The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM #46) says this about our Introductory Rites at Mass: “The rites that precede the Liturgy of the Word, namely, the Entrance, the Greeting, the Penitential Act, the Kyrie, the Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) and Collect, have the character of a beginning, an introduction, and a preparation. Their purpose is to ensure that the faithful, who come together as one, establish communion and dispose themselves properly to listen to the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist worthily.”
Let’s take a closer look at the purposes of the Gathering Rites outlined in the above paragraph:
- To come together as one
- To establish communion
- To dispose us properly to listen to the Word of God
- To celebrate the Eucharist worthily
Generally, parish communities celebrate these introductory rites on Sunday as a good beginning to Mass, and as a good introduction to the Word that will follow, but is enough time given to prepare for a “communion” with one another and with God? Are we understanding fully the “communion” we are to establish here?
This “communion” we prepare for is not simply community fellowship or shared belief. Nor is it the more commonly used use of the word “communion,” as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that we share later in the Mass. It is used here to mean a deep union with God and with one another that requires each member of the assembly gathered to surrender individuality to become a part of a wholeness that is far greater than the sum of the individual parts; a wholeness that is God. In the depth of that union, we are one with all people and with all of God’s creation.
Such a profound sense of “communion” is not easy to achieve. It requires more of us than simple activity or presence. It requires a mindfulness, an intensity of internal participation. It requires that we cross a line; that we leave our everyday world behind and cross over into total life in God. We do cross a line when we enter a church building. We cross a threshold of sorts.
Think about threshold moments in life, such as graduation, marriage, the birth of a child. Once we pass those lines, we are never the same again. The Mass has that kind of threshold-power. It can change us. It can even change the world, through us. How we give ourselves to God week after week can change us. It may not happen in one Mass, or one threshold moment, but over time, we will share in the presence of God in ever deepening ways and reflect that presence to the world around us.
The vestibule of our churches are transitional places that offer us a doorway out of everyday life, and then a doorway into holy space and time. A vestibule is a chamber, a passage, a channel that opens up into another. Next time you pass through the vestibule in church, take time to realize it as a passage, a moment of transition. Pause briefly and let go of the life behind you, and get ready for the communion to come.
It is serious work to give ourselves so completely to “communion” in God. And yet, sometimes we celebrate Mass as if what we are doing doesn’t really matter, as though it doesn’t change anything. We celebrate the introductory rites like people who can’t wait, like people who are always in a hurry, or people who always have something else more important to do. In the beginning moments of our liturgy, to make this transition into “communion,” to cross the line into wholeness, we need time and silence. Pacing these rites appropriately can enable us to establish the “communion” intended. Consider allowing for more time and silence in between each element of the ritual. Let each moment speak more by the silence that surrounds it, rather than by the words that frame it.
Participation in Mass forms us in a way of life. We learn to give to God as God gives to us, with the fullness of our being, without limit, according to the way of Christ, the self-emptying love of God.
Lent begins on March 6th this year. This holy season could be a beautiful time for parishes to expand how they celebrate the introductory rites at Mass by filling them with more time and silence. In fact, during Lent, why not expand the liturgy to include more time and silence throughout, allowing God to speak in the silence and for us to listen more attentively.
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