By Fr. Michel Mulloy
The various ritual actions of the Gathering Rite draw the faithful together and prepare them to listen to the Word of God. Christ is present in his Body the Church when we gather, continuing his saving work. Presence in one building does not necessarily mean togetherness. The community shakes off the concerns of individual lives, opens their hearts and minds to the action of the liturgy and focuses on joining the self-sacrifice of Christ to God the Father.
The Opening Hymn is the first prayer of the liturgy. Songs are prayers set to melodies. The stated purpose of this song is to begin the celebration, to foster unity with one another, to introduce the feast or mystery that we are celebrating that day and to accompany the procession of the priest, deacon and servers.
The community enters the eternal self-sacrifice of Christ. We must be willing to do this. This means we sing the gathering hymn to the best of our ability. A choice at this moment not to sing, to simply listen to the song or wait for it to finish, is a choice to not to join the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Furthermore, singing draws the community together. It expresses the unity with God in one another that is the hope of the celebration of the Mass. The gathering song also speaks about the feast or season of the liturgical year we are celebrating. Once again, the gathering song is designed to accompany the procession of the priest and servers to the altar. This is a reminder to us that music, although essential to the Mass, is not done for its own sake but rather to accompany the action of the Mass.
The Sign of the Cross is a declaration that we stand in this assembly as the people of God because Jesus died and rose to free us from our sins. We are not here of our own volition but gather because we are drawn here by God in Christ Jesus.
The greeting is an ancient dialogue with roots in the letters of St. Paul. The three different forms of this greeting all express that we are here to unite our lives to God. The priest states that the community has a relationship with God, through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. (“The Lord be with you.”) The assembly’s response indicates that the priest, who is for them Christ present leading his Body the Church, has that relationship with God. (“And with your spirit.”)
The greeting also reminds us that the Eucharist is a dialogue between God and his people. In the same way that the inner life of God is a dialogue between Father and Son and Holy Spirit, so this ritual action affords us the opportunity to share in the dialogue that is the life of God. Thus, when the priest speaking in the person of Christ, reaches out to the assembly with this ancient greeting, the people as the body of Christ are expected to respond. Together we are declaring that we believe God is present to us in his Son Jesus Christ.
The Penitential Rite which comes next is the community’s admission that we are sinners. Yet, we are here because the forgiveness of God has been given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In effect we are declaring that though unworthy, we are made worthy by Christ. The “Lord Have Mercy” is less an appeal for God to be merciful and more a declaration that God IS merciful.
Next we pray the Gloria, a hymn of praise. It is appropriate at this moment in the Gathering Rite, to offer praise to God. We have just acknowledged God’s presence with us in the greeting. We have faced our unworthiness and yet declare that God’s mercy is with us. The community stands forgiven and redeemed. Praising and thanking God at this moment makes sense. Ideally the Gloria is always sung by all praising God in our unified voices.
The Gathering Rite comes to an end with the Opening Prayer. Although the priest vocalizes the prayer, the community is praying. Through the silence that follows the introduction, “Let us pray,” the community members call to mind and heart those things which they want to pray for at this Mass. When the presider speaks aloud a prayer, he is speaking for everyone. The community’s attention to his words and their clear “Amen,” which means in Hebrew, “yes I agree,” is vitally important.
Next month we will begin talking about the Word of God in the context of the Eucharist.