By Father Israel Perez-Lopez
Parochial Vicar at St. Cajetan Parish in Denver
The words and actions of a man in the last conscious moments of his life in this world are always charged with deep meaning. The last days of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man for us and for our salvation, also possess that special density.
At the Last Supper with his disciples, Christ left us the Holy Mass. From that moment on, it can be said that the Church lives by the Eucharist. In this mystery of love is fulfilled the promise of Christ: “the bread that I will give you is my flesh given for the life of the world.”1
In light of the Eucharistic Revival on which we are about to embark, let us approach this mystery to try to understand a little better its meaning, its value for our life as children of God, the way in which we are called to participate in it and the importance of making this Holy Sacrifice the source, the center and the summit of our whole life.2
IS THE MASS IMPORTANT?
The Eucharist is “the greatest gift which, in the order of grace and sacrament, the divine Bridegroom has offered and offers unceasingly to his Bride.”3 Without fear of being mistaken, we say that the Holy Mass is the most precious gift that God could have given us. This statement may seem surprising. It would seem that God, who is omnipotent, could always do something greater. However, it must be said quite clearly that God cannot give us something greater than the Eucharist, and the reason is, in fact, very simple. In the Holy Mass, God gives himself to us. Jesus, true God and true man, the Bridegroom of the Church, gives himself completely to his bride in the Eucharist. Nothing can be greater and more precious than God himself. It is rightly said of the Mass that it contains the whole spiritual treasure of the Church, that it is like her soul, that from it proceeds all her virtue, or that it is the center in which the whole Christian life is summed up.4
WHAT IS THE MASS?
This consideration opens the door for us to reflect on what the Mass is in the context best suited to understanding it. The Eucharist is a mystery of love (sacramentum caritatis). In light of this affirmation, the Mass appears as a mystery of presence, sacrifice and communion.5 The Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments. Of course, the Mass shares the common nature of the other sacraments. These are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, through which divine life is communicated. The sacraments, including the Eucharist, are instruments of salvation.
THE WEDDING FEAST
The word of God speaks of the mystery of salvation through many images. One of the most beautiful is that of the wedding feast. The wedding analogy helps us to understand some aspects of the mystery of salvation that shed a great light to deepen our understanding of the Eucharist.
The mystery of our salvation does not consist only in the forgiveness of sins. To this extraordinary gift, we must add another, if possible, more admirable one: the mystery of sanctification. God wants to work a great conversion in us. This transformation consists in passing from the condition of sinful men to that of adopted sons of God and heirs of glory.
The nuptial image helps us to contemplate this mystery. Marriage is a covenant that makes husband and wife one flesh. “This is a great mystery, I say this in regard to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). The word of God shows that the marriage covenant is made by God in the image of the union of Christ with the Church. Therefore, what happens in marriage can help us to understand the mystery of salvation.
It happens in human life that marriage makes a family. For example, if the son of a king is united in marriage with a woman who is not of the royal family, that woman will become queen. In a similar but much more profound way, it happens with the members of the Church united in nuptial covenant with Christ. We know that God has only one Son. We profess it every time we pray the Creed. How is it possible for us to be his children too? It is only possible by being sons in the Son, that is, through the intimate union with Christ of which we are speaking.
PRESENCE AND SHARING
Christ wanted to remain truly present at Mass. He wants to share his life, that is, to live together with his pilgrim Bride on earth. This presence of God in his creatures is not the only one we know. To better understand what makes this presence of Jesus in the Eucharist special, let us compare it with the others.
We know that he is present as Creator in all creatures by essence, presence, and potency. Moreover, faith teaches that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the souls of those who are in a state of grace and possess the theological virtue of charity. In this case, God is present not only as Creator, but also as Father and Friend.
Now, in these ways of God being present in his creatures and in the souls of the just, he is present as God. On the other hand, after the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, during his earthly life, made himself present in this world not only as true God, but also as true man.
The Eucharist sacramentally prolongs this presence of the humanity of Christ who wants to share his life with the Church as a husband does with his wife. The mystery of Jesus’ spousal love for his Church shines forth most beautifully in the mystery of the substantial conversion of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
THE SACRIFICIAL LOVE OF CHRIST
The Mass not only makes Christ present, but also his sacrifice, by which he merited all the graces that men can receive for their salvation. Indeed, Christ wanted to leave us not only the real presence of his entire humanity and divinity in the Mass. He also wanted to leave us the sacrifice in which his effective love for the Church was fully manifested.
The Eucharist makes present the one sacrifice of Christ. The same priest (Christ) offers it and the same victim is offered (Christ), but the sacrifice is no longer offered in a bloody manner. Christ no longer dies. The sacrifice is offered sacramentally. In this mystery, the Church is invited to participate actively by uniting herself to the one sacrifice of Jesus.
