According to the long tradition of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief) one of the deepest ways to learn more about the Catholic Faith is to meditate on the prayers in the Roman Missal. The prayers are the most amazing syntheses of the meaning of the various situations and people for whom we celebrate Mass. They offer the teaching of the Church in the most profound spiritual context, namely the worshipping community. The prayers include references to all the main elements of each situation offering a theological completeness that reaches beyond the deficient juridical approach to faith that is so beloved of Americans.
If, for example, we look at the prayers for the Mass for the Laity, we first have a quotation from Matthew’s Gospel. This serves as the Entrance Antiphon for the Mass. It contains Jesus’ words about the woman who adds yeast to wheat flour and leavens the whole mass of flour in the process. (Matthew 13:33) So already we have a rich symbolic picture (in the sense of a concrete image created by God in our history) of what the presence of lay Catholics in the world actually does. Knowing is the easy part. The doing is hard, as we all know.
Then in the Collect prayer, the priest prays to God who “sent the power of the Gospel like leaven into the world.” The notion of leavening as the correct term for what lay people do in the world is beginning to develop as well as the notion of “power.” Lay people are not passive. They are like leaven in the world. The dictionary says the leaven is the “element that produces an altering or transforming influence.”
Moreover they are “called to live in amid the world and its affairs.” Those interactions, those relationships are transforming influences “constantly build[ing] up your Kingdom.” It takes love. It takes selflessness. So before we hear the proclamation of the Word, the whole spiritual dynamic of lay life has been laid out for us. We are prepared for the Word of God.
Now we turn to the Prayer over the Offerings. The priest prepares the gifts and prays: “grant that through the power of this oblation,” which is this offering of bread and wine, “that your servants. . .may imbue the world with the spirit of Christ and be the leaven for its sanctification.” This is how this world is going to be made holy. The Incarnation continues in each laywoman and man.
The dictionary tells us that the word holy means, “dedicated or devoted to the service of God.” Of course, this only comes about through God’s power. But we become his instruments inserting truth, shifting conversations to better subjects, healing relationships by acting with love, rewriting government rules so that they respect humanity, and so on, so that all of these situations speak of a holy world, one devoted to the service of God.
The Communion Antiphon is taken from the Gospel of Saint John and goes like this: “By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” By this Holy Communion, by this celebration of the Eucharist and by this leavening work of the Laity the Divine Father is glorified.
Finally, once we have received Holy Communion, at the Prayer after Communion, the priest prays: “As we draw on the fullness of your grace” – God does not do things by halves, he gives us the fullness of his grace in the Eucharist. Then, “we pray. . .that your faithful. . .engaged in the things of this world may be strengthened. . .to be tireless witnesses.” Just as God gives by no half measures, neither does he expect anything less from us. We will work to, “make your Church present and active amid the affairs of this age.” There is so much here but let us move on to other passages.
For instance we find that Christian spouses (one male and one female) “may show forth an ever more perfect image of the union of Christ with his Church.” (On the Anniversary of Marriage)
On Independence Day, the priest prays that God “spoke to us a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers and sisters.” (Preface) Do we have a long way to go? Then on the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (June 24), the priest prays “that your family may walk in the way of salvation and, attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged, may come safely to the one he foretold.”(Collect) This cuts through a lot of presumption, and is the reason why we still celebrate the feast.
The riches of the Roman Missal are endless. Dip into it anywhere. You’ll be surprised at all you will find.