Balancing ACTS at Mass

A spirit of thanksgiving is a good thing. Most of us learned as children to say “thank you.”  The culture used to support parents in such basic matters. But of the four types of prayer – adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication (ACTS) – explicit words of thanksgiving are rare in the liturgy. Since “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and in view of the critical importance of expressions of thanksgiving, why the (apparent) imbalance?

Identifying the prayers of ACTS during the recitation of the Mass is a particularly useful spiritual exercise, and a good means of engaging in fruitful prayer.

The Mass begins with the Penitential Rite, the grand liturgical act of contrition for sins (“through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”) before we enter into the sacred mysteries.

We continue with the ancient prayer of adoration, the Gloria. After being instructed with the readings and homily, we proclaim our belief and dare to list our petitions (supplications) during the Prayers of the Faithful. The petitions continue in the Canon before and after the Consecration. And there are repeated expressions of our unworthiness throughout (“Lord I am not worthy…”). But distinct expressions of thanksgiving are few.

The first time we find ourselves giving thanks is during the Gloria. But even here the expression is more of an act of adoration: “We give you thanks for your great glory.” During the Preface we proclaim that it is “right and just” to give God thanks. Our thanksgiving takes the form of a duty connected to adoration. The priest pronounces the words of Christ before the Consecration – giving thanks to the Father – before the sacred words of institution.

From this bird’s-eye non-scholarly view, these pretty much exhaust the instances of explicit prayers of thanksgiving. Yet if “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” something seems amiss.

Perhaps a humble analogy from family life will help, without trivializing the splendor of the Mass. A mother delights in habitually polite children, children who frequently say “please” and “thank you.” But a mother would delight even more in children who especially honor her by being obedient to her. Indeed, a respectful and obedient child expresses a spirit of thankfulness, a spirit that need not be explicit.


The prayers of the Mass are designed to reveal and configure – by way of ritual — the right relationship between God and man. We are sinners and are unworthy in the presence of His Divine majesty and the liturgy repeatedly reminds us of that fact. Despite our relative insignificance, we dare to ask God for many spiritual gifts with the hopes – at times bordering on presumption – that He will lavish them upon us.

Above all we pray for communion with His most sacred Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. This provides us with a clue. While there are special “votive” Masses for specific temporal requests (good weather, good health, a happy death, etc.), in general the liturgy accents the spiritual gifts, gifts that cultivate our relationship with God, not the things of the world. They are the higher gifts because, they prepare us for eternity.

In the sacred liturgy, a spirit of thanks is communicated in prayers of adoration. In adoration we want to be with Him, despite our sinfulness. And prayers of praise and adoration recognize the right relationship between God and man. Simply put, God is God, and man – as God’s handiwork – belongs to God. Man is accountable to the authority of his Creator not only at death, but as he lives.

Perhaps this is, or should be, obvious. But if so why do we so frequently forget God’s authority in our daily lives? I speak less of our sinful failures committed in weakness, but the more pronounced tendency for us to “play God.”

We play God when we choose evil as the only alternative to doing something good: thinking it is good to lie to “prevent hard feelings”; redefining marriage according to contemporary sinful “alternative lifestyles”; procuring an abortion as necessary to prevent a “ruined career”; trafficking in aborted baby parts as a positive good in medical research; deliberately targeting civilians in war as “the only way to win.”

We play God with phrases that dismiss sinful behavior with “I’m sure God understands” or “I cannot judge.” There is nothing new in the temptation to play God. Adam and Eve were the first:  “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)  In every sin of the intellect, there is shadow of the pride of Original Sin. Instead of accepting and being obedient to God’s commandments, we take matters into our own hands, with sinful audacity and malice of forethought – and presume to play God.

The ritual of the Mass is unrelenting – even pedantic – in reminding us where we really stand before God. The entire liturgy is designed to combat the Satanic temptation of pride as a condition (“thy will be done”) to receive the graces of Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice. The repetition in effect becomes, in totality, a kind of “holy cliché” of relationship and moral responsibility.

