In this fourth of five homilies talking about the Mass,
I’m going to focus on the center of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer.
I’ll be looking closely at the First Eucharistic Prayer,
also known as the Roman Canon.
You may want to take the missallettes out and open to page 14;
I will refer a few times to the text, and you may want to follow along.
To save time, I’m not going to go into the other Eucharistic Prayers.
No doubt you notice I almost always use this prayer.
For those who are interested in the background of all that,
I’ll have something in next week’s bulletin.
This prayer is very old; it was certainly in use in the 600s,
and most likely, long before that.
But we’re not sure how far back; very likely, the 300s, maybe the 200s.
Before that, we can only guess.
Of course, the words at the center are those of Jesus himself.
For many reasons, we can be confident
that this part of the Mass has been constant
since the time of the Apostles.
When we listen to the Roman Canon, across all these centuries,
and despite barriers of language and culture,
we are hearing the voice of the ancient church of Rome.
We are brought back to the time when the Mass was celebrated,
not in churches, but in homes or at tombs underground;
not in safety, but in fear of Roman persecution.
It might help to recall the imagery I’ve offered several times before:
the Mass is an ascent; we are climbing up a mountain.
When we come to this prayer, we very nearly at the summit.
At this point we kneel.
Dr. Brant Pitre, who teaches at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans,
makes the connection between the Mass
and an episode from the Old Testament,
when Moses and God’s People were at Mount Sinai.
After ratifying the covenant, God directed Moses,
and the 70 elders of the twelve tribes, to come up the mountain.
In Exodus it says, “and they beheld the God of Israel.
Under his feet there appeared to be sapphire tilework,
as clear as the sky itself.
Yet he did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites.
They saw God, and they ate and drank.”
We arrive here, not with Moses, but with Jesus.
The lowly priest – me – acts in his name.
Or, better to say, Jesus the High Priest acts,
using me, his unworthy servant.
You are like the elders—part of the sacrifice.
The prayer begins by acknowledging the living members of the Church,
including especially our pope and our bishop,
but also for all of us, still on our pilgrimage.
Later, we’ll mention those who have “gone before us”—
that is, those who have died.
It’s fitting we mention the Blessed Mother, Saint Joseph,
the Apostles, and other saints.
This is painting a scene: imagine being in heaven,
with all the saints gathered around!
The priest bows his head as he mentions Mary, and then Jesus.
Isn’t that what I’d do, if they were sitting right here?
They are here! All the angels and saints are present!
We beg God to receive this prayer, this sacrifice.
It is Jesus’ sacrifice, but also ours.
The offerings we bring are bread and wine—
as well as our many needs and cares—
and we beg God to make them “spiritual and acceptable.”
Many people mistakenly think the Mass
is supposed to be a “reenactment.”
It’s not. We aren’t re-creating the Last Supper.
The Mass began there, but it wasn’t completed there.
In one sense, the Mass was complete on the Cross,
when Jesus cried out, “It is finished!”
But in another sense, the Mass is “complete” in heaven,
where the Lamb, slain but risen from the dead,
lives ever to make intercession for us.
We often say the Mass takes us back in time;
and that’s true, but it’s not the whole story.
The Mass actually takes us out of time entirely.
It takes us to heaven!
The Mass is a great “summary” of all that God did for our salvation.
As I mentioned the other week,
we recall God becoming man in several points.
We hear the prophets of old teach us, as well as the Apostles,
and Jesus himself, in the readings.
At this point, we behold, before our very eyes, the heart of it all:
Jesus is the new Adam, putting right what the first Adam wrecked.
Where Adam of old turned his back on God,
the new Adam raises his eyes to heaven, and offers himself.
Where the old Adam rebelled against God at a tree,
the new Adam obeys God, even to the point of death on a tree!
The old Adam, fearing death, sought to steal divine life,
and bequeathed death to his family.
The new Adam faces death, and in dying, gives divine life to us all!
This is what we witness, kneeling at the summit of God’s Mountain.
Jesus comes to the garden,
and says what old Adam should have said, long ago:
“Not my will, but thine be done”!
And so Jesus takes the bread and wine –
which were offered in the temple, and shared in the Passover –
and anticipating the Cross,
he calls them his Body and Blood—and so they are!
There is no other lamb at this Passover; Jesus is the Lamb.
On Good Friday, he offers himself; in this and every Mass,
we are united to that moment.
The priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.
Remember what Jesus foretold?
“If I be lifted up, I will draw all to me”!
Next comes a part of the prayer that is called “the offering.”
You will see it at the top of page 17.
What the priest prays at the altar
unites us to what Jesus did on the Cross;
and what he did with his entire life;
and what we does in eternity as he continually intercedes for us.
Notice this refers to Jesus’ “passion”—
meaning his suffering and death; his rising from the dead;
and his ascension back to his heavenly throne.
Then I ask the Father to look, not at us poor sinners,
but at the Victim—pure, holy and spotless—
who has been slain for us.
On your behalf, I ask him to “accept” this offering,
foreshadowed by Abel, who offered an animal from his flock;
by Abraham, who was ready to offer his firstborn son;
and by the priest Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine.
Last week I talked about how this part of the Mass—
and what follows—have a “private” dimension.
Can you see, now, why I said that?
We have come to the throne of God;
we are beholding God, begging for his help,
relying on the blood of the Lamb of God to plead for us.
Obviously, this mystery of faith is often put before the world;
we broadcast it on TV.
And yet, what do unbelievers see?
They see people performing an ancient ritual.
But with the eyes of faith, what do we see?
Remember what I quoted from Exodus:
“They beheld the God of Israel…and they ate and drank.”
WE behold the God of Israel! And we eat and drink.