It’s officially a teaching Mass for children, but could just as easily be labeled a refresher course for adults.
Over the past two years Father William Coffas has conducted three teaching liturgies in the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, where he serves as parochial vicar. The next one will be Sunday, Jan. 28, at 4 p.m. at St. Margaret Mary Church in Apalachin.
Father Coffas said he was originally approached by the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick faith-formation department about celebrating a Mass that explains its many gestures and rituals.
“I was very happy to do that. One of the major responsibilities of the priest is to teach the faithful, and this is an opportunity for me to do just that,” said the priest, who has served in the Tioga County parishes since his 2004 ordination.
Father Coffas sails into teaching mode right from the beginning of the Mass: For instance, he describes the different vestments a priest wears and their significance. He also notes the priest’s kissing of the altar early on, pointing out that the altar represents Christ.
Many similar pauses occur during the teaching Mass. Father Coffas said his first such liturgy ran almost two hours long, but he has since modified things to keep it around an hour. He added that he further involves youths by assigning them liturgical roles for these Masses.
“The goal is that by making liturgy relevant to children they will learn to appreciate the ritual and mystery of the Catholic Church,” stated Cathy Wunder, Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick’s director of sacramental preparation, in the Sept. 3, 2006, parish bulletin. “Our children are not just the future of the Catholic Church but the present church. Starting them now to be responsible and active participants can only help to make them grow into adults with a love and commitment to the church.”
Wunder observed that the teaching Masses are beneficial “not only for children, but for the entire faith community, as elements of the liturgy are explained during the Mass and can later be discussed in more depth. … You will be pleasantly surprised when you find yourself learning something new through Father Coffas’ unique way of explaining the theology and catechism through the celebration of the Mass.”
“I really think it’s a benefit for everyone, to actually stop and think about why are we doing what we’re doing,” Father Coffas added. “What’s discouraging is when people say the Mass is so boring. When you really look at the mysteries and study them and become aware of them, the Mass is by no means boring. It is of great significance that allows us to really experience the richness of our Catholic faith.”
It’s quite possible that in the near future, Father Coffas will need to furnish some additional explanations during his teaching Masses. In his bulletin column of Dec. 3, 2006, Father Coffas noted that last June the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a new translation in the order of Mass. These changes have been submitted to the Vatican for review, although there is no specific time line as to when they might take effect. Father Coffas highlighted some of the potential changes:
* When the priest says “The Lord be with you,” the congregation would respond “And with your spirit” rather than the current “And also with you.”
* The first part of the penitential rite would be recited as “I have sinned greatly … through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Currently, the words are “I have sinned through my own fault.”
* The Nicene Creed would begin “I believe” instead of “We believe” — a translation of the Latin text rather than the original Greek text.
* The Sanctus would start “Holy holy holy is the Lord God of hosts,” as opposed to the current “Holy holy holy Lord, God of power and might.”
Father Coffas remarked that “these changes will more aptly reflect the theological truths of our faith … the proposed changes will be another opportunity for us to deepen our knowledge of the liturgy and its meaning in our lives.”