This is the second of Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflections on the Eucharist. These pilgrims are singing and playing their instruments as they gather at the Abbey of St Maurice in Switzerland for the annual Pilgrimage for the Martyrs of Africa. St Maurice and his Companions were Egyptian Roman soldiers, martyred in what is now St Maurice, but the pilgrimage is timetabled to be near the feast of the Uganda Martyrs, 3rd June.
So here we are, the gathered people of God, and we have responded to the invitation of Jesus to come and celebrate. Jesus has invited us.
Note that the first instruction in the Roman Missal says that the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the servers. I know there are some who prefer a ‘quiet Mass’, because they are not keen on singing. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster unity of all who are gathered, introduce their thoughts to the liturgical season and accompany the procession. The entrance Antiphon can be sung by a choir; or often a hymn is sung, based on a psalm. If there is no singing, the congregation is encouraged to recite the antiphon together.
It is important that singing should be an essential part of each celebration. We use what talent we have to praise and give thanks to God. Singing creates unity, brings about unity. St Augustine said: ‘Those who sing, pray twice.’ The first prayer is the words we use. The second prayer is the extra we add to those words when we express them in song.
When the priest reaches the altar, as a sign of reverence he kisses it. The Altar, says the General instruction of the Roman missal, ‘should occupy a place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.’ These rules are repeated in the Order of Dedication of a Church and an Altar; this ensures that newly-dedicated altars are freestanding, so that the priest may face the congregation (IV:8). The altar is known as the altar of the sacrifice of the cross and the table of thanksgiving. In our church we have retained the old High Altar, because of its artistic merit.
As the priest goes to the chair we have the Penitential Rite, which needs to be simple and brief. It is time to acknowledge our sinfulness. During the pause, one writer suggests that ‘we reflect in silence on our human condition and implore the divine mercy.’ This is different from celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation. The purpose of the Penitential Rite is to acknowledge our sins in order to enter the celebration with a humble spirit.
The blessing and sprinkling of water may replace the Penitential Act as a reminder of Baptism, and this is especially recommended for the Easter Season.
We then say, or sing, a song of praise that has been sung for over 1500 years: the Gloria. And after this ancient song of praise, the priest introduces the opening prayer, knows as The Collect. All of us, together with the priest, observe a brief silence so that we may be conscious of the fact that we are in God’s presence. The prayer expresses the character of the celebration. The text of the prayer is usually in four parts: an address to God by some title, an acknowledgement of God’s mighty deeds, a petition and a concluding formula.
In this third week of Easter, we pray:
“May your people exult for ever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit, so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption, we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.”
Canon Father AnthonyParish Priest