“At that hour of the Sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens are opened, and in that mystery of Jesus Christ, the choirs of Angels are present, and things below are joined to things on high, earthly things to heavenly, and the service is both a visible and an invisible event.” St. Gregory the Great
There is a very good reason Mother Church uses the term “assist at Mass” where most would use the term the term “attend Mass” or “go to Mass”. This term the Church uses is full of rich meaning, though typically misunderstood. As one wise priest put it: “In paragraph 14 of the Vatican II document on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church encourages us to be fully conscious and actively participating in Mass. The document states: ‘Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.’ Many people interpret this exhortation to mean that ‘everyone has to be doing something at Mass’ such as taking up the collection, serving at the altar, reading the readings, singing in the choir, etc. Here is what it really means: We are to be so focused at Mass–body, mind and soul–that everything we do, we do consciously and intentionally.”* If we are open to the Lord’s graces, we will find that our participation from the pews can truly be a ministry, so long as we are willing to give our all to the One who gives His all, and then the Lord will use each of our unique and individual gifts and personalities for His Kingdom in beautiful ways for which we can never thank Him enough.
I’d like to share how I feel Our Lord has moved me in this “ministry in the pews”. My brothers have been blessed with the incredible privilege of serving at the altar. I’m very happy for them in their ministry, but I wouldn’t trade places with them for anything in the world. For me, the opportunity to assist the priests at Mass through active participation and intercessory prayer is the greatest privilege of all…and here is why:
Our parish has been blessed with very inspiring priests who truly love God above all else. When they celebrate Mass you can see how true this is. They’re also very humble, and will sometimes share struggles they experience as they strive to celebrate the Mass in an even more holy manner. They’re also bold and not afraid to speak out for God concerning the lies of the world, and sometimes receive persecution on the subject. In addition, they are very busy and sometimes stressed, as our cathedral parish is among the largest in the diocese. What they need most is our prayers!
As a member of my parish prayer group for girls, I’ve grown more and more in our group’s charism of intercessory prayer. It creeps into every aspect of my spiritual life and it’s very welcome to do so. As I do my best to be “fully conscious and actively participating in Mass”, watching our priests celebrate the Mass causes me to recall my gratitude for our priests’ holiness. My pity for their struggles, persecution, and any sufferings that they might be currently experiencing triggers my “intercessory instinct” as a Little Flower and I feel led to pray my participation in the Mass (the Church’s most powerful prayer) especially for them. Different moments in the Mass will inspire different prayers. The Church herself has included prayers for the celebrant in the Order of the Mass, such as: “V. The Lord be with you. R. And with your spirit.” and “V. Pray, brethren (brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father. R. May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” The Mass becomes a wonderful opportunity to both offer Christ my prayers of worship and intercede for the priests as they celebrate the Mass.
Just as my brothers, as altar servers, wait on the external needs of the celebrant, I in my “ministry” get to wait on the internal needs that may exist in sort of “spiritual altar service”. (And it is the soul that counts most.) This seems to really fit with our different genders if you think about it. God made men tough in heart and body, making them able to detach from any emotional complications that would distract them from being strong defenders. Physical service of God, such as holding our heavy gold candles at just the right level, is their specialty. Women have the gift of a tender and maternal heart, making them more sensitive than the typical male to the thoughts and feelings of others and more passionate in advocating for those needs. Interior work for the kingdom, such as on-fire intercession, is their specialty. Each has a unique gift not as fully possessed as the other, so their particular talent can be employed without interruption. My brothers wouldn’t be able to get things for the celebrant as quickly if they were praying in the pew with me, and I would be unable to notice and pray for which ever graces are needed as well if I were rushing around in the sanctuary with them. Each of us has a very important role to fill.
The role that I fill greatly benefits my soul as well. Many will probably agree with me that we often learn something best when we share it with others. As I try to pay as close attention to the Mass as possible (not always easy for my ADD brain), and pray to Our Lord over the celebrant’s benefit from the Mass, I myself get to be more enriched by it. It is also a very awesome experience when I see the prayers I pray answered in a very powerful way. When you see someone having an amazing encounter with the Lord, it gets to you as well, and I can never thank the Lord enough for this amazing privilege that results in such wonderful marvels of the Lord’s goodness.