How we respond interiorly to God’s action

Opportunities for such participation make our experience of the Mass richer and more fruitful

By Father Randy Stice

I began my January column with St. John Paul II’s assertion that “the liturgy is the privileged place for the encounter of Christians with God” (Vicesimus Quintus Annus, 7), an encounter that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes as “a meeting of God’s children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit” (1153). I also noted Pope Francis’ observation that “our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world,” contrary to the Church’s perennial faith “in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history . . . a love that can be encountered” (The Light of Faith, 27). We saw that this meeting involves the “conscious, active, and fruitful participation” of everyone (CCC, 1071), and we looked at examples of how God acts in the Mass.

The Church wants the people of God to participate “fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” [Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (SC), 11]. There are two dimensions to our participation in the Mass, external and internal. External forms of participation include “acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes” (SC, 30). At other points during the Mass, however, our participation is more interior. In this column, I want to look at a few moments in the Mass when the Church invites us to respond interiorly to God’s action.

One of the first opportunities for interior participation follows the priest’s invitation, “Let us pray,” at the beginning of Mass. At this point, says the Church, “everybody, together with the priest, observes a brief silence so that they may become aware of being in God’s presence and may call to mind their intentions” [General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), 54]. We are invited to make two interior acts—be aware that we are in God’s presence and formulate our individual intentions for the Mass. The priest then proclaims the opening prayer, which is called the Collect because it “gathers up, as it were, all the petitions that the faithful have expressed privately” (The Church at Prayer: The Eucharist, Robert Cabié, p. 53).

The presentation of the gifts, when the bread and wine are brought forward, has both an external and an interior dimension. According to the Church, “It is desirable” that these gifts be brought in procession by members of the faithful—the external dimension—to “express their participation” (Roman Missal, Order of Mass, 22). But Pope Benedict XVI also notes an interior dimension to this act. “This humble and simple gesture is actually very significant: in the bread and wine that we bring to the altar, all creation is taken up by Christ the Redeemer to be transformed and presented to the Father. In this way we also bring to the altar all the pain and suffering of the world, in the certainty that everything has value in God’s eyes” (The Sacrament of Charity, 47). The outward procession can also be a silent intercession for the needs of the world.

Another moment of interior participation follows the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharistic Prayer continues with a summary of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection and then offers the eucharistic sacrifice to the Father, beginning with the words “we offer you, Lord.” The “we” is crucial, as the Second Vatican Council taught. “Taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the source and summit of the whole Christian life, [the faithful] offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with it” (Lumen Gentium, 11). This interior personal offering enables us “day by day to be brought, through the mediation of Christ, into unity with God and with each other, so that God may at last be all in all” (GIRM, 79f).

The final example is sacramental communion, our intimate encounter with the One who loves us. This, said Pope Benedict XVI, “is the moment for an interior conversation with the Lord who has given himself to us” without which “the external reception of the Sacrament becomes mere ritual and therefore unfruitful” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 210). St. Francis of Assisi told his friars, “Look…at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before Him! . . . Therefore, hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.” St. Teresa of Avila firmly believed that after receiving Communion we “have the Person Himself present,” and she encouraged her nuns, “If when He went about in the world the mere touch of His robes cured the sick, why doubt, if we have faith, that miracles will be worked while He is within us and that He will give what we ask of Him, since He is in our house? His Majesty is not accustomed to paying poorly for His lodging if the hospitality is good” (The Way of Perfection, chapter 34).

These opportunities for interior participation are brief and easily overlooked, but they make our experience of the Mass richer and more fruitful. And, as St. Teresa reminds us, we might even experience a miracle!


Father Randy Stice is director of the diocesan Office of Worship and Liturgy. He can be reached at

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