Friday, October 5, 2012

The Mass Is The Salvation of the World


The liturgy then is not the memory of past events, but it is the living presence of Christ's Paschal Mystery that transcends and unites all times and spaces. If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence. God acts through Christ and we can only act through him and in him. Every day the conviction must grow in us that the liturgy is not our, my, 'action', but the action of God in us and with us.
Pope Benedict XVI

In a recent talk, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the source and goal of Catholic worship is the Mass. The Mass is always called a sacrifice because it is the actual bloodless re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. We literally, not just symbolically, enter into the heavens with the Blessed Mother and the angels and saints and re-present Christ's sacrifice to God the Father, with the priest acting in persona Christi - in the person of Christ. It is this re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ each day that literally turns away the righteous wrath of God the Father from the evil and sin of mankind and preserves us from being destroyed.  Just as the Israelites were saved from the angel of death in the book of Exodus by the blood of the sacrificial lambs smeared on their doorposts, so this entire earth is saved by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which is presented each day only in the Mass.

The Angel of Death passing over the Israelites
because of the blood of the lamb on their doorpost
This salvific aspect of the Mass is a major reason why St. Padre Pio said, "It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass."  It is for this reason - the physical and spiritual salvation of mankind - that there is nothing more important than the Mass, and our Holy Father addressed this issue in one of his latest talks. As the Holy Father says in his talk:
[The Mass] is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him.
The Holy Father makes this astounding statement:
The entire Church is always present, even in the liturgy of the smallest community. For this reason there are no "foreigners" in the liturgical community. The entire Church participates in every liturgical celebration, heaven and earth, God and man. The Christian liturgy, even if it is celebrated in a concrete place and space, and expresses the "yes" of a particular community, it is inherently Catholic, it comes from everything and leads to everything, in union with the Pope, the Bishops, with believers of all times and all places.


The Mass transcends all time and places.  When we are at Mass, we are joined with the Church through all ages.  As the Holy Father says, "It comes from everything and leads to everything."  There is no more spiritual, transcendental experience for humans than the Mass of the Catholic Church.  It is an amazing thing to comprehend that even when there are only a few people visible at a Mass, the truth is the entire court of heaven is there.  I often try to picture the angels and saints surrounding the altar and giving glory and honor to our Lord as His Sacrifice is presented to the Father on our behalf. 

Prayers at the foot of the altar
Pope Benedict XVI points out in his talk that the Mass is very much a matter of spiritual community.  As he says, we go beyond our "I" to "we."  At the beginning of Mass we confess our sinfulness to the entire community of the Church.  In the Extraordinary Form we confess that we have greatly sinned "to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary Ever Virgin [the Queen of heaven and earth], to Blessed. Michael the Archangel [the leader of God's heavenly armies who defeats Satan in the epic battle of good and evil], to St. John the Baptist [whom Jesus called the greatest born of women], the holy Apostles Peter [our first Pope] and Paul [the greatest evangelist in the Church] to all the saints and you, Father [the celebrant of the Mass acting In Persona Christi]." After confessing to this impressive list, we then ask them all, minus Almighty God, to pray for us.  Pope Benedict explains in his talk that:
In liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, and - formats of the liturgy - in every prayer, we do not speak as single individuals, rather we enter into the "we" of the Church that prays. And we need to transform our "I" entering into this "we".
Throughout the Mass, we continue to enter into the "we" of the Church, as the Holy Father calls it. Another example of this is in the Offertory when the angels and saints and the Blessed Mother are invoked to present this sacrifice to the Father on our behalf:
Receive, O holy Trinity, this oblation which we present to thee in memory of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, of our Lord Jesus Christ: and in honour of blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, of blessed John Baptist, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, of these and of all the Saints: that it may avail unto their honour and to our salvation: and may they whose memory we celebrate on earth vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Angels before the Throne of God
The Mass also has moments when the reality of being before the presence of God's Throne in heaven is made vivid.  We even use the words of the angels before the throne of God.  For example, the Gloria is from the prayer of the angels, the first words being taken from the angels’ greeting to the shepherds at Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14).  The Common Preface, which is after the Offertory and before the Canon, when the bread and wine are consecrated, describes four of the nine choirs of angels (the angels, dominations, powers and seraphim) in adoration before the throne of God.  We ask that God command that we be permitted to join the angels before His Heavenly Throne.  It is as follows in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass:
It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord holy Father almighty, everlasting God; through Christ our Lord. Through whom the angels praise, the dominations adore, the powers, trembling with awe, worship thy majesty: which the heavens, and the forces of heaven, together with the blessed seraphim, joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to our lowliness to join with them in confessing thee and unceasingly to say:
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
The "Holy, Holy, Holy" is referred to as the "Sanctus", which is taken from Isaiah 6:3, describing the angels in heaven before the throne of God.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The angels worshipping the Lord
The Holy Father emphasized the centrality and importance of prayer in the Mass:
"[O]ne of the privileged sources of Christian prayer: the sacred liturgy, which - as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms – is “participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1073). In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal."

