Custody of the eyes.
A traditional, even old fashioned term for being careful about what you look at, what you gaze upon, what you see, what you watch.
For we can be formed, we can be tempted, by what we see. And so we should exercise care in this area. As in others.
We should especially practice custody of the eyes during Holy Mass. Looking at Our Lord, praying, following the prayers in our missals, rather than looking at our friends, the priest, the altar servers, the hairstyles, the shoes.... Or is that only me?
So that our focus is Our Lord, our exterior dispositions mirroring our interior dispositions.
If custody of the eyes can seem to be an old fashioned term in our modern life, custody of the eyes in mass can seem to be even more unusual.
It is, however, important. Especially for priests. Because it can be disconcerting to have Father wandering around during his homily, doing the whole Jerry Springer Q & A thing, being a showman, looking at me in the eyes. Straight in the eyes. Repeatedly.
Disconcerting, not confronting. Disconcerting because it takes our eyes and our focus off Our Lord and onto Father and his, well, often, um...platitudes. Makes mass seem less of a sacrifice and less centred on worshipping God and more centred on man... On entertainment... Not on adoring God but almost on adoring ourselves....and Father.
When priests practice custody of the eyes during mass, they are less likely to try to engage we laypeople with looks and jokes and are more likely to celebrate Holy Mass with reverence.. That ars celebrandi. Celebrating Holy Mass in the spirit of truth and beauty...I have been privileged to participate in Holy Masses celebrated this way.
And one could almost say that this can be an argument for Mass celebrated ad orientem as opposed to versus populum.... For when Father faces the people, and does not practice custody of the eyes, laypeople become used to gazing at Father and his expressions and his idiosyncrasies ... At, for example, the Pater Noster. It has become common in many of the masses that I pray at, for Father to look at the congregation and smile and try to include all with a sweeping glance when he is, in fact, addressing Our Lord. And thus, Father's focus ( and subsequently our focus ) should be looking upon Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament . "Deliver us Lord from every evil...."
Remembering custody of the eyes might prevent that other common practice at some of the masses in which I pray... Father walking around at the sign of peace, shaking hands with the congregation in the first few pews, even while we intone the Agnus Dei and while Jesus is on the altar, almost being ignored during the supposed bonhomie of certain, selected parishioners shaking hands with Father.
So what are we to do? We need to encourage a return to the practice of custody of the eyes, especially during mass, for laypeople and priest alike.
Perhaps we laity need to lead the way, by praying during mass, concentrating on Our Lord, not expecting entertainment and not engaging in the whole dialogue talk show style homily. And thanking Father for mass, not for the joke.
And perhaps priests can be encouraged with further formation, to celebrate Holy Mass as Mother Church describes. To think less of themselves and of being a popular showman, less of bottoms on seats, and more of their relationship with God and the salvation of the souls in their care ( to paraphrase the Holy Father's Letter to Seminarians, 2010).
We could all simply begin with a return to the practice of custody of the eyes.