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RE 106 THE MASS AS THE SOURCE AND SUMMIT OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIVES
1. The Mass is a Meal. Altar or Table? “While Jesus was eating with his disciples, he took some bread… and later he took a cup of wine.” (Mk. 14:22-23) What we have over the centuries come to call an “altar” was originally in the first centuries of Christianity a “table”. The Mass originally was a MEAL celebrated around a TABLE, not a sacrifice performed on an altar. The first Masses were community meals celebrated joyfully around tables in houses where groups of Christians gathered, not sacrifices in temples performed by priests at altars (1Cor. 11:17-34). Gathering for a Meal Together The Mass begins with the GATHERING of the people. This is the first stage of the Mass and starts from the time the people leave their homes, continues as they come to the place where the Mass will be, meet one another and gather together, and concludes when the one who is to preside (“not the commentator”) formally welcomes all to the meal. We need to give more attention to this first stage of the Mass as a GATHERING. Once people come to realize they are gathering for a meal, they will instinctively know from their own culture what to do and how to behave. Lay persons, especially the ushers and those in the choir, have as leading role to play at this stage of the Mass before the priest appears.
but it is likely that Jesus intended the whole situation. the ushers. Besides the priest there are many others called to serve in particular ways at this COMMUNITY MEAL which the Mass is meant to be. It is the invisible action of God made visible to us in the actions of the Mass with the eyes of faith. It is God doing to us here and now what he once did for Christ when he raised him from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. As the one presiding at the COMMUNITY MEAL the priest is meant to be the first among those who serve at the table just as Christ was the first to serve at the Last Meal he took with his disciples (Jn. the singers. is meant to serve. what did he mean? Notice in Mark’s Gospel how Jesus said “This is my body” after the disciples had drunk from the cup (14:23-24). as friends do at the meal together.Those Who Serve At any meal there are those who eat and those who serve. At the Mass the priest. 1. Symbol of the Mystery When Jesus at the Last Supper said “this” is my body and “this” is my blood.this eating and this drinking together with him as a community! The whole Mass and not only particular . those who prepare the table and those who prepare the place where the community gathers. We usually think of “this” as the meaning of the bread or the cup. The Mass is a Mystery. which we normally call the Sacrament. but is in the total action of the community gathered around the table to eat and drink together. 2. the Mass is a challenge to us to recognize and welcome into our lives as a community and individually this initiative of God. In fact everyone present is meant to be attentive and ready to serve one another. The Real Presence The Mass is something God does. The Mass is the action of God giving life. There are the readers. the “one who says the Mass”. Above all. 13:1-15). the servers. healing brokenness and reconciling disagreement and divisions in the world. The real presence of this Mystery is not limited to the Bread and the Cup. the ministers at communion.
the first action of the Mass is a turning to God and a centering on his mysterious action. 18:20). around which the community gathers. the language of the first Christians. becomes the natural symbol of this real presence of Christ in the community. The Mass is a Thanksgiving Thanksgiving Prayer The Mass is also called the Eucharist and this word. or the sprinkling of water recalling the Spirit first given to us at Baptism. “When two or three are gathered in my name. Yet why has the Church after the Vatican II removed the tabernacle from the altar. I am there in the midst of them” (Mt. but he is more visibly shown in the community gathered around the table. Centering on the Mystery After the people have gathered and have been welcomed by the priest who presides. our focus of attention once the community has gathered for the Mass is meant to be the real presence of Christ in that community. The penance rite expressing our turning fro sin. The table.moments at the consecration or at the communion visibly signify and make present in varying ways the real presence of Christ. our bows and other acts of reverence should be directed to the table not the tabernacle. Tabernacle or Table Where is Christ sacramentally present during the Mass? Most of us still instinctively look at the tabernacle as the sacrament of the real presence of God acting in Christ. means “Thanksgiving”. The central prayer of the Mass. which begins with the Preface and ends with the Great Amen before the Our Father. our first awareness of this should stir within us the feelings of thanksgiving and joyful gratitude. is called the Eucharistic Prayer. It is the same Christ. or the table as it really is? Even if the tabernacle is still placed close to the table. Once the Mass has commenced. which comes from the Greek language. Since the Mass is firstly what God is doing. the . 3. are meant to help us center on the Mystery of God acting in the Mass.
death and rising of Christ and the invocation of the Spirit upon the community are meant to be conspicuous parts of every Eucharistic Prayer used at the Mass.Prayer of Thanksgiving. praise. the bread and the wine and anything else that they may wish to give to the community. thanksgiving is meant to be felt in the heart. which form the core of the Mass that we thank. as the ending Of the Eucharistic prayer explicitly says. before placing them upon the table. we have a thankful recalling of the story of God. Our eating and drinking together at the moment of Holy Communion is a Thanksgiving Meal. he holds them for a short time above the table and thanks God for these gifts of bread and wine and for all the gifts. and will continue to do for us in the future. is also a song of thanksgiving in which we praise and bless God for what he has done in Christ. The Gloria Hymn The Gloria. We tell again the story of what God has done for us in the past. thanksgiving again is central. At Mass we are meant to thank. That is why also the life. for what God does in the world. and praise God for his deed. as we dispose ourselves by turning to God and centering on his action in the world. when the people offer gifts for the Community Meal. is doing for us now. We tell the story of God giving life to all as Creator. which the presiding priest prays in the name of all. From the beginning. The Gifts We Bring It is not only the Eucharistic Prayer and at the time of Holy Communion. At the time of the Offertory. After the priest has received the bread and the wine from the community. and of God reconciling our divisions by giving harmony to the world as our Savior. The Story of God In the Eucharistic prayer. . words which really mean the same thing. The praying of the Eucharistic prayer is really a solemn proclamation of the Gospel. and bless God. God does this through Christ and by the power of the Spirit. of God bringing healing and freedom from brokenness and self-inflicted wounds as our Redeemer. which is sung at the beginning of Mass. bless.
