Put aside the liturgical routine and ‘revive reverence’

November 8, 2011

A Catholic community gathered for Mass one Sunday. As they sang the gathering hymn, the priest was fumbling around with his microphone, which appeared not to be working. After finishing the hymn, the frustrated priest said to the assembly, “I think there’s something wrong with this thing,” to which the assembly solemnly replied, “And also with you.” It seems, as the kernel of truth in this joke illustrates, that many of us Catholics have gotten into a “liturgical routine,” causing us to lose a sense of reverence in our celebration of the Mass. 

Many people associate reverence only from an external perspective. Although we may externally reflect reverence, without an internal sense of reverence, does our reverence in worship truly exist? Sometimes we set ourselves on autopilot in Mass, and let our words and actions flow freely from our bodies without thinking. 

Is this participation reverent? 

If we do not engage ourselves in true meaningful liturgical participation and do not fully bring ourselves to God, how can we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Liturgy?

We are responsible for our participation and reverence in Liturgy. The Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy tells us that, “When the L iturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observance of laws governing valid and lawful celebration ... the faithful [should] take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.” We cannot just say the words of our responses at Mass; we must pray them. We must be actively engaged. This is reverent liturgical participation. 

Liturgy is a wonderful gift given to us by God. It is through this gift that we encounter Christ in scripture and receive Christ’s Body and Blood. Like the bread and wine, we are transformed to be Christ for the world. Reverence in our worship is about respecting and taking part in this gift of liturgy. Without a sense of reverence, we are simply rejecting the gift that God so graciously gives us through the self-sacrifice of his Son’s suffering and death. Being reverent in Mass is about bringing our whole self to God, respecting and understanding the gift God gives us. 

The implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal offers Catholics an opportunity to awaken from hibernation and revive our participation in the Mass. As we begin to pray and sing unfamiliar texts of the revised translation, hopefully we will desire to grow into a deeper understanding of our liturgical participation. We can restore a sense of reverence, once lost in the Liturgy, through the growth of our participation. When we seek to truly understand what we are doing, as opposed to just going through the motions, we give the Mass the reverence it is due. 

There is more to reverence in Mass than ensuring our cell phones are set on silent mode. The Mass is far more important than we may realize. We cannot just be physically present at Mass. We should respect the gift of the liturgy and offer our whole self to God. As we approach the beginning of a new liturgical year and the implementation of a revised Roman Missal, let us seek to revive our reverence and participate more fully in this heavenly Liturgy here on earth. †

Stephen Schad is the Director of Liturgy and Music at Saint Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Community in Houston. He is currently working towards a Masters degree in Liturgical Studies at the University of Notre Dame.