The Bride of the Lamb is called to share in the sacrificial love of the Bridegroom. There is no fuller way to participate in the mission of the Redeemer both for the salvation of men and for the glorification of God.
The forgiveness of sins and all grace have been merited by Christ in his one sacrifice. When the Church offers herself together with her Bridegroom in every Eucharist, these graces are poured out on earth. The mystery of the relationship between the Mass and the application of the graces merited by Christ helps us to understand a little better how the Mass is a source of Christian life.
Moreover, the whole life of the Church is oriented and united to that of Christ, to glorify God by participating in the sacrificial love of her Bridegroom. The love of Christ’s heart gives more glory to God than all the sins of all men can give him, because there is more love in his Sacred Heart than hatred in the hearts of all sinners. This is an amazing reality that speaks to us of the value of every Eucharistic celebration. This dimension helps us to understand how the Mass is the center and summit of the Christian life. Never is a man’s life so great as when it is offered on the eucharistic altar.
CHRIST, THE TRUE NOURISHMENT OF OUR CHARITY
The Mass nourishes our spiritual life. The fruitful reception of communion progressively assimilates us into the intimacy of Jesus. As with bodily nourishment, in spiritual nourishment there is also a process of assimilation. But in this case it is not we who assimilate what we eat, but Christ who assimilates us into his body when we receive it. In this way, the Eucharist builds up the Church by uniting us more intimately with God and with each other.
There is a whole analogy between bodily and spiritual nourishment that teaches us about the effects of Holy Communion on our soul. The reception of Jesus in the Eucharist sustains our life as children of God. So much so that, if we do not receive him, we lose that life, just as we would die of hunger if for too long a time we do not eat. Moreover, Eucharistic food repairs our strength for spiritual combat. It possesses the power to forgive venial sins if our hearts are properly contrite. It also matures us as children of God to the point of being able to communicate life, that is, it enables us to love God and our brothers and sisters with sacrificial love. Finally, spiritual nourishment is a source of consolation and joy.
This intimate union with Christ makes us live more in tune with his heart; that is, it makes us share more and more his thoughts, his purposes, his affections and his secret intimacy. It is precisely the degree of this union that determines our active participation in his sacrifice. Participating actively in the Mass is not about singing or reading; it is about uniting the sacrifice of our own life more intimately with that of the Lord. In this way, the Eucharist is the sacrament of charity par excellence. To its fruitful celebration all the other sacraments are oriented, just as all the virtues are ordered to the virtue of charity, without which we are nothing for eternal life.
INFINITE VALUE OF THE MASS
Every Mass celebrated has infinite value. It is the sacrifice of Christ. Now, it is important to distinguish between the merit of graces, their application, and our capacity to receive those graces.
Undoubtedly, every time Mass is celebrated, God’s grace is poured out. Therefore, every Eucharist celebrated possesses a value beyond our understanding. That value is beyond the personal holiness of the priest who celebrates it. An immense amount of graces are poured out on the men and women of the earth; not only on those who are presently part of the Church, but also on those who are called to be members of the Church and, at the moment, are not. In addition, many graces are also poured out on the purgative Church.
We must distinguish the value that the Mass has in itself from the receptive capacity that those of us who participate in it have. We are finite creatures and therefore our capacity to receive is limited. It is for this reason that our subjective dispositions matter in the personal fruit we receive from the Eucharist. The more we participate in the Mass, the more charity we have, that is, the greater our union with Christ. And the greater this participation, the greater the fruit that the Eucharist produces in the Christian soul.
COMMUNION AND CONVERSION
There are situations in the lives of some people that prevent them from receiving communion for the time being. All these situations have a solution with the grace of God. Possibly, we are not talking about an immediate or easy solution. In any case, if one knows that one is not living well, and does not find the way out of that situation, one thing is clear. The grace you need to change whatever you need to change in your life comes from the Mass. Now is not the time for communion, but it is the time to listen to the word of God, pray and ask for the grace of conversion. Possibly, it is also time to let yourself be accompanied and guided by a good priest.
It is important to realize that what our understanding is not capable of resolving does not pose any difficulty for the wisdom of God. Let us ask for the grace that the Lord will show us the path of authentic conversion and give us the necessary strength to follow it.
This article was translated and adapted from a Spanish version originally published in El Pueblo Católico.
- cf. Jn 6:51
- cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 11
- John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae, 12
- cf. Second Vatican Council, Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5; Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis, n. 15
- cf. Lawrence Feingold, The Eucharist. Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice, and Communion, Emmaus Academic, Ohio 2018