Delight

The Paulist National Catholic Evangelization Association (PNCEA) is creating a parish renewal program called “Living the Eucharist” to be launched in 2012. I am happy to be one of several writers who will be contributing to the project.

In one of my preliminary conversations with Fr. Ken Boyack, he said something which  struck me. You know how dutiful and grim people can become when going about the serious, serious business of church. Yet this is not the tone of the project at all. Rather, he said: “We want to delight people.”

How wonderful, I thought. And what a breath of fresh air. Celebrating the Eucharist and living the Eucharist—whatever else it may be—is a joyful thing. Joy is characteristic of Christian discipleship. Worship should indeed delight people.

Psalm 43, long associated with the Eucharist in Christian history, expresses it well:

Bring me to your holy mountain,

to the place of your dwelling.

That I may come to the altar of God,

to God, my joy, my delight.

Then I will praise you with the harp,

O God, my God.

Admittedly, we are living in a not-so-delightful time. The atmosphere of conflict and controversy so dismally termed the “liturgy wars,” not to mention the day-to-day pressures of life itself, can make the experience of worship go stale. Yet even despite all this, I believe there is much in the liturgy to delight us.

People have shared with me some surprising examples of their own delight. “Watching the communion procession—that’s my favorite part of Mass!” or “Just knowing that I can be who I really am there; that’s so wonderful.” A few weeks ago, I shared my hymnal with a little girl of about eight in the pew in front of me. After Mass, I overheard her say to her grandmother with a little sigh “I love church.” Well, melt my heart. Clearly, she had experienced something there which delighted her.

What delights you in the experience of the Eucharist? I’d like to know, not so much to start an argument as to hear some of the variety of experience that is no doubt out there. To start the ball rolling, I’ve assembled a partial and personal list of Things I Find Delightful About Mass (offered in no particular order). You may wish to comment on one of these, or add others I’ve missed.

  1. Its antiquity
  2. The fact that it is laced through with the Scripture
  3. The structure and movement of the celebration
  4. The fragility of the signs of bread and wine
  5. Singing in a resonant space
  6. The presence of Jesus
  7. Moments of silence
  8. The words of the Eucharistic Prayer
  9. Seeing people of all ages and walks of life engaged together in the event
  10. The scent of incense, old wood, beeswax
  11. Touching holy water
  12. The taste of bread and wine
  13. Each of the readings
  14. Grasping my neighbor’s hand at the Sign of Peace
  15. The splendor of rare gifts (e.g. in the arts)
  16. Ordinariness, sameness
  17. Knowing the people around me and what it means to them to be there
  18. Feeling connected to perfect strangers
  19. Intense prayer
  20. Intimations of heaven
  21. Strength for the journey

35 comments

  1. “Just knowing that I can be who I really am there; that’s so wonderful.”

    James Torrance says, “we are never more truly human, we are never more truly persons, than when we find our true being-in-communion.” The symbol of ecclesia, the assembled ones, in the liturgy, reveals to us the one-ness that we truly are. The liturgy, where heaven meets earth, is where we can be who we really are. I love that.

  2. I would add to that an element of stability.

    No matter what is going on in one’s life, the liturgy is available and constant, even as it progresses down the well-known path of the Church Year.

    I think that’s how our ancestors viewed it. Many were poor and lived very uncertain lives, but the common celebration of the liturgy was a constant and they found solace in that.

  3. The great universality of mass most delights me. Praying next to others who know the mass by heart, said along with other Christians throughout the whole world, in heaven, and across time – now, past and future.

  4. Worshipping in a multicultural community. Just this past Sunday, as the song for the communion procession began, a rich and warm “hum” of the melody line emanated from behind me. When the refrain began, that richness and warmth radiated outward as this recent immigrant to the United States began to sing words shaped by her West African dialect. Talk about delight!

  5. Being sent forth truly aware I just experienced a moment of grace and am reminded of the fact I am constantly in the presence of the Divine. I don’t always leave aware but when I do, whoo boy! I am set for the week.

  6. Rita,
    Your article on “delight” reminds me of Fr. Geno Walsh, who ignited my passion for liturgy so many years ago. Talking about liturgical ministry, he said, “Please know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Put your whole self into it. Work with the team. Do it with a touch of class! Enjoy it! And, as you enjoy it . . . please inform your face and body!”

    In other words, delight in it!

    Add to your list: For an EMHC the extraordinary sight of hands extended to receive Christ – gnarled, tiny, calloused, ringed, tatooed, unsure…

  7. What inspires me most every week is knowing that God is present in our midst.
    Really there… with us… because of us… in spite of us… out of an infinite love for us. Not because of how we do what we do, or because of our perfection or inperfection, or because we are rich in tradition or steeped in our culture, but simply because we have gathered in His name. Now that’s love! And that’s amazing.

  8. Seeing and touching all the different hands when I serve as a Communion minister.

    The smile of the young, single mother the time I put ashes on her baby’s forehead.

