By Deacon Frank Agnoli
(Editor’s note: The publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal provides a great opportunity for each diocese, parish and individual Catholic to grow in their love for — and knowledge of — the liturgy. In this series Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s director of liturgy, reflects on the parts of the Mass.)
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
No other words of introduction or explanation are called for, or necessary. We do more than gather or pray — we live and move and have our being — in the name of the triune God. We begin with the very words with which we were baptized. We begin with the words that remind us who we are and whose we are.
And, as those words are spoken, we make the Sign of the Cross. One of the aspects of being a Catholic that I truly love is that our prayer is holistic: we pray with hearts and hands and voices! But, sometimes, we take this bodily prayer for granted; our gestures become rote repetition rather than living expressions of faith. To enter this prayer more fully, let the gesture itself be full, deliberate (see the Entering the Mystery sidebar).
The priest-celebrant continues with these words from the Scriptures:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Or: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Or: The Lord be with you.
Not “good morning” or “it’s good to see you all here;” liturgy isn’t a talk show or a stand-up routine. And we respond with the ancient words: “And with your spirit.”
First, this simple exchange reminds us that liturgy isn’t a one-man show. Liturgy, by its very nature, is a dialogue. God speaks; we respond. The priest speaks; the assembly responds … and without the response the dialogue of the liturgy cannot continue.
Second, these words also remind us that the liturgy is an ordered communion. The word “hierarchical” has been misunderstood. It does not mean that someone is better or holier or more important than another. It means that everyone has his or her own particular place at Eucharist. Or, as the Second Vatican Council put it, each of us should do all that is ours to do but only that which is ours to do (Sacrosanctum concilium #28). A priest is not a deacon who is not a reader who is not a server who is not a cantor who is not a priest.
With these words, the priest prays that God’s spirit, God’s grace, be with us to celebrate the liturgy with our whole being. We pray back: may that particular spiritual gift given to you at ordination enable you to fulfill your vocation in the Church.
You’ll notice that this dialogue is used whenever an ordained minister is about to do something significant in the Mass: begin the liturgy, proclaim the Gospel, pray the Eucharistic Prayer, share in the Sign of Peace, or bless and dismiss the assembly for ministry in the world.
How do I make the Sign of the Cross?
Entering the Mystery
Father Romano Guardini, in his book Sacred Signs, wrote this about the Sign of the Cross:
WHEN we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once. How it consecrates and sanctifies us.
It does so because it is the sign of the universe and the sign of our redemption. On the cross Christ redeemed mankind. By the cross he sanctifies man to the last shred and fibre of his being. We make the sign of the cross before we pray to collect and compose ourselves and to fix our minds and hearts and wills upon God. We make it when we finish praying in order that we may hold fast the gift we have received from God. In temptations we sign ourselves to be strengthened; in dangers, to be protected. The cross is signed upon us in blessings in order that the fullness of God’s life may flow into the soul and fructify and sanctify us wholly.
Think of these things when you make the sign of the cross. It is the holiest of all signs. Make a large cross, taking time, thinking what you do. Let it take in your whole being — body, soul, mind, will, thoughts, feelings, your doing and not-doing — and by signing it with the cross strengthen and consecrate the whole in the strength of Christ, in the name of the triune God.
The Ars Celebrandi
As a priest-presider, do I let the liturgical greeting speak for itself? Do I avoid the temptation to impose my own words at this point?
If I do offer an introduction to the Mass of the day, do I keep it (and any other allowed-for comments) very brief, and do I write it out ahead of time (GIRM #50)?