It is an unfortunate truth that many Catholics are lacking in their knowledge of our church’s teachings. This hinders their ability to grow spiritually and their ability to have an earnest dialogue with others about Catholic doctrine. This lack of knowledge goes beyond theology for it includes a lack of understanding of other aspects of our faith including what is going on during the mass. Just recently I overheard someone saying it does not matter if you miss the readings the important part of the mass is communion. Is the Eucharist the only reason we go to mass?
We should know the entirety of the mass is important for us. In fact, if you read the psalms you will see that the people as they enter the courts of the temple they are singing songs of praise. That should give us a clue that we, like them, should be preparing ourselves prior to entering the church doors expecting to encounter the living God. Once we enter the building we should know that we are joining the community to worship our God and to “remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” We gather together to give thanks (the root of the word Eucharist is translated as “giving thanks”) for embracing us as sons and daughters.
Perhaps we have confused ourselves with the term “sacrifice of the mass.” That is not surprising since our understanding of the word ‘”sacrifice” is giving up something of value. In the case of the mass we are celebrating the depth of God’s love and his and Jesus’ sacrifice in order for our sins to no longer separate us from God.
Jesus according to Paul “was sacrificed for our sins for all time. Paul describes this as a single sacrifice for all our sins (Heb. 10:12). That sacrifice was evident on Calvary. The spiritual truth of the sacrifice is how Jesus’ death was God’s plan for our salvation as promised to through the prophets. This dogmatic truth we accept on faith because the death of Jesus and his resurrection was witnessed by the disciples and handed down to us as an absolute truth throughout the history of the Catholic Church.
This sacrifice of Jesus is at the heart of what we are to remember during the mass and rejoice in the fact that it was a sacrifice for all time. This means during the mass that sacrifice is not being repeated but in one sense is being re-presented to us. What God is doing for us begins in the Liturgy of the Word where God is making his love and his plan for our redemption known. The Liturgy of the Word prepares us to embrace Christ sacrifice just as that word prepared every figure in salvation history to embrace what God offered them.
During the Mass, God is also making Christ sacrifice present to us through the power of the Holy Spirit. The eternal God, who is always present to us without the encumbrance of time, makes the power of Calvary with its forgiveness and transforming power available to us as we celebrate the mass. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are remembering the sacrifice of Jesus but his death is not a stopping point. The fulfillment of the promise happened on the third day at the Resurrection of Jesus.
In fact since with God there is no time, we are present in the upper room at the last supper, we are present during his passion, we are present at the foot of the cross, we are present at the entrance of the tomb and we are present in the upper room as he makes eternal life a reality for all of us. We see, we hear and we witness this gift of God so that we can enter into the presence of God with thanksgiving.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ we are being told to pay attention to the very words Jesus spoke the night before his death. As the priest extends his hands over the bread and wine he invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to come down on them and transform them into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The words spoken and the action of the power of the Holy Spirit make a remarkable miracle happen.
What happened on that night before he died was done in the presence of the apostles and passed down from them to us throughout the history of our church. Why is the gift of the Eucharist important enough for us to set aside a special day to remember. Perhaps it is because we have become complacent and so easily acclaim how the Eucharist nourishes us and feeds us. But do we invite that same Holy Spirit which transforms an ordinary wafer and wine into the very body and blood of Jesus Christ to transform us?
I read something in the Catholic Catechism that can help us obtain what is offered us in the Eucharist. Paragraph 739 tells us the Holy Spirit sent to us by Jesus is God’s anointing upon us to nourish us, heal us, to give us life and to empower us to bear witness. The catechism goes on saying by the Spirit at work within us we associate with the offering of self-sacrifice by Jesus. It continues by saying through the sacraments (including the Eucharist) God communicates this Holy and sanctifying Spirit to us.
At each mass we should remember that God so loved the world that he sent his Son so that those who believe may not perish but have eternal life. We should expect to encounter God in the Sacrament and the Word each time we go to mass. We should not go to mass to get the Eucharist but to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit who through the sacrament of the Eucharist will begin to change our hearts and our life.
Entering in the act of worship is the best way to begin to understand the Liturgy is a series of prayers, songs, times of listening and times of remembering and times of allowing God to touch your heart. There is no best part of the mass as it is all a time to encounter God and his desire to have you feel his love. He gave us Jesus and Jesus gives us himself and the Holy Spirit in order that we may know who we are and how much God desires to have us respond to that love.