Jesus Christ Is the Lord of the Mass — He Made It for Himself
“It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice.” (CCC 1410)
In a Feb. 3 General Audience, Pope Francis discussed the importance of Mass and the liturgy as a holistic experience. He said, “In Christian life, the corporeal and material sphere cannot be disregarded, because in Jesus Christ it became the way of salvation. We could say we should pray with the body too: the body enters into prayer.”
The Pope hearkened back to a theme ubiquitous in the Church in America in the 1970s. The Mass was streamlined in the new rite, but vestiges, like incense and bells remained, and they were emphasized in catechesis. There were fewer candles and fewer acolytes. The Sign of the Cross was made less, and “repetitions” were cut whenever possible. In theory, these cutbacks were intended to stress the remnants and argue against those who said the new rite was an intellectual exercise.
So, interestingly, COVID-19 has made churchgoing virtual and more cerebral. Don’t say God lacks a sense of humor. For most people, for several weeks, the remaining typical marks of a Catholic Mass — kneeling, making the Sign of the Cross, candles, reception of Holy Communion — became images on a screen. The pandemic, unintentionally, showed the stark differences between “the body entering into prayer” and only the eyes and ears.
Mother Angelica was an “early adopter” when it came to a regular televised Mass. She started broadcasting daily Mass in 1988 and presented a reverent new-rite Mass for the homebound and hospital patients.
The saying “lex orandi, lex credendi” comes to mind here. The law of prayer is the law of belief.
But the axiom finishes with “lex vivendi.” The law of prayer is the law of belief, which leads to the law of life. So, we have a new way of experiencing Mass, through television — what is the law of life that we learn from it?
One could argue that before the pandemic, the Sunday Mass was taken for granted. It was a weekly obligation, done grudgingly. Now many of us see more clearly the value of the Mass because we were without the real Mass for a time. Watching — being viewers only — has sensitized us to the realities going on in the church. We are inspired to realize that the Mass is taking place, regardless of whether we watch or not. We could check on the wash, get another cup of coffee, daydream. We could even mute or turn it off. But the Mass goes on, regardless.
This is an important point, because it leads us to wonder who the Mass is for, anyway. If we are free to disregard the Mass, is it really for us?
The liturgy is all about God. The Mass is ubiquitous and never-ending when one considers that the rite is taking place worldwide. God is also ubiquitous, eternal and omniscient. Only he can absorb all that is happening.
God is both the subject and the object of the liturgy, as Christ is priest and victim. The great philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand wrote in his book Liturgy and Personality, “The Face of Christ is revealed in the Liturgy: The Liturgy is Christ praying. To learn the fundamental dispositions embodied in the Liturgy means to penetrate more deeply into the great mystery of the adoration of God, which is Jesus Christ.”
The Scripture readings cover God’s nature and actions. However, the liturgy is more than a pedagogical exercise. It is not merely learning about God but bringing him to earth within the Eucharist. Although many of the prayers have been cut or changed, to stress those that remain, the true Mass is reverent. God is adored, though he needs nothing.
What a blessed relief! The urge to be the center of attention, the drive for “active participation,” is not the point of Mass. Even the “higher call” to educate in the homily is not what Mass is about. Worshiping God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, is the whole purpose of Mass.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27) is often misinterpreted into making the Mass “user-friendly” and “accessible.” Irreverent Masses follow the “Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27), leaving it at that. The different types of Masses end up sounding like radio stations, such as “contemporary,” “traditional” and “folk.”
But the rest of Jesus’ words are, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). At its best, priests let the Mass be what it is. The Mass goes beyond subjective experience. Pope Francis, in his Wednesday Audience, said, “Christ is the protagonist of the liturgy.” If that is so — and it is — we are obliged to act that way.
The simplified new rite does not automatically lead to impiety, but there is the temptation to “personalize” the Mass because the priest has various options and there are so many rubrics customarily broken. It is difficult for the priest not to be the center of attention when he faces the congregation, who is now his “audience.” Especially television-friendly is the fact that everything is sequential, so the viewer is not confused. The daily Mass on EWTN shows that the new rite can be done reverently, without making it into a spectacle.
Jesus Christ is not only the protagonist of the liturgy, but he himself is present in it in a substantial way because the Holy Eucharist is the “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” of God himself. A reverent liturgy recognizes that Jesus is the author and the subject of the Mass. It is not the choir, even if their singing is beautiful. It is not dependent on the people, no matter how great their piety. It is not the priest, even if his homilies are inspirational. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Mass. He made it for himself.
A reverent liturgy anticipates the beatific vision — the Eucharist is at the center of the Mass. Holy Communion can be received outside of Mass, but it is the meaning and purpose of the liturgy.
In Heaven, there is no need for the sacrament of Confession, because there is no sin. There is no need for Anointing of the Sick, because there is no illness. There are neither ordinations nor marriages (Luke 20:34-36) in the hereafter. Of the seven sacraments, the Holy Eucharist — that is, God — lives in Heaven because there is neither sin nor death.
As Pope Francis said in his Wednesday Audience, “A Christianity without a liturgy, I dare say, is perhaps a Christianity without Christ. Without the total Christ.”