Understanding the Mass, Part I

There exists a dire need for a renewed catechesis upon the liturgy and the Eucharist

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

The Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:10-11).

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, less than one-third of Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If we do not believe the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Christ, if we do not believe that Christ’s sacrificial offering on Calvary is one and the same sacrifice that He offers in every Mass (though in an unbloody way), then the Mass is not the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It is merely a communal banquet differing little from a Protestant praise and worship service.

Given the Pew survey’s sad statistic, my columns over the course of this year will focus upon the liturgy and the Eucharist. In fact, this should be a catechetical priority for every parish.

Ask yourself these questions: As you journey to Mass, is your heart filled with a joyful expectation of encounter, as the Magi were, with Jesus, your Redeemer and Bridegroom? Do you come to Mass with the fourfold intention of offering adoration; praise and thanksgiving; atonement for your sins; and petitions for yourself and loved ones, for the Church and the conversion of sinners, for the world and the holy souls in purgatory?

When you enter the house of God, of which Mary is an image, do you bring the gift of your treasure representing the offering of all that you are, body and soul, with all its blessings and crosses, joys, and sorrows? Do you consciously desire to exercise your baptismal share in the priesthood of Christ and to be offered with Him, to be consecrated through Him, and to be in communion with Him so that “a pure sacrifice may be offered” in atonement for your sins and those of all sinners to Our Heavenly Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit?

Do you long to be nourished with the Lamb of God and to be strengthened in a greater union with Him that you might live your Mass and be the face, the hands, and the heart of Jesus to others? If these questions prove challenging, then let us beg Our Lord for a greater love and understanding of the Mass.

Why do we celebrate the Mass?

The answer is quite simple — because Christ commanded us to do so. In his short book, Calvary and the Mass (which I most highly recommend), Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen explains that Christ “did not ask that men should write down His words into Scripture; He did not ask that His kindness to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask us to remember His death.

“And in order that its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the part of men, He Himself instituted the precise way it should be recalled.” But the paschal mystery — Christ’s death and resurrection — that we celebrate in the liturgy is not only a remembrance, but, most importantly, it is an encounter, where what is remembered becomes present!

Because of disobedience and sin, we lost our likeness to God, and death entered into human reality. But in God’s plan of salvation, we were to be raised to participation in His divine life. Though the Old Testament temple sacrifice and the sprinkling of the blood of animals upon the altar could not atone for sin and pay our debt before God, the remembrance of unatoned sin increased the longing for a Redeemer who could do for us what we were unable to do ourselves. A New Adam was needed to repair what the first Adam corrupted and destroyed. And by divine design, a New Eve was also needed if a fruitful remembrance of the New Adam’s perfect sacrifice was to be made present throughout the ages.

As the New Adam slept the sleep of death upon the cross, the New Eve, the Church, was formed from His pierced side as a fitting bride for Him. For God’s Word spoken of man and woman in creation are repeated in a far more glorious way in our re-creation: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him” (Genesis 2:18). It is the Bride who helps in the most sacred mission of her heavenly Bridegroom, which is the liturgy, a word that means “work.” So every liturgical celebration, every Mass, is a work, the sacred action of Christ the Head together with His Bride the Church for the life of the world.

In every Mass, Christ and His Bride are united in the greatest act of worship we can offer God. In the Mass, our poor offering is transfigured into that of Christ’s, and His sacrifice becomes the offering of the Church. So let us be attentive in helping with the Lord’s work in the liturgy. Only then will we understand why St. Padre Pio would say, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Mass.” May it be your New Year’s resolution to better understand the liturgy and to live your Mass every day.

It is a special blessing that Cardinal Justin Rigali was chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be the national delegate for the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest Sept. 13-20. The Congress’ theme is “All my springs are in you” (Psalm 87:7), for it is from the Eucharist that the Church draws all her life, and from its power we draw the solutions for the ills of our life and world.


Prayer before Mass

Eternal Father, I unite myself with the intentions and affections of Our Lady of Sorrows on Mount Calvary, and I offer to You the sacrifice that Your beloved Son Jesus made of Himself upon the cross, and now renews upon this holy altar: to adore You and give You the honor that is due to You, confessing your supreme dominion over all things, and the absolute dependence of everything upon You, who are our sole and our last end; to thank You for the countless benefits that I have received; to appease Your justice, aroused against us by so many sins, and to make satisfaction for them; to implore grace and mercy for myself, for N., for all afflicted and sorrowing, for poor sinners, for all the world, and for the holy souls in purgatory. Amen. ACTA SANCTAE SEDIS, ST. PIUS X, JULY 8, 1904

Comments 1

  1. At Mass I adore God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

    “That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him”

    “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. – Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. – Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father; Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us: you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. – For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”

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