Eleventh Sunday: The Vital Necessity of the Mass

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name (Ps. 92).

Our celebration of the Paschal Mystery in all its detail and significance was in a sense brought to a fitting conclusion with the beautiful Feast of Corpus Christi, and the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, celebrated this past Friday. The one took us back to Holy Thursday, when Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and the other to Good Friday when Our Lord consummated His Sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross. In the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded for our sins we have a summary of our whole faith and the path of our discipleship. We live our life in Christ endeavouring to be conformed to the Heart of Our Saviour. The pierced and wounded Heart of Our Lord is not unlike the hearts of many men and women and yes, sadly, even of children; broken by man’s cruelty. This wound, our own and Our Lord’s is easily a point of access into the depth of one’s being, an opportunity both to sympathize and empathize with others in what can be a profoundly intimate experience of human solidarity. It is precisely this capacity which enables us to become more authentically human after the pattern of Our Lord Jesus Christ and truly merciful according to His Most Sacred Heart.

In the account of Our Lord’s Crucifixion and the wounding of His Sacred Heart, St. John writes: But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out….These things occurred so that the Scripture might be fulfilled…. ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced’ (Jn. 19:34-37). This prophecy of Zechariah (12:10), is fulfilled each and every time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, for at the elevation o of the Mass, we also look on the one whom they have pierced. In the cycle of the liturgical year we now resume what is sometimes referred to as Ordinary Time or more correctly, Time through the Year (Tempus Per Annum). Having celebrated the great mysteries of our faith during the Easter season, the last of the Feasts we have celebrated provide us with an ideal to uphold; we will strive to live a profoundly Eucharistic life and fashion our lives around the Eucharistic Mystery. The truth of course, is that there is absolutely nothing ordinary about what we do here in this church; Sunday after Sunday, day after day, no matter the liturgical season. The Mass is the highest act of worship and for this reason it is the highest exercise of the virtue of religion; as the very word (religio) indicates: religion binds us back to God.

St. Thomas Aquinas states that religion is the assertion of faith, hope and charity, whereby man is primarily directed to God (ST II-II, q. 101, a. 3, ad 1). He also teaches that one must first of all acknowledge God with a view to worship, before honouring Him whom we have acknowledged (ST II-II, q. 122, a. 3). What this means effectively, is that in the practice of religion, especially as this is expressed in our worship, our fundamental disposition should primarily be one of adoration. The four ends of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are: adoration, atonement, thanksgiving and petition. We who participate in the offering at the Altar participate in the heavenly offering of Christ Our Lord who has suffered and died for us. Thus the Mass takes us up to Heaven and for this reason, when the Mass is celebrated with reverence, love and devotion it truly becomes the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven. When we receive Holy Communion we are as it were, re-located at the throne of the Lamb; and this is no less true of Eucharistic Adoration.

This is why St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of the Eucharist as the pledge of our future glory (pignus futurae gloriae). We who participate in the earthly offering and who receive Holy Communion are divinized though not fully yet as when we will see God in the Beatific Vision. It is in the liturgy that we understand our true nature and purpose. In a world so obviously confused about the nature and purpose of human life, the sacred liturgy rightly celebrated is a most effective tool of evangelization. In the sacred liturgy it is Our Lord Himself who speaks to us and whose grace is at work in and through us, perfecting our nature and transforming it so that it might participate in the very life of God Himself.

There is nothing more important than the liturgy for it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that ‘the work of the redemption is accomplished’, and it is through the liturgy especially that the faithful are enabled to express in their lives and manifest to others the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2). For all of us who are present at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass what matters most is the interior disposition that each one of us brings to this sacred action. The kind of understanding that really matters at Mass is attainable by every faithful soul who sets foot in a real Church with a sacred liturgy: it is an intuition of the mystery of the Word-made-flesh, made food for us; the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Calvary, present in our midst (Peter Kwasniewski, Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis, p. 28).

These are truths worth recalling especially as we now face the prospect of having to catechize so many people who because of the lockdown have lost the habit of attending Holy Mass or who mistakenly assert that one can assist by means of the television or the computer. This may actually be a moment of grace for I am convinced that the many who no longer attend Holy Mass with any regularity have either forgotten the truths about the Mass or because of faulty catechesis were never taught what the Mass truly is. This is no less true of priests, sadly. We can resolve to set the record straight and invite our friends and acquaintances perhaps for the very first time in their life to attend a reverent and sober celebration of the Mass.

When its integrity and coherence are respected and guarded, the Mass is truly the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven, where we look on the one whom they have pierced (Jn. 19:34-37); so that, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [we may be] changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). This is practically speaking, as it concerns our life, the purpose and the desired effect of every Mass; and for this reason, despite the challenges we face we are ever-mindful that this day is holy to the Lord [our] God…[and] we do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is [our] strength (Neh. 8:9-10).