testament and the faith of the Church. For example, the readings for next Sunday all concern the gentiles and how even foreigners are called to faith in God.
Not all of the changes were good, however. The new lectionary (the book of Mass readings), often gives long and short versions of readings, where the short version sometimes leaves out a challenging part of the readings, and the new lectionary entirely leaves out certain challenging Bible passages, like St. Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11 not to eat the Body of the Lord unworthily, which before was read twice every year. I point this out to encourage everybody to pick up your Bibles and read them or join a good, Catholic Bible Study. The new lectionary is very good, and, I think, an improvement on the old, but it was still put together by flawed human beings. Many of us use our Bibles to hold space on a book shelf, but God has treasures stored up for us in the Holy Bible. Don’t neglect them.
The Lord of the Rings movies are three of the highest grossing movies of all times, so it’s pretty likely that you’ve seen them. However, if you like epic books, then you should definitely read the books. Don’t be intimidated by the size of the books; there are three of them, and they’re all large, but it’s worth it. Take you time reading them, and really think about them. J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Catholic, but his Catholicism isn’t just right on the surface like so much Catholic media; it’s deep down in the fabric of the story and characters.
In the movies you can see the struggle between Frodo and the Ring, and they do a brilliant job of showing that struggle. In the books you get to hear what’s going on in Frodo’s mind during those struggles. The Ring wants him to put it on, because that will reveal his location and their plan to destroy the Ring. Sometimes Frodo exerts his will and overcomes the temptation of the Ring. Sometimes he falls to the temptation and the Ring wins. The really subtle part is that using the Ring can actually help Frodo get closer to his goal, which is reaching Mt. Doom and destroying the Ring, but each time it makes it harder and harder to resist and gives the Ring more and more control over Frodo. One of the most moving scenes in the book is when Frodo and Sam are in Mordor and getting closer and closer to Mt. Doom. As they draw closer it gets harder and harder for Frodo to resist as it has more and more influence over him. At one point he tells Sam to hold his hand, to keep him from putting on the Ring, because he knows that he can’t resist the pull of the Ring anymore.
This is epic fantasy literature, but it has everything to do with living out the faith in our daily lives. We have to remember that we’re in a spiritual battle against the ancient Enemy, Satan, “the accuser of our brothers” (Rv 12:10).There is another power, when which is more powerful than we are, influencing us and pulling us, but it can’t control us unless we give in. Sometimes we fall, and sometimes we don’t, but we need to use of our willpower and everything we have to resist. Ultimately, though, everything we have isn’t enough. We need help. We need the help of our friends, our brothers and sisters in the faith, and we need the help of a higher power, one which even the Enemy is powerless against. Think of what Gandalf says as he stands on the bridge of Khazad-dum blocking the path of the Balrog, a beast of fire and shadows, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass.” To me, that sounds an awful lot like the Holy Spirit who descended on the Apostles at Pentecost filling them with the strength and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Back in April I did my bulletin article on “Full and Active Participation in the Mass,” which is a phrase from the Second Vatican Council, and before that from the Liturgical Movement leading up to Vatican II. One of the main purposes of the Liturgical Movement was to encourage people to actively participate in the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass. Since the priest faced the tabernacle with the people, the Mass was in Latin, and many of the prayers were said too quietly for the people to hear, people could get the impression that the Mass is what the priest, and maybe the servers, do, and everyone else just has to be there. They encouraged people to buy daily missals so they could follow the prayers and readings of the Mass, to learn about the Mass, and to actively participate.
Vatican II recommended a reform of the liturgy to encourage full and active participation. The Council Fathers wrote, “Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (SC, 11).
We might think that only the people who are lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Communion, altar servers, ushers, etc., are actively involved in the Mass, but that’s exactly the attitude that Vatican II wanted to end. You aren’t supposed to sit there passively as the Mass happens around you; you should be actively praying with the priest and offering yourself with the Sacrifice of Christ.
Some people say that there’s no point in going to Mass if they can’t receive Communion. There may be many reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t receive. You may be allergic to wheat (the host for the Eucharist must be wheat bread). Maybe you haven’t made your first Communion yet, or maybe you’re not Catholic yet. Maybe you didn’t fast from food and drink (except water and medicine) for an hour before Communion, or maybe you have a mortal sin on your soul and haven’t gotten to Confession yet. In any case, you are still called to be actively involved in praying the Mass. If you do pray the Mass, pay attention to the readings and homily, and offer yourself with the sacrifice of Christ, then when you do receive Communion, whether you receive every day or go for years without receiving, it will be that much more powerful for you when you do receive.
The Lord God wants gave us the Mass as a gift, to draw us closer to Himself, and we are all called to participate fully and actively, no matter what our state in life or position in the Church, as the Council Fathers wrote, “To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross’, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’ [Mt 18:20]” (SC, 7).
