Views of a Layman with a Missionary Spirit
Columns by Dr. Paul R. Sebastian
Professor Emeritus of Management, University of Rio Grande (Ohio)
Thursday, October 27, 2011
(15) The Awesomeness of the Mass (Short Version)
"THIS IS MY BODY WHICH IS BEING GIVEN UP FOR YOU; DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME" (LUKE 22:19)
Long version is Blog #171, which has greater detail and is improved and more complete. The Thursday following Trinity Sunday we celebrate the
Feast of Corpus Christi or Body of Christ, i.e., the Eucharist. In many dioceses it is
celebrated on the following Sunday to accommodate those who would have
difficulty in attending. In Poland it is
a paid national holy day and the Eucharist is adored in a procession throughout
the city as streets on the route are blocked off. Many people kneel even on cobble stoned
streets when the Eucharist passes. Every
few blocks the procession stops for prayer. Many town and city authorities would cooperate if we
would try something similar over several blocks. It would be a marvelous profession of faith
and a means of evangelization especially when people ask questions.
Each year we journey with Christ through Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday,
Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Elements of all of them are present in the
Mass which God uses to miraculously give us the Eucharist, the Body of Christ. Let us examine the Mass and meditate on how awesome
it is! Then perhaps we won’t simply go
through the motions and take the Mass for granted.
Some people say that they are lax about attending Sunday Mass because "it is boring"; because they "don't get anything out of it"; and because they are "busy". What we gain from the Mass depends upon what we put into it. If we would really understand the Mass in depth, really appreciate it, and recognize its awesomeness, we would be fascinated and never bored. Then we would try to assist at daily Mass as well. We would somehow make time for Mass (liturgy) every Sunday as the busiest of people can do. After all, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sunday Mass attendance is a grave obligation. So much so that if a person misses Mass for no good reason that makes it practically impossible to attend (illness, physical impossibility, etc.), it is a mortal sin that puts one's salvation in jeopardy........a clear violation of the 3rd Commandment: Keep holy the Sabbath Day.
Why is Holy Mother the Church so strict? It's an act of love. Attendance on Sunday is minimal contact in community with Christ who is physically present in a real way. Being lax about Sunday Mass attendance will cause us to drift and eventually lose the faith entirely. We need the nourishment, the graces, and the strength that the Eucharist gives, not to mention the intimate union with Christ Himself. The illustration below sums up the purpose of the Mass.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass or Liturgy is first and foremost, a sacrifice, where the Last Supper and Calvary are brought to us in an unbloody and mysterious way that transcends time (see also “The Lamb's Supper” by Dr. Scott Hahn, once a strongly anti-Catholic Presbyterian Minister). God is not subject to time. At Calvary Christ offered Himself to the Father in reparation for all the sins of the world, past, present, and future. In every Mass somewhere in the world around the clock 24/7 our time, a great miracle occurs. During the Consecration Christ in the person of the priest (persona Christi) invokes God (the Trinity) to send His Holy Spirit to sanctify the bread and the wine so that they may become His body and blood, soul and divinity while the physical appearances remain the same. Hard to believe? For God all things are possible! Shortly after, with the participation of the faithful Jesus Christ in the person of the priest offers to the Father the consecrated Eucharist, i.e., His own body and blood, soul and divinity. Thus the entire Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are very much involved in the Liturgy. Each person of the Trinity acts in His own way, but in perfect unison.
"THIS IS MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT, THE MYSTERY OF FAITH WHICH SHALL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME."
The Paschal Lamb. The Jews in the Old Testament would sacrifice an unblemished lamb. At Calvary Christ, the High Priest sacrificed Himself, the Lamb of God, to the Father. At every Mass Christ in the person of the priest with our participation sacrifices Himself, the Eucharist to the Father.
Then the Jews would consume the lamb. Today we consume the flesh of Christ, the Lamb of God --as elaborated in the 6th Chapter of John and in the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper-- in a real and close Communion with Christ Himself. We have several intimate moments with the infinite God. At the same time all of those who partake in this Eucharistic banquet are in communion or fellowship with each other. This differentiates Catholics from other faiths. Only the Catholic Church and the Orthodox profess that the Eucharist is the true presence, not a simple representation or portrayal. Anyone who does not believe in the divine presence, cannot consider himself a Catholic because the Eucharist is the source, the center, and the summit of Catholic life........the focus of the liturgy.
