Last week I mentioned that my approach to the Sacred Liturgy is traditional. This does not mean I am “retro” or “pre-Vatican Two” (although I do, on occasion, celebrate Mass in the ancient form). I am thoroughly a “child of Vatican Two”, formed deeply in both the conciliar and post-conciliar teaching and practice of the Church. Rather, by traditional, I mean that I understand and celebrate the Sacred Liturgy in light of that which has been handed on to us through the ages, a process guided by the Holy Spirit, a process steeped in continuity rather than disruption. Additionally, as a moral theologian, I firmly believe that reverence is one of the greatest virtues we can bring to our relationship with God and our neighbors. Several liturgical practices help foster this virtue within us and, in exercising my pastoral leadership, I am happy to implement them as opportunity allows. Here, I give a brief explanation of three of those things.
(1) Bells. The tradition of ringing bells at significant times during the Sacred Liturgy highlights those moments and underscores the working of God within the prayers offered. A bell is rung just before the prayers of Consecration (that is, during the Epiclesis) when the Holy Spirit is called down upon the gifts of bread and wine. Already at this point in the Mass, God is mysteriously transforming those gifts into his Sacred Body. A bell is rung again at the showing of both the Sacred Host and the chalice after their respective consecrations, indicating that the transformation from bread and wine to the Body of the Lord is now complete. I usually have the bell rung again at the priest’s reception of the Precious Blood, indicating the consummation of the sacramental act. It also has the practical value of letting the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion know that it is time to come forward for distribution.
(2) The altar crucifix. The altar is a symbol struck through with many meanings. It is the Altar of Sacrifice, signifying the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary made mysteriously present in the Holy Eucharist. It is the Table of the Lord, representing the sacred convivium of the pilgrim people of God, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. It is also a symbol of Christ Himself, cornerstone of the Church. The crucifix placed upon the altar highlights these several meanings and ties them together. One might say, however, that we already have a large, beautiful crucifix in both our churches! This is true, and we are blessed to have them. Traditionally, a church’s large crucifix is the crucifix of devotion, while the altar has its own crucifix more clearly associated with it. The fact of two (or even more) crucifixes in a church is quite normal (see, for example, the major basilicas in Rome) and one that most people understand.
(3) The chalice veil. In Christianity, as in other religions, the veiling of persons and things denotes a sense of sacredness, of being “set aside for God”, or even of being deputed for worship (veiling, when used as a sign of dominance over or ownership of other people, is not part of the Christian ethos and is to be firmly rejected). The veil over the chalice denotes that the sacred vessels are “set aside for God” for use in the Sacred Liturgy. It also symbolizes more. On the one hand, the veiled chalice, which gets unveiled during the offertory rite, represents the fact that the mysteries spoken of in the Liturgy of the Word are “unveiled” and fulfilled in the great mystery of the Holy Eucharist. On the other hand, the chalice represents Christ. As the liturgy progresses and we sacramentally relive the self-offering of Christ in the Paschal Mystery, our Lord is “stripped of his clothing” just as he was stripped on the original way of the Cross. Christ becomes poor and exposed, for the sake of the poor and the vulnerable.
As you can probably tell, these aspects of the Sacred Liturgy excite me because of the deep significance they hold for all of us. Seemingly minor, they nevertheless have a transformative power, prompting a more reverent and loving attitude within us toward God and, flowing from that, toward our neighbor.
May God bless you this week, and may His grace be poured in abundance upon your loved ones. Please keep praying for a swift end to the pandemic.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,