Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What is the Mass? (Sunday homily)

As I promised, over the next five Sundays, 
I’m going to be looking closely at the Holy Mass. 
Each week, we’ll look at part of the Mass; 
so this week, we start at the very beginning.

In fact, let’s start before the beginning, and ask: 
what, exactly, is the Mass?
Well, let’s be clear what the Holy Mass is not…

The Mass is not the same as 
what most of our fellow Christians do on Sunday. 
I’m not in any way diminishing their devotion to Jesus. 
We Catholics can learn a thing or two 
from our Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters 
about their love for Scripture, their zeal, 
and how deeply converted many of them are. 

Nevertheless, what happens in the Holy Mass is unique. 
When the Protestant movement began, 
with Martin Luther and John Calvin, 
there was a decisive rejection of the Mass 
as Catholics and Orthodox Christians understand it – 
along with the priesthood. 

Now, with some Protestant churches, this is obvious; 
but if you go to an Episcopal, Lutheran or Methodist church, 
it can seem very similar. 
And someone who belongs to that church may even say, 
see, it’s all the same. 
As I go through the Mass the next few weeks, 
it’ll be clear that there is a fundamental difference. 

Also, the Mass is not something we do for God. 
Yes, it’s true that we come out of love and gratitude, 
and this is a duty we owe to God. 

But my point is, the Mass is far more about what God does for us, 
than what we do for God. 
God does not benefit from the Mass in any way. 
On the contrary, the Mass is costly to God! 
God gives himself in the most total, sacrificial way, in the Holy Mass.

Nor is the Mass something we do for each other. 
You will find, when you visit many parishes, 
the idea that Mass should be about making us feel better. 
It should be about “community.”
The music should be what we like; 
the priest should be engaging; it should be fun.

Sorry, but no. 
If those things happen, that’s a bonus. 
My goal is Jesus’ goal—to get you to heaven. 
At any moment, what helps get you there may feel good; 
or it may feel bad. 

This may surprise you, but Holy Mass is work. 
When I’ve offered three Masses on Sunday, I’m tired. 
Not that I’m complaining. It’s the most wonderful work. 
But Mass demands a lot from me, 
and I don’t just mean in a physical way. It demands my all. 

And if there’s one thing Vatican II tried to emphasize, 
it was that every baptized Catholic 
should approach Mass the exact same way. 

So you are not a spectator. I came to work; I hope you did too! 
Our work is to join in this prayer; not just with our words, 
but with our all. 
Jesus puts everything of himself into the Holy Mass, 
and he asks the same of us.

So what is the Mass? It is what God does to save us. 
It is Jesus offering himself for us. 
The Mass is Jesus; we not only meet him at the Cross 
and in the Resurrection, 
but we hear him foreshadowed in the readings; 
we hear him speak in the Gospel. 

The Mass is where Jesus invites us to join his saving work. 
Jesus pleads for sinners here; 
and he expects us to plead for each other. 

The whole drama of human salvation is played out here! 
Every soul, past, present and future, is on the line. 
What will become of the world? Of our nation? 
What about the harvest? My health? My family, my friends? 
So many people in the world are suffering, what about them? 
Can the world be saved? 

It’s all on the altar at Holy Mass.

Last week there was a fire across the street. 
I hope we’re all praying for, and reaching out to,
the folks at the Russia Inn. 
Fire departments from all around came to put out that fire, 
and they prevented it from spreading. 
But that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. 
What if they hadn’t shown up?

The world is on fire. Souls are on the line. 
Yes, Jesus can handle it himself. But he has chosen to involve us. 
He tells us: Join me in saving the world. 
Take up your cross and come with me.

You and I are God’s fire brigade, to care for the world.

In the sacristy, there is a motto on the wall: 
Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, 
your last Mass, and your only Mass. 
I charge you to have the exact same mindset as you take part in Mass.

So now, let’s at least look at the beginning of Mass. 
And let me use the older form of the Mass 
to explain the opening prayers. 

In the Traditional Latin Mass, 
the priest begins at the foot of the altar. 
He and the server will pray about going “up to the altar.” 
Notice there are seven steps. Four there, three here. 
There was always the understanding that we go up to the altar, 
just as Jesus went up to Mount Calvary. 
But first the priest and the server pray the Confiteor—
“I confess to almighty God.”

In the new form of Mass, we still do this. 
This is not a substitute for going to confession. 
It actually presupposes that we do go to confession. 
The Mass is for sinners. 

Then we pray the Gloria. 
This is the prayer of sinners who have been redeemed. 
When God’s People made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 
they would sing psalms that told of God’s victory and his salvation. 
That’s what the Gloria is. 

I could do a whole homily just on the Gloria—
but let me note a few things. 
It summarizes who Jesus is. 

It starts with the prayer of the Christmas angels. 
But then we are speaking to Jesus: 
“You take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us…receive our prayer.” 
Where did Jesus do that? On the Cross. 
Then it says, “You are seated at the right hand of the Father”—
that’s where he is now: “have mercy on us”—
we’re still asking him to plead for us. 

Remember my opening question, what’s the Mass?
That’s what the Mass is.

“You alone are the Holy One,” we say: 
there is no other who can save the world. 

When we do these things at the beginning of Mass, 
all this is preparation. We’re climbing up to the altar of God. 
Next week, we’ll look at the next part, 
where we sit down, like Jesus had the people sit on the grass, 
to be fed. 
We hear the Word of God, 
before we climb further, to Calvary. 

* I dropped this line after the 5 pm Mass. It's not false to say the Mass is "about community"; the problem lies in how we understand the Mass forming community. It is Jesus Christ who forms the community. The erroneous mindset I've encountered is that we form the community.


Jenny said...

Excellent homily once again, Father. And excellent point about who/Who builds community!! Great misunderstanding about that over these past 45 years...

rcg said...

I am always awed by a priest who is submerged in the Mass. It is both beautiful and daunting.

Michael Haz said...

Thank you!