The term “reverence” comes from a compound of two words: “re-,” which means to “turn back” and “-ver,” which means to “perceive.” Put these two together, and reverence is the interior “looking back” to our origins with dispositions of gratitude and awe. It is good to generally have a sense of reverence in our lives — certainly toward our parents and grandparents, our country and, most especially, God. Mass is where we most perfectly express this reverence with our active, interior participation in the mystery of His love made present in the Eucharist.
Any rules governing our disposition of reverence at Mass come from the nature of reverence itself. Actions, gestures and words that lead ourselves and others to more deeply appreciate the glory of God should be fostered, while we should forgo actions and words that distract ourselves and others from full, active, interior participation. So, practically speaking, are there concrete rules for reverence?
Most certainly. Our society has developed some simple traditions that signify reverence. Refraining from casual conversations within the church space and, when it is necessary, speaking only quietly are two ways we show reverence. Reverence is further developed by attentiveness to the readings, participating in singing and intentionality in our gestures (genuflecting, the sign of the cross, etc.). Our attire is also important — we should not wear hats in church, and we should ensure our clothing is respectful. We want to look good for Him!
While all those rules are important, the most important aspect of reverence is the disposition of the heart. If you desire to grow in this virtue, essential for holiness, do not only prepare your body to look good for God, but also your soul to receive Him. I will leave you to contemplate the endearing words of St. Therese the Little Flower, “When I am preparing for Holy Communion, I picture my soul as a piece of land and I beg the Blessed Virgin to remove from it any rubbish that would prevent it from being free; then I ask her to set up a huge tent worthy of heaven, adorning it with her own jewelry; finally, I invite all the angels and saints to come and conduct a magnificent concert there. It seems to me that when Jesus descends into my heart He is content to find Himself so well received and I, too, am content.”
Father Archer is associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood.