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December 20, 2007 Edition

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Word to Life
• Understanding the Mass -- Entrance rites: Getting ready to meet God
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Obeying and listening to God

Word to Life 

Sharon Perkins 

About 10 years ago I wrote a meditation on "obedience" in which I wondered what it would be like if I could do as dog owners do and send my children to obedience school, thereby outsourcing some of the challenging work of parenting. At the time I had lots of food for my musings - my children were three, eight, and 12, and as I recall they were all testing parental boundaries in their own unique ways.

Many times I felt that if they just paid attention and listened more closely, they could understand why my instructions were so important for their wellbeing. Of course, the whole point of the reflection was that when it came to obeying God, I probably didn't do much better than they.

December 23, 2007
Fourth Sunday
of Advent
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-3, 4ab, 5-6
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

The root of the word "obey" is the Latin word for "paying attention" or "listening." Fast forward 10 years: The Scriptures for this Sunday are "still" about obedience, and I am "still" pushing the limits and wearying God, much like Ahaz is doing in the Isaiah reading when he refuses to ask the Lord for a sign.

Ahaz isn't obeying because he just doesn't "get it," which means he isn't really listening to God but is hiding behind his own misguided piety.

In the Gospel, Joseph doesn't "get it" either, at least not at first. He already has decided, with the best of intentions, to quietly divorce his pregnant fiancée. Thankfully, he takes a nap which suspends his own thoughts and plans, giving God enough access to communicate an alternate and more marvelous way. It's to Joseph's credit and our eternal benefit that when he awakened, he not only "got it," he "did as the Lord commanded and took Mary into his home."

For reflection:

• In what ways have you "wearied the Lord" by stubbornly choosing your own way over God's?

• What can you do this Advent to pay closer attention to the message of grace?

St. Paul tells us that the "obedience of faith" - our ability not only to "get it" but to act on what we've heard - is brought about by "grace," which is simply God's unobstructed presence accomplishing God's purpose in our lives.

Advent is a time to suspend our own agendas, "pay attention," and surrender ourselves to that grace, no matter how many years it takes for the message to sink in!

This column is offered in cooperation with the North Texas Catholic of Fort Worth, Texas.

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Entrance rites: Getting ready to meet God

The following is the second part in a seven-part series on the Mass. (Read part one.)

photo of Fr. Tom Margevicius

the Mass 

Fr. Tom Margevicius 

Last week I mentioned a few concepts that help us appreciate the Mass, such as symbolic objects, words and actions, timelessness, active participation, and changed lives. Now let's look more closely at the beginning of Mass.

Of course, we don't think that in the Upper Room one of the apostles fired up an organ, Jesus put on a stole and chasuble, got in line behind the altar servers carrying incense and candles, and they sang "Gather Us In" before beginning the Last Supper.

Around the year A.D. 155, St. Justin explained to a pagan emperor how Christians did it: "On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read . . ." (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1345).

The rest of St. Justin's liturgy looks remarkably familiar, and it is reassuring that the early church celebrated Mass pretty much the same way we still do. But notice that St. Justin says nothing about the entrance rites. These developed gradually over several hundred years.


One of the earliest things to develop is the symbolism of the altar itself. At the start of Mass, when everyone reaches the sanctuary, we bow to the altar, even if the tabernacle is in a different chapel. And bishops, priests, and deacons kiss the altar. Why?

That's because according to St. Ambrose (late 300s) the altar is a symbol of Christ. The liturgy calls Jesus Christ priest, victim, and altar: As High Priest, he makes the offering (Hebrews 5:1-10). As Victim, he is the one being sacrificed, the Lamb who was slain (Revelation 13:8).

But why altar? St. Paul says we "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1). Since we know the Father accepts Christ's sacrifice, we place our lives on Christ himself; he is the one through whom we sacrifice our lives. Reverencing the altar is reverencing Christ himself.


The celebrant greets the assembly with the Sign of the Cross and a scriptural text such as, "The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you" (Titus 1:4).

This is much richer than merely saying, "Good morning." No matter how much the priest and people like one another, something more is happening: The priest is wishing God upon the people, and the people respond not just to the man, but to Jesus Christ himself.

That's why the literal translation of the people's response is, "And with your spirit." Christ greets his bride (the Church), and the bride greets the spirit of Christ present in the priest.

Penitential rite

Are you ready to meet Jesus, who really comes to us in the Eucharist? Sometimes, neither am I. That's why we usually ask for mercy next. This can take several forms: The most ancient predates even the use of Latin in Mass: We cry out "Kyrie eleison," Greek for "Lord have mercy."

The Confiteor ("I confess . . .") first shows up around the eighth century. And sometimes, such as at Easter and Masses with baptism, we renew our baptismal promises and replace the penitential rite with a sprinkling with water.

The Gloria comes from the song the angels sang at Jesus' birth (Luke 2:4) and originally was used only during the Christmas season. It found its way into Mass during the sixth century. Christ is born anew in each Mass we celebrate, and we sing his praises with the angels and saints who are continually praising him. Each time we pray Mass, we join with the liturgy already going on in heaven (CCC, 1090).

Opening prayer

The opening prayer is also called the "collect." The priest intones, "Let us pray," and then a brief silence follows. The silence is not just waiting for the server to bring the book; each of us is supposed to be praying silently during that time, and after a short while the priest "collects" all those silent prayers into the opening prayer. When the priest ends, we all acclaim "Amen!" signaling our agreement with the prayer, and we are ready for God to speak to us.

Fr. Tom Margevicius is instructor of liturgical theology at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul, Minn.

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This week's readings

Week of December 23 - 29, 2007

Sunday, December 23, 2007
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Reading I: Is 7:10-14
Reading II: Rom 1:1-7
Gospel: Mt 1:18-24

Monday, December 24, 2007
Mass in the Morning
Reading I: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16
Gospel: Lk 1:67-79

Monday, December 24, 2007
The Nativity of the Lord
At the Vigil Mass

Reading I: Is 62:1-5
Reading II: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
Gospel: Mt 1:1-25 or 1:18-25

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The Nativity of the Lord
Mass at Midnight

Reading I: Is 9:1-6
Reading II: Ti 2:11-14
Gospel: Lk 2:1-14

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The Nativity of the Lord
Mass at Dawn

Reading I: Is 62:11-12
Reading II: Ti 3:4-7
Gospel: Lk 2:15-20

Tuesday, December 25, 2007
The Nativity of the Lord
Mass During the Day

Reading I: Is 52:7-10
Reading II: Heb 1:1-6
Gospel: Jn 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14

Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
Reading I: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Gospel: Mt 10:17-22

Thursday, December 27, 2007
Feast of Saint John, Apostle and evangelist
Reading I: 1 Jn 1:1-4
Gospel: Jn 20:1a and 2-8

Friday, December 28, 2007
Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
Reading I: 1 Jn 1:5--2:2
Gospel: Mt 2:13-18

Saturday, December 29, 2007
Reading I: 1 Jn 2:3-11
Gospel: Lk 2:22-35

Pope's Prayer Intentions

December General Intention

Those Suffering from AIDS. That society may care for those stricken with AIDS, especially women and children, and that the Church may help them feel the Lord's love.

December Mission Intention

Asia. That the incarnation of the Son of God may help the peoples of Asia recognize Jesus as God's Envoy, the only Savior of the world.

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