This past weekend, as an Aucklander thrown back into Covid Alert Level 3, I found myself incredibly out of practise when it came to attending online Mass. I was distracted during the first reading, I only remembered to stand a few minutes into the Gospel, and I found myself reclining on the couch during the homily. I tried to snap myself into a more reverential disposition during the Eucharistic prayers, but honestly it was really, really hard! Anyone else identify?
During the first Level 4 lockdown I was really into online Mass and even tuned in daily with my two toddlers. My oldest would ring the bell for the consecration, my youngest would run around saying “A-men” every two seconds.
My love of the Mass grew each day and I could not get enough. Perhaps it was because I was reading Dr Edward Sri’s book ‘A Biblical Walk Through The Mass’ at the time and I was getting a completely new appreciation for the Mass (I highly recommend this book by the way!). I always made sure I prepared myself and took our virtual attendance seriously.
What can we do to get our head and hearts back into the virtual Mass? If only for just one more weekend (we hope!). One thing which helped me last time was engaging in the Mass as if we were physically there. This means praying along with the postures of standing, sitting and kneeling.
If anyone is a Theology of the Body junkie like me, you will know that what we do with our body matters. We pray with our whole body, not just with our mind or words. We are a body and soul composite, so praying is not just about what we feel, it’s also about what we do.
Understanding the postures
Sit, stand, kneel, repeat – so what do these postures actually mean? For me, understanding what I’m doing and why I’m doing it helped me immensely with my engagement in the Mass so I thought I’d share what I have learned.
We stand at the beginning of Mass, at the Gospel reading, and in preparation for the Eucharist. Standing is a sign of readiness. Think back to the Hebrews as God was calling them out of Egypt. He told them to eat the Passover standing with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand, so they could be ready (Exod 12:11). Are we dressed, attentive and ready to partake in the Mass, or do we roll out of bed and rock up with a coffee in hand?
Standing is also a sign of reverence and attention. When Ezra read from the Book of the Law to the assembled Jews, standing was the reverent posture (Neh 8:5). Standing for the Gospel shows reverence and attentiveness to hearing the words of Jesus. With this same reverence and readiness we enter into the Eucharistic prayers as we prepare to offer ourselves with Christ in this sacrifice.
Sitting is a posture of receiving, processing and meditating. We sit for the readings and homily as we receive the Word, have it explained and meditate on it in our hearts. We also sit for the Offertory as we meditate on what we want to offer to God this week. This is where we bring to him our joys, our sorrows and our anxieties.
I have come to love the Offertory time where my three-year-old climbs onto my lap to watch as the altar servers process ahead of the gifts with their candles. We list together all the intentions we want to bring to the altar and unite all our loved ones together with us in the sacrifice of the Mass.
Kneeling is a posture of adoration and worship. We kneel at the consecration, we kneel when the priest calls down the Holy Spirit – we kneel when God comes. It is an acknowledgement of the true presence and an outward sign which shows we truly believe. Paragraph 1378 of the Catechism states:
“In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord.”
These past weeks of coming back to physically attending Mass have been the most beautiful experience. Being reunited with the Eucharist on a weekly basis regularly brings me to tears – I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted again.
With Covid back in our country we find ourselves facing this painful separation once again. Let us try to stay as connected with the Mass and the Eucharist as much as we possibly can. While we are not physically in the Church building, it is important to keep in mind the reality of what is happening on the altar as we approach our virtual Mass attendance. We should come with reverence, worshipping with our whole selves – and that includes our bodies.