Latinos celebrating Mass according to their culture,
separating them from those who celebrate Mass
according to a different culture

I was recently talking to a priest who was ordained about 40 years ago and has gone through the tumultuous times in the Church over those years.  He said that when the Novus Ordo Mass, or the Ordinary Form as it is now called, was first introduced, he was very excited about it.  His experiences over the last 40 years have led him to very different conclusions.  He has come to feel that celebrating the Mass facing the people basically makes him an entertainer.  He feels that it is very hard to pray in the Ordinary Mass because there is so much activity and no quiet times.  He has also come to feel that having the Mass in the vernacular does not unite the people but actually separates them.  People only go to the Mass that is in their particular language and this creates animosity and division.   There is no unity because the Mass is often tailored to the culture of the people.

Below is the transcript from Rorate Caeli of the Holy Father's talk on the Mass:
 

The Pope on the Sacred Liturgy: the liturgy "cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts"

In the last catechesis I began speaking about one of the privileged sources of Christian prayer: the sacred liturgy, which - as the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms – is “participation in Christ’s own prayer addressed to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1073). In the liturgy, all Christian prayer finds its source and goal."(n. 1073). Today I would like us to ask ourselves: in my life, do I reserve enough space for prayer and, above all, what place does liturgical prayer have in my relationship with God, especially the Mass, as participation in the common prayer of the Body of Christ which is the Church?
The Mass is our participation in
Christ's prayer to the Father
In answering this question we must first remember that prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit (cf. ibid., 2565). Therefore, the life of prayer lies in habitually being in the presence of God and being conscious of it, in living our relationship with God just as we live the usual relationships of our lives, those with close family members, and with real friends; indeed our relationship with the Lord gives light to all of our other relationships. This communion of life with God, One and Triune, is possible because, through Baptism we have been inserted into Christ, we have begun to be one with Him (cf. Rom 6:5).  [The Holy Father chooses his words very carefully.  As he says, baptism is when we have begun to be one with Christ.  It is a life long process and is not complete until we die.]
In fact, only in Christ we can talk to God the Father as children, otherwise it is not possible, but in communion with the Son, we too can say, as he said, "Abba", because only in communion with Christ, can we know God as our true Father (cf. Mt 11:27). For this Christian prayer lies in constantly looking, in an ever new way, at Christ, talking with Him, being in silence with Him, listening to Him, acting and suffering with Him. The Christian rediscovers his true identity in Christ, "the firstborn of every creature", in whom all things were created (cf. Col 1:15 ff). By identifying with Him, being one with Him, I discover my personal identity, that of the true child who sees God as a Father full of love.
But do not forget: we discover Christ, we know him as a living Person, in the Church. [There is no such thing as a "lone Christian" apart from the Church.  We must be part of the Church to know Christ and be joined to Him.] It is "his Body." This embodiment can be understood from the biblical words on man and woman: the two shall become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24, Ephesians 5.30 ff. 1 Cor 6.16 s). The unbreakable bond between Christ and the Church, through the unifying power of love, does not negate the 'you' or ‘I', but raises them to their most profound unity. Finding one’s true identity in Christ means achieving communion with him, that does not cancel me out, but raises me to the highest dignity, that of a child of God in Christ, "the love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God's will increasingly coincide "(Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 17). To pray means to rising towards the heights of God through a necessary gradual transformation of our being.
Thus, participating in the liturgy, we make ours the language of Mother Church, we learn to speak it and for it. Of course, as I have already said, this takes place in a gradual manner, little by little. I have to progressively immerse myself in the words of the Church, with my prayer, my life, my suffering, my joy, my thoughts. It is a journey that transforms us.  [Again, the Holy Father tells us that our transformation does not happen all at once.  It is a lifelong journey.]
Thus I think that these reflections enable us to answer the question that we posed at the beginning: how do I learn to pray, how can I grow in my prayer? Looking at the model that Jesus taught us, the Pater Noster [Our Father], we see that the first word is "Father" and the second is "our." The answer, then, is clear: I learn to pray, I nourish my prayer, addressing God as Father and praying-with-others, praying with the Church, accepting the gift of his words, which gradually become familiar and rich in meaning. The dialogue that God establishes with each of us, and we with Him, in prayer always includes a "with", you cannot pray to God in an individualistic manner. In liturgical prayer, especially the Eucharist, and - formats of the liturgy - in every prayer, we do not speak as single individuals, rather we enter into the "we" of the Church that prays. And we need to transform our "I" entering into this "we".
I would like to recall another important aspect. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: " In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church" (n. 1097); so it is the "whole Christ" , throughout the Community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates. Thus the liturgy is not a kind of "self-manifestation" of a community, but it is emerging from the simple "being-oneself", being closed in on ourselves, and accessing the great banquet, entering the great living community in which God nourishes us. The liturgy implies universality and our awareness of this universal character must always be renewed. The Christian liturgy is the worship of the universal temple which is the Risen Christ, whose arms are stretched out on the cross to draw us all into the embrace that is the eternal love of God. It is the cult of the open skies. It is never only the event of a single community, in a given time and space. It is important that every Christian feels and really is part of this universal "we", which provides the foundation and refuge to the "I" in the Body of Christ which is the Church.