The Old and the New Covenants. By consuming the Paschal meal commemorating the Passover and flight from Egypt (Exodus), the Jews in fellowship would renew their covenant with God.......”I am your God and you are my people”. This was a profession of faith in only the one true God and a pledge of faithfulness to Him and His laws. The Last Supper, where Christ gave us Himself in the Eucharist, was a paschal meal. We renew the new covenant of belief and faithfulness to God when we
receive Holy Communion, also a paschal meal. When the priest says to the communicant, “the Body of Christ” we answer “Amen” in affirmation, a profession of faith. That is: "Yes, I believe". For that reason non-Catholics are asked to refrain from receiving Holy Communion as at weddings, funerals, etc. Thus we are seeing just how biblical the Mass is.
Heaven and Earth come together during the Mass (called Liturgy in the Eastern Church).
The Mass is divided into (1) the Liturgy of the Word and (2) the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word consists of an admission of our sinfulness, supplications for mercy, praise, and four readings from the Bible. We begin with confession and contrition for our sins. That is followed by praise and scripture. On Sunday the First Reading and the Psalm (praise) are taken from the Old Testament. The Second Reading is generally from the Acts of the Apostles or one of the Epistles, which are teachings by St. Paul and other apostles. These readings often point to the Gospel, which narrates the life and teachings of Christ. Either a priest or a deacon reads the Gospel and does the homily, which teaches or explains the readings. These readings show that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament. To understand the New Testament, we must understand the Old Testament. If one faithfully attends Mass every Sunday, he or she will have gone through the highlights of the entire Bible over three years.
In the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest first offers the bread and wine to God as did the high priest Melchisedech in the presence of Abraham. God gives us "fruit of the earth" specifically wheat and the grapes which man (and woman) transforms by work into bread and wine. During the Offertory we offer these products of our work to God. In the Consecration we have the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ Himself. Subsequently, Christ in the person of the priest offers together with the faithful in attendance the Eucharist as the sacrifice of atonement to the Father.......thus the name, "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass". Then we consume the sacrificed Body of Christ in Holy Communion. . This brings to mind the prayer at the beginning of
each decade of the Divine Mercy Chaplet: "Eternal
Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved
Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole
world" as revealed by Christ Himself to St. Faustina, a great mystic of the 1930s, shortly before the beginning of World War II.
The Consecration and the Communion bring the Last Supper
and Calvary to us in a mysterious way that transcends time. At the same time the Eucharist is the resurrected body
of Christ.Since we receive Christ in both
His human and divine nature and because the Holy Trinity is really inseparable,
we not only receive Christ in Holy Communion but in a sense also the Father and
the Holy Spirit. We receive into our hearts, the Almighty God, the creator of the Universe, Christ the King of the Universe. Finally, the priest dismisses us and sends us out to be witnesses for the faith……..don’t just keep the
faith; spread it.This mission comes
from the Latin, “Ite, missa est” (Go, you are sent) and thus comes the word “Mass”.
Now you know the rest of the story.
Clearly, the Mass is indeed Biblical. The Mass is about the
Eucharist........the source, the center, and the summit of the Catholic
Faith. The Eucharist is the nutrient for
the soul and a source of strength. Because
of its great importance, every Catholic is expectedto attend Mass every Sunday as a
very serious obligation. Exceptions only entail significant sickness
or circumstance that makes Mass attendance impossible. The Sunday
obligation is so essential because of the transcendence of the Mass as the
unbloody Sacrifice of Calvary and the intimate union with Christ Himself in the
Eucharist, the food of life. What an opportunity to become close to God!
Prayer as community throughout the Mass is powerful. Furthermore, we
learn more about God in the Liturgy of the Word; through prayer and the
Eucharist we know Him better and become closer to God.
The Eucharist nurtures our relationship with God, without
which our "good works" become sterile. Such weekly contact with God
in a deep way is minimal for spiritual growth, so important for salvation,
which is the ultimate goal each one of us is striving for. That's why we are here on our pilgrimage to
eternity, our final destiny........to grow through the earthly trials and
prepare ourselves for Heaven. That's
what life is all about.