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The Bells and Smells of Mass – Why Our Senses Matter When We Worship


Our senses enhance our livesWe are “fearfully and wonderfully” made by God and His crafting of us is undeniably intricate. Our five senses give us a plethora of experiences with which to enjoy all of His creation. Our immediate surroundings provide much in the way of sensory pleasure – to the point that we often take them for granted. Similarly, our senses can also propel us back in time, where we are able experience past pleasures anew. Take a favorite song, for instance. A few musical notes and we are transported back in time – to our first love, senior prom, or a delightful vacation. We also relate to the memories evoked by the smell of a freshly baked apple pie or a favorite recipe – like Mom used to make. Even realtors have been known to employ this tendency to lure prospective buyers into a feeling of having ‘come home’.

In the same vein courting, celebrating special occasions or getting married, finds us taking great pains to entertain our senses . And what potential boss would we impress if we appeared for an interview in tattered jeans and a stained tee shirt? Would a suitor give us a second glance if we had unkempt hair and bad breath? Meanwhile we powder, lotion, and dress our babies in adorable outfits in an effort to enhance the velvet touch of their skin,  intoxicating scent, and cherub’s form.

As sensory creatures, the gift of our senses helps us experience the fullness of God’s creation. Therefore, our senses also come into play in our worship of God. We have at our disposal, many ways that we can both compliment our understanding of our ancient Liturgy and to show honor to God.

  • The architectural beauty of our churches illustrates that we have entered a sacred place. The formality of the edifice and the orderly ranks of pews speak to a certain structure and discipline.
  • Ornate statuary and the Stations of the Cross call to mind the faithful lives of saints, the virtues of the Blessed Mother, and the God Man, Jesus – who came to take away the sins of the world. And we see the crucifix as a poignant reminder of the ultimate price paid for our sins – both past and future.
  • The various colors of the priestly vestments give us a clue as to the season and the tone of our worship. White, red, green, violet, black, rose and gold all denote differing liturgical seasons, purposes or intents.
  • The Rubrics or General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) are a written manual that thoroughly choreographs postures, words, and actions during Holy Mass. In addition,  the Roman Missal itself provides the details of the words and actions of the celebrant (priest) during Mass by allowing him to simply ‘say the black, do the red’, as Fr. Zuhlsdorf of blogdom fame is fond of asserting.
  • The hymns, composed and chosen, illustrate what we believe, that we should do our best to raise our voices in His glory, and that we are there to sing His praises – not our own. If it becomes a concert or a prideful show of talent, we diminish this God-given gift that we are offering back to Him in song. It becomes about us and not about true worship. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI has written some enlightening words concerning the Liturgy and Sacred Music in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.Our senses matter at Mass as well
  • Although they are an option (according to the priest’s preference), when they are used the bells at Mass gloriously appeal to our ears as a signal that something very special is happening. They announce that we should be still and turn our rapt attention to the greatest sacrifice ever made – Jesus giving His life for our sins and Himself to us as food. That we are once again at the foot of the cross – with Him!
  • Used frequently in the Latin Mass or during special times in the Novus Ordo, incense tickles our noses and captures our attention, both through smell and sight. As the smoke rises, our minds are drawn to the prayers ascending to Heaven in praise, petition, penitence and worship.
  • The clothing with which we choose to cover ourselves speaks to our recognition of appearing before our King, the Lord of Lords. As in the parable about the wedding garment, dressing for the occasion speaks to the reverence we feel, the homage we pay, and the respect that is demanded by merely existing in His presence. Veiling is also an optional, special acknowledgement of a woman’s humility and the gift of femininity. These efforts are not about finery but about putting our best foot forward to the best of our ability.

These and other manifestations of our senses are of greater importance in our worship than we sometimes acknowledge. Yet we have been given a perfect example, both in scripture and Tradition. Reverence for the House of His Father, certainly mattered to Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that,

“Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God” because “for him, the Temple was the dwelling of his Father, a house of prayer”.  When he saw the lack of decorum shown by the sellers and money changers, “he was angered that its outer court had become a place of commerce”. As He drove the merchants out He said, “You shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade”. We are further told that his apostles retained their reverence for the Temple even after the Resurrection.

Of all of our actions in life, prayer and pleasing God our Creator should stand above any other pursuit. How much more important than any other quest is our approach to the sacrificial altar? What are our actions saying when we take the glory and worship of our God in vain? Do we present ourselves grudgingly or carelessly for that brief hour each week? Or are our efforts fitting and pure? Perhaps we could become more aware and make some improvements during Lent. How will we show our respect and honor for Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? Will we inspire a new outward sign of reverence that will carry over past Easter? Do you see any actions in particular that speak to you in relation to the dignity given to our Sacrificial Lord? Share your thoughts and experiences with us so that we may learn from one another.

