By Dr. Judy Bullock
During the Mass we have the opportunity to sit down for certain parts: the first part of the Liturgy of the Word and the homily, the presentation and preparation of the gifts, and the period of silence after the distribution of holy Communion.
We have little directed responsibility during these seated periods except to respond to the cantor and the readers of Scripture, and to place our envelope in the basket.
We may be tempted to interpret these periods when we sit during the Mass merely as times for rest or “down” time. However, in the best of circumstances, they are some of the least restful times of the Mass. These periods when we are seated provide vital steps to a deeper relationship with God.
Why are these times
The sitting posture is frequently referred to as the receptive mode in contrast to our active postures. It is in these moments when we have the privilege of listening with our minds and hearts to God speaking to each one of us.
Contemplative experiences are rare for most of us. Few are the times in our busy lives when we actually sit and listen to God. The key here is our attentiveness. We have to be open to hearing what God is communicating to us. This takes active or intentional listening.
We first sit down at Mass for the Liturgy of the Word. We listen as the reader proclaims the particular reading, letting the words of Scripture wash over us, hearing them as only each individual can. This is when, if we are open to it, the Holy Spirit opens these words to us in ways that guide us in our own lives.
After the proclamation of the Gospel, we again take our seats. Our attention is given to the homilist as he makes connections from the Scripture readings of the day or from the prayer texts of the Mass to life situations, sharing insights that inspire or trigger some insight for us.
When else do we have the chance to set aside time to reflect on the ways we can live our lives in the manner of the Gospel message and to be given guidance as we face the challenges in our lives?
We are also seated as the gifts of bread and wine are brought down the aisle and the altar is prepared. As we watch this procession, we place ourselves with the bread and wine that will be placed on the altar. This self giving requires our willingness to let go of all that keeps us from being Christlike, open to the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Then when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we too may be changed, one in Christ.
After everyone in the assembly has received holy Communion, we once again have the opportunity to sit or kneel for a period of quiet, private prayer. These blessed moments are extraordinary gifts of Christ’s presence to us. Since we have already expressed our petitions in other parts of the Mass, this is the best time to be attentive to what God has to say to us. Shutting out the external activities around us for these few moments helps us to turn our minds and hearts over to listen to God.
It is far more important that we hear God, than for God, who knows us well and our every heart’s desire, to hear us. For this period of private prayer, we block out the activity around us; resisting the temptation to get ready to leave and listen!
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.