What is the Mass?

Image by Joe Ravi

I was listening to a talk by a Catholic convert a few months ago and he mentioned how he would see Catholics going into their church on Sunday without a bible. He would scoff and make fun of them because it just proved to him how little Catholics knew of Sacred Scripture. Needless to say, he would soon realize how wrong he was.

On Sundays, and after 4pm on Saturdays, Catholics attend Mass which is the formal, official worship service of Catholicism. Mass fulfills the Sunday obligation in the Third Commandment and it is a mortal sin to miss it.

When one attends Mass, God isn't coming down to meet them where they are, but instead lifting them up to Him. The Church professes that at the Mass, the three levels of the Church (those in heaven, on earth and in purgatory) converge and are united with one another called the communion of saints. Mass happens everyday in every Catholic Church all over the world.

The Mass incorporates the Bible, prayer, sacrifice, hymns, symbols, gestures, sacred food for the soul and directions on how to live a good Catholic Christian life.

Sacrifice? 

Not in the way you may be thinking. The mass is a reenactment of the one and same sacrifice of Christ on the cross on Good Friday. It is a sacrifice that is eternal because sins are still being forgiven today. The Sacrifice of the Mass re-presents (not represents) the same:

+ Offering: Jesus is the Victim
+ Person making the offering: Jesus is the Priest at the mass
+ Effect: The remission of sins

Victim, Priest and Altar

Pope Benedict XVI has stated
“The intrinsic relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Holy Orders clearly emerges from Jesus’ own words in the Upper Room: ‘Do this in memory of me’ (LK 22:19). On the night before He died, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and at the same time established the priesthood of the New Covenant. He is priest, victim and altar: the mediator between God the Father and His people (cf. Heb 5:5-10), the victim of atonement (cf. 1 Jn 2:2, 4:10) who offers Himself on the altar of the Cross. No one can say ‘this is my body’ and ‘this is the cup of my blood’ except in the name and in the person of Christ, the one high priest of the new and eternal Covenant (cf. Heb 8-9)”

Jesus offers himself through the priest and makes the offering on behalf of the people to God the Father. As the victim, he is also being sacrificed. The priest acts in Persona Christi (in the Person of Christ) as an alter Christus (another Christ)

It may sound confusing at first, but the more you understand Catholicism and the history of the Magisterium, the more it makes sense. The biggest issue is the language barrier between Catholics and Protestants; we both use words with different meanings.

The English word "Mass," comes from the Latin phrase spoken at the end of the Sacred Liturgy (a part of the mass). The priest or deacon says, "ite missa est," which means, "go, [the congregation] is sent." Its not an ending but a commencement; the worship of God continues throughout the week until everyone meets again for Sacred Liturgy.

Why Sunday and not Saturday?

The Jewish day of the Lord (Sabbath) is Saturday but the main focus of Christianity is that Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday which is why Catholic Christians go to church on Sunday to participate in the Mass.

When a Catholic attends the Mass, full active and conscious participation is required; you can't just sit there and do something else like play on your phone or read a book. Everyone should be communicating with God at Mass to receive the supernatural divine graces being bestowed.

*Non-Catholics are always invited to attend Mass, they just can't participate in the Eucharist (communion).

The Mass is more than a ceremonial reenactment of an ancient ritual; it combines the past, present and future at the same time.

+ Past: The exact words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday are used faithfully.
+ Present: The Mass brings grace, nourishment and instruction to those who are present.
+ Future: The Mass foreshadows the sacred banquet in heaven that Jesus often spoke of; the wedding feast, or banquet, where guests would be well-fed, lasting for eternity and surviving long after the world ends.

There are two parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I'll go more in depth on those two parts the next time. First, read about what makes up that mass.

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