Author Archive for Tom Schenk


The word “liturgy” comes from a Greek term meaning “public work or work done on behalf of the people.”  Liturgy always referred to an organized community.

A work, then, done by an individual or a group was a liturgy on behalf of the larger community.  All the worshipers are expected to participate actively in each liturgy, for this is holy “work,” not entertainment or a spectator event.

Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the High Priest and of his Mystical Body, which is the Church.  It therefore requires the participation of the People of God in the work of God.

Liturgy is centered on the Holy Trinity.  At every liturgy the action of worship is directed to the Father, from whom all blessings come, through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  We praise the Father who first called us to be his people by sending us his Son as our Redeemer and giving us the Holy Spirit so that we can continue to gather, to remember what God has done for us, and to share in the blessings of salvation.

Through the liturgical celebrations of the Church, we participate in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, that is, his passing through death from this life into eternal glory, just as God enabled the people of ancient Israel to pass from slavery to freedom through the events narrated in the Book of Exodus.

The liturgies of the Church also help to teach us about Jesus Christ and the meaning of the mysteries we are celebrating.  A mystery is a reality that is both visible and hidden.

Jesus Christ’s death and Resurrection become present to us and effective for us in the liturgical life of the Church.  His death and Resurrection are hidden now in the eternity of God, but as Risen Lord and Head of the Church, Jesus Christ calls us to share in them through the liturgy of the Church, that is, by the visible gathering of the community for worship and remembrance of what God has done for us.  It is the Holy Spirit, the source of the Church’s life, who draws us together through liturgical actions, the chief of which are the Sacraments.

The term liturgy itself has a broader application than that of Sacrament, for it embraces all the official public prayer life of the Church, while the term Sacrament refers to a particular celebration of Christ’s salvific work. (9:43)


Do you ever wonder during the Our Father that is prayed at Mass whether or not the faithful should use the Orans posture (raising hands upward); or should we hold hands with the person next to us; or should we simply keep our hands folded in prayer?

Of course, having dialog regarding the posture during the Our Father might elicit some emotion and response that would say our stance of hands extending upward during prayer is an expression of our interior intention of worship and openness to God; that it represents an outward sign of abandonment to God and a surrender to His holy will.

Or that holding hands during prayer is an appropriate way to relate to one’s family and to fellow parishioners; that this, too, is an external sign indicating that we are united with those with whom we are praying.

When such a question comes up, the obvious solution is to go to the rubrics.  Unfortunately, in this case, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) is relatively silent on the topic.

Because of the GIRM’s silence, many people have taken this to mean that the faithful may do whatever they want.  However, this seems not the case.

In the document, Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests, put out by the Vatican on August 15, 1997, we read, “In Eucharistic celebrations deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers—e.g. especially the Eucharistic prayer, with its concluding doxology—or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest.  Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions which are proper to the same priest celebrant” [emphasis added] (Article 6, §2).

What the above statement means is that we may not say the Eucharistic prayers along with the priest, nor, to the point of this topic, the faithful may not use the same gestures that are reserved for the priest celebrant.

As mentioned above, the GIRM is silent with regard to the posture of the faithful during the Our Father, however, the Roman Missal (the book of prayers for Mass used by the priest) states that the celebrant is to pray the Our Father with hands extended.

Simply, the faithful are NOT to use gestures or actions proper to the priest celebrant.  Likewise, the holding of hands while the Our Father is said is not prescribed, so for this reason, no one can be required to hold hands with another during the Our Father.

The proper authority to prescribe any posture for the recitation of the Our Father is the U.S. Bishops’ Conference or the Holy See, and neither has provided any liturgical rubric.  (9:42)


The agape, or love feast, was a memorial of the Last Supper.  It’s thought to be somewhat analogous to the Jewish Passover dinner or the Greek custom of having a “brotherhood” meal before or after a solemn event.

As practiced by the early Christians, it merely recalled the Lord’s Last Supper.  It did not, as has been proposed, have a relationship to the Eucharist, since it was merely an eating before or after the celebration of the Eucharist.  Participants gathered to eat, talk on pious subjects and sing hymns.

However, abuses arose, and it was discontinued, even as a non-liturgical act, by the sixth century.  In recent times there has been a revival of the concept through the emphasis upon the “sense of community” brought about by the ecumenical and liturgical movements, but it has more social overtones than association with the Holy Eucharist.

In addition, as expounded on by Jesus, agape is a form of love which is both unconditional and voluntary; that is, it is non-discriminating with no pre-conditions and is something that one decides to do.

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said, “‘Love (i.e. agape) the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-41).

In keeping to this commandment, Jesus demonstrated his extreme form of love for us by dying on the cross.  He has shown us the type of love we should have for God and for one another, not the love that we see in our material world today, but a love that is divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional and thoughtful.

This type of love has been described as agape, which is one of several Greek words meaning love.  Other Greek words used to identify types of love are:  Phileo: love between friends; Eros: the sense of being in love, or romantic love; Storge: love of family, such as, between parent and child, or between siblings, cousins, etc.  In a very close family, agape is felt as well. (9:41)


According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal 296, “The altar on which the Sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs is also the table of the Lord to which the People of God is called together to participate in the Mass, as well as the center of the thanksgiving that is accomplished through the Eucharist.”

The Christian altar is one of the earliest elements of the liturgy.  In the first years when Christianity was illegal, the Eucharist was typically celebrated in the homes of the faithful.  The altar could have been the dinner table in the home or the wooden chest in which a bishop would carry needed materials for celebrating the Eucharist from place to place.

The earliest stone altars were the tombs of the martyrs interred in the Roman Catacombs.  The practice of celebrating Mass on the tombs of martyrs can be traced with a large degree of probability to the first quarter of the second century.

