What is the purpose of the Mass?
In the last letter, we dealt with the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and who and why can receive it. Today, I would like to continue this subject and remind you of the purposes of the Eucharist. In the end, there are some questions that can help us to understand the significance and the beauty of the Mass.
Christians from the very beginning after Jesus’ departure were gathering for the Mass — “breaking of the Bread” or “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving” — as Jesus commanded them: “Do this in commemoration of me.” From the very beginning, they also understood that “Eucharistic food” is radically different from ordinary food, as they frequently held a reception with a meal after the Eucharist. This meal gathering was named “Agape,” a Greek word that denotes the highest form of love, which is charity. Early Christians intentionally celebrated the Mass on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.
We have testimony of this tradition in the Holy Scripture. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read: “On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them . . .” (Acts 20:7). We also read about the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist in documents originating in the time of the early Church. For example, in the mid-2nd century, St. Justin the Martyr confirms celebrating Mass on Sunday and says that:
“This food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
We could say that the pinnacle of the week is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and the heart of Sunday is the celebration of the Mass. If the celebration of the Mass was so vital to the early Christians, many of whom would even risk their own lives to participate in it, we can ask: What is so important about the Eucharist? What is the meaning of our Sunday participation in it? Let us remind ourselves of these most crucial purposes:
- The Mass is a time when Jesus is present with us. A document from the Second Vatican Council highlights that: “Christ is always present in the Church, especially in its Liturgical Celebrations.” During the Mass, Jesus is present 1) in the form of the Word, 2) the bread and wine when it is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, by the action of the Holy Spirit, 3) through the Priest and 4) through us, the community, which has gathered.
- The Mass is a time when we pray through words, actions, and gestures. We participate by acclamations, responses, songs, actions, and gestures.
- The Mass is a time to listen and respond to God’s Word. In the readings, God’s word is laid before the people, and the treasures of the Bible are opened to them.
- The Mass is an opportunity for us to join together as a community of believers and pray and celebrate together. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
- The Eucharist is a memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. Jesus instructed his apostles to “Do this in memory of me” at the Last Supper, and so we memorialize Jesus’ Death and Resurrection at every Eucharistic celebration. The words and actions of the Last Supper are repeated during every Mass in the Eucharistic Prayer.
- The Eucharist is an action of thanksgiving. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. When we celebrate the Mass, we are participating in a thanksgiving celebration. We give thanks for all that has been given to us by God, particularly the gift that is Jesus.
- The Mass is a time when we share and celebrate our faith in Jesus. In addition to being an opportunity to celebrate and express our faith in Jesus, the Mass is a time when our faith in Jesus is shared and can grow and develop. Through listening to the Word and the Priest’s homily, we can draw closer in our faith in Jesus and develop a greater understanding of the life of Jesus.
- The Mass is a time to share and to be nourished by God’s gifts. “Take; this is my body . . . this is my blood of the covenant” (Mk 14:22-25). The Mass is a shared celebration where our faith is nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, just as it is nourished through listening to the Word.
- The Mass challenges us to go out and live as Jesus would. We are sent forth to live the Gospel in our daily lives. At the end of Mass, we are called to go out into the world and take our beliefs in Jesus and our knowledge of His life out into our own lives and to live a truly Christian life.
FOR YOUR REFLECTION:
Who are some people that you see when you go to Mass?
When you are at Mass, what helps you to remember that Jesus is with you?
What do you do at Mass that shows God that you are praying?
Who do you like to talk to about Jesus?
When you go to Mass, can you see a cross that helps us remember Jesus?
When you pray, do you remember to thank God for everything He has given you?
When you say, “Amen,” which means “I believe,” do you say it like you mean it?
What is your favorite food – that nourishes your body? What is your favorite part of Mass – that nourishes your heart and soul?
What can you do to show others God’s love?
Click the link below and watch Fr. Mike Schmitz’ short video:
“Motivation to go to Catholic Mass” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuyxQvb9Ayw