My first missal, its battered spine barely clinging to the title, still has a place of honor between the new Roman Missal and an assortment of prayer books. I can remember tucking it under my arm as I walked to Mass at the church behind our house, happy to be able to follow along just like my mother in her missal. The little book was my key to the mysteries of the Mass, then in Latin.
Though I hadn’t opened it in years, I pulled the thin volume from my shelf last weekend. The little missal has scant text, but is rich with warmly playful icons, their scenes taken from scripture and the lives of the saints.
I love the painting that accompanies the Preface of the Eucharistic prayer, which shows a choir with an angelic director, her hands raised to start the Sanctus. The tiny rural parish I lived in as a child had no organ or choir; as a result I grew up thinking that only angels sang the Sanctus.
I slid the missal back into place and pulled my new missal off the shelf to prepare to cantor the Triduum, flipping open to the preface for the Vigil. The preface has been called “a poem, the cry of joy and recognition, the song of the world discovering salvation.” It is a song of gratitude, not just in general, but for specific moments of grace, particular gifts to all humankind.
Each time I am at Mass, I listen to the preface carefully, ears open to hear the poem, with its prompts to my memory. It is a very soft echo of the Easter Vigil, where we read the history of our salvation as we sit in Vigil, singing the ancient songs given to us by the Psalmist, waiting to celebrate once again the greatest gift, the resurrection.
Too, I am reminded in this brief bridge from our assertion that it is “Right and just,” to our voices lifted to sing “hosanna in the highest!” that I always have a reason to rejoice, even when the signs of it in my own life are hard to spot.
Worship aids and missalettes make it is easy to follow along during the celebration of a liturgy. There is no need to search out the proper prayers — those that change with the day and the season and the feast — and no need to place markers and ribbons to follow the day. Still, these aids makes it harder to spend some time with these prayers outside of Mass. For that, you need a missal.
Dig out a missal if you can find one, ask your pastor if you can borrow a missalette for the week — or download the app for your phone. Browse the prayers for the upcoming week, and like the colorful icons in my old missal, let them guide you toward the sublte reminders of the scriptures that tell of our salvation embedded in them. See if there is a line that speaks to you. Listen for it when it comes at Mass, let it echo in your heart as the new week unfolds.