“Be present at Mass.” This simple-sounding concept is far more challenging than it seems. “Present” means a conscious awareness and active mental and physical participation in the mystical experience. It requires discipline and focus for each part of the Mass. I confess I seem to respond better to some parts of the Mass than others, where I am attentive and engaged and where I find it easy to drift off into thinking about other things. The timely focus of the Eucharistic Congress and my experience recently at the International Catholic Stewardship conference have renewed my efforts to be wholly focused and present during Mass.
Even more of a confession…embarrassingly…I cantor at Mass. So it seems that the environment and role might help me in my attentiveness. Yet it is easy to focus on what I have to do next or even drift when I am not focused on what I have to do next.
“The liturgy is designed to bring about in all those who make up the worshiping assembly a participation of the faithful both in body and mind, a participation burning with faithful, hope, and charity.” – USCCB Roman Missal Formational Materials
As cantor, I naturally focus on the Responsorial Psalm. As I have focused on how to be more deeply present in the Mass, my experience as cantor has changed. I no longer see the role as only a song leader to help guide the parishioners. I see it as entering into prayer through song with the congregation.
Too often, my experience has been that the Responsorial Psalm gets read or sung unceremoniously as if it is something to get through so we can move on to the second reading. In some cases, it is as if the reader is apologetic that we have to take time to read and repeat a responsorial. In one parish, the response refrain was sung or read-only at the beginning and end with all versus run together.
Yet the psalm is an important bridge between readings and is our opportunity to participate in a chorus of prayer. Our response is a meditation on the Word of God. Regnum Christi Spirituality describes it this way: “The cantor singing the Psalm (or the lector reciting it) gives us another opportunity to meditate on how the Church raises her voice to God: what does she ask for? What was she praising? Many of the hymns we sing in Mass are inspired by this: the psalm is not only something addressed to the listeners by the cantor, but a prayer addressed to God.”
In the past couple weeks as our readings turn to the end of the church year, I have been almost overwhelmed with the impact of the message. And I have actively wondered if I am worthy to deliver it!
So when we sang on November 5 (31st Sunday), “In you O Lord, I have found my peace,” the first verse becomes a personal statement: “O Lord, my heart is not proud. Nor are my eyes haughty; I busy not myself with great things, nor with things too sublime for me.” The enormity of that statement and the following verses caused me to experience myself outside of the “me singing”, suggesting that I needed an Act of Contrition to be able to continue! Then this past week for the 32nd Sunday we heard the Gospel Acclamation; “Stay awake and be ready!” The Responsorial Psalm was heartbreaking: “My soul is thirsting for you O Lord my God. …for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts. Like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” This psalm reminds us that we must have patience and prudence, completely turning ourselves over to the Holy Spirit so we can be ready. It helps us to enter into the experience of the virgins who were keeping their lamps as they awaited the bridegroom. This coming week we hear a message of hope for those who fear the Lord. I’m looking forward to singing about it!
This all points to the challenge of being engaged and present for all parts of the Mass. Not just for the Responsorial Psalm, but from the opening antiphon through the closing prayer. This is our opportunity to join ourselves to Christ in gratitude for all He has done for us. We are all part of the liturgy and part of the celebration of the Mass. Not spectators.Not performers. We should strive for excellence simply because it is our communal offering and celebration of our Faith.
Preparation: Ideas for Parishes
- Take the opportunity to teach about the Mass. In study sessions or as part of the homily, reflect on a section of the Mass, its purpose, the particular signs and symbols, and the role of the parishioner.
- Pray before Mass with those who are participating in the Liturgy. Take time to reflect on what it means to be “present”.
- Conduct a “teaching” Mass with explanations during the actual celebration of the Mass.
How does your parish encourage full participation? Please share your insights and ideas in the form below.
About Terry Poplava
Terry Poplava serves as General Manager, ACST Catholic. As a cradle Catholic, his faith was lukewarm until he was confronted by the intense challenge and commitment he heard in the message about Stewardship. “What do I own and what owns me?” which led him to executive roles at Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic Leadership Institute before his current focus on serving the Catholic Church at ACS Technologies. Terry has extensive experience working with churches across the U.S., supporting their planning, stewardship, and engagement efforts