We Stand

Carmel Bulletin, 27 October 2013

Actions of the Assembly
Actions of the Assembly

We Catholics are often known for our tendency in liturgy to never adopt a single posture for too long.  We are, though, people who pray with our whole bodies, not just with words, and the postures we adopt at different times during the Mass are part of this.

Basilica of St Mary Major, Rome
Basilica of St Mary Major, Rome

For many centuries, our church buildings lacked any form of seating.  At most, there may have been some benches, or places around the perimeter of the space for those whose age or health prevented them from standing for the whole celebration.  It seems hard to believe now that standing for the whole celebration would be our regular practice.

Standing remains the posture that we adopt to pray.  We stand as the children of God.  While a sense of unworthiness may have been more common in later centuries, in earlier times there was a sound understanding and belief that God’s grace makes it possible for us to stand before the Lord and pray for our needs.

We also stand for the proclamation of the Gospel, reflecting the importance of this proclamation as the high point of the Liturgy of the Word, when Christ particularly speaks to us.  We are also stand as people ready to respond to what we have heard; the call of the Gospel.

The Mass: Sacrifice and Praise

16/10/11 – “The people rise and reply”

Recently we have been looking at the postures and gestures that we engage in during Mass.  Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.

A few years ago now, a new edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal was introduced.  When it was implemented, it required us to make two changes to our practice as a liturgical assembly during the Mass.  One of these involved our posture after the priest has prepared the gifts of bread and wine.

After the priest prepares the gifts, he invites the assembly to pray.  Although it seems to be a routine action, this invitation is not without its significance.  The priest invites us to pray.  Our affirmative response makes clear our wish that the priest continue to lead us through the Eucharistic Prayer and the rest of the Mass.

Nowadays, we are required to stand immediately after the priest says “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”    For many people, it seemed to be far more practical to do as we did previously, and stand after we responded to the priest’s invitation.

To stand immediately after the invitation, and then respond, makes our posture more consistent with other times of the Mass.  Standing is generally the posture the Church adopts when it prays.  While we also kneel at times, the Church does not pray sitting down – at least not during its liturgical celebrations.  We stand because we accept the invitation to prayer and now pray together once again as the body of Christ; this time in certain hope that Christ that is present within each of us will make himself present to us once more through the bread and wine that become his body and blood.

9/10/11 – Standing Up (and bowing… and genuflecting) for What You Believe In

Recently we have been looking at the postures and gestures that we engage in during Mass.  Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.

Last week, we looked at some of the gestures and postures that are used during the first part of the Liturgy of the Word, primarily the scripture readings.

After the homily, we stand for the Profession of Faith and the Prayer of the Faithful.  This is another time during the Mass where we stand as an assembly because we are actively engaged in the role of praying.

Given that we are often told to “stand up for what we believe in”, it seems to make sense that we stand when we profess our faith.  Outside of the Church, standing is a posture used for important occasions related to our beliefs and values, such as the national anthem or a minute’s silence on Anzac Day.  To sit for such things (unless we are unable to stand, of course) is considered inappropriate and disrespectful.  Standing can be interpreted as a sign of commitment, resolve and pride – all feelings that should exist within us when we profess our faith through the creed.

The creed has within it another gesture to acknowledge an important element of our faith.  Again, this is a gesture that has always been included in the missal, but has fallen into disuse.  During the Profession of Faith, when we recall the incarnation and Jesus becoming man, we bow.  Like other times when we bow, this is a sign of reverence, and is included in the rubrics of the missal for both the Niceno-Constantinopolitan and Apostle’s Creeds.  Furthermore, when we celebrate this aspect of our faith at Christmas time, the missal asks us to genuflect instead; thus requiring of us an even more profound sign of reverence on such an important occasion.

Finally, much of what I’ve written in Liturgy Links this year has been related to the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which has gradually taken place since January.  This week, our parish finally received its copy of the new edition of the Missal, meaning we can now celebrate the Mass in its entirety according to the new translation.  You will notice differences to the Collect (Opening Prayer), Prayer over the Offerings and Prayer After Communion from now on.  Use of the new translation is mandatory in Australia from All Saints Day.

18/9/11 – “And, striking their breast, they say”

Last week, we started to look at the postures and gestures that we engage in during Mass.  Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.

Many of these postures and gestures are outlined in the liturgical books in what are called the rubrics.  The rubrics give the instructions on what is to be done during the liturgical celebration, and are printed in red text.  Some of the rubrics are directions for the priest, while others give directions for the assembly and other ministers to follow.

One such rubric of a gesture is given in the Confiteor (I confess to Almighty God…).  Before we say “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”, the rubrics state “And, striking their breast, they say”.

Some people can remember the celebration of the Mass before the reforms of Vatican II, and remember the priest and people striking their breast three times as they said “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”.  Noting the new translation’s close match to the Latin text, some have made comments like “the chest beating has been brought back.”

In fact, if you look closely at the former English translation of the Confiteor, the striking of the breast was never removed from the Mass – at least not according to the Missal itself.  The former translation reduced the acknowledgement of fault to the single phrase “through my own fault”, at which point the priest and people were to strike their breast once.

As such, it was never envisaged that the gesture of striking the breast during the Confiteor would be stopped.  It did, however, obviously fall into disuse, probably for a variety of reasons.  The revision of the Missal, however, gives us an opportunity to focus again on the liturgical texts, what they call us to say and do, and how they invite us into full, conscious and active participation.

11/9/11 – Postures at Mass

Over the past months, we have looked at what happens during Mass and some of the changes that have occurred to the texts as part of the transition to a new English translation of the Roman Missal.  Full, conscious and active participation in the Mass, however, involves more than words.

The assembly standingPosture and gestures are also an important aspect of our participation in Mass.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains that:

The gestures and posture of the priest, the deacon, and the ministers, as well as those of the people, ought to contribute to making the entire celebration resplendent with beauty and noble simplicity, so that the true and full meaning of the different parts of the celebration is evident and that the participation of all is fostered. (article 42)

Over the course of time, the Church has adopted and integrated different postures and gestures into its liturgical celebrations.  These are often indicated in the liturgical books, and may on occasion vary according to different circumstances and pastoral needs.

In adopting the new English translation of the missal, we can and should take time to pay attention to these outward actions and their purpose.  Some of them have fallen into disuse in recent times, even though there has always been an expectation they be retained.  Each is intended to help us direct our minds and hearts more intently towards what we are celebrating.

Over the coming weeks we will take a closer look at the postures and gestures we are asked to adopt during the celebration of the Mass.