This is part of a series explaining what I love about the Mass. The numbers assigned to the articles represent the order in which they were written; they are not intended to reflect a value assignment. Cradling Christ in my hands and being in communion with Him and my brothers and sisters in Christ, in a most intimate way through the Eucharist, will always be what I love most about the Mass.
The Procession – Part II
As I was researching the procession for the previous article, I grew in my understanding and appreciation for it. Did you know there is a precise order to the Procession? Of course there is! And it is documented. According to the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM #120, to be specific), the proper order of the procession is:
- The thurifer carrying a thurible with burning incense (if used)
- The ministers who carry lighted candles, and between them an acolyte or other minister with the Cross
- The acolytes and the other ministers
- A lector, who may carry the Book of the Gospels which should be slightly elevated
- The priest who is to celebrate the Mass.
Who knew? It is my 50th year as a Catholic, my 6th year teaching high school religion and my 4th year of study towards my Masters Degree in Theology, and I surely didn’t know this. That’s one of the things I love about my Faith tradition, there is always something to learn, some new treasure left on the trail by my ancestors as they journeyed toward God.
Let’s uncover some gems together:
1. Incense: A thing of the past?
At the risk of dividing us from the start, let’s consider the incense. I suspect you either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. Did you know that of the five senses, smell is able to bring back the strongest memories? According to Dr. Maggie Grotzinger, the sense of smell was probably the first to evolve.
As I breathe in the incense at Mass it calms and centers me, as though some primitive part of my being recognizes the call to holiness within. Some small drop of blood coursing through my veins responds. Instinctively some seemingly insignificant part of me that is older and wiser, carried to me by my mother and her mother before her, recognizes the familiar scent of the Sacred and slows in anticipation its arrival. Just breathe, it instructs every fiber of my being. In a world full of doings my mother Church stills me, reminding me to simply be in God’s presence. Thanks, I needed that.
2. Let there be light.
Pay attention the candles say, this is the place where the light is separated from the darkness. It is the work of Jesus nailed to a Cross and it will be made present at the Mass. It is here that the veil of time and space will be pulled back, allowing us to enter into the mystery that is the most Holy of Holies.
I have often wondered what I would have been doing if I was there that day, the day the Light of the world was nailed to the Cross. I suspect I would have been busy. To my credit, I probably would have been disgusted at the violence. I would have reasoned that I could not bring myself to witness it. In a vain attempt to rise above it, I would have stayed home and tried to wash away the darkness with the warm soapy water of dishes or laundry. It does not work; I have tried it.
3. The acolytes and other ministers.
While it is Christ who does the heavy lifting, we too are called to participate in the liturgy, the work of the Mass. God wants us to be co-creators, to follow His lead in all He does. How cool is that? It is in Him, with Him and through Him that we will bring Christ into the world. Amen and alleluia.
Can I just say that it’s a good thing I am not God? If I were omniscient and omnipotent I would probably tell you to step aside and let me take care of it myself. In the self-righteous style of If-you-want-something-done-right-just-do-it-yourself, I would quickly lose patience at the imperfectness of humanity, especially when it came at my own humiliating, painful expense. Thank you; Lord, for allowing me to participate in Your work.
4. The Gospels.
Evangelium. Translated literally it means “good news.” Within the historical context in which it was written, the word would have evoked images of a courier riding in on a horse and announcing a message from the King. The secular is taken and transformed, and the New Kingdom comes. Evangelium: There is a New King! In fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, he would ride in on donkey and be pierced for our transgressions. His inauguration would include mocking words and a crown of thorns. This is no ordinary good news. If listened to and followed it will turn our world upside-down.
Look up here, says the lector elevating the Book of Gospels, Look what I have. It has been carried through the centuries at great sacrifice in order to be made present to you today. Pay attention, God has a Word to guide you, a lamp to shine upon your feet in a darkened world.
5. The Priest.
I love how, through the authority given to Peter and passed down through Apostolic Succession, the priest is clothed in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). White flowing garments flutter down the center aisle masking the movements of mere mortals and covering the darkness that dwells within each of us. It is possible, the priest says to us, and by the Grace of God I will lead you into perfect communion with Him and others.
It is hard to follow an invisible God. He gets it. He knows what it’s like to be human. He became one of us that we might share in His divinity. In His infinite wisdom, He devised a plan where we can experience Him with all of our senses until He comes again. Touch, sight, smell, sound, even taste was added at the Last Supper. These are the tools with which we encounter Him at the Mass, the place where “heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss.”* Taste, and see!
Of course there is an order to the Mass. It is the place where order is restored. On the surface it might appear like simply the rituals of men, when in Reality it is the response of humans to the Word of God made flesh. It is the Scriptures come to life.
The sacrifice of the Mass is an intense act of worship, a bending of human wills and an exalting of God that is designed to bring us back into alignment with Him. Sadly, many think it is too much work. In the two thousand year march through history, some have become separated and no longer understand what it is happening or where we are going...
It is understandable. As much as I have learned in my considerable efforts as a teacher and a student, and as deeply as I love the Mass, I too have trouble disciplining my spirit in the work that is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I too drift away during the Mass.
With God's help I have come to appreciate the great I AM’s ultimate plan to be physically present for all ages, not just for those at a particular moment in history. “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus said after bodily resurrecting. (Matthew 28:20). And He is just as hidden today as He was two thousand years ago; God lying in a feeding trough in a town named Bethlehem (house of bread). Humbly He waits for us to acknowledge Him in the Eucharist, to pick Him up and embrace Him, taking Him in a very real way into our hearts.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, but the world did not know Him... Help me to know you, Lord. Feed me with your Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity that I might become more like You.
Come! Won’t you join the procession?
- Focus on the Procession. Train yourself (YMCA-style: mind, body, spirit) to be fully present for as long as it takes for the priest to make his way to the altar. (I confess I have not yet mastered this!)
- Write me and let me know what you notice. God filters through each of us like light through a prism. I would love to experience Him through you…
* Oh How He Loves Us by the David Crowder Band