After years of Mass attendance, we begin to recognize our lowliness and dependence upon God alone; and in doing so we recognize that we are not insignificant, and we indeed count for something: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  If so, who would dare “play God”?

Praising God for His great glory and vowing to do His will is indeed the expression of a vibrant spirit of thanksgiving. In a word, this is the meaning of Eucharist.

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.

  • Michael Dowd

    Very good Fr. Pokorsky. I agree. But I think we have lost some of our reverence with the New Mass. Reverence would be enhanced by replacing some of the elements eliminated at that time. Return to Communion on the tongue only, return to altar rails and knelling while receiving, change the timing of the ‘sign of peace’ or eliminate completely, altar boys only, etc.

    • Vince Whirlwind

      With respect Mr Dowd, the concerns that you delineated are trivial in light of the beautiful text that you claim to have read and agree with. They are mere window dressings to the wonder and splendor that is our Holy Mass, and so amazingly taught by this author.

      I would suggest you re-read, slowly, carefully and prayerfully, this text again. Then go back an reread your response above. You respectfully agree and then launch into the …”I think…”. I think. Me. Me. Me. We. Us. It’s always about us. Playing God.

      Don’t you wish sometimes we could just shut off our own brains an stop with the thinking on our own more? Simply hear, absorb, ruminate and be obedient. A seed must go through a lengthy process before it grows and bears fruit from a mature plant. We all think we know how this patient process works best for us in our own lives. We’re mostly wrong time and again, and this reflection by Father Pokorsky points out the root cause of these myriad distractions. Pride.

    • Rick

      I’m a germophobe, so I was never a fan of the tongue. For beginners, I’d like to see parishioners dress better. My grandparents were not rich or highly educated, but they were dressed their best.

      • Fr Kloster

        One gets far more germs on one’s hands, and then into one’s mouth, with communion on the hand. How many things does your tongue touch from the time you enter the Church? I’d presume nothing. Now think about how many things your hands touched! As a priest, I almost never touch a tongue when distributing on the tongue. With communion in the hand, the priest touching someone’s hand is very common. You should be much more cognizant of the germs accumulated and acquired by communion in the hand.

        • Rick

          No offense Father, but I’ve seen different. I’ve seen recipients that were older and “shaky”. I’ve also had priests that were older and a little “shaky” when distributing communion. I have seen their fingers touch other’s mouths and I have felt them touch my lips(not recently of course). When distributing to my hand, they just drop it into mine. Besides, with my 1/4 Irish temper and my 1/4 Sicilian emotional outbursts, I’m more likely to sin with my tongue than my hand. 🙂

          I’ll admit, I’m a little OCD about cleanliness. I wipe my shopping carts, shower before I go into a pool, and wash my hands like a surgeon after using the bathroom. I also do NOT participate in the sign-of-peace at mass, and while catching germs is one reason, it is not THE reason.

          • Fr. Kloster

            No offense taken. You are talking about what you have seen. I give out communion to hundreds of people every weekend. I’ve been a priest over 20 years and said thousands of Masses with hundreds of thousands receiving communion from my hands. My hands are washed twice before communion and then sterilized with wine afterwards.

            When you enter the church, you don’t lick the door knob, you do open the door with your hand. When you open a missal or missalette, it’s not with your mouth, it’s with your hand. When you read the bulletin, it is with your hands, not your lips. When you enter the pew, you probably touched it in some way like lowering the kneeler (you don’t do that with your mouth).

            I will re-iteratre that I have a lot more experience giving out communion. I touch far more hands than I could ever begin to touch mouths/tongues/teeth/lips. Your premise is flawed. Talk to any doctor and they will tell you that far more germs are spread through the hands than through the mouth. We’re not even touching on the near Eastern tradition of the host of the house placing the first morsel of bread on the visitor’s tongue. Yes, the apostles experienced it first.

