THE MASS AS THE BEGINNING OF HEAVEN ON EARTH – PART I
AND STRUCTURE OF THE MASS
I. The whole of the Mass is meant to reflect our pilgrimage to heaven and the be a first taste of the prayers and celebration in heaven. See Vatican II Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium 8.
A. The ancient temple was built upon the pattern in heaven that Moses saw. See Heb. 8:5-6. The idea is that there is a worship of God in heaven and that even the ancient Jewish sacrifices reflected to some degree this worship. (The Book of Revelation regularly refers to this worship in heaven.) Now the Mass reflects this worship even more.
1. When Moses
went up Mount Sinai, first to receive the Law and then as penance for
the Chosen People, he was allowed into the presence of God in the midst
of fire, storm, earthquake and thunder from heaven with a power and
splendor such that only he could approach that glory. See Ex.
2. Upon Mount Sinai, God instructed Moses to have the Chosen People build the Ark of the Covenant as the throne of His glory on earth. This ark would be housed in the Tent of Meeting and then in the Temple after it was built by Solomon. See Ex. 25-31; Num. 10:33-35; 1 Kings 8-10. God would send His presence upon it with a splendor that only Moses and the high priest could see.
- Only the
high priest could enter the part of the Tent and then the Temple that
contained the Ark, a place called the Holy of Holies. And eventually,
even he would enter only once per year on the Day of Atonement.
See Lev. 17:11
the Ark was still missing and thus the people still awaited the presence
B. The central Jewish feast and sacrifice was the Passover, the celebration of their freedom from slavery and calling as the People of God. The Mass fulfills this celebration, making us the new People of God, freed from sin and on our journey to the Promised Land.
1. The Passover
Lamb was to be a perfect lamb sacrificed within the family. The
blood would keep the people from the death that would come to others
(there the Egyptians) because of their contact with the angels of heaven.
Passover was also the celebration of their liberation from slavery in
Egypt, a symbol of all slavery to sin. And they had to eat the
Passover Lamb in order to be a part of God's Chosen People.
See Ex. 12:1-13.
2. God commanded
that the Chosen People hold the Passover and the other feasts "as
a perpetual ordinance." See Ex. 12:14. The feasts in themselves
were fulfilled by the sacrifice of Jesus, see Hebrews 10:1-25, but the
command that they be celebrated continually is still fulfilled in the
3. Jesus used the occasion of this feast to institute the Mass as the Last Supper. See Matt 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-38. And of all of the events of Christ's life, St. Paul refers to only three on this earth, His death, His resurrection, and the institution of the Eucharist.
- Jesus called
this celebration the new and everlasting covenant. The prophets
of old had promised a new in which all of us will know God in person
and be filled with the Spirit. It is through the Mass that this
covenant is renewed. See, e.g., Is. 55:1-5, 59:20-21, 61:8-11;
Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 34:25-31, 37:24-28.
4. Thus, the
Mass is the celebration of Christ's sacrifice, which paid the debt
of our sin, and thus saves us from everlasting death. Through
Jesus, we are enabled to be in the company of heaven beyond death.
Through His sacrifice, and through His body and blood, which we consume,
we are freed from sin.
II. Jesus instituted the Mass at the Last Supper, but it is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and the celebration of the Eucharist, the presence of the Risen Christ among us, as well as the thanksgiving of the Church given to the Almighty God. See Vatican II Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) 47; Catechism of the Catholic Church .
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all expressly record the institution
of the Eucharist. Likewise, St. Paul expressly describes this
institution in the context of calling the Corinthians to moral and liturgical
reform. See 1 Cor. 11:23-32.
1. All liturgies
are the high priestly prayer of Jesus prayed through the whole Church.
See Sacrosanctum Concilium 7; Catechism of the Catholic Church
1071, 1073. The liturgy in fact joins the prayer of heaven and
earth. See Sacrosanctum Concilium 8. The main liturgies
are: (1) the Mass; (2) all the sacraments; (3) funerals and funeral
vigils; (4) Eucharistic Adoration; and (5) the Divine Office, set prayers
prayed by all clergy and consecrated religious brothers and sisters.
Because they are prayer of the whole Church, there are certain definite
rules that the celebrant or celebrants must follow, although there are
1. It is not
that Jesus is sacrificed again and again, as the Letter to the Hebrews
makes clear. Heb. 9:25-26. Rather, the barriers of time
and space are overcome and the sacrifice of Calvary becomes present;
or, to put it another way, we are transported in time to Calvary.
Catechism 1362-67. "When the church celebrates the Eucharist,
she commemorates Christ's Passover and it is made present. The
sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present."
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1364.
1. While retaining the physical attributes of bread and wine (called in philosophy the "attributes), the nature of the bread and wine changes such that they are no longer bread and wine, but Jesus Himself, God and man. See Catechism
things are partially changed by certain rites. Thus a ring becomes
more than a ring when given in marriage. Cloth becomes a national
flag when made into such. A simple object becomes more than an
object when given as a gift.
of Jesus is present in each particle of the Eucharist. Under the
appearance of bread, the body of Christ becomes present, but because
Jesus cannot be separated, all of Him must be present. And the
same is true of the Eucharist under the appearance of wine; the blood
of Christ is present; but, therefore, all of Christ must be present.
