In my previous two articles, I wrote about the internal and external ways that we prepare for Mass. Those reflections were intended to focus on what we do for preparation before we actually go to the church itself for Mass. But when we actually set foot in the church, what should we do just before Mass begins in order to prepare ourselves well for this greatest of all prayers?
The first thing we often encounter when we enter a Catholic church is receptacle that contains Holy Water. We know the drill – we dip our fingers in and make the Sign of the Cross. But how conscious are we of why we perform this almost mechanical action? The purpose of the Holy Water is to remind us of our Baptism, the most important day of our life. For it was on that day that we became God’s adopted children, able to call upon Him as our Father. Our Baptism makes it possible for us to be admitted to share in this great prayer of the Mass. Will we remember this every time we enter church? Probably not, but nevertheless, perhaps we can challenge ourselves to it at least the next time we go to church. Start small and let it grow!
The next action we usually take is when we enter our pew. If our knees can handle it, we usually genuflect toward the tabernacle. Not that I spend a lot of time watching people genuflect, but I can’t help but see it from time to time. Some genuflections are very sincere looking, and others are a bit sloppy. Now, I realize not everybody has good knees, but my guess is that many of us have knees that are capable of doing a full genuflection. As a reminder, our practice is to genuflect with the right knee, to where it goes all the way to the ground, pausing ever so briefly, and then rising up again. For the pause while down on the right knee, a good traditional practice is to use the aspiration that St. Thomas the Apostle used when Jesus invited him to put his finger into the nail marks of His risen body after the Resurrection: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) This is an exclamation of adoration, which is what the action of making a genuflection is all about. In place of a genuflection, it is just fine to do a profound bow, bending at the waist toward the tabernacle, making the same internal act of adoration.
There is one final action to consider, and that is the Sign of the Cross, something that applies to blessing ourselves with Holy Water, and which is also sometimes done when genuflecting. We also make it when we kneel down in our pew, and when we begin Mass. The Sign of the Cross can be sloppy as well if we don’t pay attention to what we are doing. Try to be very intentional about making those distinct movements without rushing. Otherwise, it sort of looks like we are swatting flies away! The Sign of the Cross is a prayer, even if we do not actually say it out loud, and it’s important that we use all of the words: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sometimes we cut corners and just say: “Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.” Sure, we got all three Persons of the Trinity, but we have truncated it, not explicitly calling to mind we are praying in the name of all three Persons, thus the importance of those beginning words and each ‘and’.
There are three simple gestures that we perform every time we come to Mass. Our being aware of these actions, and our efforts to be intentional about their significance sets us up well to prepare for Mass. If we do these actions on autopilot, our brains will just continue with the rest of the Mass in that mode. Let’s be conscious about disengaging our spiritual autopilot when we walk in and do these three actions so that we can be fully present, fully conscious, and fully active in our participation in the great prayer that is about to follow!