Sunday, October 09, 2016

Gratitude and respect at Holy Mass (Sunday homily)

The readings are obviously about gratitude. 
They are also about worship. 

In the first reading, Naaman, who has leprosy, 
is so grateful for being healed 
that he is moved to worship the true God.

And then, in the Gospel, the same thing happens. 
The one grateful leper who returns, falls at the feet of Jesus. 
He is worshipping him. 
Gratitude and worship go together.

Our late auxiliary bishop, Carl Moeddel, 
used to say that if you don’t want to come to Sunday Mass, 
you don’t have to! 
That is, if you can say that you have absolutely nothing 
for which to be grateful. And who can say that?

Did you know that the word, Eucharist 
comes from Greek word for giving thanks? 
Now, we don’t want to reduce the Mass only to this dimension. 
The Mass is primarily an act of intercession. 
Jesus offers himself – on the Cross and on the altar, 
they are one and the same! 

And then, the Mass is also our prayer, begging God – through Jesus – 
for forgiveness, and transformation, for the salvation of our family, 
our friends, and our world, and for everything else we need.

But the thing is, once we fully appreciate the reality of the Mass, 
and our participation in it, 
then of course our response is like Naaman’s and the Samaritan leper: 
we are overwhelmed with gratitude.

Despite what it seems, this is not just something we human beings do. 
Yes, that’s what we see: the ushers, the priest, 
the servers, we hear the musicians, we see everyone else at Mass; 
so it’s a human activity. But that’s not the primary reality. 
Rather, the Mass is first an action of God, in which we take part. 
God is the primary actor in the Holy Mass. 
God speaks in the readings and in the prayers, especially at the altar. 
Jesus Christ himself is at the altar! He offers himself. 
We hear his words, and he, Jesus Christ, 
changes bread and wine into his own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

God is the one who acts; we cooperate. 
God comes down, into our midst, and makes present for us 
what first happened on the Cross. 
The whole drama of God seeking out his children to bring them home 
is real to us here. 
The peril of human sinfulness and the hope of heaven are all here! 

If we were really good, really tuned in, 
maybe we’d only need it one time. 
But…that’s not how must of us are! 
So, God in his goodness and wisdom, does it over and over and over. 
It’s a commandment to come to Mass 
each Sunday and holy day of obligation, 
because God knows what we need for our salvation.

In the vein of gratitude, 
I’d like to talk about some very practical things related to Mass. 
Specifically, how we come to communion. 
Many of us receive in the hand; 
many of us keep the time-honored practice of receiving on the tongue. 
There’s a lot to be said for receiving on the tongue, 
which – by the way – is the norm everywhere outside this country. 

If you receive in the hand, you need to be able to present two hands. 
Sometimes someone has a cast, or is carrying a child, 
or for whatever reason, cannot present two hands. 
In those cases, I will say, very softly, “I’ll put it on your tongue.” 

And I do that because it’s not really reverent 
to try to receive Holy Communion with one hand. 
Let me demonstrate; this is a quarter I’m using. 
(Demonstrate moves with quarter.) 
This is not reverent.

Why make it hard? If you don’t have two free hands, 
I’ll put the Sacred Host on your tongue. 
And I ask our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion 
to do the same.

Also, if you receive in the hand, please do several things. 
First, be sure to put one hand on top of the other, like this. 
Sometimes people will put their hands side-by-side; 
leaving me to guess: which hand does he want me to put the host in? 

If I guess wrong, I’ve seen people be sort of awkward, 
flipping the Sacred Host from one hand to the other. 
Again, that’s not reverent.

If you’re left-handed – as I am – that’s no problem; 
put your right hand on top, 
and then use your left hand to take the Body of Christ 
from your hand to your mouth. Vice-versa if right-handed.

The other thing I ask is that you lift up your hands high. 
(Have a server come and help demonstrate.) 
Which one really is more reverent? 
And, this makes it easier for the person distributing communion.

And if you receive in the hand, 
please check your hand to see if there are particles of the Eucharist. 
And if all this seems like too much trouble, 
well, there’s always receiving on the tongue!
Now, let’s talk about that. 
To put it very plainly, you have to stick out your tongue! 

I know that some of us aren’t fully steady on our feet. 
If that’s you, how about stopping right by the front pew, 
and then you can hold onto that; and I’ll come to you. 
And if you stay in your pew, just tell someone near you, 
and I’ll come back to you.

Let me also recall that when we receive the Eucharist, 
we first make sign of reverence. 
Many choose to kneel or genuflect, which is commendable. 
But a bow is also appropriate. 
That said, I think some are forgetting that.

Someone might say, all this is being picky, who cares? 
But I would point out that when we gather for a meal, 
even an informal one, 
there are still rules about how we handle ourselves,
that are really about respect.

How we handle ourselves at Holy Mass communicates our respect 
for the reality of what happens here. 
This is far more than an informal meal. 
We come here to meet God.

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