Liturgy for the Perplexed, part 3 – Fr Stephen, 26/03/23
I am presently in the Pulpit…where Fr Barry finished up last week….the pulpit is the ‘symbolic boat’ from which in the Gospels Jesus taught because of the crowds…from his boat he could see everyone…from this ‘boat’…(if I could see in the first place) I could see each of you!
Each of us has come to Mass in order to ‘worship’ God.
I want to begin by suggesting ‘worship’ as a whole means giving to God what he is ‘worth’, called ‘worthship’ and that ‘worthship’ is our very best. It means that each of us offers to God here on a Sunday our very very best. Worthship.
In a catholic sense at Mass ‘worthship’ means Order and beauty and colour and symbolism. It also means preparation, and doing our best to get things ‘right’. And you will know from each other and in your experience here, each priest, and every person does his or her best to offer to God their very best.
Catholics can get a bit ‘picky’ about this.
Fr Barry tells the story of him saying Mass somewhere else. Following Mass, the Head Server thanked him…but then said that Fr Barry had only made ’41’ mistakes!
But worship does have a sense of doing our best even if we make mistakes. It also means treating holy things as holy, including each other. It means offering our whole selves… before, during and after Mass to God and as a pattern for the rest of our lives.
Offering our best in worship or ‘worthship’.
And Offering leads me nicely to the next stage of the Mass following the Peace where Fr Barry left off.
The Offertory…. or Offertorium in Latin.
In some Churches, the most important parts of the Offertory, the Bread, Wine and Water are brought up by folk from the congregation to a server here at the Chancel Step.
This is remarkably symbolic…
Bread, and wine and water symbolise our food and drink…those things we need to simply live. We offer these back to God as a little ‘thankyou’ for all that he gives to us. They are then brought by a Server to the priest at the Altar.
Here at St Andrews the priest faces eastwards with his or her back to the people. Priest and people face the same way.This emphasises the truth that God is transcendent, that He is Almighty, far away, high and lifted up. ‘Out there’ somewhere…
In some Churches the priest faces the people with the Altar being much closer. Sometimes the Altar is literally in the middle of folk, with the congregation on every side. My first parish Church… This emphasises the truth that God is Immanent, that He is close to us, ‘closer to us than we are to ourselves’…as St Augustine says.
But of course, we can’t express this paradox all at the same time so some altars are ‘way up there’ and some are ‘down here’ in front of this ‘wall’.
Which is why you lovely people can’t see what Father is doing at the Altar here…which is also why Father Stephen is going to show you today what he will do ‘up there’ later but now ‘down here’ on the table below.
(Move to table)
Last week, Father Johannes acting as the Deacon or Servant prepared the Altar. By me, acting as Subdeacon, he was given the Ciborium (show each) holding small hosts. Then a Chalice into which wine and water are poured.
Water?…not to weaken the wine, but to symbolise Jesus, who when on the Cross, and his side was pierced by a Roman Soldier, blood and water came out.
The Celebrant, Fr Barry, last week then proceeded with what we call the Four Fold Act of the Eucharist…precisely the four acts that Jesus did at the Last Supper in the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday. Priest rehearses yhe words anc acts of Jesus…in persona Christi.
He firstly TAKES the Bread and Wine. They are arranged carefully on a ‘Corporal’, a square of clean and ironed white linen.
After the Sanctus and Benedictus have been sung he BLESSES the bread and wine in turn… and saying the words which Jesus may well have actually said.
BLESSES here sees the Celebrant raise his hands and ‘draws down’ the power of the Holy Spirit…called the epiklesis …literally in Greek meaning ‘calling upon’ so that througn the Holy Spirit, ordinary bread and wine become spiritually the Body and Blood of Christ.
The words of Jesus rehearsed at every Mass by the priest are in Greek and English both commands…’Do this in remembrance of me.’ ‘Do this as often as you drink it in Remembrance of me.’
That is why the Church encourages us to come to Mass at least each and every Sunday.
TAKES then BLESSES.
Then thirdly, BREAKING.
The now ‘blessed’ or ‘consecrated’ bread is now BROKEN.
Here at St Andrew’s, the priest accomplishes this during the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. In some Churches this is done separately just before this at what is known as The Fraction.
Jesus finally GIVES his Body and Blood under the elements of Bread and Wine to his disciples. The priest at Mass carefully and reverently GIVES the same to us, Jesus’ present day disciples.
We each receive Communion carefully and reverently…but why?
Firstly, because as above, Jesus tells us to…but in receiving same we grow into the image of Jesus more and more. As St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas amongst others tell us…’We become what we eat.’
Taking… blessing… breaking… giving…
the four-fold act of each and every Mass. This taking blessing breaking and giving also reflects what happened to Jesus body on Good Friday… and what happens to us as faithful Christians at various times of our own lives…but that is for another day…or days of teaching!
Almost finally, we are blessed by the Priest and commanded to go and be his people empowered by the grace of this most wonderful of Sacraments.
I have tried to meld this into what Fr Johannes and Fr Barry have said in the last couple of weeks.
Please do read all three ‘offerings’ on the website and if you have any questions please do ask. In part, this is what we are here for. Amen.