In my last year of study and formation at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg (“Fourth Theology,” as it is called), one of the classes was “Mass practicum.” It basically was (and still is) a class to teach future priests how to celebrate a Mass.
Each of us had the opportunity to do a “practice” Mass where we could learn how to do all the actions at the altar, such as when the priest extends his hands in the “orans” position or when the priest places his hands in blessing over the bread and the wine on the altar (which is called the epiclesis, as the Holy Spirit descends in preparation for the consecration of these, as they become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.)
The purpose of this practice Mass was and is to learn how to celebrate the Mass prayerfully and not just “say” the Mass. One of the classic pieces of advice is that when one celebrates the liturgy, he should be reverent, speak clearly (and hopefully give a good, inspiring and instructive homily), be patient, calm and peaceful, and never draw attention to himself so that the congregation would be able to enter into prayer and focus on Jesus and the prayers of the Mass.
That is a very apropos piece of wisdom when we think of St. John the Baptist. He was the last of the prophets, and the one prophet who so privileged to the see the One all the other prophets before spoke of. And his famous statement later in John’s Gospel is sound advice for every Christian: “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30.)
God gives us the greatest power to be able to do this. One can actually see a depiction of it on our tabernacle door at my parish of St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg. If you look closely, you will see a lamb. It represents the words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29.) And in this image, the Lamb has a victorious flag waving next to him. This is because Jesus has conquered sin and death.
As the Lamb of God, Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist to empower us to conquer our own sins – and allow him to increase more and more within us and in our lives. What an amazing gift! A wonderful and powerful yet humble and simple prayer is this:
Jesus, so powerful and wonderful, so merciful and so humble, dispose my heart, mind and soul to receive you well, with you all things are possible. In however you want it to be, in me and in my life, make me decrease… that only you may increase.