22:19) say this. We also recall this terrible death by crucifixion which he freely endured. Above all. Both Paul in 56 AD (1 Cor. Memorial of What? In the Eucharistic Prayer of every Mass we recall the faithful life of Jesus once lived on this earth. as he had done during his last meal with them. when during his last meal with his disciples he took some bread and a cup from the table. The Jewish Passover Meal. human like us. Jesus wanted his disciples to eat bread and drink a cup together in memory of him.4. and asked them to do this in memory of him. writing about thirty years later around 85 AD (Luke. In the Bible “remembering” does not mean letting our thought o go back to the past. shared it with them. We remember with love Jesus in his life on earth and in his death by crucifixion. Memorial of Whom? At Mass Christians celebrate together the memory of Christ. . We look forward with a sure hope to Jesus as he will one day come in the future as the Lord of all at the completion of the world. Likewise. We look forward with a sure hope to the future revelation of Christ as the Lord and Center of all. The Mass is a Memorial. Remembering The Mass is a memorial. celebrated each year as memorial of the Exodus of Israelites from the slavery of Egypt to freedom. we recall his resurrection form death to life. the Eucharist for Christians is meant to be an experience of the past coming into our present. when he became human in a new way and even more really present in a bodily manner within our material world. a present and a future. We remember in faith Jesus as he is now in his mysterious risen life. Rather it means letting past events come into the present to be re-lived and to happen again. 11:24-25) and Luke. Jesus has a past. and remember especially what he did on the night before he was crucified. was meant to be an experience again of that same liberating action of God in the present lives.
Communion means a union that is experienced together. beginning now in this life. Announce to whom? We are reminding God of what he once did for the crucified Jesus. dying. The Mass is Communion Union Together The whole of the Mass from the gathering of the community to the final sending froth of the community is meant to be a progressive experience of the communion. Fidelity to this mission eventually led him to a death by crucifixion. 11:26). this interior surrender and total submission of Christ. In our remembering of Christ at Mass we experience again in our lives God raising us with Christ. always in the context of his resurrection by God. comes to us. The Mass challenges each of us to “sacrifice” ourselves to God for our salvation and the salvation of the world. To do this in memory of Christ (Luke 22:19) is more than a simple remembering. It is reminding God to do again to us what he once did to Christ. 5. The cross was a cruel instrument designed to torture a man to death. . no matter what the cost. his “sacrifice”. We are invited by Christ to make our surrender in fidelity as he once did by joining our painful decentering of “sacrifice” with his now joyful surrender to God. Christ’s death symbolized in an external and visible manner his interior desire to give himself totally.Memory for Whom? Paul wrote to the Corinthians that at the Eucharist we announce the death of the risen Lord until he comes (1 Cor. 6. The Mass is a Commitment Mass as Sacrifice At the Mass we commemorate the death of Christ. or “sacrifice” himself to the mission he had from God to bring the Gospel into the world. Eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of Christ is the focal point of this experience of the Mass as a communion. Externally. the death of Christ was an execution not a sacrifice. By the presence of the risen Christ in the symbolic actions of the Mass. We share a sure hope as Christians that because of Christ God will also raise us. It was not an altar. It is a union of each one with Christ in the Mystery of his living. That is what com-union means.
and at the same time of Holy Communion. Companions are those who walk together with Christ. therefore. though it is generally not emphasized. . heals. Companions. is the literal meaning of the word “Missa” or Mass. 7. The Mass is a special time in the life of the Church to experience again what it means to be disciples. is a missionary movement of God in Christ into the world. and unless we continue to be sent by him through the Church as apostles. and reconciles the whole world.and rising. the real blessing of the Mass is the whole experience of the Mass. This. Apostles Disciples are those who learn from Christ. The action of the Mass. The priest does not simply announce that the Mass has ended. of Christ. He sends us forth into mission. The Mass is of its very nature Mission. in fact. or Prayer of Blessing. when we make our proclamation of faith in every Mass after the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. In a sense. his brothers and sisters in a true sense. Since each by faith shares this union with Christ. We cannot be true companions of Jesus unless at the same time we continue to be disciples humbly learning at his feet. is the Mystery of God’s hidden action in the world. companions and missionaries of Christ Blessing and Sending Actually. the final blessing is the priest’s personal “goodbye” and confirmation that God’s blessings goes with us as we leave the Mass. that is missionaries. Apostles are those sent by Christ to share in his mission to bring the Gospel of God into the world. The Mass is a Mission Mystery that is Mission The Mystery of faith that we confess the Mass to be. What follows the blessing is more significant. especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. Disciples. it becomes at the same time a com-union with one another. The mystery is the action of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit which enlivens.
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