ROME – Continuing his exploration of the significance of the Mass in a series of weekly catechism lessons, Pope Francis on Wednesday said that it’s important to understand all the “holy signs” of Catholicism’s supreme act of worship in order to “savor all its beauty.”
“Introduced by some preparatory rites and closed by others, the celebration is one body and it can’t be separated,” the pontiff said. “For a better understanding, I’ll try to explain its various moments, every one of which is capable of touching and involving a dimension of our humanity.”
Francis kicked off his discussion of the Mass last week, lamenting that a “secularized society” has diminished the Christian dimension of Sunday. Without the Mass, the pope said, we risk being “dominated by daily exhaustion and the fear of tomorrow.”
The pope’s comments came in his weekly Wednesday General Audience, held during most of the year in St. Peter’s Square but during the cold winter months in the Paul VI Audience Hall on Vatican grounds.
Francis began with the introductory procession at the Mass, which includes the priest venerating the altar.
“These gestures, which risk passing unobserved, are very important, because they express from the beginning that the Mass is an encounter of love with Christ,” the pope said.
The pope then underlined the significance of the priest making the sign of the Cross.
“All prayer moves, so to speak, within the space of the Holy Trinity, because it’s the space of infinite communion,” Francis said.
“In making the sign of the Cross, therefore, we not only remember our baptism, but we affirm that liturgical prayer is an encounter with God in Jesus Christ, who became incarnate for us, died and rose in glory,” the pope said.
Next in sequence at the Mass is the liturgical greeting, in which the priest addresses the congregation, saying, “The Lord be with you.”
“We’re entering into a ‘symphony’,” the pope said, “in which various tonalities of voice resound, including times of silence, in view of creating an ‘accord’ among all the participants, that is, to recognize themselves animated by the same Spirit and for the same end.”
Francis closed Wednesday’s reflection with thoughts on the penitential rite.
“The praying symphony that’s being created immediately presents a very touching moment, because the presider invites everyone to recognize their sins,” the pope said.
“It’s not just a matter of thinking about the sins one has committed, but much more: It’s an invitation to confess ourselves sinners before God, before the community, our brothers, with humility and sincerity, like the publican in the temple,” Francis said.
The pontiff ended by telling the audience he’ll come back to the subject in his next lesson.
As he often does, Francis also went off-script at several points to toss in some basic pastoral wisdom. At one stage, for instance, he talked about people who look at their watches on the way to Mass, aiming to get there right before the homily and thus fulfill the “precept” of mandatory attendance.
“No, that’s no good,” the pope said, disapproving.
At another point, Francis urged parents to teach their children to make the sign of the Cross from the earliest possible age, saying it’s important they know how to “do it well.” He came back to the thought at the very end, again urging that children be taught the sign of the Cross “well.”
In a festive holiday touch, Wednesday’s General Audience wrapped up with a performance by several members of a visiting Cuban circus troupe.