Thursday, March 8, 2012

Festivities of Body and Mind

I regret having to admit that my attention often wanders during mass, even though I know the majesty of the event in which I am participating. This is especially true when I am attending with one or more of my younger children. Occasionally, however, my attention deficit is penetrated, and a word or phrase or prayer snaps me to a more alert state.

That was the case this past weekend, the Second Sunday of Lent, when the celebrant recited the Prayer over the Offerings:

May this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray,
cleanse us of our faults,
and sanctify your faithful in body and mind
for the celebration of the paschal festivities.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is a prayer in the Sunday liturgy of the Church, so I think that I’m pretty safe in assuming that it’s been fully vetted. It’s going to take me some time to wrap my mind about what it’s saying.

I typically think of sanctification as something that happens on a spiritual level. Here, though, we’re praying for the sanctification of our body and mind. We can sin through what we do, and when we do something sinful, we use our bodies. But isn’t the soul the motivating force of the body? Our thoughts are products of the mind, but don’t they originate in the soul?

Yes and no. Our bodies are just as much a part of who we are as are our souls. When we worship, we involve our bodies. The sacraments have physical components (water, oil, laying on of hands, etc.). Furthermore, there are instances where the body acts directly upon the will. At some point, an addict might no longer have any choice in the matter – he can no longer help himself. Some have suggested that this is what St. Paul was getting at in Romans 7:17: “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

The mind is similar. We like to think that we control all of our thoughts, but it is not always so. Suicide was long regarded a sin, but the Church has recognized that it can be the result of mental illness, and that suicidal thoughts are not necessarily freely chosen or fully willed. Recent studies have suggested that viewing pornography results in physical changes in the brain that make it difficult for men or women to freely choose what is good and healthy in their relationships with others.

It is appropriate, therefore, to pray that our body and mind be sanctified, for the soul cannot be sanctified while it is held in slavery to sin.

The second striking phrase in that prayer was the reference to the paschal festivities. I’m familiar with the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’ve never heard it referred to with the term “festivities,” though. I’ve heard the mass described not only as a sacrifice, but also as a celebration, but “festivities” seems to imply a much lighter atmosphere. Could it be that a nuance was lost in the translation?

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