What will we do differently during this liturgical year which might draw us closer in friendship to our Lord? What practices might we deepen?
We need not necessarily set “new” spiritual goals for this coming year. Our goals need not be far-flung. Rather than speak of “new” goals, we might then view it as a “fresh start” upon a steady and sure foundation.
If we are already prayerfully participating in Mass, in the partaking of the Eucharist, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, then a firm foundation exists. As Pope Benedict recently said, “Through your love for the Eucharist you will also rediscover the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which the merciful goodness of God always allows us to make a fresh start in our lives” (World Youth Day homily). However, if we are not participating in the sacramental life of the Church, then the goals for the coming year are clear.
Yet allow me to offer a few suggestions at the outset of this new liturgical year.
Prayerful Silence within Church
To say that our attention span and other certain norms of civility in our society have eroded in recent decades is a truism. In our media-saturated age, I have not been alone in noticing an increasingly common and constant “buzz” at events such as banquets or lectures, even as the keynote speaker delivers his or her address. We seem ever more uneasy with silence, with that age-old precondition for prayer and meditation.
Has this “static” entered our sanctuaries and our devotional lives?
The Church is in the world, yet not of it. Let us ask ourselves how, in this new liturgical year, we might imbue our parishes with a renewed respect for Him Who is really present in the Eucharist. A reverent attitude when we enter our churches speaks volumes to our children, to non-Catholics who might be in attendance, to our Lord.
By no means am I saying that brief, respectful greetings cannot take place within our churches; after all, how can we not acknowledge our brothers and sisters with a loving welcome? Yet in light of what we are gathering to celebrate, we need to be able to limit our talking, turn off our cell phones, and make the most of our time to pray in the Lord’s presence.
If we are not listening, how can we enter into the banquet prepared for us? As Pope Benedict recently said to those gathered at World Youth Day, “Let us discover the intimate riches of the Church's liturgy and its true greatness: it is not we who are celebrating for ourselves, but it is the living God Himself who is preparing a banquet for us.”
Prepare, Be on Time Even Early
When I was growing up, my family had a simple approach to preparing for Mass on Sunday mornings. Saturday evenings, I recall, brought a certain calm and reverence as my parents readied our “Sunday best” for the following morning. On Sunday mornings, we prayed, ate together, and usually arrived five to 10 minutes early to Mass to kneel in prayer.
Recognizing the Urgent Need to Pray
Good habits take time to build, and bad habits are hard to break. So how might we persuade and remind ourselves of the need to prepare for Mass and enter our churches in a spirit of prayerful reverence?
To answer this question, may I suggest taking a brief look around the church as you enter? You may notice children and teens, and ponder how greatly they stand in need of our prayers amidst the pressures and temptations of our age. You may see a single parent, and bring his or her burdens before the Lord in prayer. You may notice the elderly, and then commit to praying more regularly for those who often suffer loneliness atop their physical ailments. You may notice a family, and praise the Lord for new life and for the compelling witness of the Christian family in our age.
Ultimately such prayerful attention before and during Mass may bear unexpected fruit in our lives. Our eyes will be opened. As Pope Benedict put it so beautifully, “If we think and live according to our communion with Christ, then our eyes will be opened” (World Youth Day homily).
May every season of this new liturgical year find us increasingly attentive, reverent, and responsive to the call of Jesus Christ.
(Bishop Paul S. Loverde is the Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. His column appears courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)