Mass is the heart of the Catholic faith. It is indeed the principal source of grace to live the Catholic life. However, a considerable number of Catholics are yet to fully understand the value of the Mass, whereas they certainly need to participate in it actively and regularly to find God in the Word and in the Eucharist. The Acting Editor, NETA NWOSU, interviews the outgoing Dean of Apapa Deanery/in-coming Dean of Surulere Deanery, Archdiocese of Lagos, Very Rev. Msgr. Anthony Erinle on the values and parts of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, as well as enriching the participation of the lay faithful to enable them better able to experience its fullness and depth. Excerpts.
Why are Catholics expected to dip their hands in the holy water, make the sign of the cross and genuflect before entering the Church?
Well, we know that the use of the holy water and making the Sign of the Cross when entering the Church reflects a renewal of baptism and cleansing of venial sin, as well as providing protection against evil; and on the other alternative, we have what we call Asperges, meaning ‘to sprinkle’. This is a situation whereby the Mass begins with the sprinkling of the holy water on the congregation. I wonder how many people know about that today or where it is being done, but I know that it used to be done at the Cathedral, but I don’t know of now. So that is just the main reason, it’s for cleansing.
Do you think that Catholics are aware of this, when they carry out these rites before entering the Church?
Well, I think they know what they do just like what we have said. You hardly see anybody using holy water or dipping his or her finger into the font without at least taking a little bow or genuflecting. So what is attached to that water being holy, they are quite aware of it. They know.
Please tell us about the various parts of the Holy Mass and the significance of each part. What are the lay faithful expected to do during each of these segments?
First, we have the Introductory Rite which includes the Penitential Rites, we have the ‘Kyrie’ and the ‘Gloria’, as the case may be on a Sunday or a feast day. We also know that during Advent and lent, there is no ‘Gloria’. After having that, we have the Opening Prayer which is called, ‘Collects’. In all these, the Faithful are expected to remain standing. The next thing in the liturgy is the Liturgy of Word, that is the readings – the First Reading, the Second reading and the Gospel; and to make sure that the readings make meaning to the faithful, it is expected that there must be a Reflection or Homily. The Liturgy of the Word is concluded with the Prayer of the Faithful or what you call, Bidding Prayer. The second part of the Mass which we call the Liturgy of the Eucharist, begins with the preparation of gifts and offerings. Then, we have the Eucharist Prayer or Canon of the Mass. Then, we have the consecration, and the faithful are expected to kneel during the time of this consecration. We have Communion Rite which also includes the ‘Our Father’ and the ‘Final Concluding Rite’ or ‘Dismissal’. In all these, there is need for active participation, and that means to sing along with the choir, to sit when we are expected to sit or to stand, and more importantly, we are supposed to be able to respond well because it is the Priest and the faithful that are offering the sacrifice of the Mass together, and that is why when the Priest is preparing for the second part, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Priest will say in reverence, ‘My Sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father’, so all in all we see that this is what it means, the various parts of the Mass.
What are the benefits of attending and participating in Mass? Why is Mass said to be the highest form of prayer?
Well, the benefit of attending and participating in Mass; they are so numerous, and I think that a lot of people have good reasons of why they love to attend the Mass. But I think that one common reason why we attend Mass is to be in the presence of the Lord, in His words and also in the Eucharist. I think it was St. Theresa who asked, how can I thank you? And the Lord said to her, ‘Attend one Mass’. In the Catechism, we learnt that prayer is the lifting up of our hearts and minds to God. Mass is the highest form of prayer because the fruit of each Mass is infinite, depending also on the personal disposition. The Mass as a whole is a prayer of ‘thanksgiving’, of ‘petition’ and of ‘adoration’; so that is why it’s very important to attend the Mass, and then we have a lot of benefits from it when we attend the Mass.
Why does the Priest kiss the altar at the beginning of Mass?
Kissing of the altar at the beginning is a sign of tenderness and love. When you kiss somebody it shows an expression of love. We know that it’s a form of touch also, a personal touch, which we always offer to each other. The altar symbolizes Christ, the altar of sacrifice, so when kissing the altar the Priest touches Christ in order to receive His strength and love. It is a sign of inhaling the divine atmosphere and of course, to be able to draw love and strength for the celebration of the Eucharist from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Most times, when the Holy Mass is talked about, we hear of ‘Real Presence’. What do Catholics mean by real presence? Why do other Christian denominations not celebrate Mass?
