Pope Francis continues his catechesis on matters liturgical during this week’s General Audience…
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
In the course of the catecheses on the Eucharistic Celebration, we reflected on the Penitential Act that helps us to strip ourselves from our presumptions and to present ourselves to God as we really are, conscious of being sinners, in the hope of being forgiven.
In fact, the gratitude expressed in the “Gloria” comes to life from the encounter between human misery and divine mercy; <it is> “a very ancient and venerable hymn with which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and beseeches God the Father and the Lamb” (Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano, 53).
The beginning of this hymn – “Glory to God in the highest” — takes up the song of the Angels at Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, joyful proclamation of the embrace between Heaven and earth. This song involves us also, recollected in prayer: “Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to men of good will.” After the “Gloria,” or when this isn’t, immediately after the Penitential Act, the prayer takes a particular form in the prayer called “Collect,” through which is expressed the character proper of the celebration, variable according to the days and the times of the year (Cf. Ibid., 54). With the invitation “Let us pray,” the priest exhorts the people to recollect themselves with him in a moment of silence, in order to be conscious of being in the presence of God and have arise, in each one’s heart, the personal intentions with which he takes part in the Mass (Cf. Ibid., 54). The priest says “Let us pray”, and then comes a moment of silence, and each one thinks of the things of which he is in need, what he wishes to ask for in prayer.
The silence isn’t reduced to the absence of words, <but> rather in disposing oneself to listen to other voices: that of our heart and, especially, the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the liturgy, the nature of the sacred silence depends on the moment in which it takes place: “During the Penitential Act and after the invitation to prayer, it helps recollection; after the Reading or the homily, it’s a call to meditate briefly on what one has heard; after Communion, it fosters interior prayer of praise and supplication” (Ibid., 4r5). Therefore, before the initial prayer, silence helps to recollect ourselves in ourselves and to think why we are there. See then the importance of listening to our spirit to then open it to the Lord. Perhaps we come from days of toil, of joy, of sorrow, and we want to say it to the Lord, to invoke His help, to ask that He be close to us; we have sick relatives and friends or who are going through difficult trials; we want to entrust to God the fate of the Church and of the world. And for this the brief silence is useful, before the priest, gathering the intentions of each one, expresses in a loud voice to God, in the name of all, the common prayer that ends the Rites of Introduction, doing in fact the “Collect” of the individual intentions. I earnestly recommend to priests to observe this moment of silence and not go in a hurry: “Let us pray,” and that silence be kept. I recommend this to priests. Without this silence, we risk neglecting the recollection of the soul.
The priest recites this supplication, this Collect prayer, with his arms spread, which is the attitude of the worshipper, assumed by Christians from the first centuries — as the frescoes of the Roman catacombs attest — to imitate Christ with His arms open on the wood of the cross. And there, Christ is the Worshipper and is at the same time the prayer! In the Crucified we recognize the Priest that offers to God the worship that pleases Him, namely, filial obedience.
In the Roman Rite the prayers are concise but rich in meaning: beautiful meditations can be made on these prayers, which are so beautiful! To return to meditate the texts, also outside of the Mass, can help us to learn how to address God, what to ask for, what words to use. May the liturgy be able to become for all of us a true school of prayer.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org