Of course, good example, also gives a ripple effect to those around us. Once the ripple covers our own little pond, it moves on to other ponds, rivers, and lakes. Good behavior, as well as bad, has been known to be contagious! Why, you might ask, are all of these things so darned important? The answer? Obedience, humility and most importantly R-E-S-P-E-C-T. For more insight, it might be helpful to read this most informative post, Save the Liturgy, Save the World, by Fr. Zuhlsdorf for an explanation much better than my own. God bless and Catholic on!

Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Mass

It Is Right and Just: Mass Changes One Year Later

It has been almost one full year since the new translation of the Mass has been implemented in the Roman Rite. Can you believe it has been almost a year already?? I certainly can’t.

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about change in our every day lives. In that post I discussed how change can be wonderful, difficult, joyful, stressful, and so much more. We can experience all those emotions individually or simultaneously. But in the end, change is often a good thing, even if we don’t recognize it as good at first.

A year later I’m now pleased to report that my boys are now well on their way to being 18 months old, they are doing great, and we are still slowly learning this parenting thing.

What a difference a year makes!

The “new catalog rules” at work that I mentioned last year are nearing their time of implementation. I was at a conference recently where other librarians were stressing about these upcoming changes and I found myself rather calm about them. I like that feeling.

The construction at my parish is basically complete. Sort of (we are now getting a new organ as well).  Last year I mentioned four big projects that we hoped would be completed in time for the Church’s new year, i.e. Advent. I’m pleased to report that our sanctuary was mostly complete in time for the first Sunday of Advent 2011 and we were able to have Mass back in our sanctuary again.

Construction of the new tabernacle and altar

What a great feeling to move into an old space made new and to use the new translation of the Mass for the first time. All at the same time!

Our Bishop praying before Our Lord in the Tabernacle at the dedication earlier this year.
(c) Cindy Olson, 2012

It was an extraordinary feeling to have so many of  my senses engaged at once. My visuals were different because the altar looked different. I had to listen more carefully and be more fully engaged in the liturgy in order to hear what was different and say the parts that were different. The tabernacle itself wasn’t yet installed, but a few months later when it was we all had to get used to genuflecting where we used to bow.

Over the last year all the various construction projects have been completed (and the new organ is being installed now). We now have a brand new baptistery  a beautiful adoration chapel, a new more roomy rectory for our priests, and a stunning tabernacle for our Lord to reside in. And throughout all these changes to our space, we are also getting used to the changes in the translation of the Mass.

I picked up on parts of the new translation easily and others I struggled with. To this day I still catch myself saying “It is right to give Him …”  instead of “It is right and just.” That one gets me almost every time. I struggle some because my children became more difficult during Mass in this past year. Juggling children and trying to keep them from running off and falling into the baptistery means I can’t always have a cheat sheet in front of me. I still stumble over some words here and there, but those new parts of the Mass that are usually sung have been the easiest for me to pick up on. Music is such a wonderful aid!

How about you? Have you internalized the new translation yet? Has it been easier over the last year than you anticipated it would be? Are you still struggling some? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Adrienne Apologetics Faith Formation Sacred Scripture

Why Catholics Don’t Read the Bible

As Catholics, we’ve all heard it before, “Catholics don’t read the Bible.”, “Catholicism is unbiblical!”, “They don’t even have Bibles in their pews!”, followed by examples of Bible “abuse” in the past of the Catholic Church where she chained Bibles to the pulpits (true) so the faithful couldn’t study them (false), or burned copies of the Bible (true) because, again, the Church didn’t want the faithful to study them (false).  Allow me to explore this characterization, as it contains a bit of truth, along with some natural misunderstanding.

“According to the apostle Paul, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God and who does not know scripture does not know the power or the wisdom of God, then ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.

A.D. 408, St. Jerome, Father and Doctor of the Church

Children of God whom are nurtured by Sola Scriptura as their rule of faith have a very different relationship with Sacred Scripture than both modern and historical Catholics.  These devoted Christians have at least one copy of God’s Written Word, and many will lovingly delve into those pages daily for their source of God given nourishment.  They can’t imagine a spiritual life that isn’t drenched in the pages of Scripture.  “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5)  Thus, they are simply appalled that a Catholic may not own a Bible at all!  And again wonder, why are there no Bibles in the pews at a Catholic church?!

