A Mass Within the Mass

A Mass Within the Mass

If the Last Supper was the very first Catholic Mass, then this week’s Gospel reading has to be the second one. The middle 22 verses of Luke 24 contain almost all the significant elements of the Mass we celebrate today. It begins with a procession, not from the back of the church to the altar, but from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Along the way, the two disciples meet Jesus, though they don’t know its him. They introduce themselves, explaining their heartbreaking situation (the introductory and penitential rites). They tell the stranger all that Jesus said and did, leading up to His suffering and death, and show confusion and doubt about the Resurrection account offered by the women at the tomb. Jesus, still unknown to them, breaks open the old testament (the first reading and the psalm) and shows them how the scriptures were talking about Him (the second reading and the Gospel). He helps them to understand how the Word of God applies to their life (the homily). Sensing Jesus is leaving, the disciples petition Him to stay (the prayers of the faithful). He obliges and stays for supper–taking bread, blessing and breaking it. (Liturgy of the Eucharist and Communion). Finally, they see it is Jesus. In awe and wonder, they ask how they could have possibly not known, “Were not our hearts burning while he spoke?” Saint Luke tells us that they set out to Jerusalem at once to announce the good news, but I’m sure they stayed through the announcements, final blessing and all four verses of the closing hymn.

Do we feel this same burning in our hearts at Mass? Do we leave Mass on fire for Jesus? I don’t mean an emotional response that can burn out as quickly as it flares up, but a real sustained fire that compels us to share the good news with everyone. I’d like to humbly offer some helps to building such a fire. These are some ways to open our hearts to receive as much grace from Holy Mass as we can. They range from simple to incredibly awkward.

  1. Read the readings before Mass. This wasn’t something I did until I started selecting songs for Mass on a regular basis. It gives me the opportunity to think and pray about the themes of the Mass before I even arrive at the church. Familiarity with the readings makes every prayer and hymn come to life. You can find them online pretty easily.
  2. Respond. In December of 2016, after a terror attack on a Coptic Christian cathedral in Egpyt, demonstrators took to the streets in support of the victims. A video emerged of people not just reciting the Nicene Creed, but declaring itWhile not in English, you can hear the familiar rhythm and cadence of the Creed. The freedom we have to worship openly should be a reason to respond even more boldly, both in gratitude and in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters. The responses we declare at Mass are an emptying of self. And, ultimately, the more of ourselves we invest in participating in the Mass, the more room we make for Jesus.
  3. Sing. I joke with my pastor that I long for the day when we have to hold a second collection to repair all the cracks in the ceiling caused by singing Jesus’ praise. It’s difficult to be disengaged when you sing. Nothing creates a sense of community like singing together. A common objection is, “but I have a terrible voice!” Then sing out! If it’s truly that terrible God might hear it and give you a better one. In the very least the people around you will sing louder to drown you out.
  4. Pray with and for each other. Here’s the awkwardness I promised. Too many Catholics, without realizing it, treat the Mass like a personal devotion. I’m guilty of this from time to time. The Mass isn’t a private prayer. It’s part of the public prayer of the Church. I have a greater Mass experience by knowing the readings, boldly responding, and singing my heart out. The reality is that I also owe it to you to do these things. As much as we should actively participate in the celebration for our own good, we should also do so for the rest of our parish family. When I mumble responses, only sing the hymns I like, and let distractions pull me from praying as best I can, I drag you down. To make the communal experience of the Mass more real, try this: Turn to someone near you before Mass and introduce yourself if you don’t know them. Now—here’s the hard part—ask them to pray for a specific intention you or your family has, and ask them if there’s anything they need you (and your family) to offer as part of your Mass intention. And then really, earnestly pray for that person.

In the Eucharist we have access to infinite Mercy and Grace! When we receive, our hearts should be burning with desire to know Jesus and to make Him known. I hope these small suggestions can be kindling for that fire.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

I like to think if I were a follower of Jesus in his earthly ministry I would have been able to pick up on the pattern:

  1. Jesus encounters people suffering and in need
  2. Jesus performs a miracle and meets their need
  3. Jesus gives us a teaching about who He is and why He is here among us

I’m smart like that.

So when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 men, not counting women and children, I’d knowingly look over at one of my apostle friends and smile, “Watch this Bartholomew, now he’s going to say something awesome.” This time is a little different though. This time Jesus goes to pray alone while we all pile into a boat and cross the sea (just an aside, there was a huge storm and Jesus walked on water to us. No big deal).

The next day all the people come across the sea to where we are. They’re curious, seeking and excited. I see what you did there Jesus. Make them wait a day and come to you. Nice touch. John, get ready to write this down.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

Well played Jesus. We should hunger for a relationship with you and thirst for righteousness like we hunger and thirst for food and water! Still, these new disciples are taking your analogy a bit too literally. Maybe you should clarify?

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died…I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Lord, that might be taking things in the wrong direction. See, the people are confused because they think you mean this “eating and drinking” literally. If you explained that this is just a metaphor for meditating on your teachings or that its symbolic of learning to share better that might help.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Now the people are leaving. “This saying is too hard. Who could believe it?” Jesus, call them back! Tell them it’s all an analogy! It is all an analogy, right? You wouldn’t let people leave you because they couldn’t understand a metaphor, would you?

Now Jesus looks at us. At me.

“Do you wish to leave also?”

Peter speaks up, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This changes everything.

Because Jesus isn’t some ancient teacher whose wise words remain with us today.

He is with us today.

In the Eucharist we can actually know the risen Jesus—not a long dead historical figure. He is alive and wants an intimate and eternal relationship with you and me.

Our God comes to us in the appearance of simple bread and simple wine. The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are really and truly present in the Eucharist we receive, because that is the promise He made.

The Holy One of God, for whom and through whom all things were made, desires to dwell within you and me.

His grace transforms us. We become what we eat and, by this Eucharistic miracle, Jesus abides in us.

“When you approach the tabernacle remember that God has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.”

-Saint Josemaría Escrivá