A few years ago, I heard a story of a priest in another diocese who get in some trouble with his bishop because of he was improvising the prayers of the Mass. There was a lot of pushback from the faithful who felt that the bishop’s treatment of the priest was unfair. What was the big deal if he was making some adaptations to the Mass? While I do not pretend to know all of the details of the case, it does bring up an important point, one that I mentioned in last week’s bulletin article. The prayers of the Mass have been given to us by the Church and all of us – priests and laity, have a responsibility to be faithful to what has been handed down to us. We are not masters of the liturgy, we are its servants. It has been passed down to us by Christ Himself through the authority of the Church which He Himself has conferred.
In that regard, it is important to acknowledge that it is ultimately the responsibility of the bishop of a diocese to ensure that the worship of the Eucharist is observed faithfully, and if there is any abuse of which he is made aware, he has the duty to address it. The faithful deserve to have the Mass celebrated for them as the Church intends. And while there may be different elements of the liturgy that may vary, such as music, tone of voice, directionality in prayer, the prayers of the Mass, particularly the Eucharistic Prayer, are to be followed, both as an expression of obedience to the Church and in giving proper glory to God.
At every celebration of the Mass, the celebrant will mention the names of the Pope and the local bishop. This is a significant point of the Eucharistic Prayer for both the celebrant and the laity. For the celebrant, as mentioned above, it is a reminder of the communion he should have with the Church, expressed in a visible way through his relationship with his bishop, on whose behalf he collaborates in ministry in the diocese, and with the Pope, the visible sign of unity of Catholics throughout the world. It is an opportunity for him to be praying for these two key individuals who are essential to his identity as a priest, as one who is not a lone ranger, but who is united with his brother priests in the diocese and throughout the world. For the faithful at Mass, the mention of the Pope and local bishop is a similar reminder, that as Catholics, our identity is much broader than the parish to which we belong. To be sure, we should have a great love and commitment to our local parish, but a parish is never an isolated entity. It exists in communion with the other parishes of the diocese and throughout the world. The Pope and the bishops serve as visible reminders of the unity that must always exist.
A key aspect of our being Catholic is having this understanding of being in communion with other Catholics throughout our diocese and throughout our world. This is an area where I believe we are in need of continual conversion. Even if we do not always agree with something that Pope or the bishop has said or done, let us not let that be a reason for us to weaken our communion with them, and as a result, with one another. Jesus says in the Gospel that “a house divided against itself will stand.” (Mt. 12:25) If we are not praying for unity in the Church on a regular bases, both locally and universally, , now is a time to start. And there is no better way to do so than when the Pope and local bishop are mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass.