By Charles Johnston:“Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”Excerpt from CONSTITUTION ON THE SACRED LITURGY PROMULGATED BY HIS HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
Too many Catholics take going to Mass for granted, we all know someone who does, we have even done it ourselves. Before I became Catholic, I saw Mass as just another church service. I would bounce around from church to church for no reason other than, which one was closer, or what time they started. To me it didn’t matter if I went to 9am Mass or 11am Presbyterian service, as long as at some point on Sunday morning I said some prayers and listened to a sermon.
It’s not even that my faith was lacking, I believed every word I read in the Bible, it’s just that my personal Sunday obligation was just that, an obligation. Just something to cross off my to do list before watching a football game, or whatever else I had planned. Even after I felt called into the Catholic Church, I still didn’t realize how central the Mass should be to the life of every Catholic.
I remember when it hit me, I saw one of the team leaders from my RCIA in my parish after Mass, and he looked at me and said, “there’s nothing on earth like a Catholic Mass.” That was all it took to get my mind turning, to get me to start studying and coming to the realization that he was right.
The bulk of the problem is that many of us “attend” Mass, but we are not supposed to just attend. The catechism says we are to “participate” in the Mass,
CCC 2180: The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”
But how do we participate? By being prayerfully present, by preparing our hearts and minds to meet Jesus at His altar, when heaven and earth come together in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. By studying and learning about the history and depth of theology presented at every Mass, and by seeing the beauty in it. By saying to ourselves “there’s nothing on earth like a Catholic Mass”
First, let’s look at the history of the Mass;
We recognize that the establishment of the Holy Eucharist is found in the last supper account in the synoptic Gospels and also in St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The earliest Christians gathered together on Sundays to have what would be very similar to our mass today, and at the same time different, although you’d recognize it as a Catholic Mass. The Didache speaks of believers coming together on Sundays to have Eucharist together. The roots of the Mass are steeped in Judaism, and that makes perfect sense, because most of the early Christians, and all of the apostles, were themselves Jews.
Over time there were slight changes here and there, most notable would be the regional differences. In the Greek speaking parts of the Roman Empire, Mass was said in Greek, in the western, Latin areas, it was said in Latin. And now we celebrate in the local vernacular language.
In the western church there were some changes made by St Gregory the Great and the Council of Trent, but the core of the Eucharistic celebration is still the same as when celebrated by Augustine of Hippo or Ignatius of Antioch. In the last 100 years there has been more changes to the Mass (some hotly debated and not the focus of this article) but its core structure of a community gathering to hear the Word of God proclaimed and to receive Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist.
Next time you are listening to the deacon proclaim the Gospel, or when praying the responses with the congregation, remember that Christians have been worshiping God just like you are now for more than 2000 years.
Now let me touch on the depth of the Mass;
The words and actions of the priest are precise and rooted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.
Every word that the priest says is filled with meaning. Every move he makes is spelled out in the rubrics of the Mass. It’s so precise because it conveys so much meaning.
From the opening procession to the Gloria to closing prayer, everything has a reason for being there.
I’d encourage you to study the order of the Mass, I promise you that you’ll see the Mass in a new and beautiful light when you realize the depth and breadth of the liturgy. There have been many books written on the biblical roots of the Mass and they are worth a read.
Pope Paul VI called the Mass “the highest form of prayer” and it truly is. From the opening sign of the cross to the closing one, Mass is one prayer of all the people joined together, directing our worship and praise to our Creator.
Once you appreciate the fullness that can only be found in a Catholic Mass you’ll never see it the same way again.
(This post originally appeared at Catholic365.com )