WHAT HAPPENS AT MASS?
By Monsignor JOSÉ H. GOMEZ, Archbishop of Los Angeles
What happens at Mass?
We have a beautiful moment in these next few months to pray and reflect on this question, as we anticipate Advent, when we will start using a new translation of our Mass prayers.
The Mass is ever ancient and ever new. Many of the prayers we hear and say in the Mass were written before the ninth century. Many are taken almost word-for-word from the sacred Scriptures or adapted from the preaching of the early Church Fathers.
We should go to Mass every week aware that we are sharing in the spiritual worship that has nourished the family of God since the day of the Resurrection.
We know the story of that first Easter: how the risen Jesus met two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The disciples didn’t recognize him. But as they walked, Jesus proclaimed the Scriptures to them. He explained how the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in his preaching of the Gospel.
The disciples’ hearts burned within them. And they responded with words of faith, urging Jesus: “Stay with us!”
We know what happened next. Jesus did the same thing he did at the Last Supper. Seated at table, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
And they came to know him, St. Luke said, “in the breaking of the bread.” This is the first name Christians used for what we now call the Eucharist or the Mass.
In every Mass, the risen Jesus comes again to walk with us and talk with us. He opens the Scriptures for us and challenges us to open our hearts to believe in him. He breaks the bread for us and gives himself to us in his Body and Blood.
Jesus taught the first Christians that when we gather on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, we aren’t gathering only with family and friends in our parish here on earth.
In a mysterious way, our Mass on earth unites us with all the angels and saints gathered around God’s throne in the eternal liturgy of heaven. Our worship in the Mass also makes us one Body with our fellow Catholics everywhere in the world — in every nation from the rising of the sun to its setting.
So we should approach every Mass with a spirit of reverence and awe.
Your experience of the Mass will change if you try to get there a little early, so you have time to settle your mind and prepare your heart. Try to enter the sanctuary slowly, reverently and without speaking. Spend a few minutes kneeling and talking to Jesus Christ with real intimacy in the silence of your heart.
When Mass begins and the priest processes to the altar, try to keep in mind that he is not only our friend and our pastor. Ordained by God, he will pray and offer the sacrifice of the Mass in the person of Jesus Christ — in persona Christi.
The priest calls us into God’s presence, greeting us with the salutation used by God’s angels in the Bible. When he says, “The Lord be with you,” we should have the same joy that the Blessed Virgin Mary had when God’s angel spoke those words to her.
The priest might instead use St. Paul’s apostolic greeting: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
In our new Mass translation, the priest will pray that more precise word, “communion,” instead of “fellowship,” which we are used to hearing. The people will also respond with new words: “And with your spirit.” These words too are from St. Paul.
These small changes remind us that in the Mass, God is sharing himself with us in his Spirit of love, and in his Spirit of love he is drawing all of us into communion as one family of God.
“And with your spirit” reminds us that we are more than our material bodies. In Baptism, God has poured his love into our hearts through the gift of his Spirit, making each of us a child of God. What a beautiful gift!
Jesus said that God is Spirit, and he calls us to worship him in spirit and in truth. The Mass is our spiritual worship — as it has been for Christians since the beginning.
In our worship, we join ourselves to Christ’s great act of love on the cross. Through him, with him and in him, we offer our lives to God and to our brothers and sisters in love.
Let’s keep praying for one another. And let’s ask our Blessed Mother this week to help us to better live the Mass. VN
This is the second of a four-part series of columns that Archbishop Gomez intends to write on the translation of the Mass. To learn more, visit the U.S. bishops’ website: “Welcoming the Roman Missal, Third Edition” (www.usccb.org/romanmissal).
Follow Archbishop Gomez at: www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez