Matters Liturgical: December 2006 Archives

Preaching on the Propers — Again

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The Bambino clasping His Mamma's hand is by Michelangelo. Already, I see in this something of the Pietà.

December 22

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Preaching on the Propers

Some of you have asked why I so often preach on the Collect of the Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends that priests preach not only on the Gospel of the day or on the other readings, but also on the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass, that is, on the other parts of the Mass, both those that change according to the season and day, and those common to every celebration.

Devotion to the Collect

The Collect of the Mass is a privileged element of the sacred liturgy. It instructs us in the mysteries of our faith and articulates the prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that that is the fruit of the Word of God heard (lectio) and repeated in antiphons and responsories (meditatio). In the great seasons of the Church Year and on feasts, the same Collect is repeated at Mass and at all the Hours of the Divine Office, except Compline. This repetition of the Collect is intended to anchor it our hearts. Dom Guéranger, the restorer of Benedictine life in nineteenth France, once told a novice bewildered by the vast variety of pious devotions, that a single one was indispensable and sufficient: devotion to the Collect of the day.

An Inspired Prayer

The Collect of the day is a distillation of the Church’s own reflection on the Word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Collect rises in the soul of the Church. At Mass and the Divine Office, it comes to flower on the lips of her children to bear fruit in their lives.

Unspeakable Groanings

None of us know how to pray rightly. Often in our prayer we ask for things according to our own dim lights. We ask God for the things we think we need or for the things we think we want. But our needing and our wanting are, more often than not, obscure and flawed. This is the “infirmity” of our prayer. Saint Paul says: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Collect articulates for us the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit. When we pray the Collect, making it our own, we are asking according to God, and not according to our own dim and limited perceptions.


It was one year ago today that I began standing before the altar versus apsidem from the Offertory until the Communion of the Mass at the monastery where I serve as chaplain. I prepared this change with a careful pastoral catechesis. For guests coming to Mass at the monastery, I posted a notice in the narthex. Here is the text of the notice:

Pastoral Note

It is good, from time to time, to break with routine and do what we do daily from a different perspective. Given that the reformed liturgy gives the priest the option of standing in front of the altar, one with the people, for the Eucharistic Prayer, I will avail myself of this option during the seven days before Christmas. We are no longer accustomed to doing this, but it remains a venerable and perfectly legitimate practice. It is especially suited to these last days of Advent when the whole Church faces in one direction, scanning the horizon, waiting for the coming of her Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI explains this very well. He says, “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not (in the Eucharistic Prayer) a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer.”

Let us then welcome a change in our routine during these last days of Advent, not for the sake of change, but in order to advance together toward the Lord who came, who comes, and who is to come.

On the whole, the change was received well. Some wondered if, in fact, it was permitted. One woman complained about it and stopped coming to Mass at the monastery. Two or three nuns out of about twenty were uncomfortable with the practice at first, but seem to have adjusted to it. Several said that they preferred it and were relieved not to have to look at the face of the priest through the whole Eucharistic Prayer!

After a year of celebrating the Holy Mysteries ad apsidem, what are my own conclusions? The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained immensely in recollection, in reverence and, most importantly, in God–centredness. There has been a marked increase in what Pope John Paul II desired the fruit of the Year of the Eucharist to be: Eucharistic amazement. There is a new awareness of the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice offered to God with the priest and people together standing in the presence of the Divine Majesty.

I am absolutely convinced that the ad apsidem position is essential to the recovery of the sacred. It goes a long way in restoring a certain rightness to the practice of an Ordo Missae that for too long has had so much wrong with it. Reverend and dear brother priests, take heart, and fear not!

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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