Modern Catholics do not share this same relationship with Sacred Scripture because historical Catholics did not.  Catholicism has a 2,000 year history, and due to this, the average Catholic has been brought up in the vestiges of an ancient faith that predates wide spread literacy and the printing press.  For the first 1500 years of the Church, all Bibles were hand written by scribes, to painfully exact standards.  If a scribe made a single mistake on a piece of parchment, the entire piece of parchment would be destroyed and rewritten, to ensure pristine copies of Sacred Scripture were released to the public.  These Bibles took years to complete and cost three years’ wages (like a modern day house, which we purchase with 30 year mortgages).  These copies of God’s Word were so expensive and rare, that the local churches would chain them to the pulpits to prevent theft, protecting the availability for all of the congregants.  The average layperson did not own one of these Bibles because of the expense and rarity, not to mention that person’s inability to read would have been troublesome even if they did have a copy.  Their daily spiritual lives did not revolve around individual study of Sacred Scripture, instead they found spiritual nourishment in other ways –  namely prayer and the Mass.  The historic Catholic would travel to mass (available daily) to hear God’s word read from the ambo, and explained in a homily.  His soul would be nourished not only by hearing the written word, but also by his prayerful presence with the Blessed Sacrifice of the Mass.  Outside of the Mass, his daily life would be sustained through a devotion to prayer.

God’s having allowed for the invention of modern technology has been fantastic for education and the spread of His Word, but it has also brought about changes in our relationships with Him.  When the printing press came on the scene in the 1400s copies of Bibles were being printed left and right!  And not at all with the same careful consideration the scribes had used.  The Church, in her effort to preserve the distribution of pristine copies of God’s Word, did indeed burn many poor prints or translations.  Around this time literacy grew and continued to grow, and soon the famous Reformation was born.  While our Sola Scriptura brethren grew in a faith formation focused on the pages of God’s word written in Scripture, our Catholic ancestors continued with their sturdy 1500 year old faith formation based on the mass and prayer.

Today, first world Catholics still may not own Bibles, though many do.  We’re still raised with an emphasis on mass attendance, frequency of sacraments, and a rich prayer life for our faith formation.  No, we still don’t have Bibles in our pews, but instead, we have missals which contain the passages to be read each day for mass.  These missals ensure that our priests are reading the same three to four selections of God’s written Word as all of the other priests in the other parishes that day.  The missal ensures that all faithful Catholics are read the entire Bible in three years of daily mass attendance, which makes for a pretty hefty emphasis on Sacred Scripture.

As God, in His providence, would have it, the latest advancements in technology have allowed for widespread conversions to Catholicism amongst many of God’s devoted children from the Sola Scriptura traditions.  These converts, having had their faith muscles strengthened on the written Word coupled with a vibrant passion for Christ, are uniting with the ancient Church and Her fullness of Christ’s teaching for an explosive combination!  God is showing us that we are weakened by our separation, and are strongest when we unite!  Our newest Catholics are inspiring us cradle Catholics to discover the Biblical Truth of Catholicism, providing us the knowledge armor of Sacred Scripture in conjunction with Sacred Tradition.  Study of the Scriptures in light of Tradition is eye opening and amazing.  But let us never forget that Holy Mother Church protected and provided these Scriptures for us.  We can never divorce the Scriptures from their Mother, for when we separate the two, we will be mislead by our own weaknesses.

Many thanks to the Holy Spirit for our Sacred Scriptures, and also, many thanks to all of our convert Catholics for bringing into the Church their passion for God’s Written Word!

Ink Slingers Kerri

New Translation Excitement; or, How Star Wars will take on new meaning for Catholics

It’s coming!  Are you ready?  Are you feeling the anticipation building?  Are you prepared?  Excited?  Unsure?  Confused?

We are less than one week from the implementation of the third edition of the Roman Missal.  In the coming weeks we’ll fumble around a bit as we get used to the changes.  As the weeks stretch into months we’ll become accustomed to hearing the new language and become more familiar with the words we say.  And in a year (or more) it will be second nature.

Personally I’m excited by the changes.  I have read through the Order of Mass for the new translation and I’ve read sections of a handy little Guide to the New Translation of the Mass by Edward Sri.  Although the words aren’t ingrained in my mind yet, I’m becoming more familiar with what I will hear and where the changes are.  At my parish we’ve already been singing the Mass parts (Gloria, Sanctus/Holy, holy, Agnus Dei/Lamb of God, etc.) and our priests are spending a bit of time before Mass each week to talk about one aspect of the coming changes.

