Revisiting Mass

Sam BellafioreSam Bellafiore
University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

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Also by this author: Church Music Association of America Colloquium

I don’t associate communal prayer with the invitation to “be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). Meditating on Scripture by myself, walking alone: perhaps. With others: less so. Least of all at Mass, sad to say. A recent experience reminded me that my associations are a bit misguided and provided an opportunity to reflect on the depth of the mystery of the Visitation.

From June 30 to July 6, I attended the Church Music Association of America’s annual colloquium, a gathering of church musicians from throughout the United States and Canada. Each day’s packed scheduled culminated in the celebration of Mass. Two of the conference’s six Masses occurred in the Extraordinary Form, the form of the Mass promulgated in 1962. While the current Roman calendar celebrates the feast of the Visitation on May 31, the 1962 calendar celebrates it on July 2. As a result, I got to celebrate the Visitation a second time this year.

Attending the Extraordinary Form can be jarring. It features everything that, when I was a child, adults had described without joking as the “bad old days.” The Mass is in Latin. The priest and congregation face the same direction. The Eucharistic Canon is lengthy and the priest says most of it silently.

Extraordinary FormOver the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Extraordinary Form about a dozen times, in settings from a thousand-person congregation, an orchestra and Mozart’s Requiem to a cramped chapel with ten people. The most striking thing about these liturgies has been their silence. For the Visitation, the colloquium congregation sang a Gregorian chant setting of the Mass ordinary. As always, silence fell over the whole church after the Sanctus. The thick silence speaks for itself: something significant is happening. It confronts worshippers with the magnitude of the Mass. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He is coming, very soon. Be still and know that it is he.

This silence affords worshippers a certain space and freedom. One can pray the text of the Canon, reflect on the Gospel or simply kneel and be. As a hyperactive college student, this has been a healing way to experience the Mass. Even though congregants may be praying slightly different kinds of internal prayer, everyone is united in praying the Mass.

Reflecting on the Annunciation in December, Pope Francis said, “Silence is really the ‘cloud’ that covers the mystery of our relationship with the Lord…where there is no silence in our lives, the mystery is lost, it goes away. Guard the mystery with silence!” Some things are so awesome they must be proclaimed on rooftops, some so awesome they remain unspeakable. The Mass, it seems, is both. If anything deserves rooftop proclamation, it is the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and their reality in the Mass. But if there is anything before which humanity must also stand mute, it is those events.

Sound ebbs and flows throughout the liturgy, creating a rhythmic structure for the Church’s prayer, revealing the importance of both sound and silence. The Visitation narrative presents not only an interaction between people but also the relation between their sounds and silences.

The Visitation-El GrecoMary hastens to Elizabeth after Gabriel’s announcement. In Pope Francis’ December reflection, he presents Mary as a model of silence and suggests she may have remained completely silent after Gabriel departed. How would a person react to that staggering news, perhaps even more mysterious to Mary than to us now?

In the verse after the angel departs Mary goes up to visit Elizabeth, bearing the growing God in her body. She cannot contain her good news, so she goes to aid Elizabeth and relate her great joy. John, who cannot speak, leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets her, even before Elizabeth can respond. Then Elizabeth “crie[s] out in a loud voice” (Lk 1:42) and exclaims Mary’s blessedness. Elizabeth recounts to Mary what the narrator has already recounted, that John leapt at Mary’s greeting.

John’s leap is mentioned twice. While Elizabeth’s line—“For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44)—is well known, the third-person narrator is the first to mention John’s leap, just before Elizabeth’s line. This structure makes John an active part of the narrative, not just someone about whom his mom talks. While the reader learns of John’s action through the written text, Mary learns it because Elizabeth cries it out in a loud voice. John, of course, cannot say a word. His inability to speak does not mean his silence is an inferior substitute for speaking; his silence is good on its own. His silent expression of joy is its own word, a testimony to Christ’s presence. This word he speaks silently becomes a subject of Elizabeth’s own words spoken aloud, as each of them greets the bearer of the Word, who also cannot speak yet. Mary in turn cries out with the Magnificat, proclaiming God’s greatness.

The apparent protagonists respond to the Incarnation of the unseen and true protagonist, each in his or her own way. Mary, who silently “kept all these things close to her heart” (Lk 2:19, 51), responds first perhaps with silence and then with haste and loud exultation; John, the voice crying out in the wilderness, in silent joy; Elizabeth, the woman who didn’t expect a child and is now expecting both John and her Messiah, cries out with irrepressible excitement.