          • Rick

            I’m a big tradition guy too but I also don’t dip my fingers into the Holy Water fonts anymore. I use my foot to lower/raise the kneeling rail. I am very cautious about door knobs. I read bulletins online (save a tree). My singing voice is scary, so I never touch a hymnal, but I think I might look into getting my own missalette. I’m sure everyone thinks I am nuts, except David F., but there it is.

          • Kurt 20008

            I’m not a germophobe, but yes, I find communion on the tongue awkward and unsanitary. I found the change in practice a great relief. The priests fingers too often touch my tongue and then what of the person after me?

          • Fr. Kloster

            I’ll go with centuries of tradition. Communion received on the tongue and while kneeling is still the universal norm. The quip about the responsible bishop needs to be further examined as to his motives. Well over 70% of the bishops at Vatican II said that communion in the hand would lead to widespread disbelief in the Real Presence…mission accomplished. Current estimates say that only about 30% of Catholics believe in the Real Presence. Before communion in the hand was allowed, well over 80% (some say 90%, but I’ll go with the more “conservative” number) of Catholics believed in the Real Presence.

            Then too, ask your diocesan exorcist (if your diocese still has one) about how Satan worshippers love communion in the hand. It’s far easier to steal the host that way. Here in my parish, no one receives in the hand. When people waltz up like it’s a cafeteria line, their hands are a moving target. Again, I’ve seen it thousands of times. Here in my parish, the people kneel and are a stationary target. I can count the number of times I have touched a mouth part on one hand in 4.5 years here. In the USA, over 16 years, I touched a lot of hands even though I consciously tried not to do so.

            I was a hospital chaplain for 8 years in three hospitals full time. When all the hoopla came out about communion on the tongue, I asked every doctor I ran across about the issue. Not one said hand communion was more sanitary! In a hospital, there is hand sanitizer in every room, not mouthwash! Germs are far more easily transmitted by the hand than by the mouth. The whole issue isn’t really even a debate. It’s more of a preference thing. I’ll stick with the wisdom of Holy Mother Church over a society that seems obsessed with sanitizing things.

          • Dave Fladlien

            With respect to sanitary issues, frankly, Father, I don’t want to die for human traditions. Please review the pieces a couple people wrote up above. This is a problem for a lot of us. If you haven’t lived with severe respiratory issues, or a problem like Diane describes, then you haven’t “been there”. Please give those of us who have “been there” a little credit. We’re not stupid. I had to chuckle when I read Rick’s comment that I’m the only one who won’t think he’s crazy, but I don’t find anything very funny in your comments.

            As for my Bishop, I don’t agree with him on every point, but I do respect him as a sincere servant of God, and in this case one who cares about the well-being of his people. If you really truly believe that the absence of respect we see today for the reality of the Blessed Sacrament is simply because we don’t kneel when receiving it (the Apostles didn’t either at the Last Supper), then I think you’ve completely missed the point. To me, most of the problem is because “community” has been way over-emphacised compared to substance, not because of how someone receives.

          • Diane

            The problem Fr. Kloster is that there are so many unclean persons. My sister had a kidney transplant and during the winter she needs to stay home from Mass because of all of the people who come to Church with colds and the flu. People need to be told to stay home when they are sick because it is a sin to infect others. We never shake hands, because germs are passed so easily through the hands. I agree that the priest sometimes touches the tongues and lips of others and then can pass those germs on to others. The hand shaking should be eliminated because it is a Protestant thing anyway. Every time we go to Mass, we bring hand wipes to clean the bench that we sit in and you would not believe the dirt we get from washing the top of the benches.

          • Dave Fladlien

            Rick: on this point, I have to go along with your position. I’m asthmatic, and even a fairly mild cold or flu could be life-threatening. I never receive Communion on the tongue, and if I engage in the sign of peace, I use a bottle of hand sanitizer that I bring with me, before going to Communion. I failed to do that a couple years ago at Thanksgiving Mass, and ended up in ER with a different, but pretty serious, virus. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think I could have been exposed anywhere else.

