I am taking Thursdays to go through the Mass, bit by bit. Thursday, of course, is the day Our Lord established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and so is always dedicated to that mystery. The thrust of my commentary is to show how we are to apply the Mass to our daily lives.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We begin the Mass, after the Entrance Procession, with the sign of the Cross. This ritual gesture to begin the liturgy is fraught with meaning, of course. It is always sad, I think, when the priest through some misguided sense of pastoral care, begins the Mass instead with a cheery ‘Good morning! How you all doing? Any visitors here? Stand up! Anyone having a birthday? Let’s give them a round of applause…’ And so on and so forth.
I know the intent is kindly, but it’s just wrong. I remember once seeing a book about how to transform a parish along such lines. For all I know, it may have been an OK book, but it was sadly entitled From Holy Hour to Happy Hour! The Mass is, however, the ‘holy hour’ of the week, if anything is. And so we begin it, not with happy back-slapping greetings, but with the sign of our faith, the sign of salvation.
The sign of the Cross operates on so many levels of meaning. It is, of course, the sign of the Lord’s Cross, the sign of that by which we were saved, the death of Jesus Christ. It is also the sign of the Trinity, the very life of God revealed to us and made available to us by the Lord in his saving action.
It is also the sign of our dedication to these mysteries, as we pledge our minds, hearts, and actions to the imitation of Christ’s Paschal Mystery and to the communion of love of the Trinity. And it expands outwards, even—in pre-Christian pagan thought the shape of the Cross was the sign of the universe, and in Judaism it is connected to the letter taw, the last letter of the alphabet which in the vision of Ezekiel 9 signed the foreheads of those marked for life in Jerusalem.
All of these mysteries are present in this simple gesture. God and the cosmos, the love of Christ poured out for us as the paschal blood saving us from destruction, and our own personal commitment to living out this love in every dimension of our humanity.
And this is the real source of any actual ‘happy hour’ in our lives, don’t you think? The idea that we can just make our lives joyful and pleasant by a sheer act of will is a bit sketchy, to say the least. But to place our lives in the larger life of God, made available to us in Jesus Christ and his saving love—this is where true happiness comes from, the life of the beatitudes.
To extend this ‘sign of the cross’ into our lives is a fairly obvious affair. It is good traditional Catholic piety to make the sign of the cross throughout our day, as a way precisely of reminding ourselves that our whole day is a living out of the liturgical mystery. Before beginning a new task, at the beginning and end of meals, at day’s dawning and at day’s ending, in times of turmoil or confusion or anguish, to sign ourselves with the sign of love is a powerful way to bind up our whole day in the mystery of Christ.
Do not disdain these simple and basic practices of devotion. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every twenty years, you know. Catholics have always lived their lives under the sign of the cross—admittedly at times reflexively, thoughtlessly, or even superstitiously—but even so it is a proven way of simple faith and consecration to God.
We begin the Mass this way, and so signal at this most central and holy action of our life that we are a people so consecrated, and that as we come together as the Church we come together at the Cross, in the heart of the Trinity. It is, indeed, a happy hour, but a happiness that comes from immersing our whole being in the holiness of God. This is the whole meaning and structure of our Christian life, and so we carry that sign with us throughout our days.