Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pray the Mass Like the Saints: 5 Prayers to Get the Most Out of Sunday Mass

The Mass is the supreme event of the week. It is, as the Second Vatican Council assures us, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11). Unimagined graces pour forth from this supreme act of worship, from the re-presentation of the once-for-all-sacrifice of Christ (cf. Heb 10). These graces are enough to utterly transform your life and mine, to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), perfect as God Himself is perfect (cf. Matt 5:48). At Mass we encounter everything necessary to become great saints. Thus, the Second Vatican Council declared,
for well-disposed members of the faithful, the liturgy… sanctifies almost every event in their lives; they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments… draw their power. (Sacrosanctum Concilium ,61, emphasis added)

Yet, we often leave this font of all graces uninspired and untransformed. Why?

One primary cause is a lack of interior participation. All too often we, especially in the US, focus on exterior participation as if busyness were a sign of holiness. We can easily fall into the trap of being present at Mass “only in a ‘bodily’ manner and not ‘in… heart.’ (Lumen Gentium, 14). When we attend Mass in a mechanical way, parroting memorized responses without contemplating the meaning of the words we are annunciating, the objective graces we receive can be bound within us and bear limited or no fruit.

Some are tempted to blame bad homilies, worse music, and liturgical abuse and innovation for uninspiring Masses and there is certainly something to be said for this critique. No less an authority than Pope Benedict pointed out,
“that ‘the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated well.’” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 64, emphasis added)
However, when we come face-to-face with Christ the Just Judge at life’s end, a weak defense will it be to claim “I’m not a saint because father didn’t preach good homilies and the music director played Lord of the Dance and Gather Us In each week.” 

“I never knew you, depart from me” (Matt 7:3), may come the fearsome reply. 

As all of us will be under judgement and few of us are priests or music directors, we lay Catholics must worry less about how the Mass is being celebrated and more about how we are participating.  We must make the best of what is available to us, take charge of our own quest for holiness (cf. Lk 13:24), and delve into the riches of the Mass regardless of the external distractions we might be forced to deal with or of the interior distractions which might plague us.

One way of deepening our appreciation of the Mass is to focus on the Heavenly realities the Earthly actions are conveying. This is interior participation without which all the fussiness and motion in the world cannot bring you one step closer to God. Indeed, without true interior participation all the chant and incense in the world can’t make you holy either.

There are many ways to increase our interior participation at Mass. One way is to pray the Mass with the saints. As the Mass is designed to make us saints (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 59), praying the Mass with those who have already attained sanctity is a proven method for growing closer to God, to living in harmony with “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII: 145).

The Prayers

With this lofty goal in mind, when I feel I need to deepen and renew my subjective experience of the objectively perfect worship offered God in the Holy Mass, I turn to trusted prayers from some of the greatest saints in Church history. I hope these will inspire you as well.

1) Before Mass Begins
I will go unto the altar of God.  It is not myself and my tiny little affairs that matter here, but the great sacrifice of atonement.  I surrender myself entirely to Your divine will, O Lord.  Make my heart grow greater and wider, out of itself into the Divine Life. Amen.
St Teresa Benedicta

This short prayer perfectly sets the stage for a fruitful experience of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St. Teresa, in a few short lines, places our focus squarely on the “the altar of God” (not on “we the people,” father, or anything else), forces us to dismiss as trivial the things that so occupy us during the week, and calls us to surrender our wills to His Will - the key task in becoming a saint. With this little prayer on our lips and in our minds, we are better prepared to get the most out of the sacred mysteries we are about to behold.

