Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for Thanksgiving

Readings: Is 63:7-9; Col 3:12-17; Lk 17:11-19

In just about a year we will begin using the third edition of the Roman Missal. Besides the new translation, there will be additional prefaces, votive masses and saints’ days. There will also be a strong encouragement that there be more singing on Sundays and feastdays. They particularly encourage the dialogue parts between priest and people to be sung. They will repeat the suggestion that the priest sing the Preface. But, as you have perhaps noticed over the past ten years, I don’t sing the preface. I’d like to tell you why. It has a lot to do with the theme of thanksgiving, which we celebrate today.

The Preface is the actual beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, that great narration of praise and thanksgiving that, in fact, makes the mass to be a mass. The Eucharistic Prayer is the prayer of the assembled community, of priest and people together. While there are some acclamations from the assembly, the priest recites most of the prayer by himself. But he always prays in the name of the people. The congregation is to listen carefully and make the prayer he speaks into their own prayer, so that we all pray as one. That’s why it’s so important that the priest speak loudly, clearly and slowly—to allow that understanding and interiorization to take place. The Preface forms an essential part of the Eucharistic Prayer; it needs to be heard clearly. From my perspective that’s better accomplished in a recitation voice than a singing voice.

I have a second reason. Christian prayer, especially the Eucharistic prayer, is first and foremost "praising and giving thanks to God"....and that requires time, practice and understanding. Thanking God is not a natural outcome of perceiving the world with an untrained eye. We have to learn that God is the one worthy of praise and thanksgiving. The structure of a Eucharistic Prayer is a narrative, an education about God’s works. It begins with the work of the Father (primarily in the Preface), then the work of the Son (which culminates in the consecration of the bread and wine), and ends in the work of the Spirit (God’s blessings that continue in our day—the prayers for the living and deceased). Recitation of the whole Eucharistic prayer helps us to better see that progression and unity. So, while we pray the Eucharistic Prayer as an expression of our praise and thanks to God, that same Eucharistic Prayer is forming and developing an attitude of thanksgiving within us. The Prayer is shaping our minds and hearts.

It is wonderful that we celebrate the Eucharist on Thanksgiving Day. May the praise and thanks that we express here spill over into the rest of our day and the rest of our lives.

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