On a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in August of 1972 I found myself standing on Canal Street in front of the Jung Hotel; waiting to be picked up and taken to my new home, The Josephite House of Studies. This marked a new beginning in my life, a wonderful experience of learning about the New Orleans history and culture as shared by many parishioners at Corpus Christi Catholic Church. To start I had to learn the meaning of different phrases, which are strictly New Orleans in nature; “going to make groceries,” “po’boy” “do you want that dressed or undressed” and a host of others. I was also introduced to some new foods, “Dirty Rice” “crawfish etouffee,” “Red Beans and Rice” and one of my favorites’ “Gumbo.”
It is Gumbo that I found most intriguing, especially when I listened to several good chiefs at Corpus Christi Church share that a good Gumbo is determined by quality of the Roux. If the Roux is not made properly, then the Gumbo will not be that good. However, if time and proper care is taken in making that Roux, then one will have the treat of a great pot of Gumbo. In the end, it is all about the time and effort placed in its preparation.
I mention this because any worship service is dependent upon the care and time spent in its preparation. If the details for the service are lacking, then there is a very good chance that the worship service itself will be flat and fail to achieve that spiritual awakening that everyone desires. This is especially true within the Catholic Church and the celebration of the Mass. Like a good Roux, care must be taken to prepare the gathering community of worshippers to enter the celebration of the Mass with an openness to be renewed in God’s grace and presence.
There are several parts to the celebration of the Mass. They are: “The Gathering Rite”, “The Liturgy of the Word,” “The Liturgy of the Eucharist,” and “The Concluding Rite.” Each part of the Mass has its own function to fulfill so that the total celebration of the Mass might become a prayerful movement that brings one into the real presence of God.
As a pot of Gumbo needs a good Roux, the Gathering Rite, is the Roux for the celebration of Mass. This rite consists of several components, which when fulfilled properly, aids those who are gathered to enter the worshipping service that is exciting, welcoming and uplifting.
The Gathering Rite begins, as the community of the faithful gather to worship. As in all aspects of life, we like to feel welcome when we enter someone’s home or even a business. When we are made to feel welcome, it changes our entire attitude regarding our present environment. There is a sense of acceptance, of peace, and that we are a part of the event. The spirit of welcome is of vital importance when it comes to Church and Worship. Because to encounter the presence of God occurs when we are gathered as one and in peace.
To aid us in obtaining this spirit of unity and welcome, many Churches have Ministers of Hospitality. These dedicated individuals’ sole mission is to welcome everyone who enters the church, so that they are made to feel welcome and a part of the celebration. There is another important aspect of the gathering rite, which is private and personal. This is the time for our ; private prayers and reflection, as we prepare to come into that Holy Sanctuary of God.
Once everyone has gathered, there is a song that is generally song called the Gathering Hymn. This song serves to bring everyone together as one faith community, offering their praise to God, as the liturgical ministers and the Priest process to the sanctuary. Once the priest celebrant reaches the Sanctuary, he first welcomes everyone gathered in God’s name, and then calls us to make the “Sign of the Cross.” Note, this action serves to remind us of the impact of our Baptism. For in the Ritual of Baptism, one of the first acts that the celebrant does is trace the sign of the cross on our forehead while saying, “I claim you for Christ, by the sign of the cross I’ve traced on your forehead.” Therefore, every time we make the Sign of the Cross, we are reminded that we have been claimed for Christ, and therefore we are a Child of God.
As the gathering rite continues, there is the Penitential Rite. This is a special time for each person to take a moment to reflect upon their own life and how they have lived that life according to God’s Word. If we are honest with ourselves, we quickly realize that there have been times either in thought, word, or action that we have failed to be faithful to God’s Word. Yet, scripture continually reminds us of God’s unending mercy in our life. The Penitential Rite then affords us the opportunity to acknowledge our failure to live by God’s Word, however it reminds us of God's unending mercy that is alive and at work in our daily life.
What follows on Sundays and other special feast days is the prayer “The Gloria.” This is a song of praise to God which echoes the joy of the angels on the night of Christ birth. Recall in the Gospel of Luke we read, “and suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk.2:13-14) The Gloria is our ability to join our song of joy and praise with that of God’s holy angels, thus being renewed in His joy.
It should be noted that there are two times in the Church Liturgical year when the Gloria is omitted at Mass, that is the Season of Advent, (just prior to Christmas), and Lent, which is a penitential season.
After the Gloria, the celebration now moves into the first prayer of the Mass, which is referred to as the “Collect.” This prayer is introduced by the celebrant while saying “Let us Pray.” What should happen next is a moment of silence. This is important, since the celebrant just asked everyone to pray, there needs to be some time for us as individuals to pray. This is our time to gather our own personal prayers together so that they can be offered to God during the Mass. It is after this moment of silence that the celebrant with his arms extended, a gesture of gathering everyone’s individual prayers, and offering them to God in the “Collect” prayer. This prayer is significant, since if one listens carefully to the words of the prayer one can grasp an insight into the nature or the themes of the Scripture Readings that will be proclaimed during the Mass proper. It is this Collect Prayer that concludes the gathering rite, as now we are about to enter the First Major Part of the Mass The Liturgy of the Word.
Just as the Roux can help make a great pot of Gumbo, that will delight our palate, the Gathering Rite can prepare us for a great worshipping experience as we gather to come into the presence of our Living God.
Next month we will examine the First Major Part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word.