E HAVE just passed the annual memorial of St. Charles Borromeo (November 4), the liturgical celebration of which includes one of my favorite passages in the Office of Readings. Drawn from a sermon given by the eminent, reforming bishop of Milan during the last synod he attended, the passage is an encouragement to priests to practice what they preach.
At one point, St. Charles asks: “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul; do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.”
In another section of the homily, St. Charles describes the situation of priests who wish to lead good lives, but find it difficult. He raises the example of a priest who complains that his mind is filled with a thousand distractions when he goes to pray his Office or to celebrate Mass. In response to this hypothetical priest, the preacher addresses three poignant questions: “But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the Office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain collected?”
These questions could well figure into an examination of conscience, not only for priests, but for all who desire to pray wholeheartedly.
The question of what a priest is doing in the sacristy before Mass is a particularly penetrating question, and its answer has a direct effect on the fruitfulness of his prayer.
In an appendix of the Roman Missal, one finds a good selection of prayers to be prayed in the sacristy before and after Mass. They include the famous prayers of St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others. Many saints and faithful Catholics have written similar prayers for the purposes of preparation and thanksgiving.
Two years ago, I posted a series of reflections on the vesting prayers that may be prayed by the priest before Mass. Just last month, NLM posted scans of the Præparatio ad Missam and Gratiarum Actio post Missam cards that traditionally hung in many sacristies.
Today, I would like to share two prayers that I have found personally beneficial. The first is a prayer of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, to be prayed before Mass. It speaks to the Mother of God and asks for her assistance in entering into the sacred mysteries:
Præparatio ad Missam
O Holy Mother,
stand by me now at Mass time,
when Christ comes to me,
as thou didst minister to Thy infant Lord;
as thou didst hang upon His words when He grew up;
as thou wast found under His Cross.
Stand by me, Holy Mother,
that I may gain somewhat
of thy purity, thy innocence, thy faith,
and He may be the one object
of my love and my adoration,
as He was of thine.
The second prayer I would like to share is drawn from the Maronite tradition. This prayer is prayed by the priest at the end of every Divine Liturgy. It uses the literary device of apostrophe to speak directly to the altar:
Maronite Prayer of Farewell to the Altar
Remain in peace, O holy altar of God.
I hope to return to you in peace.
May the offering I have received from you forgive my sins
and prepare me to stand blameless
before the throne of Christ.
I know not whether I shall be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice.
Guard me, O Lord, and protect your holy Church,
that she may be the way to salvation and the light of the world.
Following the encouragement of St. Charles Borromeo, may all of us remain solicitous to enter into the liturgy with attentive minds and hearts!