Results filtered by “Signs, Symbols and Gestures”


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Water is used two times during the Mass, not counting when I purify my chalice. The first time we use water is during the offertory when the gifts of bread and wine are brought forth. There is a moment that you have probably seen, when the priest or deacon pours a small drop of water in the chalice with the wine.

The wine in this moment represents the divinity of Jesus, that he is God, the water represents our humanity, so that as they are mingled together you cannot distinguish the two. It is reflection on the mystery we celebrate every Christmas when God became man, he took on our humanness and in a sense allowed us to take on his godliness. Now this as you can understand this is not an equal trade, getting godliness is much better than humanness, which is the reason why we use a cupful of wine, but only a small drop of water. We do not use equal parts.

And this is reflected in the prayer the priest or deacon says quietly as he pours the water into the wine. He prays, “Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ (represented by the wine), as he humbled himself to share in our humanity (represented by the water)”.  

The second time water is used is when the priest washes his hands right before the consecration. And this done for more reason than just proper hygiene. The clue again is found in the quiet prayer the priest says as he washes his hands. He prays, “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The priest, knowing he is a sinful man, prays to God that he may make him both clean on the outside and on the inside. For as we know looking holy and being holy do not always match up. The priest washes his physical hands so that he may be clean before holding the Body and Blood of Jesus and he prays for his soul to be washed before he consumes and receives the Body and Blood of Jesus. 

Bread & Wine

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Why do we use bread and wine for Mass? The easy answer to give would be to just say, well we use bread and wine because Jesus used bread and wine. We need no other explanation.

A professor at seminary would jokingly tell us that sometimes the answer is Jesus. And that would be reason enough, we do plenty of things simply because Jesus did, so the better question may not be why do we use bread and wine, but why is it fitting to use bread and wine at Mass and why perhaps did Jesus pick these elements.

St. Augustine gives us a good answer in a sermon he wrote and it is this sermon I will be drawing from. He says ad I paraphrase, Bread and wine is fitting to use at Mass if we consider how it is made. For bread to be made, many grains of wheat must be gathered, these grains are then ground up and formed into one loaf of bread. A single grain of wheat cannot be used to make bread, it needs hundreds of grains. This is the same for wine, wine cannot be made from one single grape, you need many.

And for this reason bread and wine are perfect for Jesus to use and give to us. For we as the Body of Christ are not made of one person, but many. We all gather here at Mass to form the one body. Like the wheat and grape we lose our individualness to make the one body. That is why we all say the same responses at Mass, we are no longer many, but one. We become inseparable.

That is not all, it reminds us we do not live as silos, and we do not think as silos. We should be just as concerned for the person next to us as we are ourselves. When one of us suffers we all suffer, it is why we announce funerals at Mass, when one of us is joyful we all share that joy, it is why we announce baptisms/weddings at Mass. Jesus uses the accidents of bread and wine to remind us how he wants us to live.

There is more though. Bread is the universal sign for sustenance. Throughout the world bread is used by everyone, rich and poor to feed and sustains us. This makes it fitting for Jesus to use bread because he also sustains us. He sustains us both physically and spiritually. He does not change what bread does, he elevates it. He becomes bread so that he can sustain us both physically and spiritually.

Wine also carries an important attribute, joy. When we drink wine we feel more joyful. Jesus also brings us joy, spiritual joy. Again Jesus does not change wine, he elevates what it can do. He becomes wine so that we may have both physical and spiritual joy brings joy.

Sign of Peace

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A part of the Mass that may seem very casual and straightforward but is actually an invitation to an incredible moment of forgiveness and healing is the Sign of Peace which is not as easy as we might think. And if we think about it this action is a little odd, I mean we take a pause in the liturgy to give each other a handshake, or if you were me when I was younger a successful sign of peace was when I crushed my siblings hand hard enough they winced in pain.

The reality of what we are doing in this moment though is important and it stems from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew which says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

The Sign of Peace occurs right before we come forward to the altar and receive Communion. But we cannot receive Communion if we are at odds with someone in the community. You cannot be in Communion with someone you are fighting with, so at the Sign of Peace, before approaching the altar of Communion, we turn to our brother and sister and first make amends with them, we give them peace.

That is no light or easy moment, for two reasons. The first reason is we make peace with the ones we love the most, which can be the people we hurt the most, our own family. We turn to them and in our sign of peace, we are both apologizing for the hurt we have caused them and forgiving the hurt they have caused us. For a handshake, which is just the sign we use for the peace we give, is something you both give and receive. It is a beautiful moment of reconciling so that we may approach the altar without anger, hatred, or hurt in our heart for the person next to us.

The second reason the sign of peace is no light or easy moment is that you are not just giving and receiving peace with your loved ones. You are also giving and receiving peace from the larger community. The person who cut you off, the friend who betrayed you, the boss who yelled at you. At the sign of peace you are also reconciling yourself with those people, forgiving them and asking forgiveness if the roles are reversed, because if you do not, you cannot receive Holy Communion fully, because you cannot be in communion with people you have anger or hatred for.   

With this understanding, the sign of peace at Mass is not a light moment, in fact it is a solemn and grave one, but also a beautiful one. And I can think of no better way to prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist, than offering each other the sign of peace.