            During severe flu outbreaks, our Bishop, who is a very responsible person in this regard, to his credit forbids touching other people at the sign of peace, forbids Communion on the tongue, and also prohibits all but the priest from receipt of Communion in the form of the consecrated wine. If only he’d enforce the ban on the sign of peace completely!

  • Michael DeLorme

    “I thank you, Lord, that I’m not like the others.” It seems a continual temptation to tell myself that just the fact that I’m at Mass—when so many others don’t bother—is a sufficient indication of my gratitude and thanks.

  • Michael Fierro

    Thank you for writing this, Father. It is a helpful reminder.

  • Diane

    The Pope has caused confusion by saying ‘whom am I to Judge”. It seems that now some Catholics have come to the conclusion that there is no sin because only God can judge you or tell you that you are sinning and we will wait until we are judged in the end and He won’t care that I committed adultery, or had homosexual relationships, or lied, or used contraception or had an abortion because I am a wonderful person who did not judge anyone and God understands all that I do and He is OK with that because I followed by conscience. What they don’t want to realize is that God has already made His judgment about these sins and they are sins and we are sinning if we do them and we need to seek repentance for them in this life. Because of the Mercy and tolerance agenda, most Catholics and people in general, think that whatever they do, wherever they do it and with whomever they do it is not a sin. Those of us who believe that sin exists in the here and now are chastised for being self-righteous and I am having to defend the teachings of Jesus Christ and my adherence to them more and more in every day life. I am told that I cannot judge and that I am opinionated and self-righteous. What is GOOD will be BAD and What is BAD will be GOOD. We have come to this place, sadly.

    • Diane. Fr. Pokorsky says in his article that we are unworthy sinners. But the Mass gives us an opportunity to come before Christ in praise and thanksgiving for his saving graces. If you feel you are judgemental and opinionated then pray for help. I hope you get off to a better start tomorrow as February begins and it won’t be long before we begin the Lenten season.

      • Diane

        I do not feel that I am opinionated or judgmental. I am a sinner just like everyone else. But, because of the secularism that has not infiltrated our beautiful Catholic Church, no one thinks they sin anymore and that God’s judgment of them is something not to worry about. I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ completely, so I am Jesus-righteous.

        • jenelle_bahan

          Diane could it be many feel they don’t sin because they are to busy condemning the lgbt community they are so consumed with us they lost sight of God ,God never demanded his followers spreed the hate an bigotry we are seeing from the church’s i god said spread the word of God not use it to denie people thier rights if homosexual are a sin fine disagree ant them be god will judge us as he will them

          • Diane

            Yes, but they cannot receive the Holy Eucharist if they are active homosexuals. No one in mortal sin can, it doesn’t matter what mortal sin it is. Adultery, fornication, abortion, contraception and active homosexuality. All can be forgiven if all of it is no longer done.

  • Alicia

    After reading the story of Fr. Humblot, his teaching the Gospel based on love to Muslims in Iran for so many years, the conversions, the dangers, etc., I am so humbled.
    I love the Mass and always thank Jesus for bringing me to it. Despite the lousy music, and the tabernacle not being up there behind the altar, we have the Consecration, Jesus in person !!! Then, His amazing gift: Holy Communion !!! These make the mass more than solemn for me.
    I’m sure Jesus is very pleased with Fr. Humblot’s open air “church” in Muslim communities, surrounded by danger. There are probably many more like him in China, Cuba, the Middle East, and around the world.
    God bless them all.
    We are already blessed by having it so easy to be a Catholic and go to mass, even daily masses. !!!

  • Fr. Kloster

    I think it also helpful to remember why we have the Kyrie. It is not a repeat of the penitential Confiteor. There used to be a litany in the Mass and that is why there are so many saints in the ancient canon (now with St. Joseph included there are 40 not including the Virgin Mary). The litany ended with the Agnus Dei part of the Mass. So, if we are talking about thanksgiving, I’d suggest that the litany insertion would be a fairly large part of that selfsame thanksgiving leading up to the canon and the consecration.

