The liturgy truly begins upon entering the church. We are preparing to participate in something wondrous, mysterious, and precious, as a result, it is prudent to spend time in preparation. Just like one looks in the mirror, does a breath-check before meeting with an important business client, or checks their kid’s outfit to ensure no stains before going to Grandma's house, we are preparing to enter into a more full experience of the real presence of Christ, the incarnate God of the universe, through our participation in the Divine Liturgy of Holy Eucharist. As a result, it is appropriate to prepare.
"Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Silence for private prayer and meditation is kept prior to the beginning and at the conclusion of all masses. During this time of silence it is customary to enter into personal, private prayer to reflect upon the state of your own heart. While not everyone is going to be internally motivated to such silence, it is important that those who understand the necessity and value of stillness help model it for others. This is a challenging discipline to adopt in a modern culture and society that is prone to noise and commotion, but it is a discipline that God desires His followers to practice.
The Didache (written in the late 1st or early 2nd century) teaches us that self-reflection before participating in this sacrament was a very early practice:
On the Lord’s own day gather together and break bread and give thanks, having first confessed your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who has a quarrel with a companion join you until they have been reconciled, so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. For this is the sacrifice concerning which the Lord said, ‘In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is marvelous among the nations.’
There is no "right" or "wrong" set of prayers, however, there is a customary set of prayers that are encouraged as a recommended starting point, which are provided each week in our liturgy bulletin. Through these prayers the individual is encouraged to examine their own heart and mind so they can enter into worship with a mindset focused on God and His presence with us. The individual is also encouraged to seek God’s grace to intervene in the lives of others, whether it be fellow parishioners, family members, or those whom he/she knows to have special need. Finally, the individual is encouraged to pray for the priest who is to celebrate the Mass as well as all those who are gathered to receive the sacrament consecrated by his hands.
Through these prayers the individual is encouraged to consider his/herself as a part of a greater community. While our relationship with God has an individual component, it is also corporate; we are therefore encouraged by God to come before Him in worship one with another, lifting up each other in prayer.
(As published in St. Luke's bulletin, 4/29/18)