There has been a lot of time and attention paid to the upcoming changes; time spent at the parish level and diocesan level and throughout the English-speaking Catholic world through various kinds of print, media, and online publications.  Thus, I don’t want to spend any time on the mechanics of what we should expect when show up for Mass in six days.

Instead I’ve been thinking about these changes in terms of what I have learned through the preparation period that we have been in as a Church and what I am looking forward to in the new Mass.

I’ve learned the difference between and meanings of the phrases “dynamic equivalence” and “formal equivalence.”  I’m looking forward to the day when I can impress people at a cocktail party by using those phrases in conversation.  Too bad I never go to cocktail parties!

I’ve also finally seen more clearly the connection between the Liturgy and Scripture.  Not that I didn’t know that Scripture is all through the praying of the Mass, I did, but it is now so much more obvious.  Take for instance right before Communion when we will now say:

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

Almost the exact wording from Matthew 8:8!!  Passages like this make me realize exactly why this new translation had to be done.  We should be able to recognize Scripture throughout the Mass, we should be able to make those connections easily, and visitors to our churches should also recognize how Scripture-based the Mass is.  This translation will facilitate all of that.

One recent Sunday at Mass I looked down at my two children sitting in their infant seat carriers and it occurred to me that they will learn the Mass according to this new translation and never know it as I learned it.  It was certainly not a lamentable thought in the least.  It was kind of like a light bulb had gone off: the new translation is being written not just for us in the here and now but for future generations.  It is not just about our history but also about our future.  I thought about future discussions I might have with my boys about the Mass and its elements and I realized how much more I understand it now than I ever have and how I’ll be able to impart that knowledge onto them.  And more importantly, for them to be able to see the connections between Scripture and the liturgy so clearly from the very beginning.  I’m so excited for my children!!

I’m extremely grateful that my children will learn this new translation and it’ll be all they know (until/if a future edition ever comes out).  I’m sure that even once the new responses and prayers start becoming second nature for me, there will still be times when I may revert to old habits, yet my children won’t know any different.  I know this isn’t going to be true for everyone, but for those who are in a similar boat as I am, I’m sure you can relate.  I’m also willing to bet that many children will pick up on the changes faster than most adults (similar to how children are able to learn a foreign language faster than adults do).

And finally, one particular Star Wars joke may take on new meaning.  Something to think about the next time your children are playing with light-sabers and you hear, “May the force be with you.”

And when you hear your inner voice automatically say, “And with your Spirit,” you’ll know the new translation is becoming second nature.


Ink Slingers Jessica

“Multiplicity” and the New Roman Missal


I’ve been thinking about the 1996 movie “Multiplicity” lately.  Have you seen it?  It may not have made much money and received mediocre reviews, but certain parts of it have stuck with me over the years that has been brought the forefront of my mind with the new translation of the Roman Missal coming soon.

The film "Multiplicity" as represented by stick figures.

In the movie, Michael Keaton’s character finds a way to make copies of himself so that he can essentially be in two  places at one time.  The original copies are close to being the real him.  Maybe they have certain exaggerated personality aspects, but they pass for him.  One day, the copies are curious, so they make a copy of one of themselves.  The result is a character (known as “4”) that looks exactly like the original, but was nothing like him in his mannerisms and intelligence level.  In the film it is explained that a copy of a copy is never as sharp as the original.  The more times you copy a copy, the result gets fuzzier.

With the new translation of thing Roman Missal coming to Catholic Churches near you in just a few short weeks, there will be some changes to the Mass that we’ve all known and loved for so many years.  Eventually, it’ll be a reaction to say, “And with your spirit” instead of “And also with you.”  (So I guess the ol’ “Star Wars” joke will now be, “May the Force be with you” “And with your spirit.”)

There are plenty of people out there who look forward to changes, but there are just as many (if not more) who are resistant to change.  I’ve heard plenty of people complaining about the new translation and these upcoming changes.  “I just don’t understand why it has to change.”  I can understand those sentiments.  I really can.

It is much easier to grasp when you look at it from a broader angle.  God has guided the Catholic Church for 2000 years.  When it has started down the wrong path, He gently re-centered it.  There’s no way that we have made it through that amount of time as unified as we are without the hand of God being present.  I see the new translation as His way of re-centering us.  It is supposed to be a much closer translation of the original Latin.  He doesn’t want us making copies of copies for centuries on end.  Just as Michael Keaton’s character 4 was far from perfect, we don’t want the Mass to be anything but perfect.

We may stumble over our words with this new translation.  We may have to follow along more at first than we are used to.  It’ll be different, but we’ll get used to it!  In six months, I bet it’ll
be old hat.