A prayer before private mass

As most of us know, it is not unusual for some priests in the independent sacramental movement to celebrate the mass physically alone.  While some are uncomfortable with this practice (and I fully expect Alexis to articulate that position!), I think solitary celebration can be a healthy part of a priestly vocation.  It joins the priest to Christ the intercessor, and unites her to the prayers of all the angels and saints.  The entire Body of Christ is mystically present at the altar, at every mass.  Hermit priests in the larger churches (e.g. Carthusian priests in the Roman denomination) have a long history of understanding their vocations in similar ways.  It would be a great project for someone to look at what hermit priests have written about their vocations over the centuries, and how that does (or does not) translate to the situation of modern non-eremitical solitaries. Anyhow, I happened across this lovely prayer to be said before a private mass, in The Sacramentary of the Servant Catholic Church, v.1, p.62 (1987): 

Heavenly Father, you are our beginning and our end, the source and center of all we are and of all we can become.  Purify us by your presence, quiet our earthly concerns, and free us to worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

I will go to the altar of God, the God who is my joy. 

In your presence, Almighty God, I am never alone.  At your altar, as in the world, I am one with Christ, and one with your people on earth and in heaven.  My prayer is the prayer of the Church. My offering is Christ’s offering. I pray in every language. I hold up hurts and happiness.  I am your priest. 

Empty me of myself that I may give you greater glory and serve all your people in my worship. 

The sacramentary does not give an author for the prayer, but I suspect it was written by Robert Burns, who was the bishop-primate of the Servant Catholic Church at the time of its publication.

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7 Responses to “A prayer before private mass”

  1. Carol Naomi Says:

    There are those of us that do not have parrishes or congregations, who have not students, who serve quietly in different and often unconventional ways (“do your alms in secret”).

    The celebration of the Mass, and particularly Communion (I prefer this word to Eucharist, as that is what it is – Communing), is the unification with the Christ. It is the centering in Christ. It is reenergizing and renewing in Christ. It is recommitting to Christ. It is the receiving of the Life-Blood for the benefit of all, including oneself. Pretty dang cool…

    Much love
    CRN

  2. John Says:

    Very well said, Carol! Thanks!

  3. Alexis Says:

    “While some are uncomfortable with this practice (and I fully expect Alexis to articulate that position!) . . .”

    ha ha ha ha ha – good humoured laughter, and good humoured baiting are always healthy!

    While I sit with a possible way of “articulating” the position (grin) I’d like to throw in a thought on what Carol has written. I like her imagery.

    As to being united with Christ – Is this not what has happened, intimately, in our baptism? The Apostle teaches us that in baptism we are clothed in Christ; St. Cyril of Jerusalem citing the psalms, says that in baptism – we are truly called Christ – because, united with him we have become the embodiment of Christ in the world. The question was once posed to me by a member of my congregation in DC – does this sense of union, of intimacy ever go away? I would like to think that it does not – indeed I would like to think, that in living our faith (orthopraxis – not unrelated to your post the other day John) our personal perception of that union, of identifying with Christ, of “embodying Christ in the World” is enriched and strengthened, so in the end, as Origen says God is magnified in us.

    I will not deny that the Eucharist reminds us, or heightens our perception of this sense of union, I do wonder though if we sometimes over-emphasise the meaning of the Eucharist at the expense of the other sacraments (some not included in the Roman Catholic “list of seven”?

    Visit my blog in a day or so – and I’ll try to “articulate” the other argument – thanks john this should be fun!

  4. Carol Naomi Says:

    Alexis,

    I am not a blogger & don’t regularly visit them (John’s is turning out to be an exception, but he is a good friend). Also, I’m in Oklahoma & work has closed due to the weather, so I have had some time to read & post.

    It’s my experience that in the Baptism, one becomes a member of the body of Christ, but (and this is a big BUT) in the Communion, one takes in the essence, unifying with It. Much as a child is born, small, naked and helpless; the child grows (hopefully) in the nuturing love of her/his parents, being fed nurishing food, learning to walk, then run. Baptism is the [re]birth, opening the door/heart, but Communion is the spiritual essence that stimulates growth – kind of like Miracle Grow. Baptism is vital, making the commitment, joining the Great Body, opening the door to allow the Essence in, but Communion – receiving that Essence, being filled with that Essence – is my cornerstone…

    Regards
    CRN

  5. Alexis Says:

    Hmmm. . .

    I would agree with you . . . with a slight shift in thinking; but herein lies a very interesting conversation.

    Yesterday I blogged about models of the eucharist – (before seeing John’s post). Perhaps this needs a bit of expansion given John’s post today on the sacramental power of the spoken word, and your comments. Perhaps we might benefit from exploring models of sacraments generally – and how they interact and overlap with one another.

    But back to your thoughts. The late antique church saw in baptism the fullness of the union of divine “essence” being infused in the individual – it was for this reason that the custom sprung up that the newly baptised wore white for eight days after their baptism. It is also one reason why, at least until the fourth/fifth century people put off being baptised for as long as possible – the baptised afterall were in every respect “perfect” and staying perfect does put a cramp in one’s style!

    This leads us to ask a reasonable question – based on this model of baptism – what was the late antique working model of the eucharist?

