History, theology and structure of the Holy Mass
(Since the same theme of Holy Eucharist is repeated for four Sundays, a homily on the Holy Mass- the Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice, is added to O. T. XXI homily) Fr. Tony
O.T. XXI: A BRIEF ACCOUNT OF THE STRUCTURE OF THE HOLY MASS
Anecdote # 1: “I would like to say Mass.” Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one, true Church. After he had spent five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, he was told by his jailers that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. Five years of solitary confinement and he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! What would it be? A hot shower? A change of clothes? Certainly, a long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? What would it be, the jailer asked him. “I would like to say Mass,” replied Archbishop Tang. [Msgr. Timothy M. Dolan, Priests of the Third Millennium (2000), p. 216]. The Vietnamese Jesuit, Joseph Nguyen-Cong Doan, who spent nine years in labor camps in Vietnam, relates how he was finally able to say Mass when a fellow priest-prisoner shared some of his own smuggled supplies. “That night, when the other prisoners were asleep, lying on the floor of my cell, I celebrated Mass with tears of joy. My altar was my blanket, my prison clothes my vestments. But I felt myself at the heart of humanity and of the whole of creation.” (Ibid., p. 224). As we are gathered together to “observe the Lord’s Day holy” by participating in the Holy Mass which is a double commemoration of Christ’s last Supper and his death and resurrection, we should know the aims and basic structure of the Holy Mass.
The objectives of the Holy Mass: The faith community gathers for the public celebration of the Eucharist in order to praise and worship God, ask His forgiveness for sins, thank Him for all the blessings received, and listen to His words in Scripture. We also present our needs and petitions, offer our lives to God, and gain spiritual nourishment and recharge our weakened spiritual batteries by sacramentally sharing the Body and Blood of Jesus our Savior. The structure of the Eucharistic celebration is organized to achieve all these goals.
The parts of the Holy Mass. The Eucharistic celebration consists of two parts: A) the liturgy of the Word, which prepares our mind and hearts for worthy celebration, and: B) the liturgy of the Eucharist, which transforms our offering of bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.
(A) THE LITURGY OF THE WORD. It includes:
1) The Penitential Rite: in which we ask forgiveness for our sins.
2) Readings from Sacred Scriptures: the first, usually from the Old Testament, and the second and the third from the New Testament.
3) Prayers with responses from the faith community (Responsorial psalms).
4)A Homily (Sermon) which enlarges on some part of the day’s scripture readings and is an exhortation to accept the Word of God and put it into practice
5) The Creed: in which we publicly profess our faith.
6) The General Intercessions: in which we pray for the Church and all people according to the Apostle’s words: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in high positions” (CCC-1349).
(B) THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST It includes: 1) Preparation of the Gifts. The priest receives the bread and wine and prays over each, offering thanks to God. The presentation of the offerings at the altar repeats the gesture of Melchizedek and commits the Creator’s gifts into the hands of Christ who, by his sacrifice, brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices. From earliest times, Christians have also offered material gifts, along with the bread and wine, to be shared with those in need. This custom, termed “the collection,” is inspired by the example of Christ, who became poor to make us rich (Catechism of the Catholic Church -1350-51).
2) The anaphora: With the Eucharistic Prayer — the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration — we reach the heart and summit of the celebration. (There are presently four standard Eucharistic Prayers, or Canons, in general use by the Western Rite. The first is the old Roman Canon. The second, the briefest, is based on the third-century Canon of St. Hippolytus. It is the oldest fixed Canon, originally written in Greek, when Greek was the language of the Mass. Eucharistic Prayer III is an entirely new Canon, which stresses the work of the Holy Spirit, both in the Mass and in the worshipping community. Anaphora IV is a finely executed verbal painting of the whole of salvation history, accenting the various covenants God has made with mankind.)
In the Preface, the Church gives thanks to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, for all his works: creation, redemption, and sanctification. Thus, the entire community joins in the unending praise that the Church in heaven sings to the thrice-holy God (CCC-1352). In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing) on the bread and wine, so that they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit. (It is to be noted that some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).
In the institution narrative, the words and actions of Christ, as well as the power of the Holy Spirit, make Christ’s body and blood sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine. This is a re-enactment of His sacrifice, offered once for all, on the cross (CCC-1353). In the anamnesis that follows, the Church calls to mind the Passion, resurrection, and glorious return of Christ Jesus, and presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with Him. In the intercessions, the Church indicates that the Eucharist is celebrated in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth: the living and the dead, the pastors, the Pope, the diocesan bishop, his presbyterium and his deacons, and all the bishops of the world together with their Churches (CCC-1354).
