Liturgy, which includes both the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Divine Office (a/k/a Liturgy of the Hours), is the public prayer of the Church. As such, the manner in which we comport ourselves at Mass and while praying the Office (the latter being optional for the laity, but highly recommended!) not only reflects, but forms, the core of our beliefs as Christians. This is one of the more important reasons why the Church specifies rubrics, or rules, for the Liturgy.
Logically, it follows that the more reverent and focused we are at Mass on the Word of the Lord and the holy Eucharistic sacrifice, the stronger our faith will become in all that the Word and the Eucharist are and represent. The Word is, after all, God speaking directly to us through the instrument of the authors He inspired, and the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us by God's boundless grace for our eternal redemption, and offered back to the Father by the whole Church in thanksgiving for this indescribably awesome gift. Since God does not need this offering, he accepts our prayers and remains on the altar, to be received and consumed by us, the faithful members of Christ's mystical body on Earth, as a channel of sanctifying grace, after which we are sent back into the world to carry Christ and his Gospel to all.
This is the essence of the Mass, which we accompany with prayers, chants (preferably) or songs, and with meaningful gestures, all according to the rubrics--standing, kneeling or sitting at appropriate times for appropriate reasons. As the priest or bishop leads the faithful in prayer, all should be participating not only externally but internally as well, praying from the heart all of the words of our audible responses as well as silently praying with the priest as he consecrates the Holy Eucharist. As stated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal: (a/k/a "G.I.R.M., or the "rulebook" for the liturgy):
17. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the celebration of the Mass or the Lord’s Supper be so ordered that the sacred ministers and the faithful taking part in it, according to the state proper to each, may draw from it more abundantly those fruits, to obtain which, Christ the Lord instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood and entrusted it as the memorial of his Passion and Resurrection to the Church, his beloved Bride.
18. This will fittingly come about if, with due regard for the nature and other circumstances of each liturgical assembly, the entire celebration is arranged in such a way that it leads to a conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful, namely in body and in mind, a participation fervent with faith, hope, and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and which is required by the very nature of the celebration and to which the Christian people have a right and duty in virtue of their Baptism.
Now, a question: how many Catholics in the pews at any given U.S. parish understand any, much less all, of the foregoing? More importantly, how many act accordingly when they attend Mass? If you answered "hardly any", you're probably right. And that's sad.
A fellow blogger recently commented on this general topic, expressing her frustration and mystification with the way so many Catholics in the U.S. engage in extraneous gestures at Mass, such as raising hands in the priestly orans position, and/or holding hands (like Protestants!) during the Our Father, neither of which is prescribed by the faithful by the G.I.R.M. Here is a short excerpt from her post:
I know why I used to lift my hands in the air when I was a Protestant during services. It is a verse from the New Testament (there are several other verses as well, some in the Old Testament) and encouraged by the ministers to join them in raising our hands (the only 'priesthood' is among all the believers). This was done to show the congregation was the same as the minister- mere believers. Ministers were nothing special.Read the rest of her post here.
1 Timothy 2:8 "I will therefore that men pray in every place, lifting up pure hands, without anger and contention."But that isn't how a Catholic Mass works...or so I thought when I first became Catholic a decade ago. The missal said "stand" and I stood, the missal said "sit" and I sat, the missal said "kneel" and I knelt. The missal never said "hold hands" or "raise your hands in the air" etc., so I didn't, but others do. I don't get that.
I think Julie makes a great point. And it's not confined to raising hands or holding hands during the Our Father. Look around you the next time you go to Mass on Sunday, and ask yourself these questions:
1. Before Mass, are people kneeling in prayer as they prepare to hear the Word of God and witness the miracle of the consecration of the Holy Eucharist? Or are they glad-handing and chattering as if they're attending a happy hour or a birthday party? I'll bet the latter greatly outnumber the former.
2. Are you and your fellow parishioners dressed as if you're preparing to meet the God who created the universe out of nothing? Or like you're going to a ballgame or to the beach? In my regular parish in the Great State of Texas, where summer lasts for the better part of the year, it's mostly the latter. Shorts, tank tops or t-shirts, jeans, and flip flops are everywhere. (I sometimes want to ask these people if they would dress that way for a personal meeting with the Governor or the President? And if so, why would they not show at least as much respect for Jesus in the Eucharist as to an elected politician?) The more "formally" dressed are likely wearing something appropriate for the golf course or "casual day" at the office. I confess falling into this category myself, since while I never wear shorts to Sunday Mass, I rarely even take the trouble to wear a sport coat and dress slacks, much less a suit and tie, which would be most appropriate to the occasion. Mea culpa!
