Take a look at your prayer. Do you pray? If you don’t, then that means that this world is much more important to you than your relationship with God. If you don’t pray often, daily or even more often, then you have allowed yourself to become more focused on the world and the things of this world.
It is very important to examine your prayer once in a while.
I am often confronted in the Confessional with people who come into the Confessional, who have not spent any time thinking about the sins they wish to confess. They simply come in without any self-examination prior to walking through the confessional door. It is really important to spend a few minutes in self-examination, prior to entering the Confessional. It may even be helpful to ask God, “O Lord, how have I offended you?” Then, be quiet and listen.
Some people pray mechanically, and don’t actually consider carefully what they are saying. They may just be in the habit of memorized prayer. Memorized prayers is better than nothing. But it is not a true relationship with God.
Healthy prayer comes first of all from a realization that you are entering into a conversation between two “unequals”. God really does love me, but I am nothing and He is everything. But because He loves me, he hopes I will communicate with Him, listen to him and share my heart with Him.
Memorized prayer can very useful, especially the Holy Mass that Jesus gave to the Church. It is useful for making Jesus particularly present to us, while actually giving us a format or guide for praying with Him in community. Let’s look at some of the important parts of the Mass.
First of all we gather in a Sacred Space. We actually have a place to gather and encounter God in His Son, in the Holy Spirit. There is often singing with songs that should be “gathering” songs. Be careful what you sing and when. For example, “Amazing Grace” is beautiful, but it is not a “gathering song”.
Once the priest and ministers have arrived at the Altar, everyone is greeted. It is a joyful thing to come together, like at a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner.
Now, pay attention to what you pray and sing next. The priest invites us to examine our consciences, recognize our sinfulness and ask for God’s forgiveness. The music should help us to pray. At this point, music is not about the musician or a performance, but real help for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and seek God’s mercy.
All too often the musicians sing a light-hearted “Lord Have Mercy”. It is not a light-hearted moment! It is a penitential moment. All too often, the choir rushes the music or repeats the “Lord Have Mercy” too many times. This music should be humble, frank. It should assist us to pray as the Tax Collector prayed in today’s Gospel parable.
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
This is when we can honestly say, “Lord Have Mercy”.
There should then be a pause. It is a moment to be honestly, sincerely, humbly penitential. No excuses. “Lord, I am a sinner.” I depend upon you for your mercy and forgiveness. If we can’t get to this point, why go any further with the Mass. The Mass doesn’t even make any sense if we don’t come humbly to the Altar, recognizing our faults and weaknesses. The music should help us arrive at this point.
Now, of course we know how the story ends. We are, in fact forgiven by Jesus, not by ourselves. It is impossible to make any progress at this Mass if we are still like the Pharisee, perhaps saying to God,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
Or perhaps we may not even acknowledge our sins at all. This is not humility or penitential. But if we have come humbly, recognized our sins and truly believe we will be forgiven, then we are ready to thank and praise God. He is Risen. He died for our sins. By our baptism we have been washed of our sin.
Now, Eucharist means “thanksgiving”. We know we are forgiven. How do we show our gratitude?
We give glory to God. Now it is time for the Gloria.
If you are grateful for the knowledge of God’s forgiveness, then sing out of your heart, “Glory to God in the Highest.” Now is when the choir should help us to lift up our hearts and sing. Raise the roof. Use the actual words of the Gloria. Don’t invent anything else. This is thanksgiving, from the heart.
Glory to God in the Highest! And peace to his people on earth. We praise you. We bless you, we adore you, we glorify you. We give you thanks for your great glory.
The choir should guide and lift and support us in this thankful adoration. Blow the roof off. I ask all of our choir members to lead us to pray as we should pray.
You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
At this point we are able to receive God’s word in the readings, and then continue with the Holy Eucharist.
The music at the beginning of Mass should set the tone for our prayer together. This is how we should pray, humbly, gratefully. Thanks be to God.