Lately, I’ve been hearing the phrase, “follow the science,” a lot. For example, people have been saying that we should follow the science with regard to coronavirus. They mean that we should social distance from one another and wear masks when we’re out around other people, because these things make it less likely that you’ll catch the virus. However, they’re leaving out the fact that they’re also making a moral judgement that we should do whatever we can to avoid catching or spreading Coronavirus. Science doesn’t make judgements on what we should and shouldn’t do; it only tells us facts based on empirical evidence and experimentation. We then have to take those facts and make a judgement about them to figure out what we should do in this situation.
So, science tells us how Coronavirus spreads and which people are most at risk, our belief that every human life is precious leads us to do what we can to avoid spreading the virus, and our common sense tells us when we should take more or less precautions. However, sometimes different morals seem to come into conflict. In that case the science doesn’t change but our judgment might. For example, we believe in the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech, and both of these can lead to exceptions to the rules on social distancing. Let’s try to think about the decisions we’re making and what morals and beliefs are behind those decisions. We should definitely encourage people to take common sense precautions, but let’s refrain from berating and accusing people. Instead, let’s try to understand the beliefs behind one another’s actions.
Science can answer a lot of questions. It can tell us who, what, when, where, and how, but it can’t tell us why. Science can tell us about the world around us, but it doesn’t tell us why those things are. Science can tell us where the colors come from and how our eye picks up light reflected off of other things, but it can’t tell us the meaning behind a great piece of artwork. Science has it’s place, but so do religion and philosophy. Science can explain how the human body stays alive, but religion tells us about the meaning and purpose of life. Jesus Christ, after all, commanded us to feed the hungry and care for the sick (Mt. 25:31-46), but He also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).
We probably all have relatives who were raised Catholic but have since left the Church or simply stopped going to Church. This can be a cause of great sorrow, since we know the importance of the faith for eternal life and the joy that we have from living out the faith, and we want them to experience that joy and have hope for eternal life. It’s not up to us to judge anyone’s soul, because only God can read the intentions of hearts. However, the Lord did command us to “make disciples of all nations.” Where better to start than in our own families? Unfortunately, our own family members can be the hardest people to share our faith with.
We may be tempted to downplay our faith when we’re around these family members, so we don’t cause any uncomfortable situations. We don’t have to shove religion in their faces or beat them over the head with the Bible, but we shouldn’t hide our faith, either. Instead, we should just be ourselves. Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith, to pray before meals, or even to invite them to come to Mass with you, but don’t try to force it either. Simply show them that your faith is an important and natural part of your life.
Sometimes we encounter people who want to argue with us about religion, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be pulled into an argument. If someone wants to talk with you about religion and beliefs then don’t be afraid to share your faith. If they have questions you can’t answer, just tell them you’re not sure, but make sure to look up the answer and get back to them. When we argue about religion we start to feel like we need to win the argument. Instead, try to leave them with something to think about. Plant a seed in their mind.
Most importantly, remember to pray for them. When the Lord went to visit Martha and Mary, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him while Martha did all of the serving. Martha asked the Lord to tell Mary to help her with the serving, but Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the one thing necessary, and it shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42). We need to do the work of sharing the faith and witnessing to the faith, but we also have to do the “one thing necessary,” which is to pray. As St. Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollo watered, but God provided the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). Only God can make the seed of faith grow in someone’s heart, so pray to him every day for your relatives and friends who are away from the Church.
When you read the lives of the saints you often find that they come in groups. You’ll have multiple saints in the same family, like St. Edwin of Northumbria, his wife St. Ethelburga of Kent, and their daughter St. Enfleda of Whitby, who lived in 7th century England and worked to spread Christianity. There’s also St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Saints Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea, and Saints Benedict and Scholastica, who were brother and sister. Saints tend to come in groups because holiness attracts holiness. All of these saints, whether they were family or friends, tried to help each other to grow in holiness. They weren’t perfect, but they encouraged each other to persevere in the faith and held each other to higher standards.
Saints pray for one another. St. Monica spent years praying for the conversion of her son, St. Augustine, who went on to become one of the greatest theologians in Church history. The legacy of St. Augustine is due in large part to the love and prayers of St. Monica. Do I pray for my family members and friends? Do I ask God to help them, to bring them to conversion, and to give them the grace they need to grow closer to God and persevere in the faith? I recommend praying a daily rosary and offering each decade for a different person or family.
Saints give one another prudent spiritual advice and not just worldly advice. St. Teresa of Avila recruited St. John of the Cross to help her in her mission to reform the Carmelite Order. This caused St. John of the Cross a lot of hardship and suffering, but it also helped him to become a saint. Do we try to help our friends to become saints? Not everyone can give spiritual direction but we can all encourage our family and friends to go to Church, to pray, and to seek to know and do God’s will in their lives, and encourage them to persevere when things get tough.
Most of all, saints let their actions speak for them. They give others a good example, like Saints Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order, and Clare of Assisi, founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, when St. Clare followed St. Francis’ example of leaving everything behind to follow Christ in poverty and absolute faith. I’m no St. Francis or St. Clare, but am I trying to be a saint? Am I trying to live a holy life? Am I trying to get to heaven? When we live in joyful abandonment to God He will use us to attract others to do the same.
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.