    Clouds of incense.

    The time I explained to a teenager “what that smell is” after he was confirmed.

    When five-year-old Molly squealed with joy as her parents lowered her into the baptismal font.

    3-fold “This is the wood of the Cross” on Good Friday / 3-fold “Christ our Light” at the Vigil.

  9. I think the variety and diversity of the Mass. I love daily Mass because of its simplicity. Our Sunday Masses are all sung, with incense at two of them each Sunday. I love the solemnity of our Sunday Liturgies. The Liturgy of the Word certainly has taken on special importance in the Mass since the reforms. But I also love celebrating the high and low versions of the EF Mass and have grown in appreciation of this Mass but also some of the reforms it experienced in the OF. But the variety of styles and how people approach the sacred mysteries when inspired by faith, devotion and reverence help me in my own personal faith life.

    1. True. The Communion antiphon also should repeat the mystery celebrated in the Eucharist- bread, broken and shared, etc.

  10. Hearing familiar words of a prayer with a new insight, or a new appreciation for the images the words evoke.

  11. Watching a dark church fill up with candlelight at the Easter Vigil…and the awesome bible stories that follow.

  12. I like it when we sing “Our Father”, rather than reciting it. We are really praying with one voice when we do that.

  13. “Hearing familiar words of a prayer with a new insight, or a new appreciation for the images the words evoke.”

    I second that. I like that sort of liturgical surprise, when some light goes on in my mind (or even better, in my heart) when I hear or see something in a new way and I feel re-confirmed in my faith and re-amazed by the mystery of it all.

    The best example of this for me was when I finally realized what the “Holy, Holy, Holy” is. That opened the floodgates for me.

    Other things that delight me in the liturgy:

    * Despite the above about surprises, the sense of constancy.

    * The words that I pray challenge me to believe them and live them.

    * The beauty of sacred art.

    * The little acts of reverence we make.

  14. Having a stranger unexpectedly grasp my hand for the “Our Father”

    Hearing, at the time of general intercessions, the prayers and concerns of the particular parish that I am visiting that Sunday

    The individuals speaking up at the end of the general intercessions, asking for better health for a family member, a prayer for the soul of a deceased friend, for peace in the world, for whatever weighs most heavily on their minds at that moment

    Singing some hymns in Latin and being thus connected to those who sang the same hymns for centuries before us.

    Praying for my loved ones who have died

    Watching the people receiving communion one by one, to form a community in Christ

    Knowing that Catholics throughout the world are going to Mass that same Sunday and saying the same prayers, each in their own way.

    The play of the sunlight coming through the stained glass and highlighting the architectural details of a medieval church

    The angelic voice of a gifted cantor

    Saying the words “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,…” right before communion

    Being called by name by the priest

    Hearing a homily that seems addressed directly to me

  15. Every time I’m with others celebrating Eucharist, I can’t take my eyes off the communion procession! We can argue and differ on so many things, but here is this one thing that we agree on. The universality of our prayer gives me goosebumps. I feel it most intensely on the First Sunday of Lent when we are all celebrating the Rite of Election on the same day. Being part of something so big is strangely comforting.

  16. I look forward to the sequences, especially Veni Sancte Spiritus. da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium. Da. Give, Lord, as a good father to your trusting children. This is unconditional surrender to God through life, death, and the anticipation of eternal life.

    I await the festal processions, especially Corpus Christi. On that day throngs of parishoners march through town. Some sing the Rosary over and under the Lauda Sion, some read prayerbooks, and some stroll contemplatively. A knotted, jumbled, blessed cacophonic mess.

    I rejoice that the Holy Sacrifice is a banquet for sinners and not the righteous. The Mass destroys the burden of “pleasing God”. I am powerless to earn salvation but welcomed to participate in the same Calvary at every Mass.

    I don’t take pride in my “ability” to recite the Confiteor faster than the servers. Is a confession really a confession if it’s nothing else than a five second mumble?

  17. Great to hear you will be working on this, Rita. I was asked early on to review PNCEA’s original plan for this much needed resource… and I applaud Fr. Ken’s emphasis on joy.

    What delights me?

    Praying the psalm as a cantor and seeing the faces of the people as they engage in praying it with me.

    The faces of people walking back after receiving communion.

    The openly pious and joyful faces of elderly Hispanic women around the bonfire at the Easter Vigil.

    The Exsultet. (My favorite moment of the liturgical year.)

    Singing the Sequences.

    A really rousing song for sending us forth to love and serve.

  18. Knowing that those around me are being touched by the same love God has extended to me.
    Sharing, and striving to love them in imitation of that love. (by participating in that love? by accepting that love?)

  19. 1. At daily mass in the small chapel, kneeling on the floor in the first row I can see the reflection of the whole little assembly in the side of the chalice.

