At Mass, Actions Speak Louder Than Words

January-February 2011By Michael A. Beauregard

Michael A. Beauregard is Headmaster of St. Michael's School in West Memphis, Arkansas. He is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Memphis and has written extensively on the classical curriculum in elementary schools.

I have taught in Catholic schools for many years. For the past ten, I have had the pleasure of teaching sixth-grade religion classes in a school that is unwaveringly faithful to the Magisterium. The religious curriculum in the sixth grade includes the sacraments, the theology of the Mass, and Church history. In previous grades, the students thoroughly study the faith with the help of textbooks that are faithful to the Church, and teachers who are devout, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable.

Nevertheless, year after year I am surprised by what my students know — and do not know — at the beginning of their sixth-grade year. Students are typically baffled and sometimes even stunned to learn that the Blessed Sacrament is Christ physically present in His body, blood, soul, and divinity, and not just in a spiritual or symbolic sense. More often than not, these students have incorrectly acquired the notion that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is just a Communion service memorializing the Last Supper with the priest acting as presider. They are fascinated to learn about the sacrificial aspects of the Mass and the priesthood, and the tremendous graces received from the Mass. Why are all these students, who have no less than five years of solid catechetical training, entering the sixth grade with an almost Protestant view of Catholic liturgy and the sacraments?

One might question the content, quality, and overall effectiveness of the religion program. But after years of observing, monitoring, and, most importantly, probing the students, I have come to a clear assessment of this peculiar situation. Irrespective of what is being taught, if the Mass and liturgies do not reflect the realities and truths of our Catholic faith, the teachings of the Church will be taught in vain. It is of the utmost importance that the Holy Mass model and emphasize what we want our students (and adults) to understand and embrace. The rubrics, gestures, and symbols that are employed serve a fundamental and very useful purpose in that they reveal and give witness to the faith we profess.

To illustrate a common example, I ask students at the beginning of their sixth-grade year what they genuflect toward inside a church. At least ninety percent say the crucifix or the spiritual omnipresence of Christ. After receiving a thorough explanation that genuflection is an act of adoration toward the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, the students invariably have a number of questions, a typical one being: “If we believe that the Blessed Sacrament is Christ Himself truly and really present among us, then shouldn’t we show greater respect and reverence at Mass?” The crux of the problem is that students cannot retain the truths they are taught if these truths are not manifested on a regular basis in our liturgical language, songs, gestures, and symbols.

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Back to January-February 2011 Issue

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This article should be required reading for every Bishop, priest and seminarian. Out of the mouth of babes..... Posted by: golfer21
January 23, 2011 02:10 PM EST
It should come as no surprise if you consider that 1) the concept of the Holy Eucharist is difficult to understand, 2) In the world,outside of church, you are immersed in a world that has a prostestant understanding that prompts questions that the student may not have considered or doesn't realize he has been coopted. Since Vatican II we became more protestant (fellowship is a great attribute of the protestant churchs) in our approach and liturgy that traded off "feeling good" vs true spiritual immersion and benefit. On the other side of the coin, in trying to go back, you have the problem that latin is a foreign language and tends to turn off those who never experienced it before. Actually, I would guess that, over time, the parishioner will become accustomed to and appreciate the latin mass and associated music. Why we didn't just continue the latin mass but with the use of the local language, I'll never know. It would have made it easier to transition back to a more religious and spiritual experience.
Regarding Church documents, while there have been improvements in Bible study and the RCIA program, there is neither a program for parishioners to study the encyclicals for a deeper understanding of the faith nor a move on the pulpit to teach the faithful in the practical application of Faith to the political issues of the day - result many catholics vote democrat, the party of death. We will never return to a prosperous country until the people reject abortion, gay marriage etc.
Posted by: awunsch
February 02, 2011 09:21 PM EST
I agreed with awunsch's comment until the line about 'catholics vote democrate, the party of death.' I don't attend Mass to hear political speeches but to received the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and to hear His soul-saving gospel. Posted by: frtrue@newwavecomm.net
February 03, 2011 07:59 AM EST
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