The fact that all of Christ must be present if any of Him is present
is part of what we call concomitance. See St. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologica, part III, question 76, article 1.
3. The Eucharist
is the high point of the Mass and in fact of the whole Catholic life
of faith. "In the most blessed Eucharist is contained the entire
spiritual wealth of the Church, namely, Christ Himself as our Pasch."
Vatican II Council, Presbytorum Ordinis (1965) 5. "The
Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life." Catechism
of the Catholic Church 1324.
1. The term Eucharist
comes from the Greek work "eucharistia," which means thanksgiving.
It is noteworthy that both at the multiplication of the loaves and at
the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and then broke the bread
before distributing it to the people. See, e.g., Matt. 15:35,
26:27 (the thanksgiving described in context of the wine); Mark 8:6,
14:22-23 (same); Luke 22:14-19; John 6:11.
2. At the Mass,
in union with Christ, we recall the gifts God has given to us and praising
Him and thus open ourselves to greater gifts poured forth upon us.
See Catechism 1159-61
III. The Mass is divided into two main parts and two supporting parts. The main parts are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The supporting parts are the Introductory Rites and the Concluding Rites. General Instructions to the Roman Missal 28. They proceed from preparing the way for God, to guidance for the passage, to the actual presence of Christ and re-presentation of His sacrifice on Calvary, and finally a commissioning to bring His salvation into the world.
A. The introductory
rite prepares us for the entrance into God's presence. Although
at times God, or an angel, would appear to people suddenly, in general
people were supposed to prepare themselves for God's presence, e.g.,
on Mount Sinai and in the Temple. See Ex. 19:9-12; Neh. 9:3.
The priests of the Old Testament had to prepare themselves carefully
before approaching the Ark of the Covenant for sacrifices. E.g.,
Ex. 40:12-15; Lev. 8:14-30; 22; 2 Chron. 5:11. The Day of Atonement
was meant to obtain forgiveness of sins so that all Israelites would
be worthy to be God's people. See Lev.16, 23:26-31. There
is an overall notion of approaching God with repentance and thus being
rendered by Him worthy to being His presence. See, e.g., Isaiah
6:6; Rev. 1:17-19.
B. The Liturgy of
the Word proclaims God's written word to us before the personal Word
of God become present. This proclamation of the written word of
God reflects the fact that God prepared His people through revealing
Himself in words and deeds throughout the Old Testament before sending
His Son. In addition, the Chosen People heard the word of God,
and a summary of His saving acts, in preparation for entrance into the
Promised Land, and again when the Temple was dedicated and rededicated
so that God's presence would again be more easily accessible to them.
Duet 5-33, 1 Kings 8:14-21; Neh. 9:3-37. In the Liturgy of the
Word we received Jesus' "words of eternal life" before we receive
Him as the bread of eternal life. See John 6:68. In the
context of describing Himself as the Bread of Life, Jesus said, "Everyone
who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me." John
C. Standing at the
high point of the faith, the Liturgy of the Eucharist brings Christ
to us in the Eucharist. The prayers leading up to the consecration
prepare the way by offering God bread and wine, along with other offerings
representing our lives. As Jesus prayed the high priestly prayer
at the Last Supper before this sacrifice, see John 17, so we progress
up to the sacrifice of the Eucharist with prayers in the Eucharistic
Prayer. See also 1 Kings 8:22-53 (the prayer of Solomon before
the consecration of the Temple.)
D. The Concluding,
or Dismissal Rites reflect a commissioning to bring the word of God
as heard and the personal Word of God as received in the Eucharist forth
into the world. When Jesus appeared after the Resurrection, He
consistently commissioned His disciples to bring the gospel to others,
at least implicitly. Above all, at Pentecost, He sent the Spirit
upon Mary and His disciples so that they could witness to the faith.
The Concluding Rites reflect this commissioning.
E. These parts of the Mass reflect, not only the last Supper, but also the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus' public ministry as a whole. See Luke 24:13-35; John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine (October 7, 2004).
1. The disciples
on the road to Emmaus, although unaware of the fact, were being prepared
for Jesus' presence by discussing the events surrounding His life
and death, and longing for His presence. Jesus then came to them
(without their knowing who He was) and opened the word of Scripture
to them, explaining how it pointed to Him. They then invited Him
to stay with them, and so they did. He then revealed Himself to
them in the breaking of the bread. After recognizing His presence,
the disciples immediately proceeded to Jerusalem, despite the dangers
of nighttime travel, to tell others about Jesus.
IV. Some resources that may be helpful include:
G. The Pope, The Council and the Mass by James Likoudis and Kenneth Whitehead. This book responds in detailed fashion to objections that the liturgical changes inaugurated by the Vatican II Council were a radical break from the past. The authors argue that the Council and Pope Paul VI authorized certain reasonable changes, and that the abuses developed later were not based on their directives.