Simple Catholic Snapshots
- Last week I attended a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Barron.
- Catholic liturgy is filled with history and tradition, Scripture and proper worship.
- Sometimes in the routine the unexpected is seen… and we are reminded.
What was noticed? What did the teacher teach, without saying a word?
Simple Catholic Truth
Last week, our St. Martin de Porres parish was blessed to have Bishop Robert Barron visit and celebrate Mass. He was there to Baptize the newborn daughter of a family friend and member of our parish and graciously agreed to celebrate our 12:15 Sunday Mass. For those unaware, Bishop Barron is the author of many acclaimed DVD-based Bible study and theology and faith formation programs. In the past two and a half years I have personally facilitated three of his courses at St. Martins, currently leading the fourth (the 12 week ‘Catholicism’ series) across this 2018 Lenten season. [You can find out more about all of Bishop Barron’s faith formation programs at Word on Fire ministries.]
In any event, as the 10:30 Mass dismissed, I quickly took my place in the third pew from the front. I didn’t want to miss being able to hear and see Bishop Barron and take in what was certainly to be a very special liturgical celebration.
The Mass began; the packed Church all joined in song of praise as Bishop Barron processed to the altar and we began ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.’ The prayers of the Introductory Rite were familiar but something different and very special indeed was taking place. Standing before us all was a Bishop, one of about 300 in the United States, fully ordained and holding the Divine appointment of teacher of the Christian faith. As a matter of Catholic faith, bishops are of Divine institution – they are the successors of the Apostles, appointed to govern and teach the Christian Gospel message in Christ’ absence (Mt 28:19-20).
The Mass continued with the Liturgy of the Word which included readings from Leviticus, Psalms, Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians and concluding with the Gospel of Mark. A dominant theme of these readings was the relationship of sin and the affliction of leprosy. Bishop Barron himself provided a stirring homily that can be heard at the Word on Fire website by clicking here.
Then, the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. In this section of the Mass, the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward and are presented to the presiding celebrant, in this case Bishop Barron. It was at this time that I noticed something unexpected. An ordained Bishop usually wears two types of headgear, a mitre and a zucchetto. The mitre is the stiff, pointed hat the Bishop wears as a sign of his divine teaching authority. The purple zucchetto is a small skullcap similar to a Jewish yarmulke that is worn as a sign of his rank as a Bishop.
Bishop Barron took the gifts of bread and wine and after placing them on the altar, removed his zucchetto. He placed it on the altar and continued with the prayer over the gifts and into the Eucharist prayers and Consecration. The Mass proceeded as usual with distribution of Communion to the faithful. Then the vessels (Chalice and Platens) used in the Consecration and Communion, which held the precious Body and Blood of Christ, were collected by the Deacon and taken to the credence table to be purified. Also, the final remaining consecrated hosts (also the true Body and Blood of Christ) were consolidated into the ciborium and returned to the tabernacle. At this time, Bishop Barron walked over to the alter and recovered his zucchetto. I fully expected the Bishop to immediately don his zucchetto. Instead he stood in reverence as the ciborium was returned to the tabernacle. When the tabernacle door was closed, Bishop Barron THEN placed his zucchetto back on his head and commenced with the Concluding Rites of the Mass and dismissal.
After the Mass, I couldn’t get out of my mind the image of Bishop Barron standing, zucchetto in hand, as the ciborium was placed back into the tabernacle. Priests don’t wear a zucchetto so this was a new experience to me. It seemed like such a small thing but it was certainly deliberate. After a a little reflection and some research the obvious was revealed.
Catholic liturgies are steeped in history and Biblical theology. The content of the Mass, the prayers, the actions by both the celebrants and the gathered assembly are not without purpose and spiritual significance. That is one of the many things I love and cherish about my Catholic faith. Some call all the standing, kneeling and sitting, the incense and bells, the repeated prayers, too structured and rigid. On the other hand, I call it all a link to 2000 years of Christian history and the proper worship of God.
As a celebrant during Mass, the priest or bishop or cardinal or even the Pope is no longer that human person. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist the celebrant is acting ‘In Persona Christi’ i.e. in the person of Christ. In a manner of speaking, and as a literal fact, it is Christ who is present at each of our Masses. It is His real presence, Body Blood Soul and Divinity, that exists in the Consecrated hosts.
With this now in mind, the actions of Bishop Barron with respect to his zucchetto, are clear. Bishop Barron was properly showing the respect to our Savior who was literally present that day. You see, if Bishop Barron were to wear his zucchetto in the presence of Christ, it would be a vain attempt to improperly highlight his role as Bishop. Not wearing his zucchetto was a gesture of proper humility and respect and proper worship for Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.
Such is the beauty and truth of our Catholic faith. All of the Sacramental and liturgical fanfare: the structure, the prayers and actions, the ‘smells and bells’, all point directly and properly to worshiping our Lord and Savior as He taught us. Its all there if we just stay observant.
On this special day I got a wake-up call. The quiet action of a brilliant teacher, a simple purple hat in hand, served to remind me of the awesome truth of the Consecration and the Cross. Christ is truly present in each Mass and gives Himself to us, for us. I’ll never forget.
[If you happened to attend Bishop Barron’s Mass and would like to add something, or if you have a response to what I’ve written, please do so using the comment section.]