If you have ever been to a traditional Latin Mass, you no doubt noticed that the altar servers make a big ceremony out of carrying the big book to the left side of the altar before the priest reads the Gospel. Is there some kind of symbolism going on with left and right? Are we supposed to think of those who stand at our Lord’s left and right at the judgment?
It turns out that the ceremony has nothing to do with left and right.  According to the rubrics, the priest reads the Gospel toward the north. In fact, what we usually see at a Low Mass or High Mass is a compressed version of the full ceremony of a Solemn Mass, where the subdeacon chants the Epistle on the right side and the deacon, after a procession with candles, chants the Gospel on the left side of the Church, facing directly toward the north. We’re all aware that churches are traditionally oriented toward the east, and east is important because the rising sun symbolizes Christ coming. But in liturgical terms, north is also important because, by a long tradition, the north represents the dark realm where the light of the gospel has not yet shone. We read the Gospel toward the north to represent the Church’s mission to the unevangelized.
In fact, after the Council of Trent permission was given for churches to be oriented not just toward the east but in other directions, if needed for some reason—any direction, in fact, except to the north. No church shall point in the direction of evil.
Over the years, I have written a fair bit about Holy Week. Bereft of public liturgies this year, one of the most helpful things we can do is contemplate what happens in those liturgies with longing, like the people Israel contemplating the Temple in their exile. Without the rushing around to get ready and managing kids in Mass and worrying about preparations for guests, this may even be a privileged time to absorb and think over what we have seen at all the liturgies of years past. So I’ve gathered links to my blog posts for each of the Holy Week liturgies:
As Wyoming Catholic College has shifted temporarily to online classes, a lot of us are recording conversations to share with the students. Happily, that makes it easier to share with you! Recently Kyle Washut and I discussed John Henry Newman’s Letter to Pusey, of the best treatments anywhere if Catholic doctrine and devotion concerning Mary. Wyoming Catholic College posted the video as well as an audio-only version, and I’ve snagged the links.
Here is the video:
You can download the audio-only from this link, or listen to it here:
Aleitia.org recently published an excellent article on how lectors are often given bad advice. When lectors receive any training at all, which is rare enough, their preparation is borrowed from the many books on public speaking: Make eye contact, make a personal connection with the audience, etc. But the reality is that lectoring is not in the category of public speaking at all. It is public reading.
The point is well taken, and raises a question: How did we reach a point where people not only lector badly, but can’t even identify what category of action “lectoring” would go in?
Here’s my suggestion: We reached this point because “public reading” is no longer a thing. People do not read out loud to each other anymore. To read at Mass is not mere public reading, of course. It is a sacral action. So one might say that we have not only lost the “species,” i.e., sacred public reading, but we have even lost the “genus,” i.e., public reading itself.
Much of what needs to happen to fix lectoring needs to come from those in authority. But for a lasting difference, the deepest solutions to our problems rarely come from the top down. While we wait for priests or bishops to establish and enforce good practices, we need to take humbler steps at home: we need to read out loud to each other. To our kids, to our spouses, to our friends. Reading out loud in the home needs to become a thing again, a normal pastime.
For both inspiration and realistic, nitty gritty advice, I highly recommend the Read-Aloud Revival blog by Sarah McKenzie. Her book is superb as well. It can take as little as a few minutes once per week to sow the humble seeds of a future liturgical blessing.
On the Solemnity of All Saints, we stop to remember that salvation is not something that belongs primarily to me or to you. Salvation belongs to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the City of God, and we are saved by joining that august community. Even though my friendship with Jesus is closer than any other, still my union with him is union in his body. Consequently, the Solemnity of All Saints resists being a merely private affair.
This is one reason why I love our yearly public procession. Students, faculty, and staff of Wyoming Catholic College gather downtown and parade through Main Street and up to the parish church with the Eucharist in the lead. We sing songs and walk, old and young, big and little. Continue reading “All Saints: A Public Feast”
While Mark’s beginning is strange to those who think about it carefully, his ending is strange to anyone who reads. In the oldest and best manuscripts, Mark’s Gospel ends like this:
And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
That’s it. No meeting the resurrected Jesus, no moment of glory, not even a moment when the petrified women actually tell someone what happened. “They were afraid”—and the curtains drop.
The longer ending printed in our Bibles was written very, very early on, so early that it is canonical and considered an inspired text in its own right. But the very fact that the longer ending is so ancient demonstrates that even the earliest Church found Mark’s ending strange. No resurrection scene? We gotta fix that.
[This was originally posted a year ago, but when I found myself reviewing it for my own sake, I realized that I should re-post it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.]
With the ceremonies of Palm Sunday, Holy Week begins. The Liturgy of the Hours uses a new antiphon for the Invitatory, and the chants or hymns for the various hours are different. The readings take on new themes. In various ways, the Church encourages us to see the coming week is a distinct time with its own character. Continue reading “Palm Sunday: History, Mystery, Practice”
Yesterday I had to take my daughter out of CCD class to bring her to Mass for Ash Wednesday. Tina, at six years old, is no fan of the sacred liturgy: she dozed through most of it, and I had to wake her up for the reception of ashes. But she had made it clear that leaving her in CCD where she wouldn’t get the ashes would be a ba-a-a-ad idea, and as she walked back to the pew with a smudge on her forehead she just lit up.
Yesterday after Mass, a parishioner commented that he could hear me singing during the liturgy. I’ve gotten that comment a lot over the years, always as a compliment—of course, if anyone is annoyed by my loud voice then they’re not likely to say anything. But I always sing with gusto, whether I like the music or not, for four reasons:
1. Someone has to. I look around the church, and most people aren’t even holding hymnals, much less trying to sing. It’s awkward. Plus, a few times I have been stopped by people who say they are able to carry the tune and sing along because they can follow my voice. Continue reading “Four reasons I sing at Mass”
As a 6th grade CCD teacher, I found myself yesterday afternoon at a Children’s Mass. My reactions to Masses geared toward children typically range from fatheaded (“Never!”) to broadminded (“Fine as long as I’m not around”). About half an hour into his homily Father warned the kids not to go to the bathroom during the canon of the Mass, and my 11-year-old son leaned over to whisper, “If we ever get to that part!” Kids and keepers alike began to unravel.
But lo and behold! We did get to the canon, and as the solemn tones of that august prayer rolled over the pews the seething mass of kinderfolk settled into an uncharacteristic moment of focus. Like a vision, awareness suddenly gripped me of the baptismal character at work in each tiny head. Continue reading “Children en Mass”