A further group is made up of those whose heart is very much in devotions. The Church would be impoverished without these excellent parishioners. They can always be found at Eucharistic Adoration and often assemble regularly to say the rosary or attend other prayer groups. These are the people who are daily Mass-goers and who visit the Church frequently to light candles and pray. They have many prayer cards and novena leaflets which they distribute and are always to be counted on to intercede for special intentions. Because fewer priests are involved with practices other than Mass, responsibility often falls on these good people to assist in various ways, perhaps in the preparation of the sanctuary area and altar. Unfortunately due to lack of training this can result in deficiencies and mismanagement when liturgical norms are not adhered to.

So what was it like when lay people did experience the heart of the Mass? Was there a sense of being spiritually nourished, inspired and uplifted? Did people believe they were in the presence of God – did they worship and adore him with their heart and soul?

We are told by liturgical experts that in the years before the Second Vatican Council, ordinary lay people did not understand what was happening at Mass and because of this they usually substituted their own intercessory prayers and petitions during the liturgy. Apparently there was no sense of being involved apart from when the congregation left the pews and processed up to receive Holy Communion kneeling at the altar rails.

But is this an accurate picture? Talking to older people who clearly remember what going to Mass was like in the years before the changes, it emerges that the theory commonly held by liturgical experts regarding the ordinary Catholic is largely erroneous. In pre-Vatican II days, people knew that the heart of their faith was the Mass. They were aware that something tremendous was happening and they responded to this with great attention and reverence. When it comes to grasping what Mass means, can anyone say they really comprehend the great mystery being enacted before their eyes? What is the right attitude in the face of such a reality? Surely if we really believe we should be filled with awe and reverence?

Staying with the heart of the problem it is obvious where the fault lies. The spiritual reality of Mass is not being recognised. Nowadays, the expectation seems to be that liturgy should come under the joint dominance of understanding and sensation in order to have significance. In line with secular culture many Catholics have adopted knowledge and feeling as the way in which they want to participate in liturgy. In other words we now have to understand what we are doing and we have to feel good about it. The degree of respect formerly given to faith and obedience which were synonymous with Catholicism is now given to knowledge and emotion. For this reason liturgical initiatives are often added to make liturgy meaningful because the real meaning has become obscured.

Nonetheless, despite appearances and various external activities Mass is always the same in essence. In their hearts, those who always knew this still know it. The depth of meaning is often revealed in the way words are used. For the most part, no matter how often we hear the Mass referred to as “Sunday Eucharist” or a “liturgical celebration” we will still always simply say we are “going to Mass.”

 

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