    I think in my earlier comments I mentioned Origen, who in Peri Archon, and Homilies on Luke, describes the process of spiritual development, in the context of (as was all the rage at the time) philosophy/asceticism. The philosopher is a baptised believer who through study, prayer, and contemplation refines and nourishes the infusion of the divine essence – so that it is magnified. Interestingly (if I’m remembering correctly), he does not put this in the context of a Eucharistic theology! Though, no doubt he “assumed” it.

    For many years now, I have maintained the belief that in baptism we are saved, we become “the enlightened” if you will (as is sometimes mentioned in patristic sources) but along with some of our best early thinkers, including Origen, and Ephrem the Syrian, I also accept that once over the threshold there is a “life” of exploration and development – that life . . . or more correctly . . .”this life” (since I consider myself to be a sojourner) has its moments of ascent and descent as we strive to achieve the fullness of “being” (which is in fact the logic behind the need for the Incarnation according to Athanasius – who says that after the Fall humanity was literally disolving). One of my favourite phrases which I think sums this idea up is: “You’re baptised, you’re saved, so now, what are going to do with it!?”

    The overarching point is that the Christian life is an active life – the gift of salvation is nothing if we do not use it fully; and this means that we all have an active vocation of orthopraxis.

    Being so active, however, does require the occasional “refueling” – and here I think lies at least one characteristic value of the Eucharist. And it is one of the reasons why (and I’ll talk more about this on my blog later) I believe wholeheartedly that the sole celebration of the Eucharist simply does not work. The Eucharist – like all the other sacraments – is a communal act. Now when I say a communal act I refer exclusively to the church sojourning “in the World”. These are “graces” that Christ has given us for the time when the bridegroom would no longer be in the World. They are a means by which the body of Christ – the image of Christ – sojourning in the world gathers together to . . .”refuel”.

    This “refueling” has two parts, in my belief, that make it effective. The first part is “mystical” the second is “tangible”. One without the other – means that the “fullness” of the grace of the sacrament has not been realised (notice I am NOT saying that it is “invalid” merely that it is not “fully realised”). But again I’ll say more on this later.

    The Eucharist then is a “refueling” a “reconnection” with the point of origin that is Christ, even a “reminder” of who and what we are. This ocurrs via the reception of the elements, AND via engagement with, the all important relationships of other sacramental Christians – in that moment – who are the “catholic” church – that is the “whole” body of Christ in that place.

    There is a tangential thought here – connected with the question raised by a member of my community in DC some years ago, that I mentioned in my earlier comments – and that is if we accept the fullness of the eucharist as sacrament (even though we encourage frequent participation which in itself is another interesting point of discussion) does this “fullness” wear off over time? Is there a “best before end date” to our reception? I’m not being flip here – honest – all I’m wondering out loud is – is the sole celebration of the Eucharist a necessity – when the “fullest” experience of the sacrament is in the context of the gathered community – the body of Christ sojourning in the World? An argument in favour of sole celebration (or not) would, I think need to at least explore this problem.

    So yes, I would agree with you that the Eucharist is an essential element in “stimulating” (though as you can see I use a slightly differnt thinking) spiritual growth. But I’m still not convinced that the sole celebration of the Eucharist serves the better interests of the community.

  6. John Says:

    +A, in my view, celebration of the eucharist in physical solitude, when community celebration is not possible, actually affirms the unified life of the community, even when separated in time and space. Thanks for all these interesting and stimulating comments!

  7. Carol Naomi Says:

    Alexis states: There is a tangential thought here – – and that is if we accept the fullness of the eucharist as sacrament does this “fullness” wear off over time? Is there a “best before end date” to our reception? There is a tangential thought here and that is if we accept the fullness of the eucharist as sacrament does this “fullness” wear off over time? Is there a “best before end date” to our reception? I’m not being flip here – honest – all I’m wondering out loud is – is the sole celebration of the Eucharist a necessity – when the “fullest” experience of the sacrament is in the context of the gathered community – the body of Christ sojourning in the World? An argument in favour of sole celebration (or not) would, I think need to at least explore this problem.

    Carol: Only when you begin to think yourself seperate from the One. Seriously. As we go through our day, we (even the most adept) get caught up in the drama – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, causing a shift in focus. The reconnection via Communion re-establishes the link. I don’t believe it can go stale, like old bread, or wine to vinegar. As to your other query, if you are a vital member of the Community, wouldn’t replentishing yourself, even in solitary celebration, benefit the whole?

    Alexi states: So yes, I would agree with you that the Eucharist is an essential element in “stimulating” (though as you can see I use a slightly differnt thinking) spiritual growth. But I’m still not convinced that the sole celebration of the Eucharist serves the better interests of the community.

    Carol: Have you tried it? Serious question, as we have just “met” and I don’t know your background. I would be interested in your experience. I’m seeing that we have contrasting views on the function and purpose of this sacrament. I think both are correct, depending on the needs of the situation at hand. When I try to sense your view, I get the vision of my huge extended (Jewish) family having a Sedar feast and bringing Christ into the midst this gathering. My perspective is via the Sacred Elements, joining and elevating the Community to the Christ, thus infusing the Community with the essence of the Christ. It is an upliftment. Both are correct, for there is a place for each aspect.

    With deep regards,
    Carol

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