In this we must be aware of and accept the logic of the Incarnation of God: He has drawn near, present, entering into history and human nature, becoming one of us. And this presence continues in the Church, his Body. The liturgy then is not the memory of past events, but it is the living presence of Christ's Paschal Mystery that transcends and unites all times and spaces. If the centrality of Christ does not emerge in the celebration, then it is not a Christian liturgy, totally dependent on the Lord and sustained by his creative presence. God acts through Christ and we can only act through him and in him. Every day the conviction must grow in us that the liturgy is not our, my, 'action', but the action of God in us and with us.

It is not the individual - priest or layman - or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God's action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity. This universality and fundamental openness, which is characteristic of the entire liturgy is one of the reasons why it cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church.
The entire Church is always present, even in the liturgy of the smallest community. For this reason there are no "foreigners" in the liturgical community. The entire Church participates in every liturgical celebration, heaven and earth, God and man. The Christian liturgy, even if it is celebrated in a concrete place and space, and expresses the "yes" of a particular community, it is inherently Catholic, it comes from everything and leads to everything, in union with the Pope, the Bishops, with believers of all times and all places. The more a celebration is animated by this consciousness, the more fruitful the true sense of the liturgy is realized in it.
Dear friends, the Church is made visible in many ways: in its charitable work, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must realize in his or her own environment. But the place where it is fully experienced as a Church is in the liturgy: it is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him. So when in the reflections on the liturgy we concentrate all our attention on how to make it attractive, interesting and beautiful, we risk forgetting the essential: the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves, it is His work, He is the subject, and we must open ourselves to Him and be guided by Him and His Body which is the Church.

Let us ask the Lord to learn every day to live the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic celebration, praying in the "we" of the Church, that directs its gaze not in on itself, but to God, and feeling part of the living Church of all places and of all time.
 * * *
Unless and until the Holy See decides to change this state of affairs, the Ordinary Form of the Mass will continue and we need to make it as prayerful as possible, eliminating all of the horrendous abuses that have crept in through the years.  The Mass is our gateway to heaven.  It is vital not only to the spiritual salvation of man, but even to his physical salvation.  It is a precious gift given to us directly from heaven, and we must treasure and protect it.  Let's forget about Jazz Masses, Family Masses, Polka Masses, Youth Masses, and whatever else we can think of.  There is only one Mass, and the worst thing we can do is try to "improve" on it, as our Holy Father tells us:
So when in the reflections on the liturgy we concentrate all our attention on how to make it attractive, interesting and beautiful, we risk forgetting the essential: the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves, it is His work, He is the subject, and we must open ourselves to Him and be guided by Him and His Body which is the Church.

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