Holy Mass                           (E.J.Tyler)

Very many things make up our Catholic life and the life of the Catholic Church. There is the range of Catholic doctrine as summarised in the Creed. There is the Church’s sacramental life flowing from the seven sacraments. There is the moral life and moral teaching of the Church, summarised in the ten commandments. And there is the Church’s life of prayer, which we could consider as summarised in the Lord’s Prayer and the prayers of the Church. Pope Paul VI once said that Catholicism is not a simple matter: it is richly complex.

  Well, we may ask, what is it that gives unity to it all? What is the key reality which holds it all together and which gives a unified meaning to Catholicism? It is the living person of Jesus. He is the living reality that fills the whole of Catholic life and gives to it a vast and beautiful unity. Every aspect of Catholic life, every feature of the Church’s being, manifests and makes available to us the person of Jesus, who is there but hidden from sight. The Church is the body of Christ, and it is Christ who lives in the Church as her head. It is he whom we meet and have access to in our participation in the life of the Church. So when we think of the Church, in the first instance we ought think of the living Jesus who dwells within her as in his temple, as in his body. When we bring others into contact with the Church, we are bringing them into contact with Jesus. It is he who makes of us all one body. When a person is baptised into the Church, that person is immersed and incorporated into Jesus. As St Paul says in one of his letters, this is the mystery now revealed, Christ in you, your hope of glory.

   One question is, then, what is the moment when Christ is most present in the Church, most present with his gifts, most accessible to us, most available to us with all his heavenly blessings?  It is at Mass. Christ who is the whole point of the Church, Christ whose presence dominates and pervades the entire life of the Church, this same Christ is present and available to the Church most intensely and fully at Mass.

  Just think, many hundreds of thousands of young people go to the World Youth days (such as to Cologne in Germany in 2005) to worship our Lord with the Pope. But imagine what would happen if it were authoritatively revealed that our Lord in person would appear in the flesh somewhere on this earth, say, here in Australia, on a certain date, and that he would be there for a week. Imagine the numbers who would come to see him and be with him! But this very same Jesus, in the flesh but not appearing as in the flesh, not appearing in his proper physical form, this very same Jesus comes at Mass - but under different appearances, the appearances of bread and wine. He only asks that we believe on his word that it is he indeed, and that we take advantage of his presence. And truly present he is.

  This fact of our Lord’s real presence at Mass and yet under the appearances of bread and wine means that we must approach Mass with a lively and genuine faith. We must resolve to believe in the reality of Jesus, in his real presence there, and resolve to be on guard lest we act and react by sight alone - which will be our tendency. We must recognise that we will tend to enter into the celebration of Mass going simply on what we see. And of course we shall not see his physical form, nor shall we see what he did for us. But no, we must enter into Mass making the conscious decision to go on what we know by faith, that it is Jesus who is there making present there and then both his very self and what he did for us. All this he gives to us at Mass.

   In what sense does our Lord make himself present to us and give himself to us at Mass? He makes himself present in different ways. He is there speaking to us in his word -  which he did in a variety of ways during his public ministry. Most importantly, Jesus makes present himself precisely as sacrificed to the Father on our behalf. He is the Lamb who has given himself up to the Father as mankind’s sacrifice, and he is present precisely as this. He is not present at Mass in just any sense at all, for instance, precisely in the sense that he was present in the Temple at the age of Twelve, or in the sense he was present at his carpenter’s shop during those years at Nazareth, or in the other ways he was present on different occasions during his life - though, of course it is the same Jesus. No, our Lord is present at Mass as he was present on the Cross at Calvary - but in a different manner and circumstances.

  That is to say, just as at Calvary he gave himself totally to the Father on our behalf as a gift and sacrifice for our sake, a self-gift so total and effective as never to be required again, so at Mass this very same act of self-sacrifice to the Father for our sakes is made present now. How this is done we do not know, but through the Mass we are mysteriously able to be present at our Lord’s same sacrifice of himself at Calvary which redeemed each of us and the whole world and made sanctity possible to us. The risen glorious Jesus somehow makes that same donation of himself at Calvary present in our midst, and by means of Holy Communion he makes it possible for us to unite ourselves to him in his self-gift to the Father for us.  There is only one sacrifice of Calvary that redeems and sanctifies mankind. It is not repeated ever. No, but it is made present countless times in the life of the Church, and this happens at Mass. All that our Lord did for us during his life had its climax and fulfilment at Calvary, and that act of self-giving at Calvary was the great source of redemption for mankind. It was the summit of Our Lord’s life and source of redemptive grace.  Now this greatest moment of our Lord’s life and work is made present and bursts forth in our midst at Mass. For this very reason the greatest moment in the life of the Church is Mass. It is the source and the summit of the entire life of the Church and of each Christian, just as it was the summit of our Lord’s life and the source of the world’s redemption. How do we know this? It is the Church’s teaching. The Church, teaching in God’s name, tells us that it is the Mass above all that matters in the life of the Church and in the life of each of the Church’s members.

   Imagine our Lord without his redeeming death at Calvary! Our Lord said repeatedly to his disciples that he had to suffer and to die and to rise again. He pointed out time and again, that this is what the prophets had foretold of the Messiah if the Messiah was to bring to us the kingdom of God and enter into his glory. Well then, just as without Calvary, our Lord’s life in the plan of God would lack its principal work and achievement, so too were the Church not to have or celebrate the Mass it would be comparable to Lord having come and lived among us without his sacrifice at Calvary. So too if a Catholic neglects Mass, his life lacks the presence in it of our Lord’s principal work and achievement, for it is this highest point of our Lord’s life, his sacrifice at Calvary which is made present at Mass. The Mass is Calvary made present sacramentally to us such that by our presence and participation in that very sacrifice we are able to receive the graces that were won by that sacrifice.

