Church is “the house of prayer” from which “preaching may be left out” but never “the house of preaching” from which “prayer may be left out” . . .

That is, you can do without the sermon but never without the prayer.

That’s from a John Donne sermon, 17th century, found in Prayers, selected and edited by Peter Washington, Everyman’s Library, Pocket Poets (Knopf), 1995.

Not to downgrade the sermon, but this I found helpful. The Mass has both prayer and sermon, or homily, of course, with its essence the Eucharistic Prayer serving as climactic. It has the moments of consecration, when everything shuts down, except the bell-ringer, and the priest says the sacramental words — formula, if you will — and people have nothing to do but watch. And pray.

Before and after these solemn moments, however, there is lots going on, intended to foster prayer and prayerfulness but sometimes, I think, preventing it. These are busy moments, serving to keep people on their toes — and successful in that, in large part anyhow.

My own experience, which I generously share with you, gives the lie to that scenario. I have written about kneeling for the canon, for instance, that crucial part of the whole event, remember, and waking up for the Our Father, when all rise to say or sing the words. And I with nothing to account for from the previous ten minutes.

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