Far too many Catholics complain they find the Mass to be “boring” or that they “get nothing out of it”. It is unlikely they would feel that way if they knew the answers to the following questions: What is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? What happens at Mass? Who is present there? What benefits do we receive by participating at Mass?
In his powerful book, The Way to God, Father Winfrid Herbst, S.D.S. tells us that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “is not a mere commemoration of the sacrifice of the cross. No it is the same, the actuality, the renewal, the continuation, the representation of the sacrifice of the cross… so that when I assist at Mass I am present at the Sacrifice of the cross as much as Mary, John and Magdalen were. It is the unbloody renewal of the bloody Sacrifice of the cross.”
Does this essential truth of our faith comes as a surprise to many? How often we Catholics come to Church just to socialize and “catch up” with friends, families and acquaintances. Should we not come primarily to worship, adore, give honor to and receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? When we understand what the Mass is, we shall!
When properly understood and when participated in with proper intent, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “is offered,” as Father Herbst reminds us, “to give God Honor and Glory, to give God thanks for his benefits, to obtain the remission of our sins and make reparation for them, to obtain the precious grace of conversion by which a person is led to make repentance and reconciliation with God, to obtain victory over temptations, either by getting more efficacious actual graces or by having the temptations themselves lessened or eliminated all together”. But there is more, much more to this magnificent gift (see Section 1322-1372 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church).
St. John Marie Vianney taught: “There is nothing so great as the Eucharist. If God had something more precious, He would have given it to us”; and “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy”. In current times, Father William Casey of the Fathers of Mercy reminds us that “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most important event that occurs every day on the face of the earth”.
“Mass”, Pope Pius VI tells us, “is the most powerful form of prayer”. “The celebration of Holy Mass,” St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross”. St. Padre Pio also reminded us of four beautiful truths: “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass”; “The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”; “If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass;” and “The best preparation for a happy death is to assist at Mass daily”.
“The Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the Sacrifice of the cross is forever perpetuated,” according to Canon 897, “is the summit and the source of all worship and Christian life”. In Canon 898, we are reminded that: “Christ's faithful are to hold the Blessed Eucharist in the highest honor. They should take an active part in the celebration of the most august Sacrifice of the Mass; they should receive the sacrament with great devotion and frequently, and should reverence it with the greatest adoration”.
In The Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priest (Presbyterium Ordinis), the Vatican II fathers observed that the bond which gives unity to the priest’s life and work “flows mainly from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is therefore the center and root of the whole priestly life” (14). Pope John Paul II noted in his Encyclical on the Eucharist (Ecclesia De Eucharistia), that the Eucharist “is the source and summit of the Church’s life” and that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “must be the center of each priest’s life” . He went on to emphasize that “we must understand then, how important it is, for the spiritual life of the priest as well as for the good of the Church and the world, that priests follow the Council’s recommendation to celebrate the Eucharist daily” . Short of serious personal illness or an unforeseen and pressing emergency, is there any compelling reason why a priest would not offer Mass each day? After all, who can fathom the benefits flowing from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?
Is it any wonder then that both John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI have repeatedly urged all of us, priest and laity alike, to rediscover a sense of “awe and amazement” in the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration? How we go about getting to that point again is beyond the scope of this article save to briefly note that for many reasons we have lost the sense of the sacred within our Church buildings and in the manner in which we worship and conduct ourselves while there.
However, I have no doubt we would rediscover that sense of “awe and amazement” for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharist if, when we next attend, we follow the suggestions offered by Father M. Raymond, OSSO:
“…when the Host is held on high and a chalice lifted…look up! Look up and see what Mary saw. See a naked man squirming as He bleeds against a blackened sky; see a battered human body, writhing on a tree, prisoned there by savage spikes that have torn through Sacred hands and feet; see thorn-tortured head tossing from side to side as anguished torso labors, lifts and strains; see the eyes of God roll towards heaven beseeching, as broken lips blurt out that soul piercing cry: ‘My God, My God, Why has Thou forsaken Me?’
“What is this? This is the
This is Crucifixion. This is what Mary saw at the elevation of Christianity’s first Mass. This is what you should see at the Elevation of every Mass!” (God, A Woman, and The Way) Mass.
(Adapted from an article published in the February 2011 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review, entitled “History of Communion Services”.
Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and purchase a copy of the presentation made by Father Peter Girard, O.P. entitled Heaven Unites With Earth: The Holy Eucharist and the Heavenly Liturgy. This CD (M-1567) is available from St. Joseph Radio. Contact them at: www.stjosephradio.com or (714) 744-0336. I am not affiliated with
radio and receive no renumeration from them. It is just a great talk! Pass it around. More Catholics need to hear it! St. Joseph