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a doctrine, and it’s an official teaching of the Catholic Church and also it is a mystery. With the words of consecration, the whole of Christ is truly present, body, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Matthew 26: 26 -28, during the last supper, Jesus took the cup and said, this is my body, as He took the cup filled with wine and said, ‘This is my Blood’. He declares here that the bread actually is His Body and that He is really present in that bread. Other Christian denominations do not celebrate Mass, well I will simply say they do not have it, and you cannot give what you do not have, yes. Other denominations believe that Christ died on the cross, and that there is no connection between the last supper and the sacrifice at the cross, that is for them, not for us Catholics, and so for them, what they have is either a communion service, that is from the orthodox Churches or service or worship from the Pentecostal people, so that is the reason, simply they don’t have it and they don’t value it.
Why do we observe certain liturgical gestures like standing, sitting, kneeling, bowing and genuflecting at Mass?
Well, I say that when you look at those postures and gestures at Mass, it is to let us know that when it comes to prayer, when it comes to sacrifice, our entire being is supposed to be in prayer; that is what it means. Let us take for example the standing, when we stand in prayer, we assume our full stature before God, not in pride, but in humble gratitude, standing is a sign of respect and honour. At the reading of the Gospel, we stand, which recounts the words and the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Coming to kneeling, in the early Church, kneeling signified penance, and it’s also a sign of adoration, especially before the presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist. Sitting is a posture of listening and meditation, so the congregation sits for the reading – the first reading, the second reading and as the case may be, the homily. The procession – every procession in the liturgy is a sign of the living Church. The body of those who believe in Christ on their way to heavenly Jerusalem. The Mass begins with the procession of the Priests and Ministers to the altar. The book of the Gospel is carried in procession to the lectern, the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward to the altar in procession. There is also the communion procession. All these gestures and actions have their meaning. Of course, we have the Sign of the Cross, we begin and we end the mass with the Sign of the Cross. We make the Sign of the Cross on our foreheads, lips, and our hearts at the beginning of the Gospel. The Cross reminds us of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Coming to genuflecting, it is a sign of adoration. We genuflect on entry and leaving the Church, that is, if the Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary of the Church. The Priest also genuflects in adoration after he shows the body and blood of Christ to the people, that is, after consecration. Bowing our heads is a sign of reverence and respect; and so all these signs and gestures have their meanings, they are to make us to take active part in the Eucharistic celebration.
During the liturgy of the Eucharist, water is mixed with wine; we would like you to explain the essence of this action.
This comes during the preparation of the gifts as the Priest pours wine and a little water into the chalice, and at the same time the Priest says (this may not be known to the people but this is what the Priest says), “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. This is what the Priest says as he mixes the water with the wine; and so mixing of water and wine stands for God becoming human in Jesus Christ, just as God took up a human nature, so we share in God’s nature through the Eucharist. We become one with God just as water and wine has become one, and so we cannot divide the divine from the human within us, and of course, you know that for those who take wine, as you are taking your wine, you also sip a little water to make it go down well.
We would like to know why the Blessed Sacrament is always locked in the tabernacle after the Mass?
At the last supper, there was no indication that the remained bread was kept, no indication at all. It was only with time that the Church began to reserve some of the Eucharist, and their purpose was to have the Blessed Sacrament available to give to the sick and the dying. That is the main reason, and is why we have a dignified place to reserve the Eucharist. But also, the Church encourages us to always visit the Blessed Sacrament to adore, to pray. There is also the public adoration of the Holy Eucharist or what you call the Eucharistic adoration, Holy Hour for example, the benediction, these are the reasons why we have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle.
Catholics are expected to fast for at least one hour before receiving the Holy Communion, why is this so?
This is both liturgical and canonical. The code of Canon Law, Canon 919, paragraph 1, stated that, whoever is to receive the Blessed Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before the Holy Communion, from food and drink with the sole exception of water and medicine. Those who are on medication can take it at any time, and St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, 1st Corinthians 11:27, we have it written that “whoever therefore eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord”. So the reason therefore is to give the body of Christ the dignity that is expected. It is not proper for example for the Priest to say ‘Body of Christ,’ and one says ‘Amen’ and some funny odour oozes out from that person’s mouth, it’s not good. We give that respect and honour to our Lord Jesus Christ and prepare ourselves, adequately and spiritually, to receive the Holy Eucharist.
During the recitation of the ‘Our Father’ prayer during the Mass, some people hold their hands together while others extend their arms to God. We would like to know the right posture in saying the ‘Lord’s’ prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer introduces the Communion Rites. Fathers of the Church, they tell us why we say ‘Our Father’ before communion especially with regard to two petitions – ‘Give us this Day our daily bread,’ and ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. As matter of fact, there is no hard and fast rule as to which gesture or position to be in, but the most important thing is all the congregations stand for the ‘Our Father’’; and just to add a little to what you have asked, we do not add ‘Amen’ when the ‘Our Father’ is being said during the Mass, but some people make such mistakes. As long as we are comfortable with any gesture, provided we do not kneel then, there is no any particular rule about whether to extend our arms or whether to raise them to God, it doesn’t matter.