The altar is the table on which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered.  Mass may sometimes be celebrated outside a sacred place, but never without an altar.  The altar is consecrated by the bishop before it is used.

The altar is the focus of our attention during the celebration of the Mass.  (9:40)


The GIRM, or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, from the Roman Missal, Third Edition, seeks to promote a more conscious, active, and full participation of the faithful in the mystery of the Eucharist.

The GIRM [often pronounced “germ”] provides specific detail about each element of the Order of Mass as well as other information related to the Mass.   The GIRM is the detailed document governing the celebration of Mass of the ordinary form of the Roman Catholic Church.

Stated in no. 1 of the Introduction of the GIRM: “As Christ the Lord was about to celebrate with the disciples the paschal supper in which he instituted the Sacrifice of his Body and Blood, he commanded that a large, furnished upper room be prepared.

Indeed the Church has always judged that this command also applied to herself whenever she decided about things related to the disposition of people’s minds, and of places, rites and texts for the Celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist.”

The Roman Missal contains all the prayers recited at Mass, and the GIRM describes the rubrics, or instructions, on how the Mass is to be celebrated.

Praying the Mass with careful attention to the rubrics enables all Catholics to become “ever more holy by conscious, active, and fruitful participation in the mystery of the Eucharist.”  (9:39)


For hundreds of years, Catholics observed the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15.   This teaching of Mary’s being taken bodily to Heaven after her death was in 1950 proclaimed a dogma of the Church, that is, the Assumption of Mary is one of the essential beliefs of the Catholic faith.

August 15 is the day that Catholics have long celebrated what is called the Dormition (falling asleep) or Assumption of the Virgin Mary.   The Feast of the Assumption celebrates both the happy departure of Mary from this life by her natural death, and her assumption bodily into heaven.

Along with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, the Assumption is a principal feast of the Blessed Virgin and a Holy Day of Obligation.

Though it was almost universally believed for more than a thousand years, the Bible contains no mention of the assumption of Mary into heaven.

The first Church writer to speak of Mary’s being taken up into heaven by God is Saint Gregory of Tours in 594.

On May 1, 1946, Pope Pius XII, asked all bishops whether they thought this belief in the assumption of Mary into heaven should be defined as a proposition of faith, and whether they with their clergy and people desired the definition.  Almost all the bishops of the world replied in the affirmative.

On November 1, 1950, the Feast of All Saints, Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma revealed by God that “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven.”  (9:38)

Altar Relics

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 302, contains the following statement: “The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained.  However, care should be taken to ensure the authenticity of such relics.”

The tradition in the Roman liturgy of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar is preserved when possible, but such relics should be of a size sufficient for them to be recognized as parts of human bodies; hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be placed beneath the altar.

Further, the greatest care must be taken to use relics that are authentic; it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful authenticity placed beneath it.

Finally, the relics must be placed beneath the table of the altar, as the design of the altar permits.

While the altar at Assumption has the relic of a saint that goes back to the 1901 Church altar, the name of the saint or information about the relic has been lost in time.  (9:37)


The sacrarium [pronounced \ sə-ˈkrer-ē-əm \] is a special sink found in the sacristy of most Catholic churches.  The drain bypasses municipal sewer systems and runs straight down into the earth.

The basin often hides beneath a hinged cover.  The sacrarium, or piscina, provides for the proper disposal of sacred substances.

For example, after Mass the vessels which held the Body and Blood of Christ are rinsed and cleansed there.  In this way any remaining particles of Communion are washed into the earth.

The sacrarium has also been used for the disposal of other substances: old baptismal water, leftover ashes, and last year’s holy oils.

There was a time in history when the leftover consecrated wine was poured down the sacrarium, but today the Blood of Christ is consumed by the faithful, not discarded.

If the consecrated wine is ever spilled during the Mass, it is to be cleaned up with care.  Accidents happen, and the instructions for Mass offer this procedure: The area should be washed, and the water poured down the sacrarium.

Likewise, if the consecrated host is spoiled or soiled that makes consumption impossible, the sacred body can be dissolved in water then poured down the sacrarium.

The presence of the sacrarium shows our reverent care for holy things.  When materials designated for a sacred purpose have completed their service, we honor them even in their disposal.  By returning our sacred substances to the earth beneath the church building, we honor them, the ground over which we worship, and the God who created them and consecrated them to nourish our faith.  (9:36)


Originally, this was the second feast in rank for the Jews, the celebration of thanksgiving for the harvest and the ending of Passover time.  Later it was also to become a celebration of the giving of the law to Moses at Sinai.

In Christian recognition, Pentecost is the feast celebrated fifty days after Easter or ten days after the Feast of the Ascension.  It commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

Pentecost marks the beginning of the active apostolic work and is hailed as the birthday of the Church, for it was through the coming of the Holy Spirit that the Church began to form members of the new kingdom.

As St. Peter spoke on the first Pentecost of the new covenant: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

It is the Spirit who makes effective the New Law and by coming to each one, enables us to profit by and fulfill the acts necessary for salvation. (9:27)


The Ascension of the Lord was the going up into heaven of Christ by His own power, in the presence of the Apostles, the Blessed Mother and His disciples, forty days after His resurrection.

St. Thomas Aquinas asserts He ascended by the virtue proper to Him as God, and by that which belongs to a blessed spirit.

The feast commemorating the event was celebrated in the Church from the earliest times.

It is a holy day of obligation occurring on Ascension Thursday forty days after Easter.

Many dioceses in the United States, including the Diocese of Des Moines, have transferred the feast day to the Sunday following Ascension Thursday.