3. Are you one of the unfortunates whose parish forces a completely artificial "let's all greet our neighbor" ritual into the beginning of the Mass? The "Liturgy of the Greeting" that doesn't appear anywhere in the G.I.R.M. or Missal? If so, you have my sympathy. You should be getting ready to meet Christ in the Eucharist, instead. But I'm repeating myself.
4. After Mass starts, how many are really paying attention to the readings, vs. looking at their smartphones, or gazing around at just about anything except the lector or the deacon or priest? Again, the latter probably outnumber the former.
5. Back to Julie's comments quoted above--I'll almost guarantee you that most of the people are at least reciting the Our Father in the orans position, if not holding hands Protestant-style with total strangers. Amiright? Eeeuw.
6. Now comes my least favorite part of the Mass, the "sign of peace." Is it barely controlled chaos, not to mention a great way to spread cold and flu germs throughout the congregation? And if you have the temerity to refuse to shake hands with everyone around you, get ready for the hurt or even angry expressions on the faces of your pew neighbors, or even to be poked and prodded by someone who wants to insist that you hold hands with them. Sheesh. The more reverent parishes omit this optional exercise, and I wish mine would. Notice, you'll never see it done during the televised EWTN Mass celebrated at their chapel in Irondale, AL or at the Shrine in Hanceville. Never.
7. Aaaand....Holy Communion. Does your congregation unanimously shuffle down the aisle toward the priest or "Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion" as if walking up to the counter at Burger King, without even so much as a reverent bow of the head? Does anyone make a profound bow, or even maybe genuflect, before receiving the Blessed Sacrament? Very rare in most places, I would guess. The real question here, I think, is: how many folks act as if they are about to hold in their hands or receive on their tongue the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ? Do not most people treat the whole thing as nothing more than a symbol, a cultural exercise devoid of faith in the Real Presence? In other words, aren't most people acting like they don't really believe what the Church teaches about the Holy Eucharist? And do you ever wonder how many of those people heading down the aisle to receive the Eucharist have darkened the door of a confessional at any time in the recent past? Or even the not-so-recent past? Amazing how many people never commit a serious sin, isn't it? :)
All of the foregoing behaviors (excepting, I think, the ones in paragraph 7) might seem more or less innocuous by themselves, but added together they spell a significant lack of reverence for, and likely tenuous belief in, the truths of the Mass, and therefore the key truths of the Faith itself. And these are the behaviors of people who actually attend Mass! To paraphrase the Holy Apostle Paul, how much more lack of faith must there be in those who don't even bother to show up on Sundays?
Here's the thing: we didn't arrive at this state of affairs quickly. We are witnessing the cumulative effects of decades of neglect of proper instruction, both in homes of the faithful and in the parishes and dioceses. We are stuck with a whole generation or two, at least, of priests and bishops who were formed under Modernist seminary faculty, as a result of which they themselves often do not fully believe all that the Church teaches. Even if they do believe, so long as the money keeps rolling into the parish and diocesan coffers, they see no reason to "rock the boat" by admonishing the faithful as to proper behavior in the celebration of Holy Mass. The Novus Ordo liturgy itself also must share a large chunk of the blame, having stripped so many pious prayers from the Mass while it shifted the focus of the liturgy from Christ on the altar to the priest and other "ministers" milling around the sanctuary--a liturgy centered on Man instead of God.
One way to find more reverence at Mass it to attend a TLM parish, but most of us don't have that as a realistic option, at least not yet. Otherwise, there's not much any of us can do by ourselves, except resolve to provide a good example to our fellow parishioners, and spend time in prayer and adoration asking the Lord to help move the hearts and minds of all toward a more reverent and respectful attitude, in word, gesture and deed. And I suppose I should spend less time worrying about how other people behave and do a better job myself of imitating Christ. That's a full-time job for anyone. But it still makes my heart ache to see so many people essentially disrespecting Our Lord in his own house.
Laudator Jesus Christus!