Get me started talking about the Mass and what I love about it, and I will have a hard time stopping. Thank God Jesus called me to be a priest, so I can keep going, and know that I am doing the job He gave me!
Last week I shared with you my delight in the enriched Lectionary that presents our Scriptural texts for Mass throughout the year, and how its three-year cycle is a fruit of the Second Vatican Council that not only enriched the Mass, but also makes sure we Catholics all have greater familiarity with and understanding of the Bible.
Because I have learned and come to like the Mass as it was celebrated before the Council, often called the Tridentine or Latin Mass, I also have an enhanced understanding of and appreciation for the Mass called for by the Council. It’s rather like meeting and becoming friends with the parents of someone who has been your best friend for years; knowing them, you understand him and love him all the more.
One of the things I really missed most in the Latin Masses I was celebrating for my previous parish was the General Intercessions. These prayers, after the Creed, are when we pray for particular and universal needs as a body in worship. It is how we bring prayer to bear on our world, our nation, and our community. We respond to crises far away (a Pacific tsunami) and nearby (a sick baby). We liturgically engage important events that are not liturgical (Mother’s Day, presidential inaugurations). While the prayers are by definition to be general (for the Church, or for the dead), they also give us a chance to mention, in context, particular needs of interest to us (the Pope’s visit, or a parishioner’s dad who died).
Before the change, the Mass texts were all the same, every place, at all times. Now, that is still true – as well as fitting and good -- for much, even most of the Mass. Before, the only things that changed according to situation and community were the homily, and the announcements. Now, with the General Intercessions, there is a means to engage the whole worshipping body and bring the power of liturgical prayer to concerns and considerations particular to the time and place of the actual community.
Recently, while re-reading Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, I was startled to see how few changes to the Mass were specifically identified, but that among them was this: Especially on Sundays and feasts of obligation there is to be restored, after the Gospel and the homily, "the common prayer" or "the prayer of the faithful." By this prayer, in which the people are to take part, intercession will be made for Holy Church, for the civil authorities, for those oppressed by various needs, for all mankind, and for the salvation of the entire world. (Article 53)
So imagine my surprise when, having on my own identified the most important and useful changes made in the celebration of the Holy Mass for the good of the People of God, I found that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council agreed with me all along. And all this they figured out the year before I was born! It takes me back to that time when, having completed my appointed time of being a teenager, I realized that my mom and dad were really pretty smart people after all. Thank God!