Question: I have prayed the Mass of the day already without a T.V. and using my Missal, and I have incorporated Lectio Divina (based on the daily readings) and Prayer of the Heart (after Spiritual Communion). Do I need to pray the Mass on T.V. or follow it online?
Answer: In order to offer some clarity and give a more convincing answer, I need to explain some theological aspects. Some of them are even new in history, like “attending an on-line Mass while quarantined”.
What is the Mass?
It is true that there is a deep connection between the two liturgies of the Mass (Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist) and Lectio and the Prayer of the Heart. It is true that Lectio and Prayer of the Heart help us digest what we are supposed to receive during the Mass. But do both of them cover all the contents of the Mass? I wouldn’t go that far. Why? A simple look at some aspects of the Mass which do not relate to Lectio or the Prayer of the Heart will reveal this : the Mass is the action of the whole Church, it is not an individual initiative. It has different aspects:
– Entering into the Mass: Sign of the Cross and drawing closer to the Altar with the entrance Antiphon.
– Asking for forgiveness and doing it together: Kyrie.
– Praising the Lord (for Festivals and Solemnities): Gloria.
– A maintained speed led by vocal recitation and not a meditative contemplative rhythm, that is by definition slower and circular.
– The moments of meditative and interiorising silence in the Mass are not long.
– Singing the Creed together, the highest contemplative prayer.
– Prayer of intercession.
– The Eucharist in itself, with all its meanings (praise, thanksgiving, reliving the Last Supper-Passion-Death-Resurrection), the deep meaning of what the Mass itself is: the heavens are opened, we unite with heaven in singing God’s praise (Holy, Holy, Holy), the actuation of our Redemption, i.e. “the work of our Redemption is on-going” accomplished everyday (not just a memory of the past); the importance of having the Redemption accomplished on the Cross present among us with all its fruits; the universal prayer of the whole Church for the whole World, visible and invisible, universal prayer made in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to the Father; and the final act of the Church present in and through the assembly led by the Ordained Minister offering the Son to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Maximum act of Worship.
– Then of course the rites of Communion, saying the Our Father together, receiving Communion together. Staying recollected, in order to receive the benefits of the Communion.
– Then finally saying a last prayer and being sent by Christ, through the Church, to the World in order to spread His Word and His Deeds.
Note: The Priest himself even if he is the main Celebrant of the Mass, the Ordained Minister, doesn’t possess the Mass. He serves it in the Name and Person of Christ and of the Church. There is a way of celebrating the Mass without possessing it, with a spiritual detached docility.
For us also, attending Mass is something that is bigger than us. We join a movement and unite ourselves with it, a movement that starts in God and goes back to God with our participation. We do not own or possess the Mass; we humbly enter into it. This is why we are reminded by the Church to activate our spiritual participation by lifting our heart to the Lord.
Mass and Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart
There is a wholeness and a wholesomeness in the Mass that no other act of worship or act of anything can get close to! The Mass has everything, the whole Gospel, prayer in its entirety. Even if there is a direct and deep connection between Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart with the Mass, even if they draw their energy and meaning from the Mass, they do not come close to exhausting the meaning and contents of the Mass. The Mass remains massive, unsurpassed, complete, the biggest event in our weekly and daily life. In a way it is the Mystery that contains all the other mysteries. The work of our Redemption continues through it.
Even if a Priest seems to say the Mass alone in this time of Quarantine, the Priest is not alone and it is not his action. It is the Whole Church that is present and celebrates the Mass. It is celebrated and bears fruits for the whole world and the entire Church. It is supposed to offer our Redemption, to attract the people who are far from God. Otherwise, the Mass of a Hermit Priest would be meaningless!
Wherever a Mass is said, the whole world, the invisible world is present and the working of the Grace of God is there, active and fruitful.
Spiritual Communion and attending Mass online
In this time of Quarantine, we are all invited to make a “Spiritual Communion”.
Traditionally Spiritual Communion is intimately based and connected to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, to the moment of Communion situated in the Mass. The Source of Spiritual Communion is the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus and the very moment of actual communion during the Mass. We cannot disentangle “Spiritual Communion” from the Mass.
Our times have greater advantages compared to the time of St. Teresa of Avila and of St. Francis de Sales (both spoke of and practised Spiritual Communion) Compared to olden times, now we have TV, Internet, i.e. we can have the image/sound support of a real daily Mass. We do not need to relate to an abstract Mass, to an old recording, for we can relate today with a real Mass and the Mass of the day itself. The Live airing of a Mass has its uniqueness too.
Therefore, it is reasonably better (but not exclusive) to maintain the important and vital connection between the Eucharist/Communion and Spiritual Communion by attending Mass live online. If possible.
Note that I used “attending” not just “watching”. The newness of Internet and TV in history is forcing us to think theologically and deepen our understanding of what is happening. For instance, when the Pope gives his Easter blessing “Urbi et Orbi”, he says that even people watching him will receive the grace! So, as we can see, theologically “attending live” is a new concept. It will never replace attending physically, but in the same time we can’t neglect it and in times of Quarantine only it literally and grace-wise replaces physical attendance.
In this sense – and this is new in history – Priests who actually celebrate an aired live Mass should, after having received Communion, invite the tele viewers to make a “Spiritual Communion” and give them a short silent time for this act. It shouldn’t be left as an optional absent moment. It should be exceptionally incorporated during this time of Quarantine.
Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart and Attending online
I understand your desire to deepen the two liturgies of the Mass by doing a Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart while reading the Mass. There is nothing wrong with this but how can you measure or decide the time it will take? A good complete Lectio Divina takes around an hour. The length of the Prayer of the Heart is left to the individual case: you decide the length with the agreement of the Spiritual Director.
In this sense, maybe it is better to keep the fact of “attending a real Mass” online distinct from the deepening method you suggest (praying the Mass from a Missal incorporating Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart). In an ideal world I would encourage your view. But in a concrete situation one could reach a point of losing “control” of the time one spends, as well as all the immensely added elements of the Mass that one can still get by “attending live”.
Praying of the Mass as a Devotion
Nobody, and I repeat, nobody can deny the fact that practising daily Lectio Divina based on the daily readings and Prayer of the Heart have an amazing effect on deepening our Mass. This practice shows us some of the main benefits of the Grace of the Mass, and how to make use of them. It shows us the sacramentality of the Proclamation of the Word. It shows us also how to come back to Communion by using the Prayer of the Heart. Prayer of the Heart, indeed, is a coming back to Jesus whom we have received in Communion and Who is then left alone afterwards in our heart. Prayer of the Heart is reopening the Tabernacle of our heart where Jesus dwells and deeply desires to have us with Him, intimately united to Him, like the branches attached to the vine (See John 15). Prayer of the Heart is in fact residing with Jesus in the tabernacle of our heart.
Reading and praying the Mass from our Missal is always a useful way to deepen the Mass. There is no doubt about this. It can be done from time to time as a separate exercise. No doubt about this. But it remains just that – a devotional exercise – with little of the power that Lectio Divina and Prayer of the Heart have to make us grow in the spiritual life.
Please do read: Spiritual Communion According to St. Teresa of Avila