Of course, the mystery of the Visitation is not primarily about sound or silence. It is about the mystery of Christ’s presence and the mystery it engenders, true joy. Mary, John, and Elizabeth can serve as images for sound and silence at Mass. Each of them comes to know that the child in their midst is God. Be still and know. At Mass, as at the Visitation, the mystery of Christ’s coming receives expression both in sound and in quiet. Mass is not a matter simply of either silence or sound but of joy.

When the Church gathers for Mass Christ invites her, “rejoice at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” (Ps 98:9) She realizes that “you make him rejoice with the joy of your presence.” (Ps 21:7) In my haste and my noisiness, I often lose sight of that joy and that presence. Attending Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms has reminded me of the fullness of rejoicing present at the Visitation and still present when the Word Incarnate hastens to greet us.

Sound, silence, and the Visitation comprise a welcome and needed reminder of the joy of the Gospel and of the Eucharist, an astonishing joy but easily forgotten. As the Church prays after Communion on the Ordinary Form feast of the Visitation, “as Saint John the Baptist leapt with joy when he first sensed the hidden presence of Christ, so may your Church rejoice to receive in this Sacrament the same ever-living Lord.”

Our Lady and Mount Carmel

Danielle PetersDanielle M. Peters, S.T.D.

Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Institute for Church Life,
University of Notre Dame

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Tomorrow, July 16, we commemorate Our Lady of Mt Carmel. With this title we associate a place—a mountain range in the Holy Land, a religious community—the Carmelites, and a devotion—the scapular. Megadim Cliff of Mount CarmelNear the city of Haifa and about twenty miles west of Nazareth, Mount Carmel overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. For the Jewish people the peninsula symbolizes blessing and beauty (cf. Is 35:2) and is linked to the memory of Elijah and his followers (cf. 1 Kgs 18).

My Carmelite professor at the International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, OH, Fr. Eamon R. Carroll, O.Carm, told us that Christians for centuries had chosen to live lives of prayer and penance in this remote site. The story goes that, after the Incarnation, the successors of Elijah turned Christian and built a church on Mt. Carmel in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From that time, they were by apostolic privilege called the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel. The Brothers have drawn a connection between Elijah and Our Lady. The scriptural story of Elijah mentions a little cloud in the shape of a man’s hand, which sanctioned the end of a three-and-a-half year drought (1 Kgs 18:44). This cloud is seen as a symbol for Mary, through whom the rains of mercy and grace descended on parched land, thereby restoring all things. The little cloud alludes to Mary’s virginity and maternity.

The relationship between the devotion to Mary and Mount Carmel is expressed beautifully in the Collect Prayer used by the Carmelites in the liturgical celebration for their patronal feast on July 16: “Lord God, you willed that the Order of Carmel should be named in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of your Son. Through her prayers as we honor her today bring us to your holy mountain, Christ our Lord (emphasis added).”

The prayer identifies the holy mountain Carmel with Christ. The “ascent of Mt. Carmel” evokes the Marian way of life of the Carmelites as a spiritual ascent of perfection. On this journey with Mary, Carmelite Brothers and Sisters endeavor to be transformed by way of contemplation and intense communion with God, Our Lady, and one another. The Order is proud of their “totally Marian” spirituality which is made visible and best known through the scapular.

In comparison to this ancient history, the Carmelite devotion of the Brown Scapular is more recent. Madonna with the Scapular-Stetner (1740)It emerges in the late-fifteenth century and owes its origin to St. Simon Stock, who received a large brown scapular from Our Lady in a vision on July 16, 1251. From the Latin scapulae (shoulders), a scapular is actually a sleeveless outer garment of a monk’s or sister’s habit that falls from the shoulders and serves like an apron protecting the habit from getting soiled. Analogously, the brown scapular given to the Carmelites implies that Mary clothes a Christian with the garment of her attitudes and devotion to Christ in order to protect his or her soul from the filth of evil.

The Mount Carmel Brown Scapular is the oldest among eight scapulars with a Marian character approved by the Church. It signals a special grace for the Carmelites and has meanwhile become one of the most widely practiced Marian devotions. Mary promised St. Simon that whoever wore the scapular daily and died wearing it after having lived in chastity according to one’s state of life would not suffer everlasting punishment and would quickly be released from purgatory.

