Meditations for Layfolks - The Mass

Think how the Mass is in a real sense the centre of Catholicism. All the faith is gathered round it, so that from the mere wording of the Mass the rest of the Creed could be almost wholly deduced. The Divinity of Christ is clear in the wonderful power that is given to the priest to perform this amazing act of worship, else could man not even have imagined its possibility. So staggering is the doctrine, that when first announced, even by a Preacher who spoke as none other ever spoke, it broke up the little band; and only the implicit trust that the Apostles had in their Master made them continue as His disciples. They stayed only because they had nowhere else to go. Then if He is God, it can only be because He is the Son of God; nor can He be God only, for the words of consecration tell us of His Body and His Blood. So, again, besides the Trinity, the Incarnation, we can arrive at the divine motherhood of our Lady and the other mysteries of faith. The sacraments also are arranged round this wonderful sacrifice as the setting round the gem. Baptism prepares us for our part in it; Confirmation strengthens us in our belief in it; Confession makes us worthy of it; Holy Orders ensures for us the continuation of it; Matrimony, says Saint Paul, is the symbol of it; the Last Anointing imparts to us its fruits. For it are our churches built. It is the centre of their construction, it unifies all their architectural lines. Without it the most splendid places of worship seem empty and cold, and with it, however poorly or badly they may appear, they are made alive. Our faith, our ceremonies, our lives are grouped round this supreme act of worship.

The reason why thus it stands as the most central of all our mysteries is just because it is itself nothing other than Calvary continued. Calvary meant for us the undoing of all our woe and the upbuilding of our lives for the service of God; and in consequence, the Mass being but a prolongation of that "far-off event," it, too, becomes the living reality of that which is most real in all the world. It is not, indeed, a repetition, for the death of God is so unique an event that repetition becomes impossible: moreover, Saint Paul proclaimed that "Christ being risen from the dead dieth now no more; death shall no more have dominion over Him." The Mass, then, is not the repetition but the continuation of Calvary, one with it in essence, though not in appearance, as the Body of Christ on our altars is the same as the Body that walked the earth, though it has not the same outward seeming. The priest by the double act of consecration slays as by a mystic sword of sacrifice the Divine Victim, for though Body and Blood cannot be severed while life remains, they are represented as distinct in the difference of accidents, and thus is the death of the Lord shown forth until He come. This, then, is the reason of the acknowledged supremacy of the Mass, witnessed to by persecutor and persecuted, that it is for us Calvary still continued; and since all our happiness and all our chance of happiness come from that saving redemption, obviously that which is only a continuation of it must necessarily be held in deep reverence. It is the eternal testimony of God's love for man; the eternal stimulus to man's love of God.

In order to encourage my own devotion to this tremendous mystery, let me consider what the morning Mass must have meant to the Mother of God. When her Child had been taken from the Cross and laid in the tomb, she was to see Him on earth again after He had risen from the dead; but after the Ascension she was to see Him no more till that day when she passed to the Day. But at her Mass, when she watched the Beloved Disciple hold up what seemed Bread, and when she heard the whispered words of power, she knew Him once again in the breaking of the Bread. Dare we trespass nearer on that sacred intimacy? She saw, as on Calvary, her Son's death. For Saint Peter, Saint John, and the rest, how fervent must have been at Mass their reparation for that sad night when they left Him, or denied Him, or stood far off from Him! What comfort, consolation, encouragement, in their missionary ventures, that were ventures of faith indeed! Let me think of the strength that came to them every morning that they held in their hands the Bread, and knew it, indeed, to become that Body they had seen and handled for the men and women and troops of little children imprisoned in the Catacombs, who found in the Mass said in the wind-swept passages amid the tombs of the martyred Christians, the grace to meet with patience the trouble that each day brought, who saw in the sacrifice the open door beyond their narrowed lives. However dreary or intolerable in itself, the hour was made glad and cheerful by the savour of this saving rite. Our fathers in the days of persecution risked all for the chance Mass, and the infrequent visit of a priest who might repeat for them the ceremonies of the Upper Room in Jerusalem, and make the loss of lands and life easy compared with the gaining of that "seldom presence." If I wish to value aright my privilege of the Mass, I must follow intelligently the whole ceremony, from the Confiteor to the Last Gospel.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.