2) At the Consecration

At the holiest moment of the Mass, St. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that what we are witnessing, as mundane as it might seem to a causal viewer, is in fact the most powerful “weapon” on the face of the Earth. The ancients knew well that life was impossible without worship and that worship was impossible without sacrifice. One need only think of the pagan cults or the rites preformed at the Jerusalem Temple to see how worship demanded, from the time of Cain and Abel, a sacrificial offering. The idea that songs and readings were enough was unfathomable to pre-modern man. Most of this has long since died out, except in Catholicism. Though our Sacrifice is unbloody, the Mass is still a sacrifice offered to God. This point can sometimes be missed by modern congregations, where we have a tendency to see ourselves as the primary actors and where we tend to demand “to be fed” by our worship. The Little Flower corrects this for us right at the moment the Sacrifice to end all Sacrifices is in our midst,
O Jesus, my whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice; these are my invincible weapons, and experience has taught me that the heart is won by them… Amen.
3) After Receiving Communion

After consuming the precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord, St. Thomas Aquinas focuses our minds on what Communion really is. This isn’t just a “communal meal” with “inclusivity” as its highest goal. No. Here we trod, with Moses, on “holy ground (Ex 3:5).” Here we encounter God, not in the raging tempest or the quaking Earth, but in “a small still voice” (1 Kings 19:12). And, like the Wise Men who were forced to return “to their own country by another way” (Matt 2:12), we too are called to leave this meeting with Christ with a change in course. St. Thomas’ words remind us of the effects, both immediate and eternal, that Holy Communion is designed to have on those happy souls “called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

I give Thee thanks, O holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed, not for any merits of mine, but solely out of the condescension of Thy mercy, to satisfy me a sinner, Thine unworthy servant, with the precious Body and Blood of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
I pray that this holy Communion be not to me a condemnation unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness. May it be unto me the armor of faith and the shield of good will. May it be the emptying out of my vices, the extinction of all concupiscence and lust, the increase of charity and patience, of humility and obedience, and of all virtues; a strong defense against the snares of all enemies, visible and invisible; the perfect quieting of all my evil impulses, both fleshy and ghostly; a firm cleaving unto Thee, the one true God; and a pledge of a blessed destiny.
And I beesech Thee, that Thou wouldst vouchsafe to bring me, a sinner, to that ineffable banquet, where Thou, with Thy Son and the Holy Ghost, art to Thy saints true light, fullness of content, eternal joy, gladness without alloy and perfect bliss. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

4) At the End of Mass

This one isn’t technically by a saint, but it is by one of my favorite popes and I pray it with my sons all the time after Mass. This prayer was universally said after every low Mass before the liturgical changes in the later 1960s. Pope Leo XIII composed this short invocation to St. Michael after witnessing a horrifying vision of Satan’s plans to destroy the Church. The evil visited upon the world following the Pope’s vision (the world wars, the depression, the Holocaust, abortion, the destruction of marriage, apostasy in what was Christendom, etc) proves the acuity of his premonition. As evil is no less a threat today than it was when Pope Leo asked the faithful to pray this, it is time, on a grassroots level, to bring this prayer back into universal use.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.Be our protection against the snares and wickedness of the devil, May God rebuke him we humbly pray,And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host,By the Divine Power of God, Cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spiritsWho roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

5) On the Way Home
Almighty God, you have generously made known to human beings the mysteries of your life through Jesus Christ your Son in the Holy Spirit.Enlighten my mind to know these mysteries which your Church treasures and teaches.Move my heart to love them and my will to live in accord with them. Amen.
These last words, from the pen of St. Charles Borromeo, build perfectly upon the final words of the Mass, “Ite, Missa est, the Mass is ended, go in peace.” The Mass might be ended, but the effects of the Mass are meant to persist. St. Charles’ prayer reminds us to think with the mind of the Church (sentire cum ecclesia) and to live our lives in accord with those thoughts rather than in accord with the “spirit of the age.” We’ve encountered the Living God in the most intimate of manners, now we must allow the grace we’ve gained to transform our lives so that we may bring our little corner of the world under the sway of Christ the King. 

Print these prayers out, put them in your missal, purse, or pocket and get ready to pray the Mass with the saints. These holy men and women are with you at Mass. They are now forever worshipping God and yearn to aid you to eventually join them.

Do you have a favorite prayer from the saints that you pray before, during, or after Mass? Please share it in the comments below! 

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