On July 4, 1908, the Congregation of Indulgences approved the devotion and its conditions. The decree reads that those who wear the scapular and “have ever observed chastity, have recited the Little Hours of the Blessed Virgin, or, if they cannot read, have observed the fast days of the Church, and have abstained from flesh meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays (except when Christmas falls on such days), may derive after death—especially on Saturdays, the day consecrated by the Church to the Blessed Virgin—through the unceasing intercession of Mary, her pious petitions, her merits, and her special protection.”

Brown ScapularThe conditions attached to the devotion clarify that wearing the scapular is not an automatic insurance to get to heaven. Rather, as a sacramental, the scapular should be a daily reminder that at Baptism we have become clothed with Christ. The scapular thus serves as a sign of and protection for the white baptismal garment of our soul which, with the help of Our Lady, we strive to take unstained to heaven.

As we celebrate Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we rejoice in the rich tradition of devotional practices offered to us in Mary’s school where saints are formed. One of the most recent graduates from this school is St. John Paul II who recalls: “I too received the scapular, I think at the age of ten, and I still wear it!”[1]

At the occasion of the 750th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to St. Simon Stock, St. John Paul II noted that “the sign of the Scapular points to an effective synthesis of Marian spirituality, which nourishes the devotion of believers and makes them sensitive to the Virgin Mother’s loving presence in their lives.” Whether we faithfully wear the scapular or practice another Marian devotion, we may be confident of the constant protection of Our Lady on our journey heavenwards and especially at the hour of our death, provided that this ‘habit’ has kept spotless the garment of our souls.


[1] John Paul II. Gift and Mystery: On the fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination [New York 1996], 30. “El Escapulario de Juan Pablo II. Regalado a la Iglesia de los Carmelitas Descalzos de Wadowice, Polonia,Miriam-Revista Mariana Universal (Encro-Febrero 2006), 18.

Liturgy: God’s Healing Presence

John FyrqvistJohn Fyrqvist, M.Div.

Operations Manager,
St. Joseph County Right to Life

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Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a homily during Morning Prayer for the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy as Healing
(June 16-19, 2014). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

Is anyone among you suffering?  He should pray.
Is anyone in good spirits?  He should sing praise.
Is anyone among you sick?
He should summon the presbyters of the church,
nd they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil
in the name of the Lord,
nd the prayer of faith will save the sick person,
and the Lord will raise him up.
If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another
and pray for one another,
that you may be healed.
The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.
(James 5:13-16)

I live in the Catholic Worker community in downtown South Bend, which means I spend a fair bit of time with scraggly homeless men.  Though I love them very much, many of these guys haven’t showered in weeks, have an unkempt mane of hair and beard, and wear donated clothes in various stages of disrepair.  To the casual observer, it is obvious that they are in need.  Our needs are not so obvious.

The reading from St. James exhorts us, in all situations, to return to the Liturgy.  “Are you suffering?”  Pray.  “Are you in good spirits?” Sing God’s praises.  “Are you sick or sinful?”  Come and pray and you will be raised up and forgiven.   The need to return to God always and with every experience is universal.   Some may wear their need as an addiction, a pathology, or a tattered coat.  Many of us hide it under an illustrious pedigree and a polished demeanor.  Christ Heals the Man Born BlindBut all of us, in every circumstance, are in need of God’s presence, of returning, as the Psalmist invites, to “bow down before His holy mountain.”

For it is in God’s presence that we are able to truly worship, an act which sets us free.  In His presence we are free to shed the idols that distract us.  We are free to rightly order our loves, and conform our wounds to those he bore on the cross.  Liturgy is the source and summit of our lives for this very reason: in true worship we are made whole.  In God’s presence sins are forgiven, wounds are healed, lives are transformed.  We hear St. James proclaim, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

Pope Francis recently described the Church as a “field hospital”.  He reflected on a Church that is able to heal wounds; a Church defined by its proximity, its nearness to those in need.  What is so clear in our reading today is that there is no distinction between those in need and those who are whole.  Even the one who rejoices is told to enter into God’s presence and sing praise.  There is no self-sufficiency in the city of God.  All are brought together in worship, in healing, in wholeness.   The needs of all, visible and invisible, are laid bare before God’s throne.  He alone can bind them.  He alone can fill us, and send us forth rejoicing once again in the kingdom where “the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Liturgy: Healing the Heart for Joy

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre DameBen Wilson, M.Div.

