November 25, 2011


The gift of the Mass

The changes in words we pray at the Mass will begin this weekend. We will start praying an English translation that is more accurate to that of the original Latin version of the Roman Missal.

We have already published a considerable amount about these changes. This editorial, though, will not be specifically about the changes.

Rather, it is an encouragement for you to use the opportunity of the changes to think more deeply about the wonderful gift of the Mass.

Whenever one does something frequently, it is easy—perhaps unavoidable—that he or she will fall into a routine. Is it humanly possible to concentrate on the words and actions of the Mass every time we attend?

As we start praying the new translation, we will have to concentrate on the words. Let us use that necessity to refresh our understanding of what the Mass is. The declining percentage of Catholics who participate in the Mass each week indicates that too many of us don’t have a proper appreciation for what it is.

What is the Mass? In simple terms, it is the perpetual memorial of God’s love for us. Christ instituted this sacrament at his Last Supper to be a memorial of his death and resurrection, by which he accomplished our salvation.

When we say that it is a memorial, we mean more than just a remembrance. It makes present in a sacramental manner the sacrifice of the cross of Christ.

Pope John Paul II explained it this way in his 2003 encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” (“Church of the Eucharist”), “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of our Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of our redemption is carried out” (#11).

We Catholics believe that, as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “In this divine sacrifice which is made present in the Mass, especially in the Eucharistic Prayer, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross offers himself in an unbloody manner” (p. 221).

“The Mass is what Catholics do,” Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl writes in his book The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition (Doubleday, $21.99), co-authored by Mike Aquilina.

Catholics of all stripes—Latin Rite, Eastern Rites, traditional, progressive, liberal, conservative—meet Christ at Mass. So do the members of Orthodox Churches. Of course, we also have preaching as the Protestant communities do.

The Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word, which Protestant communities have, are important parts of the Mass, and Christ is truly present during these parts of the Mass. But the central act of the Mass occurs when bread and wine are turned into the true body and blood of Christ, which we receive into our bodies at Communion.

These elements retain the appearance of unleavened bread and wine, but their substance is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ. Thus, we believe that Christ is substantially present.

We believe that Christ is fully present under the form of both, and either, the consecrated bread and the consecrated wine. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the “sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds, since in that form the sign of the Eucharistic meal appears more clearly” (#1390).

Thus, the Mass, besides being a sacrifice, is also a holy meal. Christ becomes part of our human bodies, just as we hope some day to become part of his divine body throughout eternity in heaven. Therefore, we must receive the Eucharist worthily.

St. Paul warned, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28).

This means that we must examine our consciences before receiving Communion to determine our worthiness to receive Christ’s body and blood, including our fidelity to the moral teachings of the Church.

As we begin to pray the new translation of the Mass prayers, let us make a resolution to come to Mass prepared to participate more fully in Christ’s sacrifice and his holy meal.

—John F. Fink

Local site Links: