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Pastoral Letter of the Renewal of The Divine Liturgy
For the past five years there has been much talk about changing the Mass. Many see these changes as updates to the existing Mass; or a cleaning up of bad and outdated prayers. To be clear, Mass, whether in its original form or after many years of reform, is never outdated. The Word of God and our Ancient prayers never expire. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Changes are not to the theology of the Mass or the Word of God; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The liturgy of the Mass is not a Christmas tree that we can decorate with different ornaments based on the time and place we live. The Mass is inherited from Christ Himself, and in essence is the representation of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary and celebration of His resurrection. When we speak of a new Mass or changing the Mass, we mean changes made to the structure, wording, and translation of prayers, along with some of the gestures. The reason for the changes is pastoral in nature, and is intended to help the faithful better participate in the Mass. We as a diocese are going to transition to the most recent text of the Mass approved by the Vatican. Here I would like to shed some light on some of the new elements you should find next time you attend the renewed Mass.
As a Church we don’t want to deprive the faithful of the grace received from hearing the Word of God. For this reason, in almost every Sunday Mass, the Old Testament reading is proclaimed first. These readings are very rich and inspiring and we need to renew our appreciation for them. I understand that often the objections to the Old Testament is the violence, among some of its themes. Struggling to understand all the themes including killing, violence, etc. in the Bible is not something new. The Bible leads us gradually to the fullness of time when Christ is born. Jesus the Prince of peace reveals the Heart of the Father which is full of love and mercy. Christ’s work of peace is even more clear when we read the Old Testament because Christ satisfies all prophecies seen through the different themes and responding with mercy and forgiveness. Therefore, the transition between the Old Testament reading to New Testament is not to show how God changed, but to show how God fulfilled everything by taking flesh and dying on the Cross.
Another restoration is the inclusion of Psalms throughout the Mass. The Book of Psalms are prayers in the Old Testament that express the depths of prayer. Pope Benedict XVI said that the Psalms are a “school of prayer.” They are thematic in nature, as the psalmist expresses joy, lament, repentance, forgiveness, desolation, longing …etc. Therefore, the Church relies heavily on them in the liturgy, and particularly in the different seasons and feasts of the Church, such as Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Resurrection, Ascension, …etc. Every Sunday Mass begins with a different Psalm and the two readings have a Psalm that precedes them. All of this was unfortunately dropped over time. The restoration of different Psalms throughout the year will enrich our experience and help us enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s life. My hope for all of us is that we allow our hearts to be exposed before God through the Psalms. I pray that they will speak to you and help you express your thoughts, feelings, frustrations, fears and joys. The psalms are the pouring out of the human heart before God. Our Lord Himself, along with Mary and all the apostles, relied on the Psalms to pray.
An important ‘addition’ to the Arabic and the English Masses are the meditational prayers that change during the seasons. The prayers, called propers, have too long been limited to the Chaldean ‘Surath’ Mass and not included for the Arabic and English speakers. They are wonderful meditations that take the season of the Church to a new height. They may take a bit of time to get used to, but these are Chaldean prayers at their best.
Finally, every Mass we attend the Church calls us to “lift up your thoughts” to heaven. Therefore, do not be afraid of using your thoughts, feelings, emotions, imagination, and body to worship God, because the Mass is meant to engage the whole human person. Mass has symbols to engage your imagination and feelings, and it also has realities to engage your mind, body and soul. Elements such as incense, bells, candles, crucifixes, icons, are symbols and appeal to our imagination, while also pointing to something real and actual. On the other hand, there are elements in Mass that are real. The Eucharist, the Word of God, the coming down of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the angels, etc., are real and actual realities that are present at every Mass.
My hope is that the new Mass will bring about a new and deeper appreciation for the highest source of Christian life, the Eucharist. May we all come and be nourished from the altar of God with His own Body and Blood.