   Now, the scale of the benefits we receive from our sacramental presence and participation in the sacrifice of Christ will depend on our faith and spiritual openness to them. It will depend on our love for Jesus. For instance, think of the two criminals, the two sinners crucified with Jesus at Calvary. The one knew he was a sinner and deserved his sufferings. But the other? All we know of him was his lack of faith - he saw nothing in our Lord. He was present, but he had no love for our Lord - indeed he abused him from his own cross. We ought be present at Mass taking our part with the repentant one who knew he was a sinner and that he was suffering deservedly for his sins. Conscious of his sins he gazed on our Lord and mysteriously received the gift of faith in him together with a realisation that salvation was available to him for the asking. What a wonderful faith he arrived at! Our Lord was consumed in a holocaust of suffering and at death’s door, and yet he said to our Lord, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” His faith in who it was that was suffering by his side was wonderfully rewarded. He heard the words, “I tell you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.” We honour him popularly as St Dismas. He was the first great beneficiary of the sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary.

    Every time we go to Mass let us think of that criminal who died at our Lord’s side, and open our hearts in faith to the real presence of Jesus there, making present his sacrifice at Calvary for us. During Mass we too ought ask him to remember us in his kingdom and make us saints according to the measure he planned. We ought ask our Lord at Mass for the gift of faith he gave St Dismas. If being present at Calvary could have the effect it did on the eternal destiny of that dying criminal, it can have the same effect on others who approach with the same dispositions. We too could receive as a great grace a sense of our own sinfulness as did St Dismas. He knew he was a sinner, and deserved his sufferings. A good way of preparing for Confession is to go to Mass and ask for a contrite spirit and a sense of our sins. Imagine if that criminal had died some other time and not in the presence of Jesus on the Cross. What a difference it would have made. But he died in the presence of Christ sacrificing himself on the Cross at Calvary, for Dismas and for all other sinners. We are present sacramentally at Calvary, when we are at Mass. But we must make sure we truly believe this, and not forget it. The tendency will be to forget it.

  So then, let us resolve to approach the Mass with a lively faith and to emerge from the Mass with an even livelier faith. We must remember what is really happening at Mass and keep it constantly in mind. Remember those two criminals - which of the two are we going to be like in terms of our faith? Of course we will not actively abuse our Lord as did that other criminal. But we could greatly neglect him. Think of those soldiers at the foot of our Lord as he was dying. They were playing dice for his clothes. They werfe thinking of dice because they did not recognise him for who he was. Do we play dice, as it were, mentally speaking, while Mass is going on? Are we just a little like those soldiers? Mass is the source of heavenly blessings as we see in the final moments of the life of St Dismas.

  Our Sunday Mass ought be the greatest moment of the week. We ought participate in Mass as if it were our first and last Mass, as if we were present at our Lord’s sacrifice of himself for us at Calvary - because we are present at Calvary, sacramentally. If our work commitments allow it, daily Mass is the ideal. And when we go, we ought be preparing our hearts and minds while we are on the way there, thinking of the presence of Jesus there in all his total reality. Think of our Lady’s union with our Lord on the way to Calvary. He will be present in the Tabernacle as we enter the Church, as we look reverently at the Tabernacle, make the sign of the Cross with the holy water, as we genuflect carefully while gazing at the Tabernacle, as we kneel to pray before Mass begins, recollecting ourselves. Let the penitential rite be a moment when we acknowledge this and ask God’s pardon, perhaps identifying ourselves with Dismas. Then we pray, preparing to listen to the risen Jesus as he is about to speak to us in the Scripture readings and the homily. How often we make no effort to listen to the word of God for what it really is! We ought imagine Jesus there, for he is truly there, speaking to us. We ought be filled with the sense of the presence of Jesus during the word of God. Then as we move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist we remember the Last Supper, the first Mass when our Lord gave himself to his apostles under the appearances, the appearances, of bread and wine. His very self which he was now giving to them would be offered up on the Cross the next day for them and for the whole world.

   And so it is that on our altars our Lord makes himself present under those same appearances of bread and wine, and is making present the offering of himself for us that he made on the Cross. It is the same sacrifice which we are able to make our own in union with him. We have a wonderful gift to offer to the Father. Remember what the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is the great gift which we can unite ourselves to when we receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Communion unites us with Jesus.

  St Paul writes that in Christ we receive every heavenly blessing. The Mass is Christ, so every heavenly blessing is available at Mass if we enter into it wholeheartedly and in a spirit of faith. We will be drawn into a wonderful union with Jesus that will save and sanctify us. Dismas was there at that great and unique Mass which was the sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross at Calvary. What did he get out of it? The blessing he received was the eternal salvation of his soul. He died united with Jesus in Jesus’ gift of himself to the Father, and so he went with Jesus into Paradise. Or think of St John at the foot of the Cross, and the gift he received: the gift of our Lord’s own mother. “This is your mother,” our Lord said to him from the Cross.

Each day ought be lived as an extension of what happens at Mass, and as a preparation for the next Mass. The world's prospects pivot around Calvary and Calvary is made present at Mass.