I recently posted on Facebook a video from a Mass that caused no small amount of feedback that I could summarize as disagreement over, “What is the real Mass?” The Catholic Church is Universal, and we do have a diversity, but we are also called to a higher value of unity. The post reaction saddened me, that we Catholics would be divided among ourselves, especially when it comes to “The source and summit” of our Catholic Faith and life. But, it also challenged me to think more deeply about what the Mass is. In this and a related post, I’d like to share more reflections on the Mass.
In this post I will explore:
- 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 a second post on this topic 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 participation in the One Sacrifice of Christ
This is a profound statement. God is not bound by time as we humans are. Jesus’ life saving sacrifice on the cross took place over 2,000 years ago. How can that affect us today? The answer comes from our belief that the Mass is “Trans-historical.” That means, it actually exists outside of human time. It is the ONE Sacrifice of Christ, made present over all time and space. For us humans, this seems impossible, but for God, “Nothing is impossible.” (cf. Luke 1:37) At the Last Supper, Jesus intentionally instituted the Eucharist by taking the bread and wine, and pronouncing them to be His Body and Blood, establishing the manner in which we would participate in the New and Everlasting Covenant. The Jewish way of Temple worship was to offer sacrifice to God, often an animal or portion of their crop, but sometimes too bread and wine which are both the creation of God and the work of humans. After the sacrifice was offered to God, those who wished to share in the benefits of the offering, e.g. forgiveness of sin or an offering of praise to God, would eat a portion of the sacrificial offering. The last supper was a redefinition of the old Passover (or better, it is the originally intended Passover of which the first was simply a type or pattern of that yet to come). Jesus was identifying Himself as the Paschal Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, and by the Jewish ‘language’, those to share in the sacrifice, that is, those who wished to receive its benefits, were to eat the lamb. But in reality, the last supper as Jesus instituted it, included the actual sacrifice of the next day. Just as a married couple exchange vows of a faithful lifelong covenant of marriage during the wedding ceremony, and then consummates those vows in the nuptial bed later in the day or evening, so too at the last supper Christ speaks the vows of the New and Everlasting Covenant, and then consummates those vows with His actual sacrifice of Love for the forgiveness of our sins later that same day, on Good Friday. (Jewish days begin at sunset the night before.) The bread and wine that Jesus gives us at Mass is His Flesh and Blood, soul and divinity that was offered up to God on the Cross. But they are a bloodless form of the same reality, present in what still appears as bread and wine. How can this be? St. Ambrose would say, “Could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were before? (CCC 1375). Because God exists beyond time as we know it, every Mass is truly His one saving sacrifice made present and accessible for all of us through all time and space.
The Mass Makes of Us and Offering to God
Mass is bi-directional. It is, as already described, a participation in and receiving of, Christ’s one sacrifice. But it is also a way for us, imperfect as we are, to offer ourselves to God by uniting ourselves to His perfect sacrifice. In baptism, we died to self, and gave ourselves to God. Yet none of us can do that perfectly. Due to both immaturity, ignorance, but also sin and selfishness, dying to self, and giving ourselves completely to God is a life-long process. (For most of us, this dying to self is completed in purgatory after our earthly death.) We could never honestly say Lord I give you all, even if we want to do that. But Christ can, and does, as he perfectly dies to self on the cross, offering His life to God the Father in Love for God and us. As we receive the Eucharist, we join ourselves to the body of Christ. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) So by walking up the isle and receiving, we are also joining ourselves to Christ’s perfect and everlasting sacrifice, “Making of us an offering to God, Holy and Acceptable in His sight.” (from the liturgy of the Eucharist, cf. Rom 12:1-2, and Heb 10:10, and 10:19-22). (This occurs not only when we receive the Eucharist but is also spoken by the Priest during the anamnesis that follows the consecration in the Eucharistic prayer of the mass. The priest in persona Christi – offers the sacrifice of Christ to God, thus also making of us, who are the Body of Christ, an offering to God.)
The Mass is a Celebration of the Resurrection
It is by the Incarnation, life, death, Resurrection of Jesus, and by the sending of the Holy Spirit that we are saved, and it is in all these mysteries that we participate when we receive the Eucharist. That is why we celebrate Mass on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of the Resurrection. The celebration of the Eucharist, and the receiving of communion, is a sharing in the Lord’s Body and Blood, and an intimate union of the faithful with Christ (CCC1382). However, Christ is not dead, He is Alive! He is Risen! Our union with Christ through the Eucharist is possible because He is risen. In scripture we find Christ and the early Church celebrating the Eucharist on the very day of the Resurrection, e.g. on the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-32) where Christ explains scripture to the disciples, and they recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread. Every Mass is a celebration of Easter.
Click here to continue with part two of this post.