    2. singing the Litany of Saints

  20. Rita, thank you for your delight in the liturgy, which has obviously struck a chord with many others.
    I think the sometime scarcity of delight in worship is connected to the way we look at worship space.
    For some, liturgical space is a battle ground, where we draw lines in the sand, dig trenches, and even throw the occasional grenade. Worship then becomes a grim business, requiring constant vigilance lest anyone steps out of line.
    For others, liturgical space is more like a favourite picnic spot, to which we never tire of returning. Here we are reunited with beloved companions, here we wonder at all that is set before us, and are given a glimpse of the distant view. At a picnic, we can lighten up a little, and take delight in all that we are, all that we have, and all that is to come. There might even be dancing.

  21. I gave this post a lot of thought because so many things spring to mind. I decided that I would pick one, the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. It celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, the gift of the priesthood, and the command to love on another. But it is the little things. The silencing if the bells and musical instruments after the Gloria. The use of incense. The washing of the feet. I love the rubric that tells a bishop that he removes the chasuble, but not the pontifical dalmatic, when he goes to wash the feet. The vestment of service. The chant Ubi Caritas (properly restored) as the offertory chant. The special variable parts of the in Roman Canon. If the parish uses bells for the elevations, the sudden silence (not the clapper) is palpable. And the Transfer and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. My old regret is the removal of the stripping of the altar while chanting Psalm 24.

  22. Thank you for this beautiful post. Very uplifting.

    A few additions:
    – The procession to venerate the cross on Good Friday–like the communion procession but more halting.
    – Being able (all too rarely) to join with a community that chants the psalms every day, where music, text, posture are internalized…

  23. I am always delighted when I find an old church in which they still use the communion rail, where I can kneel to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, and the altar boys hold patens under the communicants’ chins. There is a terrific Dominican-run parish in downtown Columbus, Ohio with such a fine old church and practices. And they celebrate Mass, very reverently, in the Ordinary Form!

  24. –The Exultet
    –The Litany of the Saints at an Ordination and the Laying on of Hands with Veni Creator Spiritus being chanted.
    –Hearing 6 hours of non-stop confessions on Monday of Holy Week.

  25. I am delighted whenever I and those with me are alert, not just going through the motions in a particular mass. Some outward signs of this would include: readers (sometimes me) who move our eyes from printed words in booklets to challenges in our hearts; homilists who struggle to know Christ and to know where their people are coming from; music ministers who enable us to lift our own voices in worthy song; a people who are not focused on getting out of the parking lot when they are dismissed. Delight can be measured directly by the energy in our faces as we respond and sing, and inversely by the time taken to vacate the sanctuary.

  26. Our Mass is so cool! I find great delight in the presence of God manifested in four ways each time. They build upon one another and create a satisfying completeness. The assembly comes first, with a need to gather for the intent to give glory and praise to God, to be affirmed and blessed. When the presider processes in and joins the assembly, this is God’s affirmation that our joining together is worthy and right. The presider, too, is a manifestation of God’s presence. Being ordained to lead the assembled in the worship of God. Next, we hear God speaking to us through His Word, the Holy Scripture and the presider’s homily. These ancient stories that contain God’s wisdom and truth, we never tire of their telling. The excitement is growing and becoming palpable. Finally, at the Institution Narrative, Our Lord is present as the bread and wine become His Body and Blood. What great joy is in our hearts as we partake of His Body and Blood. Can there be any truer sanctification for us all than this? There is a feeling of fullness, a sense of belonging and completeness that can be witnessed when Mass is prayed/celebrated well. This is the model we take with us into the world. To assemble in worship and praise of God, affirm and bless one another, to read and share God’s Holy Word and to be the Body and Blood of Christ for each other. Truly sanctifying the world for God. Very cool and full of joy and delight!

  27. The scriptures, and their resonance throughout the liturgy.
    The experience of praying with others, especially people I love who are praying elsewhere.
    The connection to those with whom I have prayed the familiar words, who are no longer with us.

  28. — The kind of silence you experience at Taizé, where a large group of people are doing something together that you can almost touch.
    — The moment when you realize that everyone in the church is there, on board, committed to the common enterprise and caught up with it, and that they all realize this too. No spectators on the sidelines, but a single body celebrating as one.
    — The words “Father, you give us grace through sacramental signs which tell us of the wonders of your unseen power…” at the blessing of water at the Easter Vigil, which always make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
    — Those historic buildings where you can sense that the very stones are imbued with the prayer of generations of faithful people, their joys and their woes. I most recently experienced this last week in the Cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall, on the main island of Orkney, no longer a Catholic cathedral but nevertheless a powerful place of prayer.

  29. Many thanks to all who have commented on this thread. I found your comments thoughtful, inspiring, and indeed delightful. Look for another thread soon—on mystagogy—that will pick up on this discussion.

  30. Thanks to Rita and to all – the comments and descriptions were powerful, thoughtful, and passionate. Rita – please share this project and these types of responses with Commonweal folks – what a difference from the usual “liturgy wars”.

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