This article is the first in a series the Denver Catholic staff is writing to help the faithful return to Mass in a deeper way than ever before after an extended absence from it due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For many faithful, the restrictions that have arisen from the coronavirus pandemic have strengthened their desire to receive Jesus in the Eucharist and return once more to the public celebration of the Mass. Yet our preparation to once again receive Jesus more frequently in the Eucharist presents a special time to reflect on the central celebration of the week, the Holy Mass.
For this reason, the Denver Catholic has set out to do a series of articles on the main parts of the Mass, of which this is the introduction.
But, in order to dive deeper, we must first ask ourselves what the Mass really is.
The Holy Mass is known as such because the liturgy ends with the sending forth (from the Latin missio) of the faithful, so that they may follow God’s will in their daily lives. Its common name already tells us that the Liturgical celebration of the Eucharist also has to do with everything outside of “church” and must penetrate all areas of our life. But what about this celebration makes it so important and capable of reaching all the areas of our lives: joys and sufferings, rest and work, oneself and one’s family?
It is because Jesus makes himself present. And not only that, for, as we know, he desires to make himself one with us during this celebration. It is the way he chose to do it. It’s true that he can make himself present anywhere at any time, but he still chose a specific way by which to accomplish the mystery of salvation.
The Eucharist is the center of the Mass and the summit of our faith. But, in order to reach the summit, we must make our way to the top of the mountain.”
Abbot Jeremy Driscoll offers deep insights regrading this matter in his book What Happens at Mass. He describes the repetition and “sense of performance” we find in the Mass as a sort of “serious play,” in which we know that if we follow the movements and words in a special way, “something great and unexpected can break through.” Our integration into the form of the liturgy, with all its movements and prayers, takes us out of ourselves, lets God act and gives us a way to respond. We don’t have to scramble to find a way to respond on the spot.
And all of it is centered around encounter, around love. Jesus himself chooses to encounter us in this way, not as a concept or an idea, but as a person, in his Body and Blood. Abbot Driscoll adds: “Every true relationship needs to be experienced. Mass is the foundational experience of our relationship with God through Jesus, experienced and celebrated in all its fullness. This experience renders possible all other experiences. That is, it makes possible for us to love others as we have been loved by God.”
It is a mystery indeed — but not with the connotation we often give that word today. “Mystery” is often referred to as something almost impossible to understand or something that must be pieced together and resolved. In contrast, based on St. Paul’s writings, Abbot Driscoll loosely describes this concept as “a concrete something that when you bump into it, it puts you in contact with the divine.”
Thus, when we say the “mystery of the Eucharist,” it doesn’t mean that we can’t understand it, but that it is something in which God is hidden. The liturgy of the Eucharist, however, was and is also called “the mysteries,” in plural. The priest himself says in the beginning of the liturgy, “let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” That is because all the gestures and words in the Mass are also mysteries in which God is hidden.
The Eucharist, however, is unique — it’s a sacrament. And although “sacrament” is deeply related to “mystery,” it is not as extensive. It likewise denotes something that puts us in contact with God, but through an act or ritual to make something sacred, Abbot Driscoll explains. The Body and Blood of Jesus is a sacrament in which “by means of bread and wine we come into contact with something that now would otherwise be beyond reach; namely, the risen and glorified Body of Christ, no longer defined to space and time. So, by means of a sacrament we come into contact in space and time with something that transcends space and time.”
The liturgy is the place in which God decided to accomplish the mystery of salvation in our lives and in the whole world. Let us remember that when we are, once again, able to partake in the great mystery.”
This sacrament is the center of the Mass and the summit of our faith. But, in order to reach the summit, we must make our way to the top of the mountain. All the gestures and words of the Mass help us do that. Yet, in a similar manner, our preparation for the Eucharist does not start the moment we step into the church, but in our daily lives: through our work, joys, sufferings, daily prayer…
Even then, the preparation of the Mass began way before that, as Abbot Driscoll says: “Actually we could say that Mass begins with the creation of the world. God intended this kind of encounter with his creatures from the start.”
So, every time you enter the church for the Sunday celebration, remember: “The Mass prepared from the beginning of the world is about to begin.” The whole Church is gathered, in heaven and earth — and in it, the whole creation and the desires of every human heart.
Abbot Driscoll writes, “The meaning of the whole creation and the whole human history is contained here in ritual form and in the people who enact the ritual. This action will cause the Church to be: to do Eucharist is to be Church. To be Church, to be assembled into one, is what God intends for the world.”
The liturgy is the place in which God decided to accomplish the mystery of salvation in our lives and in the whole world. Let us remember that when we are, once again, able to partake in the great mystery.