3) The Breaking of the Bread: This is a sign of our unity in Christ. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one Body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).
4) The distribution of Communion: In the communion, preceded by the Lord’s prayer and the breaking of the bread, the faithful receive “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation,” the body and blood of Christ who offered himself “for the life of the world.” Since this bread and wine have been made Eucharist (“eucharisted,” according to an ancient expression), “we call this food Eucharist. No one may partake of it unless he believes what the Church teaches is true, has received baptism for the forgiveness of sins – a new birth, and unless he lives in keeping with what Christ taught” (CCC-1355). In receiving Communion, we share in the Body of Christ so totally that He becomes our food and we become united with the risen Savior and with the whole faith community.
- The Concluding Rites: by giving ourselves to Christ at Mass, we are better able to give selflessly to others. The Mass ends when the priest blesses the faith community (reminding it of its mission) and says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Life messages: 1) We have a mission of witnessing to Christ through our proclamation of the gospel by loving and serving others. Each Eucharistic celebration invites us to establish a deeper relationship with God and with our neighbor. Since love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable, we demonstrate our love for God by our interaction with our neighbor. Hence each Holy Mass urges us to remember “the least among us,” protect human life and dignity, preserve the common good and promote human rights. At every Mass, Christ calls us to love others, and sends us forth to be heralds of this love (“Let us go in peace to love and serve others”).
2) A source of strength for fellowship. It is by this assembling for the Eucharistic celebration that the Christian achieves the strength and courage to go forth and live the three dimensions of the Church’s “life-style:” fellowship, witness and service. It is from the Eucharist that the Christian derives fresh enthusiasm for announcing the Good News of God’s Incarnate Son in the world in which he lives. Hence this celebration requires sincere participation by the worshiper. He must listen carefully to the Bible Readings, respond meaningfully to the various acclamations, join heartily in the priestly and Eucharistic Prayers, sing the hymns devoutly, and receive Communion with deliberate faith, hope and love. In this way, the Holy Mass can transform us.
The origin of the Eucharistic celebration
The Jews thanked God for two blessings, namely, the gift of time and the gift of riches. They thanked God for His gift of time by observing the last day of the week as Sabbath, a day of rest, worship and good works. They thanked God for the gift of riches by offering tithes to the temple. The early Christians did the same by observing Sunday to participate in the “Lord’s Supper” and by sharing what they had with the less fortunate ones in their faith community. The Eucharistic Celebration has its roots in the ancient Jewish Passover Meal. Passover was celebrated both as a memorial feast and as a thanksgiving meal commemorating the liberation of the Chosen People from their slavery in Egypt. It was at such a Passover (or the Last Supper as we call it), that Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The three synoptic Gospels and St. Paul have handed on to us the account of the institution of this Last Supper or the Eucharist. By celebrating this meal with his apostles, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning: his passage to the Father by death and resurrection. Jesus followed the ancient tradition of blessing the bread and wine. Then, he gave a whole new meaning to the Passover feast when He “took bread, and blessed, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My Body’” (Matthew 26:26). After this, he took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant of my blood” (Luke 22:20). Thus, the Last Supper was both a farewell meal and a sacrifice. Jesus Himself was the sacrifice because He offered His Body and Blood to God in sacrifice for all people.
Jesus’ command and its practice in the Church: The command of Jesus (“Do this in memory of me“) obliges us to repeat his actions and words “until he comes.” It also directs his apostles and their successors to carry out a liturgical celebration of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and intercession [CCC.165]. From the beginning, the Church has been faithful to the Lord’s command. It was on “the first day of the week,” or Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, that the Christians met “to break bread.” Of the early Church in Jerusalem it is written in the Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers…. Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.” As early as the second century, we have the witness of St. Justin, martyr, regarding the basic order of the Eucharistic celebration. Around the year 155, St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius explaining to him the meaning of the Christian Eucharistic celebration. Down through the centuries, the Church has been careful to preserve the basic structure of the Mass in all liturgical families, both in the East and in the West.
Theology of the Eucharistic celebration
The Eucharist is one of the seven sacraments, i.e., signs, made sacred by Christ to show His presence in the world and help us to reach a closer union with God. It is a sacrament as well as a sacrifice. As a sacrifice, the Holy Eucharist is also known as the ” Holy Mass” or Eucharistic celebration. It is a double commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper and his death and resurrection. It recalls the Last Supper because it is a holy meal that provides spiritual food for Christians and it recalls Chris’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The Eucharist is the heart and center of Catholic life. Hence, active participation in the Holy Mass is the best way to obey God’s commandment “Observe the Lord’s Day holy,” to express our faith and to share in the saving grace of Christ. The more we understand the meaning of the Eucharist, the more perfectly and fruitfully we can offer this Eucharistic sacrifice and receive spiritual nourishment from this sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. .
