If you are Catholic, the Mass is ‘what you do’

The Mass is where we are saved, the purpose for which Jesus came, and where Jesus is lifted up

By Deacon Bob Hunt

In one of the most profound Old Testament passages, the prophet Jeremiah speaks of the Lord establishing a new covenant with His people. “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt … this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

In the new covenant, rather than writing His law on stone tablets, God will write His law upon the hearts of His people. When we think of our heart, we think of the emotional center of ourselves, but for ancient Jews, the heart was the intellectual center of the person, where his or her will reigned supreme. What does this mean? That God will give His law in such a way that His people cannot ignore it or break it, for it will be a part of their very selves. This is why no one will need to be taught about God by others, but all will know the LORD, from the least to the greatest, because they will experience His mercy, the forgiveness of their evildoing, when God will remember our sins no more.

When God freed Israel from chattel slavery in Egypt, He commanded them to celebrate the Passover sacrifice every year in remembrance of this central saving act in the lives of His people. But in this new covenant, won for us by the life of Jesus, a life lived in perfect obedience to the will of the Father even unto death, God’s law is written on our hearts, is part of our very being, so that if we listen to that law we will be saved. The Letter to the Hebrews reads, “Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Even though He was God’s only begotten Son, Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father through suffering on our account. “And when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). When was Jesus made perfect? When His life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father culminated on the cross, He embraced, not setting it aside out of fear.

In the old covenant, the lamb was slain, its blood poured out and its roasted flesh eaten in a meal of communion by God’s children. In the new covenant, Jesus reveals Himself as the Lamb of God who is slain on the cross and is eaten in a meal of communion at every Mass. At every Passover seder, the event of the Exodus is made present so those present throughout the ages and today can participate in that saving act of God. At every Mass, the life, passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus is made present on this altar so that we, gathered here today, may participate in that saving act. When God freed Israel from slavery, He commanded them to celebrate the Passover sacrifice in remembrance of Him and that central saving act in the life of His people. When Jesus saved us by His sacrifice, He commanded us to “do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus is the sacrificial lamb who is slain and eaten according to the new covenant. And we do this in remembrance of Him because of who we are as His brothers and sisters, co-heirs with Him to the kingdom.

We call the Mass “the Sacred Liturgy.” The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek leitourgia. It means “the work of the people.” One’s leitourgia is what one does that tells the world what one is. So, a firefighter’s leitourgia is to fight fires. If you don’t fight fires, you’re not a firefighter. A teacher’s leitourgia is to teach. If you don’t teach, you’re not a teacher. As Catholics, our leitourgia is the Mass, the Sacred Liturgy. So, if we don’t do this, we’re not Catholic. The Sacred Liturgy is what we do that tells the world what we are as Catholics. If you are not doing this, you are not Catholic. If you are Catholic, the Mass is what you do.

The Mass is the one sacrifice of Jesus made present on our altar so that those gathered may participate in that sacrifice. The Mass, then, is where we are saved. The Mass is the purpose for which Jesus came into the world. The Mass is where Christ the Son is made perfect in obedience and becomes the source of our eternal salvation. The Mass is where Jesus is lifted up. “And when I am lifted up from the earth,” Jesus said, … when He is lifted up on this altar … “I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32).

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.


Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville, and he is the author of “Thy Word: An Introduction to the Bible for People in the Pews.”

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