The implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal provides an occasion for all of us to reflect once again on the meaning and central significance of the Mass. As we prepare to welcome the changes that will go into effect on the First Sunday of Advent, it is a time to renew our own understanding and appreciation of the Eucharistic Liturgy.
In his call for a New Evangelization, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, pointed out that such an effort entails two aspects: a deepening of our own faith and a commitment to share it. What better way to prepare for the new English translation and, at the same time, participate in the New Evangelization, than refreshing and reawakening in our own minds and hearts our understanding of the Mass, so that we can share it with those who should be with us in the celebration of the great mystery of our redemption?
Blessed John Paul II, in his last encyclical letter on the Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, sums up the Church’s ancient teaching on the Mass: “When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present, and ‘the work of our redemption is carried out.’”
The origins of the Eucharist are found in the Last Supper. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “in order to leave them a pledge of his love, in order never to depart from his own and to make them sharers in his Passover, Jesus instituted the Eucharist as a memorial of his death and resurrection, and commanded his apostles to celebrate it until his return; ‘thereby he constituted them priests of the New Testament’” (1337).
In the Eucharist, Jesus has instituted the sacrament in which the very passion, death and resurrection he would undergo would be made present again in our lives in a way that enables us to share in the benefits of the cross. We speak of our dying to sin and rising to new life because we participate in the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Church uses the word “re-present” to speak of what is happening in the Mass. The term “Holy Sacrifice” of the Mass is also exact, because sacramentally, but really and truly, the death and resurrection of Jesus are once again made present.
There is only one sacrifice — the self-giving of Christ on the cross at Calvary. Once and for all, Jesus was the victim for our sins, giving himself for our redemption. This one great sacrifice was accomplished by Jesus, the Priest and Victim, who offered himself on the altar of the cross for our salvation. This sacrifice cannot be repeated, but it can be re-presented so that we are able sacramentally and spiritually to enter it and draw spiritual nourishment from it.
In his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), Pope Benedict XVI teaches us: “Through the sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus draws the faithful into his ‘hour’; he shows us the bond that he willed to establish between himself and us, between his own person and the Church. Indeed, in the sacrifice of the cross, Jesus gave birth to the Church as his Bride and his body.”
As we set out to reflect anew on the celebration of Mass and the new English translation that we will use in the liturgy, we should clearly recognize that this is a time to deepen our faith so that we can more fully encounter Christ our Lord and Savior.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “In the sacrament of the altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) and becomes our companion along the way. In this sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom.”
What we receive in the Mass we must take into the world. The challenging thing about the Christian faith is that we cannot hold onto it unless we give it away — unless we share it with others. We have received Christ.
The introduction of the new translation and our own preparation to participate more fully in our understanding of the Mass also invite us into the challenge of the New Evangelization, both the need to deepen our faith and to bring it to others — to share it.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl is the author of the new book
The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition.
The Register will feature a story on a different aspect of the new translation
of the Roman Missal in each issue prior to the First Sunday of Advent.