Assistant Director
Summer Service Learning Program,
Center for Social Concerns
University of Notre Dame

Editorial Note: This post was originally delivered as a Morning Prayer homily during the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy Symposium, Liturgy as Healing
(June 16-19, 2014). We are grateful for the author’s permission to share it here.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies.

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope.
For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see,
we wait with endurance.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.
(Romans 8:18-27)

 You could hardly describe him as someone who enjoyed life’s pleasures: John the Baptist wore camel’s hair for clothing and his diet consisted of locusts, which couldn’t taste all that sweet even if the only other thing he ate was honey (Mt 3:4). Not only did he forego culinary enjoyment, he also abstained from the more sophisticated pleasure of winning people’s praise.  He addressed the crowds who flocked to hear him as “You brood of vipers” (Lk 3:7).

And yet, when Pope Francis lays out in Evangelii Gaudium what he means by joy, he points to John the Baptist’s life as being framed by joy.  Visitation iconWhile still in his mother’s womb, before he could seek happiness or pleasure, the unborn John the Baptist leapt with joy at Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb (Lk 1:41).  And the climax of John’s prophetic message comes when he again points with all his being towards the Christ who has come and exclaims: “This joy of mine has been made complete” (Jn 3:29).

What, then, is this joy possessed by John the Baptist, who possessed so little else?

Our Morning Prayer today is full to overflowing with references to joy. In the opening hymn, we acclaimed God as “Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy.” In the first antiphon for Psalm 86, we implored: “Give joy to your servant, O Lord; to you I lift up my heart.” Then, in the second antiphon for Psalm 98, we raised our voices to say: “Let us celebrate with joy in the presence of our Lord and King.” Isn’t it a bit early to be this joyful?  Maybe by midday prayer, but morning prayer?

And maybe, even, joy seems unattainable, no matter the time of day. Some of us might not describe ourselves as having the sunniest of dispositions.  Or more seriously, many of us might feel overcome by real human suffering—an illness we are facing, or separation from someone we love, or a frustrated desire that seemingly won’t come to fruition.  It might not even seem right to be joyful in light of the poverty and suffering that exists in our sinful, broken world.  St. Paul, who was certainly no stranger to heartbreak and hardship, says in today’s reading from the letter to the Romans, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves also groan within ourselves” (Rom 8:22-23a)

This conference is dedicated to exploring the liturgy as healing.  Our morning prayer today is an invitation to see liturgical prayer as healing our hearts for joy, true joy.

“Give joy to your servant, O Lord; to you I lift up my heart.”  Joy is, first of all, a gift from God.  And it a gift we can ask God for.  And if joy is something we can ask for, it also means that our prayer to God might often begin when we don’t feel joyful.  The psalmist, echoed by the priest at Mass, instructs us to lift up our hearts to God…whether they are heavy with sadness or full of light and laughter.  God receives what we bring, blesses it, and in turn gives us God’s own self.

John the BaptistTrue joy, as we see in John the Baptist, is not a mood or a cheery temperament; joy is recognizing Christ’s presence as John did in his mother’s womb, joy is giving thanks for the coming of Christ as our salvation, joy is receiving our entire sustainence from our merciful God, joy is praying in the Spirit who comes to the aid our weakness and intercedes for us.

Joy isn’t about us.  Experiencing joy in life’s various circumstances isn’t a tribute to our emotional or physical toughness.  Joy is about receiving what God has done and is doing.  Joy, as Pope Francis defines it, is “a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (EG, §6).

The liturgy reaches beyond those physically and temporally gathered and is truly cosmic.  Similarly, Christian joy exhibits a contagiousness that extends to the entire created world.  Whereas all of creation was made subject to futility, the Psalmist proclaims: “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.  Shout to the Lord all the earth, ring out your joy. … Let the rivers clap their hands and the hills ring out their joy” (Ps 98: 3b-4, 8).

Our own lives also have many varied terrains, some smooth and refreshing, some steep and rocky.  Across all the features of our lives, joining in the prayer of the Church trains our hearts to celebrate with joy in the presence of our Lord and King, from our early, nascent glimpses of Christ’s presence until the day when our joy, too, is made complete.