Unflattening the Summit
While reading the previous edition of the Irish Rover, I was struck by Matthew Gambetta’s article “The Summit, Flattened.” Matthew argues that contemporary Masses’ emphases on community and modernity rather than the Eucharist have diluted the spiritual significance of Catholic liturgy and catalyzed the social and institutional decline of American Catholicism. As a former liturgical commissioner and long time parish volunteer, I agree with Matthew’s conclusion that “the source and summit of Christian life” (CCC 1324) has indeed been “flattened” in many Catholic liturgies, including some at Notre Dame. In response to his article, I want to suggest simple ways that Masses, including those in residence halls, can better emphasize the Consecration and thereby reinforce the Eucharist’s centrality to the Catholic faith.
1) Kneel during the Consecration. While kneeling is already customary in most Catholic churches, it is not universal. Yet it should be. Kneeling both reemphasizes the Consecration as the most sacred part of the Mass and physically orients the faithful toward the sacrifice on the Altar. When we kneel, we literally gaze up at “the source and summit of Christian life” as the priest elevates the Host and the Chalice.
More importantly, kneeling during the Consecration allows us to show God our humility and gratitude. Since the first century, kneeling has been “the humble gesture by which we fall at the feet of our Lord” (Ratzinger). In Spirit of the Liturgy, Benedict XVI writes, “Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayers, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself”. By kneeling at Mass, we join the Church both past and present, both cosmic and earthly, and make the love and power of God both known and experienced. As a result, kneeling helps move our minds and hearts toward God during the Consecration.
2) Consider implementing an offertory procession. It may seem unusual to include this in a small chapel, but the offertory procession is an important symbol that the laity are true participants in the Mass. The bread and wine brought up before the Altar symbolize our labor that we offer up to God, and the water symbolizes our sins, which we also offer up to God to be transformed by His Sacrifice (Williams). By allowing members of the laity to carry these items to the Altar, the offertory procession reminds laypeople that they too have an important role to play in the liturgical life of the Church.
The offertory procession is an ancient practice that has undergone various phases throughout Church history, but it has historically symbolized the faithful’s role in the Mass. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has placed greater emphasis on the offertory procession as a valid means of active lay participation (Sacrosanctum concilium). I suggest instituting offertory processions where they are not already present. It may require rearranging furniture, but it would be a worthwhile way to reinforce the laity’s role in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
3) Don’t be afraid of silence. One of the biggest differences between the Catholic Mass of the last half-century and its predecessor is the modern liturgy’s almost complete lack of silence. While hymns, homilies, and vocalized prayers are great ways of deepening our faith, it is still important to preserve quiet moments during Mass. In older Rites, large parts of the Mass are silent. In fact, some of the longest periods of silence in the Tridentine Mass are shortly before and after the Consecration.
Silent moments during Mass make it easier to focus on God. They are both moments of reflection and opportunities for individual prayer—chances to set everything at the feet of our Lord before receiving Him in the Eucharist. By including silences before the Consecration, the priest invites the faithful to engage more deeply the Mystery they are about to witness. In this way, silence makes space for us to meditate on the Eucharist and receive it with greater reverence and devotion.
Speaking from experience, it can be tempting to prioritize community or entertainment values when planning a liturgy. However, Matthew shows in “The Summit, Flattened” that even well intended efforts to make worship more appealing can negate the significance of the Mass. It is important to remind ourselves that we are part of a pilgrim Church on a journey, and along the way we are both drawn toward and nourished by “the source and summit of Christian life”—the Eucharist. So as we march together toward the City of God, let us make every Mass an opportunity for deepening our faith, nourishing our souls, and orienting ourselves on the path toward everlasting life.
Robert Billups (’17) is a proud alumnus of the University of Notre Dame. He is currently pursuing an MPhil in American History at the University of Cambridge.