Sometimes we might wish we could go back into the past, to share in some world-changing event, or perhaps to be reunited with a loved one whom we miss. Or maybe we would like to go back to make amends, or to do things differently. Or perhaps to appreciate more fully all that was happening at that time.
All this and much more is made real at each and every Mass. The Mass makes present the most important event in the history of the entire world: the salvation of mankind and the whole of the cosmos carried out by Jesus Christ, God made man, in his loving Passion, Death and Resurrection. The solution of any and every difficulty, the ultimate triumph of goodness over sin, of life over death, of love over hatred is made present in every Eucharistic Celebration. The Mass contains the meaning of history and is the source and summit of the Christian life.
As the Holy Father recently reminded us: “This is the Mass: to enter this passion, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus; when we go to Mass it is as if we were going to Calvary itself… The Mass is experiencing Calvary”. “The Eucharist is a wondrous event in which Jesus Christ, our life, makes himself present. Participating in the Mass is truly living again the redemptive passion and death of Our Lord. The Lord makes himself present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. The Lord is there with us, present”.
It is true that Christ was crucified and died in a particular place and time, as historical evidence bears out. However, since Christ is true God as well as true man, the events of his earthly life are not “stuck” in the past but become really present through the Liturgy.
Hence at every Mass, the one saving sacrifice of Jesus is made present, and the Lord himself is really, truly and substantially present under the humble appearances (or “species”) of bread and wine.
At historical commemorations we recall past events, and sometimes even re-enact them to make them “come alive” in some way today. In the Church however, a “memorial” is not simply an evocation of something that is over and done with, but rather a making-present of that saving mystery here and now. As the Catechism teaches: “The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body”.
This is the great beauty and drama of the Catholic faith: through the sacraments and especially through the Eucharist, Christ is forever young and is always our contemporary. Through the Eucharist we meet Christ who is just as present as he was in Bethlehem, or in Nazareth or on the day of his Resurrection. In the Blessed Sacrament Jesus is truly present and lovingly and patiently awaits us.
It is impossible to find words to convey the grandeur of the Mass. “Indeed”, as St John Paul II stated in his first encyclical, “the Eucharist is the ineffable Sacrament! … It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament”. Each one of these aspects of the Mass deserves to be considered separately.
For now, we can reflect on words from the final encyclical of St John Paul II:
“In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have his redemptive sacrifice, we have his resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?”
Why go to Mass? Perhaps the real question is: How could we miss Mass?
Written by Fr. Donncha Ó Aodha