BY BISHOP LOUIS F. KIHNEMAN III
Bishop of Biloxi
Our Sunday Liturgies, our Masses, and other forms of worship, are an encounter with Jesus Christ and are critical to the life of our faith and to our community of faith. They should communicate our values as the Body of Christ and should lead us all into falling in love with the Eucharist, Jesus. When we celebrate the Most Holy Eucharist, in addition to bringing ourselves and our families, Jesus also asks us to bring our neighbor. During the Eucharistic Revival, we are particularly asked to invite/bring a fallen away Catholic back to Mass! I ask you intentionally pray about this and ask the Lord to reveal the person He wants you to invite back to Mass, and then invite them! The celebration of the Eucharist is meant to be such an encounter with Jesus Christ and His Church that not only do we want to share His love, but we cannot help but share it.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we began the Year of the Parish as part of the National Eucharistic Revival. Many parishes and missions held Eucharistic Processions to herald the year and bring the truth to parishioners and our communities of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
One of the areas of focus for the Year of the Parish is to foster Eucharistic devotion among parishioners through reinvigorating our worship. You can help with the reinvigoration of worship in your parish by your participation. The laity are not spectators at Mass and we all must do our part. The responsibility does not only belong to our priests and deacons.
You ask, “What can I do to reinvigorate worship at my parish?” All of us are called to form a welcoming community in our parishes, missions, chapels, and schools. During our drive to church, engage in prayer and include anyone riding with you to begin to prepare ourselves for Mass.
A welcoming atmosphere can begin sim-ply with hospitality. We start in the parking lot before we even enter the church, we can share a smile and word of welcome at the entrance of the church, we can lend a hand to parents with little ones or someone with mobility challenges, we sing and pray out loud the parts of the Mass, we attentively listen to the Word of God and the Homily, we show reverence and truly participate during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, remain in church through the final blessing and sending, and then we continue with our fellow-ship after Mass and our return to the parking lot. These encounters help form an environment where people want to return to experience the love of God made visible through our actions.
Music is a large part of our worship of our Lord. St. Augustine said, “The one who sings prays twice.” One of the joys of being your bishop is celebrating Masses at the different parishes. Good music that is reverent and inspiring significantly enhances the worship experience. Children’s choirs are a particular blessing and when children raise their voices in worship, it is pure joy! A small parish or mission may not have the resources of a musician or large choir, but voices raised in worship together a cappella are beautiful when the whole congregation participates, no matter the size.
Beauty is an instant draw to our senses, and in addition to the beauty found in music, a beautiful space that is suited to sacred celebration can also be part of our worship, and the faithful are usually a big part of keeping our worship space clean and beautiful: “The tradition of decorating or not decorating the church for liturgical seasons and feasts heightens the awareness of the festive, solemn, or penitential nature of these seasons. Human minds and hearts are stimulated by the sounds, sights, and fragrances of liturgical seasons, which combine to create powerful, lasting impressions of the rich and abundant graces unique to each of the seasons” (USCCB, Built of Living Stones: Art, Environment, and Worship, 2007, No. 123). I would add that the impressions are also unique to each of our parishes, missions, chapels, and schools.
We encounter God in many ways, but two of the most profound are through His Word and through the Eucharist, which are Christ: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him, and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him as life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not over-come it. … And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-5, 14).
Sometimes we show up for Mass and our disposition is to just be present. Jesus wants our presence to be sure, but more than that, He wants our participation! We can participate more fully by preparing for Mass by meditating on the Scriptures daily and particularly by contemplating the Readings before Mass. You will be surprised at how alive and rich the readings become when we have taken the time to pray with the Scriptures before Mass and when we truly listen and receive His Word.
Our relationship with the Eucharist is central to our faith. There is so much that transpires during the celebration of the Eucharist, and many things are indescribable. I will attempt to describe and share with you some of my experiences and ways for you to participate more fully.
At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the gifts are being brought to the Altar, we are each called to prayerfully and intentionally present ourselves as part of those gifts. When we surrender on the Altar our families, our ministries, our work, our prayers, our worries, our joys, our suffering, our blessings, our very selves, we encounter Jesus in a more intimate way. We give Him the opportunity to trans-form our gift of our sinful and broken selves, our sur-render, and He is able to unite our gifts to Himself. When we approach the Altar to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord, we receive Him in a more profound and deeply personal way when we have first offered ourselves along with our tithes and the gifts of bread and wine. When the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is offered to us and we reply, “Amen!” (Yes! Let it be so!), we are united to Jesus with our “Amen!” And through our “Amen,” we are inviting Him into our lives, not just for that moment, but we are to visibly live out our “Amen” throughout the rest of the day and in the week ahead until we receive Him again in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, to once again surrender ourselves and our, “Amen!”
This is what makes us Catholic! Every time we celebrate the Eucharist there is an explosion of grace that goes out to all who are present. Our faith is supernatural and transcends the boundaries of visible and invisible. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist and particularly during the Eucharistic Prayer, time and space collapses and we are linked to the Last Supper and Heaven reaches down to touch us and we reach up to touch Heaven!
When Heaven touches the Altar, I know we are not alone. I experience the Communion of Saints in a real way during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Both of my parents, since their passing, have stood on each side of me during the celebration of the Mass and it literally brings me to tears of great joy. But it doesn’t stop with my parents, they bring my relatives. I also meet saints that I am devoted to their example of Christian life. They join in the celebration around the Altar, and not last or least, Jesus is present in a tangible way. I can feel the intersection of Heaven and Earth and all I can say is, WOW! So, if you see me come to tears or you see a smile come upon my face when I am praying the Mass, you will know the Saints have joined us for Mass.
I was celebrating Mass when I had been a priest for about 25 years and I had an experience with the Eucharist during the prayer of Consecration. I visioned each person at Mass being physically hit by the grace of God. It appeared as lightning bolts going out from the Host and through everyone present. It is a powerful moment of grace that happens each time we are at Mass.
I have witnessed an explosion of grace after the elevation of the Body of Christ and the Chalice of His Blood. For me, it is a balm for the wounds, division, and chaos of this world. It is an answer to the lack of hope in our world. It is the Sacrament of Hope, through the Death, Resurrection, and the Ascension of Jesus! It is as simple as Jesus’ presence with us at Mass, Jesus in His love for us, Jesus forsaken, and Jesus as Savior.
When each of us are truly present to our full capac-ity in every part of the Mass, the Mass is reinvigorated through us. When we offer ourselves to our Lord during Mass, we allow ourselves to be changed by His love and we are recreated — and we have this opportunity each time we fully participate at Mass!