  • Dave Fladlien

    I may be too biased on this one to be entitled to post something about it, but I’ll take the chance. I’ll grant at least most of what is said in this article on a philosophical basis, but I don’t live a philosophical life. I live a life in a reality of today, with a real past and hopefully a real future. And it is unmistakably clear to anyone with a truly open mind who would look at my life, that God is playing a very key role in every bit of it. Here, now, today.

    So I don’t just feel obligated to give thanks, I *want* to give thanks. And the Blessed Sacrament is the most ideal way to do that. Yet I don’t find any real thanks for what is going on in my — or anyone else’s — life today included in the Mass. So I often get there early, and stand at my place in the pew and just review before the altar of God some of the many things I am appreciative to Him for since the last time I was at Mass.

    Some of us are — I think — given a couple of things to especially focus on in our friendship with God. For St. Benedict, for instance, it was prayer and work; for St. Therese of Lisieux it was, I think, confidence and love. For me it has always been gratitude and candor. So, I really wish there was a lot more chance at Mass to say “Thank You” to the God Who has made me whatever that I am, and given me all that I have.

  • Fr. Peter Morello, Ph.D.

    Christ is incarnate in my hands. The immensity is overwhelming. The Lord of the Universe comes to us, seeks only to be enshrined in our hearts. I feed Him to His lambs and thank Him for this great honor which I don’t feel worthy of. As the years have passed the Mystery becomes deeper, incomprehensible, and increasingly beautiful and satisfying. Thanks for your article.

  • Breezeyguy

    “We play God when we choose evil as the only alternative to doing something good”. Well said Fr Pokorsky, and your examples were very illustrative. Another example would be active euthanasia.

  • Maria Tierney Koehn

    My young daughters brought home from Mass a beautiful prayer card with prayers by St. Thomas Aquinas. On one side is a beautiful petition before Communion and the other side is giving Thanks after receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. The prayers hold so much of of what you have said. The Mass is such a gift.

    Here are the prayers:

    Petition before Communion

    “Almighty and everlasting God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I come as one infirm to the physician of life, as unclean to the fountain of mercy, as blind to the light of everlasting brightness, as poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.

    Therefore, I implore the abundance of Your measureless bounty that You would vouchsafe to heal my infirmity, wash my uncleanness, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such sorrow and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention, as may be profitable to my soul’s salvation.

    Grant me, I pray, the grace of receiving not only the sacrament of our Lord’s body and blood, but also the grace and power of the sacrament.

    Most gracious God, grant me so to receive the body of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which He took from the Virgin Mary, as to merit incorporation into His mystical body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, give me grace to behold forever Your beloved Son with unveiled face, whom now I propose to receive veiled in the host. Amen.”

    – St. Thomas Aquinas

    I Give You Thanks

    “I give You thanks, holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, that You have vouchsafed to feed me, a sinner, Your unworthy servant, for no merits of my own but only through the goodness of Your great mercy, with the precious body and blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. I ask that this Holy Communion may not add to my guilt for punishment but become a saving intercession for pardon. May it serve as an armor of faith and a shield of good will. May it drive out my evil inclinations; dispel all wicked desires and fleshly temptations; increase my charity, patience, humility, obedience and all my virtues. May it be a firm defense against the plots of all my enemies, both seen and unseen; a perfect quieting of all movements to sin, both in my flesh and spirit; a strong attachment to You, the only and true God, and a happy ending of my life. I beg of You to deign to bring me, a sinner, to that ineffable feast where You, with Your Son and the Holy Spirit, are to Your holy ones true light, full satisfaction, everlasting joy, consummate pleasure, and perfect happiness. Amen.”

    – St. Thomas Aquinas

    God Bless.