Today, I will share with you some of my thoughts and practices regarding liturgy. There are three main influences in my liturgical theology: my interest in language, my Maronite (Eastern Church, Lebanese) roots, and my desire to move away from any vestige of clericalism. I will convey my ideas in order of when they occur in the Mass. Some of my thoughts and practices may be slightly different from what you are accustomed to, and you may have noticed some of these already.
When the gifts are brought by two people up to the main altar, I prefer one person to hand me the bread or wine, while the other person hands the other gift directly to the server. The practice in most parishes is for all the gifts to be handed to the priest, who then passes them along. This is not necessary; I believe the idea that everything must go through the priest is an unconscious example of clericalism—exalted priestly status. (Along the same lines, I also prefer that when servers or eucharistic ministers go up to the altar or back down from it, that they do so directly, as the priest does, rather than circling around the altar. I will discuss my ideas with the Worship Commission.)
The gifts are then brought to the altar, at which time the priest says prayers that you usually don’t hear, especially on Sundays, when you are singing. However, this does not mean that these prayers are not important. I usually say them aloud at weekday masses.
The first prayer, “Blessed are you, God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread/ wine….” This is based on a Jewish blessing prayer, and is, I believe, quite similar to the words Jesus would have used when he “took the bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples…”
The second, usually silent prayer, comes right out of the “Syrian” (Maronite, Chaldean, Syro-Malabar) tradition. When the priest mixes a bit of water with the wine, he says “By the mixture of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This single sentence expresses the idea of “divinization,” a theme that is more prominent in the Eastern churches than in the West. In fact, in the Maronite tradition, this phrase is part of a hauntingly beautiful hymn that is sung by the cantor, not simply whispered by the priest.
Moving ahead to the Lord’s Prayer, I like to pray it in longer phrases or full sentences, which for me captures Jesus’ meaning better than the usual recitation in which we stop at the end of each phrase. Thus: Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name/ Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven/ Give us this day our daily bread;/ and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us;/ and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Finally, in the Communion procession, when a young child or an adult comes forward to receive a blessing rather than partake of Holy Communion, I do this blessing in the manner of the Maronite tradition. If possible, I place the ciborium on top of the person’s head. This conveys the idea that the person is a part of the Communion ritual even if he/she cannot actually consume the Body and Blood of Christ.
I am not saying that my ideas are the final word on liturgy. Unlike in pre-Vatican II days, there is some leeway in how we do “liturgy,” a Greek word which means “work of the people—(not just the priest).” The only thing that the Church asks is that everyone in the assembly participate “fully, consciously, and actively.” This means how we listen, contemplate, pray, sing, how we interact with others around us in the congregation, how we receive holy communion, even where we choose to sit within the church or gathering area.
Thus, some good questions to ask ourselves, are “Do I in fact participate fully and actively in the liturgy?” and “In what ways do I not participate fully and actively?”