In a previous post I explored:
- Mass is a participation in the One Sacrifice of Christ
- Mass makes of Us an Offering to God
- Mass is a Celebration of the Resurrection
In this post I will explore:
- Mass is a consummation of our Marriage vows to Christ
- Mass is a Participation in the Heavenly Worship
- Mass is the Source and Summit of our Christian Life.
Mass is a Consummation of our Marriage to Christ.
Throughout scripture one of the most common ways of describing our relationship to Jesus is that of a marriage. E.g. In Isaiah 62:5 we read: “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians chapter 5 says:
“Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy.” (Eph 5:25)
“Husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies…. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church because we are parts of His Body: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh. This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.” (Eph 5:28)
In the Book of Revelation we can find:
“Come I will show you the bride that the lamb has married. I saw Jerusalem coming from heaven … It glittered like some precious jewel of crystal clear diamond. …The city walls stood on twelve foundation stones, each one of which bore the name of one of the twelve apostles.” (Rev 21:9-14)
“This is the time for the marriage of the Lamb. His bride is ready, and she has been able to dress herself in dazzling white linen, because her linen is made of the good deeds of the saints. The angel writes this: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” (Rev 19:7-9)
God created marriage, and from the beginning He ordained that “The two shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) In a human marriage, two people mutually and freely give of themselves; body, soul and spirit. The two become one. This reality occurs, by God’s design and by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage. In marriage, two people publicly and sacramentally profess the vows of their covenant of marriage, then later that same day consummate those vows in a union of body, soul and spirit in their wedding bed. That union also is open to new life, and during it the very principle of human life is exchanged and bears fruit. During the years of the marriage, this union is repeated, and each time becomes a renewal of the couple’s vows, and a sacrament (small “s”) of what is truly happening; both persons are being transformed into something beyond themselves, into the image and likeness of the other, and bringing forth new life also in their image and likeness. As miraculous and amazing as this is, there is still something more amazing! This human marriage designed by God, is patterned on the way God relates to us. In Christ Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, God Himself has become human. He has given Himself completely to us; body, soul and divinity. He pursues us and woos us into a relationship because He loves us. He proposes to us and pours out His divine life for us in a perfect act of self-giving love on the cross. We accept that proposal and speak our vows in Baptism. Those vows are then consummated in our first Eucharist, where the two become one flesh. We truly receive in our body, soul and spirit, His Body, Soul and Divinity. Over the course of our life, the two (we and Christ) become one flesh. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we renew our baptismal vows, and further our growth into someone beyond ourselves refashioned into the image and likeness of our beloved Spouse, Jesus Christ. During the intimate union of Christ and us, Divine Life is communicated to us, and that Life seeks to produce fruit, the fruit of the Love of God incarnate in our world, bringing about the Kingdom of God by forming new life, new disciples of Jesus, children of God.
The Mass is a Participation in the Heavenly Worship
Dr. Scott Hahn, Catholic Theologian and Evangelist, and himself a convert to Catholicism (http://www.scotthahn.com/) speaks of how before he was Catholic, he walked into a Mass, and realized that what he was seeing was no less than the Heavenly Worship he had read about many times in the scriptures, and especially the Book of Revelation. In the book of Revelation, we read of the angels in heaven who “Day and night never cease to sing; Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” (Rev 4:8). We also read about myriads and thousands worshiping the Lamb who was slain within His (heavenly) Temple. (Rev 7:9-15) We read of lamp stands (Rev 1:12), and Elders (dressed as priests) with bowls of incense representing their prayers. We hear of an angel in front of an altar with a golden censor of incense (Rev 8:3) and, of the martyrs whose garments were cleansed in the Blood of the Lamb. (Rev 7:14) The scene revealed to John in the book of Revelation, shows us the worship of the angels and saints that constantly occurs in heaven. When we celebrate Mass on earth, we for a time join in the heavenly worship with all the angels and saints. We are all made priests by our God, to offer worship and praise. In every Mass we are lifted up as the priest invites us; “Lift up your hearts”, and “With Angels, Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory, as without end we acclaim; Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory…” (From the text of the Mass). The Mass is our participation in, and foretaste of, the Eternal Heavenly Celebration.
The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of the Christian Life (CCC 1324)
This statement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then sums up these ideas of the Mass. It is the source of our Divine Life received from God. It is the continuation of the Incarnation, life, death, Resurrection of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit through Him, all made present for us in the Eucharist. It is the means by which we remain in Him, and Him in us, like the branches on the Vine (Jn 15:3-5). It is our food, His very Body and Blood of which if we do not eat and drink we have no life (eternal or divine) in us. (Jn 6:53-58). The Mass is the summit of our Christian life because it is during Mass that we are joined to the Heavenly Worship, united with all creation, the saints and the angels, around the throne of God and the Altar of the Lamb of God, giving worship and praise. We are participating in the heavenly worship while still here on earth, thus taking part in eternal life, the summit and goal of our earthly life.
I often hear it said these days that I do not have to go to Mass, because God is everywhere. This is a painful statement. God is merciful, and it is through baptism that we are saved, but our baptism commissions us to grow and follow all the commands of Christ as we mature. Some of those commands include: “In all truth I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53) and “Take this and eat [drink]” (Mt 26:26-29) or “This is my body given for you; do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). If Mass is already a participation in the one heavenly banquet, and we choose to not enter the Heavenly Kingdom already given to us here on earth, can we expect to enter it in eternal life? If Christ died in Love making a marriage proposal to us, and we never (or rarely) consummate that marriage, will we really become one flesh with Him and enter heaven? Padre Pio said that ‘Earth could more easily exist without the sun, than without the Eucharist,’ and that ‘If people only knew what truly occurs at Mass, there would be need for traffic police outside of every church to handle the crowds!’ Many of the Fathers of the Church, and saints over the 2,000 years of the Church, have testified in their writings of the importance of the Eucharist. The same grace and power by which they became saints is available to us in the Eucharist. Let us not let what Christ has died to give us as a gift, go unopened in our lives.
The Universal Church celebrates Mass in a variety of ways, cultures, and languages. In these two posts I have tried to show that the Mass is many things. It is a profound Mystery. But it is also something that should UNITE us, not divide us. As Franciscans, we friars celebrate Mass in many ways as we serve a variety of people. I encourage people to find a liturgy that feeds them and attend it regularly. It has been my experience, that although I still do not fully understand the mystery, it feeds me and forms me, it guides me and keeps me connected to Christ and His Church.
Note: Some of this material has been inspired by Altaration, a short course for teens on the Mass, by Ascension Press. https://ascensionpress.com/t/category/study-programs/chosen/teen-mass