READINGS: Proverbs 9:1-9/ Ephesians 5:15-20 / John 6:51-58
Theme: The Mass as Memorial Sacrifice of Christ
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
As we continue to read from John 6, a key text to our understanding of the Holy Eucharist or Holy Mass, I wish to talk about another aspect of this sacrament.
The Holy Eucharist or Mass is not just singing, prayers, readings, preaching and the recitation of certain responses to the invitations of the priest. In fact, it is not just an ordinary worship; for anytime we celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary – with its redemptive merits – is made present again. But this mystery is sometimes lost on us, probably because of the disease I mentioned last Sunday the Acquired Familiarity Deficiency Syndrome (AFDS) or the Acquired Routine Deficiency Syndrome (ARDS).
- Christian worship
- Holy mass
- Conscious participation
- Active participation
- Preparations before Mass
According to Richard P. McBrien, the word ‘worship’ is made up of the two words ‘worthy’ and ‘ship’. A true Christian worship, therefore, involves entering into God’s presence to give him the praise and adoration worthy of him. But, sinful as we are, we cannot enter into God’s presence on our own. Fortunately, however, Jesus Christ, by his sacrificial death and resurrection, has made entrance into God’s presence possible.
Illustration: Last Friday I travelled to Lome (Togo). Intending to return to Accra on the same day, I decided to cross the border with my office car. This was facilitated by an immigration officer. Having stamped my passport, the officer went the ‘extra mile’ of crossing the border to get it stamped by a Togolese immigration officer; then, while speaking with the Togolese officer, they beaconed me to cross the border with the car. Similarly, in a true Christian worship, we move across the border between earth and heaven to enter into God’s presence. Jesus, the Divine Immigration Officer, having stamped our ‘worship-pass’ on this earth, not with ink, but with the blood he shed on the cross, is now seated at the right hand of the Father, stamping the ‘pass’ with the same precious blood and beaconing us to enter into the Divine presence.
We can borrow the words of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews to explain the worship ‘border crossing’ further: At a true Christian worship, we come ‘NEAR TO MOUNT ZION, TO THE CITY OF THE LIVING GOD, TO THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM WITH INNUMERABLE ANGELS . . . TO THE SOLEMN FEAST, THE ASSEMBLY OF THE FIRSTBORN [SAINTS] OF GOD, WHOSE NAMES ARE WRITTEN IN HEAVEN . . . THERE IS JESUS, THE MEDIATOR OF THE NEW COVENANT, WITH THE SPRINKLED BLOOD THAT CRIES OUT MORE EFFECTIVELY THAN ABEL’S’ (Heb. 12: 22-24).
HOLY MASS – HIGHEST FORM OF CHRISTIAN WORSHIP:
Beloved, this is what we experience at the Holy Mass – the highest form of Christian worship!
As mentioned earlier, in the Holy Mass, the sacrifice of Christ is made present again. Let me elaborate this further beginning with some statements of Jesus in today’s gospel reading:
‘Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world’ (Jn. 6: 51-52).
‘Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life’ (Jn. 6: 54).
To give us his flesh and blood, Jesus had to sacrifice himself. This, he amazingly anticipated on the night before Jesus actually died on the cross, when he offered bread as his sacrificial body, and wine, as his ‘blood, the blood of the [new] covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Mt. 26: 26-28). Thus, the Holy Eucharist which Christ instituted the night before his death on the cross is closely linked with the actual sacrificial death which occurred the following day.
Hence, since Jesus says we should celebrate the Eucharist in memory of him, it means that anytime we celebrate it, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented. Already at the Last Supper, then, Jesus Christ had all of us in mind (as it is very obvious in his priestly prayer, when he said: ‘father I pray not only for all of these [disciples], but for all those who would come to believe through them’ [Jn. 17:20]). Jesus, concerned that you and I would not be at Calvary, and even if we were there would not have understood why he was dying such a painful and humiliating death, instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist, so that anytime we celebrate it, the redemptive merits of the sacrifice would be made available to us again. Hence, St. Paul says: ‘whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the lord until he comes again’ (1 Cor. 11: 26). In short, then, the holy mass perpetually makes present for us the sacrificial death of Jesus and its redemptive merits.
Thus, unlike many other Christian understandings of worship, the Holy Mass is not a mere remembrance of a past sacrifice of Jesus Christ, nor a mere application of the merits of that past sacrifice; rather during its celebration, the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus and its merits are made present again.
Therefore, our preparation before mass should be such that we consciously participate in it with the faith that:
1. We are having a ‘LIVE’ (not a mere remembrance or repeat) experience of Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary.
2. We are crossing the border between earth and heaven into the heavenly city – to God’s very presence, because of the blood of Jesus Christ which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
We should, therefore, actively take part in the singing, prayers, listening to the readings and the homily, responses, etc. with such conscious faith.
PREPARATIONS BEFORE MASS:
To facilitate such a conscious and active participation, we need to have both ‘remote’ and ‘immediate’ preparations before the Mass begins:
Material – For a Sunday Mass, the remote ‘material’ preparation should include getting our clothes in good order on Saturday, etc (so as to be in time).
Spiritual – Similarly, a day or hours before the Sunday Mass, we have to confess our sins (if any); we have to reconcile with others (if any); we have to mediate on what prayer intentions we want to enter into God’s presence with; etc.
Some 5 to 15 minutes before Mass, we have to pray to compose ourselves before Mass.
Beloved, may this message be a call for us to return to good preparations before Mass for a very active and conscious participation during worship. And when we so participate, may our entrance into God’s presence at every Mass bring us countless blessings. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis