Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Mass Explained, Part I :What the Mass is.

The Holy Mass is different than other church service. It is not for entertainment, or even so much as for the edification of the faithful. The church teaches and has always taught that the mass is a memorial sacrifice. This is rather simply explained. Christ died only once, and never dies again. As the book of Hebrews says, he died once, and offering one single sacrifice, sat down at the right hand of God. It must be made clear that Our Lord never offers nor will he ever offer another sacrifice for sins. There is but one sacrifice in Christianity, and it is the one sacrifice made by Our Lord Jesus on he cross, 2000 years ago. But, our Lord wanted the memory of that sacrifice to always be in the minds of his people. To that end, on the night before he died, he gave a command of great meaning. After giving his body and blood to his apostles, he said "Do this in memory of me."
But the memory which he commands us to make is not just a recalling of events. He uses a special word, which in greek, and especially to the ancient Jews meant not "A calling to mind", but "A making present." Make present. Jesus is telling his disciples to make present his offering of his body and blood , which he offerred, as he said "For the life of the world." Jesus told us to make present his one single sacrifice on the cross. As the Jews said that their feasts were literally making present the events signified, by allowing the people to enter into them in a mystical manner, so the church from the earliest days beleived that the mass, or the eucharist, or the communion service, was the way ordained of God for us to obey the command of Christ to enter into and make present his sacrifice on the cross for us.
Do not think that this is impossible. St.Paul the apostle, speaking of the mass says that in the mass are made present all the angels and saints, the just men and women from every age. Is it possible that the God who made everything, who parted the sea and made the sun stand still, who sent his son to be born of a pure Virgin, who changed water to wine, multiplied bread, raised the dead, is it possible that he could not make present and event in history? Is it possible that he could apply the benefits of Christ's sacrifice to "Every people, toungue, tribe, and nation", because he is eternal and is the master of time, but is unable to allow those same faithful enter into the sacrifice that redeemed them?

All of the rituals of the mass are based on this truth: That at mass, we are present at Calvary. It all hinges on this. It hinges on the fact that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the prophecies and laws of the old rite. The Catholic church tries to make this clear in what she does in the mass. The mass has grown up out of the synagogue and temple rites of old, adapted by the apostles and their successors for the Church, the True Israel.
So as the Jewish people used the psalms as their hymns of worship, so also do we at mass sing the introit, gradual, and offertory antiphons, taken from scripture.
So as in the Synagogue, a lamp burns continuously before the Tabernacle, so in the church, lamps and candles burn continuously before the Tabernacle.
I hope in this explanation to make clear those truths.
The mass starts with a procession, as Psalm 118 says "Bind the festal procession, even up unto the altar". The priest and his ministers process up to the altar as did the Hebrews of the old covenant. The Venerable Dom Prosper Gueranger says of the procession:

"The procession, which immediately precedes the Mass, should remind us how we ought to be standing with lamps burning in our hands, ready to go out and meet our Lord, who is coming.1 The Church is ever advancing towards her Spouse in an unbroken procession, and our souls should be ever hastening towards their sovereign Good, never resting until they have found Him."
At the front of the procession is the thurifer and boatboy. Incense has long been used in Catholic churches. Long before, God had prescribed its use in Jewish temple ceremonies, and after the church emerged from the catacombs, and was able to freely express herself, she took up the use of incense in the mass. In this, we show are continuity with our Jewish ancestors in the faith. Behind them, are the crucifer, and two acolytes.
The cross is the most used sign in the mass. We begin with the cross, and we end with it. In bringing up the processional cross, we are reminded for a last time before mass begins that we are to "Ponder nothing earthly minded", as the hymn goes, but to remind ourselves that we are to take part in a sublime sacrifice. That of Calvary, re-presented to us here in the mass. The acolytes carry candles. Candles are another thing used the mass. Candles represent the light of Christ. Traditionally, six candles are used for a sung mass. These, together with the sanctuary lamp make seven lights that burn before the tabernacle, the throne of God. These two candles in the procession serve like standards. Standards of Christ the king, who the cross represents. The reader follows after the servers, and the celebrant after the reader. During the procession, we might sing a hymn.
The procession reaches the sanctuary, and we see the first of many genuflections. A genuflection is exactly what it's name means.(Knee-bend) It's it a brief kneeling down in the presence of Jesus in the blessed sacrament. Why do we do it? We hear in scripture, that at the mere mention of the name of Jesus, every knee everywhere should bend. (Psalm 72:11,
The church in her wisdom, makes this verse real to us, by giving us the custom of bending our knees whenever we cross or come to the tabernacle.
The ancients bowed down, fell down, and reveranced the tabernacle of old, which contained the Manna (The Bread of Heaven) the Law of God in the ten commandments, and The rod of Aaron's priestly authority. And there was where God dwelt with his people.
The Tabernacle of the church contains the same: The Bread of Heaven, the Word of God, and the authority of God, and our High priest. Here God dwells with us.

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