Written by Daryl Tan
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
I used to feel obligated to attend mass every Sunday because it is seen as a rule for me as a Catholic to live by.
In the recent year, something in my heart spurred a desire to sincerely worship God in the Mass. To more than just sing praise to Him, but to truly participate in what Scott Hahn calls, “the heavenly worship that is spoken of in Revelation”.
That made me realize that I had been taking for granted the greatest form of worship there is, where we together as one church with the “eternal high priest (Jesus), offer up the spotless victim (Jesus) as a sacrifice to the Glory of the Father,” as Father Mike Schmitz would put it.
I had been exposed to the perfect form of worship, and yet instead of worshipping in the mass, I have been merely watching it like a spectator.
This celebration of the Eucharist which Jesus himself instituted 2000 years ago, is the perfect form of worship which, yes, we are obligated to, but so dearly need in our lives. God created us for a purpose; to worship Him with our lives. As human beings, God created us in such a way that we innately seek a “higher power” in our lives, and it is apparent in many early civilisations, especially the Jews, as their number one responsibility as Jews was to worship God. God knew that throughout human history man sought to worship, that we, his children needed to rest our hearts in Him, and this need was very evident in the story of the golden calf, when the Israelites grew restless and moulded an idol so that they would have something to worship as their god.
That is why the Lord commanded us to keep holy the Sabbath day, for He wanted us to set aside a day to come together to worship Him, but more importantly for He knew that we needed to be in communion with Him.
As Catholics we are so privileged to be able to truly worship the Lord in the Mass, because the Church, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit created for us a liturgy that is so beautiful, a liturgy that is, “soaked in Scripture” (Scott Hahn). In that hour at Mass, we get to live out and experience that moment when our salvation began, when Jesus instituted the perfect sacrifice that merits us eternal life, that greatest act of love. To think that this single greatest act of love which has already happened 2000 years ago, has been made perpetual through the celebration of the Eucharist in which we have been so blessed to have available to us every single day. It is because of this Eucharist, that I can say that I am loved.
As I dove deeper in appreciation and knowledge of the Mass, I learned that the Mass in all its grandeur and solemnity is in essence, a privileged encounter with Christ. It is as Bishop Robert Barron would say, “the most intense way of communing with our Lord on this side of eternity.” Everything in the Mass is oriented towards us meeting Jesus, and the Church structures the Mass such that everything that we do in Mass is an encounter with Jesus.
Let’s consider the 2 major divisions of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. In the first part, the Liturgy of the Word, Christ communes with us in a manner that inherently is like a “call and response”. Christ the Word, “calls” out to us and speaks to us in a heightened way through the readings, and we then “respond” to Him, in the responsorial psalm, taken from the Book of Psalms, the songbook of the Church, in which contains the the feelings, reactions and thoughts of the people of God. How beautiful it is that the Church employs these psalms of the people to respond to the Word, in a way allowing us to express our own feelings and thoughts to God as well. Christ then “calls” to us again, and speaks to us definitively in the Gospel, in which we “respond” by professing our faith in the Creed, in a sense claiming the truths which we receive in the Gospel by professing what we believe and cementing them in our hearts.
We then move on to the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Now that we have conversed with Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word, and are reacquainted with Him in word and truth, He invites us to the banquet of the Holy Eucharist. Where Christ, who is the host of this great banquet, offers to us not fancy wines or juicy meats but His own Body and Blood. We then come together in COMMUNION by eating His body, and drinking His Blood, communing with the Lord and each other so intimately.
Thus, a parallel can be drawn between the Mass and let’s say a party hosted by a loved one at his house. After entering his house, we naturally would want to engage in conversation with the host so as to get reacquainted with him before coming together and partaking in the feast with him. How amazing it is that the celebration of the Mass, is exactly that! Where we are first able to be reacquainted with the Lord and connect with Him in the Liturgy of the Word before partaking in the feast with Him, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
What more intimate encounter could there be? After having been “called” and having “responded” to the Lord, we come together and commune in the most intense way.
Ultimately, our participation in the Mass reaches its climax in the Doxology. When the priest raises the Body and Blood of Christ and says, “Through Him, with Him and in Him, etc…” in which we respond with the “Great Amen”, Christ Himself is offered up to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. At this point however, just as Christ offers Himself, we ourselves are also called to offer up ourselves as a sacrifice to God, because this offering of ourselves constitutes our full and active participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
It was upon learning and understanding this that the Mass truly came alive to me. Ever since then, every word that the priest would say in the person of Christ would dwell in me, and every aspect of the Mass signify something in my heart. I no longer felt like I was merely watching the Mass anymore, but was fully and actively participating in this Divine Sacrifice.
There is beauty and significance in each part of the Mass, and if only we were aware of how divine this worship was, we would not simply just offer lip-service to God during Mass. It is for this reason why the Mass cannot be simply called a ‘religious service’. What we celebrate is truly the way that Jesus wanted us to worship Him; to offer up the Holy Sacrifice, to participate in that sacrifice, and to bring to others this sacrifice in which we have partaken, so that they too may be able to offer and partake in this same sacrifice, and be nourished by His Word and His Body.
My brothers and sisters, I urge everyone of you to not simply watch at Mass but to worship. To let ourselves be an offering, an oblation to our Lord, just as the priest would say during Mass, so as to be drawn to an ever more perfect union, through Jesus, with God the Father and with each other. Let us resolve to be ever more aware of the miracle that happens at every mass, and to truly worship the Miracle Worker that is present at every Mass!
“If we only knew how God regards this sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass.” – St Pio of Pietrelcina.
“If we understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” St John of Vianney