The central act of Catholic worship: No doctrine in our Catholic Faith has been more misunderstood by non-Catholics than that of the Holy Mass. The Mass is the central act of Catholic worship. In the Mass, Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary is perpetuated by the priest, who offers it anew to the Father. It is not a new sacrifice, but rather the same sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross 2,000 years ago. The difference, however, is that Jesus no longer dies at each Mass, but is simply re-offered to the Father. It is a “bloody” sacrifice only in the sense that it contains the Body and Blood of Christ. But it is “unbloody” in the sense that it is offered only in a sacramental fashion under the appearance of bread and wine. In the Mass, we re-present — or mystically renew — the Sacrifice of Calvary. This means that, once again, we offer Christ to the Father, saying: “Father, look upon the Lamb that was slain for our sake. Through this holy and perfect Sacrifice, pardon our sins, and be appeased by the pleasing odor of this unblemished Lamb.” By the words of consecration, Christ is made present again through the “transubstantiation” of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.
By giving us the Mass, our Lord ensured for us a means of applying to all generations the graces merited on His Holy Cross. As James Cardinal Gibbons noted, “In the Sacrifice of the Mass, I apply to myself the merits of the sacrifice of the Cross, from which the Mass derives its entire efficacy” [The Faith of Our Fathers, p.258]. The Church also teaches that the “chief fruit of the Eucharist is an intrinsic union of the recipient with Christ” (Ludwig Ott in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 394).
Messages: 1) Be a Eucharist Person: In simple terms this means imitating Jesus in our thoughts, words and actions. The Eucharist is Body-broken and Blood-poured-out for others. Accordingly, we will participate fully in the benefits of the Eucharist only to the extent that we imitate, in all aspects of our lives, the generosity and unselfishness that we see in the life and death of Jesus himself. The Eucharist will certainly help us to be more thoughtful and compassionate and forgiving Eucharistic persons. But this cannot happen without our own serious commitment to love and serve others. Just as Jesus brought the good news of God’s love, salvation and healing to the world, so must we. This means that we must care for others, feed them, forgive them, accept them and help them to become children of God. In these ways, we may truly become Eucharistic persons.
2) Live a Eucharistic life by extending the celebration of the Paschal Mystery into our daily lives. This means that, “as faithful followers of Jesus, our praise, sufferings, prayer and work, must be united with His total offering. In this way our actions acquire a new value” (CCC 1368). In the light of the Eucharistic Mystery, no life is without meaning or worth. Where there appears to be no meaning or worth, the Eucharist brings hope and inspiration.
3) Receive Jesus in Holy Communion with proper preparation: The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of two requisites for receiving Communion. First, our conscience must be free from mortal sin. “To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment upon himself.’ Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before taking Holy Communion” (CCC #1385). The frequent use of confession is an indication that the person’s spiritual life is in good shape and that he is struggling to overcome sins and weaknesses. Secondly, we must fast one hour before we receive Holy Communion. “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1387).
St. Padre Pio’s prayer of thanksgiving after Mass.
“Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light, and without You, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I want it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of love.
Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes; death, judgment, eternity approach. It is necessary to renew my strength, so that I will not stop along the way–for that, I need You. It is getting late and death approaches, I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows. O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile!
Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all it’s dangers. I need You.
Let me recognize You as Your disciples did at the breaking of the bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion will be the Light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.
Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to You, if not by communion, at least by grace and love.
Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it, but the gift of Your Presence. Oh yes, I ask this of You!
Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for, Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.
With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity. Amen”
JOKE OF THE WEEK: “Dictionary of Catholic Humor” on the Holy Mass.
AMEN: The only part of a prayer that everyone knows.
BULLETIN: 1. Parish information, read mostly during the homily. 2. Catholic fan. 3. Your receipt for attending Mass.
CHOIR: A group of people whose singing allows the rest of the congregation to lip-sync.
HYMN: A song of praise, usually sung in a key three octaves higher than that of the congregation’s range.
RECESSIONAL HYMN: The last song at Mass, often sung a little more quietly, since most of the people have already left.
PROCESSION: The ceremonial formation at the beginning of Mass, consisting of altar servers, the celebrant, and late parishioners looking for seats.
RECESSIONAL: The ceremonial procession at the conclusion of Mass – led by parishioners trying to beat the crowd to the parking lot.
USHERS: The only people in the parish who don’t know the seating capacity of a pew.
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle B (No 46-b) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org L-18
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.