This morning in the sacristy before Mass, the girls serving Mass were visiting with each other.
“My genuflection yesterday was perfect!”
“Yes, and my flames are beautiful!” (She was talking about how she was holding the candle!)
There was no competition in the kids, but only pride in the way they were attending to the little things in the liturgy. In fact, it is generally by attending to the little things in the liturgy—by doing them to the best of our ability and peering into them as into a mystery—that we express and experience reverence for Christ.
A wise old spiritual director at the North American College once gave a conference on the Mass. He quoted a short book by the scholar Jeremy Driscoll titled “What Happens at Mass.” Father told us that the better title would be “
Happens at Mass.”
All of the little things are not so much about
what we do
whom we are serving
, who is coming to be present to us.
The reason for every detail of the sacred rites of the Church, no matter how small, is Christ
. The more we are attentive to Him in the small things, the greater our encounter with the living God can be.
There are two attitudes that can hinder this sense of awe and encounter discovered in the small things of the liturgy. One is a focus on minutiae of the liturgy without discovering their meaning, without finding Christ within them. Celebrating this way gets caught on the externals of celebration without the interiority of a heart focused on Christ.
Pope Francis notes this danger in his recent exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium:”
“The Synod of Bishops asked that the faithful be helped to make their interior dispositions correspond to their gestures and words. Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism.”
Without interiority, attention to detail gets caught up in exteriors – we might call it “stuffy.” The solution for this difficulty is not to abandon cure of the small things, but to seek
that correspond to the actions.
The other attitude that can tear us away from encounter with Christ is perhaps a fruit of what Pope Francis comments on in the above quotation. If liturgy does at times fall into a “certain ritualism,” there can develop an attitude that becomes dissatisfied with the small details. When liturgy has been experienced as only exterior, there can be a desire to cast off the trappings. The result, though, is not a more fervent encounter with Christ. Often, this approach to liturgy is simply “folksy,” and loses a sense of the sacred.
Pope Francis also warns against this in a recent homily given in his private chapel:
“The liturgical celebration is not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of believers to pray together. It is another thing. In the liturgy, God is present… [At Mass,] the presence of the Lord is real, very real.”
Liturgy really is about the little things. How we hold our hands, the way we take care of altar linens, the vestments, care for the sacred vessels, and so many other details—they all really do matter. They matter a great deal! Not because any of these little things are fulfilling in themselves, but because the little things lift us out of the ordinary to the special actions of the liturgy. Through them, we encounter God!
Let’s beg God to give us again a sense of the sacred—a sense of mystery. Why don’t we ask him to give us the same joy the girls at Mass had this morning? When we do our part in the liturgy well—especially when the exterior actions render our flames more beautiful—the flames of God’s love burn radiantly in our hearts.
“We will do well today to ask the Lord to give us all this 'sense of the sacred,' this sense that we understand that it is one thing to pray at home, pray at church, pray the rosary, pray many beautiful prayers, do the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, read the Bible ... and another to celebrate the Eucharist. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, on that path that we cannot control: only He is the One, He is the glory, He is the all powerful, He is everything. We ask for this grace that the Lord teach us to enter into the mystery of God”
-Pope Francis, Feb. 10, 2014