Questions about the experience at Mass

Mike Sarafa

Mike Sarafa

 As we’ve travelled over the years with the kids, I always made sure we would attend Mass, even if the travel was not over a Sunday. I think one of the greatest testimonies of the Catholic faith is its universality. In fact, the definition of Catholic is “universal” coming from the Greek roots kata-holos or “according to the whole.” Today Catholicism is largest Christian denomination and the largest uniform religion in the history of the world with over one billion people identifying themselves as Catholic.

In the Latin Right, on any given Sunday or weekday, at churches big and small and flung far and wide in every corner of the world, you would likely hear the same readings and the same Gospel. The order of the Mass is mostly consistent throughout every dioceses in the world and the prayers, though in different languages, almost identical.

In attending various Chaldean Rite Masses recently, I’ve been struck by several things that seem either inconsistent or imprecise. Though better than the old days, it is still shocking to me the number of congregants that can’t make it to Church on time. At one noon Mass recently, the Church was half empty at procession time but completely full by the time the Gospel was read. It’s not like that was an 8:00 am mass either.

But I want to point out some issues that I will pose not as criticisms but as questions.

Some people, as they enter the pews, stand and say a prayer before they sit. Should they do this if they are late, for example during the readings when everyone else is sitting?

During the kneeling parts, many people stand. I used to think these were people with bad knees, but I think some people simply choose to stand instead of kneeling. Is that an option for people or are they just doing it out of habit or some other reason?

At some churches, there are processionals and recessionals with the priests entering and leaving down the aisles. Some just enter and leave behind the altars. Is there a standard one way or the other in the Chaldean Liturgy or is this optional according to each priest’s preference?

In any case, regarding the recessional, congregants pour out of the pews before the priests exits and while the choir is still singing. This is not something common in the Latin Rite. Should the pastors address this at the various parishes?

The use of incense seems all over the map with each Church and each priest doing something slightly different. Are there proscribed rules for the use of incense?

If the Mass is identified as an “English” Mass, is it necessary to read the Gospel in both languages? At a recent funeral, the Our Father was also said in both languages. I can see a purpose for this at times, but is there any uniformity to when this is done?

Some priests want to scare the dickens out of people about receiving communion if you are in a state of sin or have missed Mass without confessing. My guess is that this is probably canonically correct. But isn’t this an important and sensitive enough issue that the preaching on it should be somewhat consistent?

Some Churches read the same Prayer of the Faithful out of the book every week. Some take the effort to prepare more distinct and timely ones. Personally, the latter feels better to me. Can’t all the Churches accomplish that?

When are we supposed to make the sign of the cross? Dozens of times during the Mass, prayers begin with “Glory be to the Father…. and In the Name of the Father…” These times during the Mass are a free for all with some people making the sign of the cross sometimes, others not at all, others all the time. Not even the priests are consistent with this.

I really don’t know the answers to these questions but have been observing some of these things over the years. The Chaldean Mass is rich and beautiful and steeped in history. The Latin Mass and the new Epistle are thematically consistent and based on a universal Church calendar that syncs the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist into a consistent message for the day.

I don’t think Mass should be about process or precision. But the final question is this: Would it enhance peoples experience and encounter is if was at least a little more so?

Michael Sarafa is Co-Publisher of the Chaldean News.