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Last Word - January 2012

Pray the Mass

When I was a young boy, probably 10 or 11, my father gave me a hand missal such as was common at that time so that I could follow along at the Mass, with the Latin on the left-hand page and an English translation on the right. At that time (yes, I am that old) the Mass was entirely in Latin. It was just a small, black leather (leatherette?) bound Sunday missal, small enough to fit easily in your shirt pocket. On the back, printed in red letters, was the following quotation: “Pray the Mass.” I didn’t know it then but those words came from the writings of Pope St. Pius X, at the very beginning of the 20th century.

With the institution of the new English translation of the Roman Missal it is time long overdue to go back to those words. Let me quote them in full: “The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists…. [Y]ou must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way, you have prayed Holy Mass. Don’t pray at Holy Mass, but pray the Holy Mass.”

It is important to note that, at that time, over a century ago, it was not common for people to “pray the Mass.” For the most part, the words could not be heard and even then were in Latin. Many people prayed at Mass, as the Holy Father pointed out, but their prayer was the rosary or a novena or a collection of favorite prayers or just silent prayer of their own. The sainted pope was trying to encourage people to join in the prayer of the priest – silently, of course – by making his prayer, their prayer.

I wonder if even now that is happening. And I wonder if the opportunity of the new translation is not an opportunity to renew our efforts to “pray the Mass.” What this would require is for people to take the time to reflect on the words and meditate on them, much as one might do with the Gospels. We could perhaps even establish missal study groups, much as we have Bible study groups for this purpose.

Such a suggestion, I confess, is not new. At the time of the promulgation of the Missal of Pope Paul VI in 1970, the official journal regarding divine worship of the Holy See stated: we are now before the most important part of the work of the renewal of the liturgy, for what is now only words on paper must become “spirit and life” through careful and patient study, meditation, and the internalization of the texts.

What the Holy Father called for over 100 years ago, and what was reiterated by the Holy See over 40 years ago, is still in need of doing. This now becomes the task of the liturgical movement.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal