Last week we heard about how the Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life; it is always effective and powerful. God is the one who acts in the Mass and he never fails to give us the Bread of Angels, the foretaste of heaven. Though this is true, today we hear that there is something more that is necessary on our part in order for the Mass to bear fruit in our personal lives.
Paragraph 11 indicates that there are three essential things for all who assist at Mass: “it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain.”
First, we are called to have the proper disposition. That means getting ourselves into the right frame of mind before entering into the church or, at least, to be there early enough to spend some time praying to get us ready before Mass begins. In particular, it means focusing on the mystery into which we are about to enter, a mystery which is described well in the book of Hebrews: “You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22). What the author describes is, at one and the same time, joyful and solemn. It is a wedding feast, but one held before the highest of kings, in the most regal of courts, and by the greatest of sacrifices – the blood of Jesus Christ.
Second, we hear that our minds should be attuned to our voices. It is easy to fall into the rote recitation of prayers without a thought to what we are really saying or without praying from our hearts. This is as true for the priest celebrating the Mass as for all those assisting at the Mass. We should reflect upon the words which we speak; and the words that we speak should manifest the desires of our hearts.
It is this emphasis on the words of Scripture and the Sacred Liturgy that has lead to the development of chant as the normative liturgical music for well over a thousand years. Chant may be jarring to modern sensibilities, but why? It is precisely because chant emphasizes the text, not the musical composition. The music of chant serves to highlight or embellish the words. Chant is a melodious reading, not a song.
Modern music and songs work the other way around; the music takes precedence. The words are of second importance. Just think of many of the popular songs heard on the radio today. Most people come to love them well before they ever make out all of the words, let alone what any of the words actually mean. The music itself grabs hold and stirs the emotions, the words are only secondary. This, of course, clearly shows the difficulty of using modern music and songs in the liturgy—the Word of God should never take second place, even to a catchy tune.
Third, we are called to cooperate with diving grace lest we should receive it in vain. Most importantly, this means that, before we even arrive, we are sure that we have no barriers to God’s grace in our lives. If we have committed significant sins, we need to seek out God’s grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If we are holding on to anger, bitterness, or hurts, we need to first forgive and seek healing in prayer. During the Mass, it means we need to foster a readiness to receive. We are not there to shape and form the Mass so much as the Mass is there to shape and form us.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!