There is more to the Mass than the ear can hear.
When the faithful settle back into their pews after the Gospel proclamation, for example, the priest or deacon, having reverenced the Book of the Gospels with a kiss, recites the following formula quietly: “Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away” (GIRM, no. 134).
In a beautiful and arresting paradox, none of us in the congregation hears this formula that is essentially about our hearing.
Being able to hear this prayer itself isn’t important; actively hearing what has just preceded it—the word of God—is.
Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away.
These words are not the words of absolution given by the priest in Confession, so how can they wipe away sins? By helping us get at the root cause of all sin, which entails a refusal to hear. Pope Benedict XVI points out that “the root of sin lies in the refusal to hear the word of the Lord, and to accept in Jesus, the Word of God, the forgiveness which opens us to salvation” (Verbum Domini, no. 26).
Thanks to our fallen condition, we have the capacity to tune out. I don’t mean struggling with distractions, which are unavoidable. Instead, I mean remaining unmoved by God’s call—by the Voice calling us to conversion and repentance. I mean remaining disobedient even when we’ve heard God’s loving instruction and promise of glory. I mean closing ourselves off. “You do not ask for sacrifice or offerings, but an open ear” (Ps 40:8, emphasis added). Hardness of heart leaves us spiritually hard of hearing.
There’s a whole genre of Internet videos that capture deaf infants, having received cochlear implants, hearing their mothers’ voices for the very first time. To see their reactions—rapt attention, tiny tears of joy—is astounding. All of a sudden they have access to a dimension of life of which they didn’t even know they had been deprived. God’s grace, as communicated through his word, always has the power to do something similar. Because it is “living and effective” (Heb 4:12), the word of God can bring its hearers to life.
Even when there is more to the Mass than the ear can hear, those Mass parts are meant to help us hear—loud and clear.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)