The greatest thing I can do as a priest, is to bring the Eucharist to you in each mass and offer the forgiveness of sins through confession. There is nothing greater than this for any priest and this is basically what a priest’s life is about. Naturally it will involve a lot of other things too, such as visiting the sick, praying with people, hopefully being a ‘sign-post’ to God in some way, but above all it is to bring the Eucharist to people.
But why do we need to have the mass? Couldn’t we just celebrate mass once a month and then receive Holy Communion every week without a priest? Well we could if we didn’t have enough priests to celebrate the mass, but it is not the same thing for different reasons. It is not just about receiving Holy Communion, although this clearly is the most important part for us.
Every time a priest celebrates the mass, it is Jesus who is working through him on the altar. We say that the priest is alter Christus, ‘another Christ’. I am still a human being and a sinner, but Jesus acts through me as a priest in a unique way, especially when I celebrate the mass. That is why the priest always reads the Gospel, because they are the words of Christ, so it is Jesus himself speaking his own words to us, through the person of the priest.
Then at the consecration, when the priest says ‘This is my body which will be given up for you,’ we are present to Jesus being offered to God the Father on the cross. We are there. Time stands still and we are present at the event of Calvary and the Last Supper. All we can see is a man holding up a small white piece of unleavened bread, but this is what is taking place. So why doesn’t God clearly show this to us? At least then everyone would believe. Perhaps it is because God wants us to believe, even though we do not understand. That’s what faith is. He wants us to come here and pray, even though we don’t have to. He wants us to freely choose for him and to make the effort to give him some of our time each week. God asks us to acknowledge and worship him, which is why we take the time to come together. It is often an inconvenience, but in a way it should be. God asks us to give of ourselves to him, since He has given us everything in the first place.
The mass is also the most perfect prayer there is, the one offering that cannot be refused, since God the Father could not refuse the offering of his Son, which is why we offer up so many things in each mass. We pray for the whole Church, the pope, bishops all of us here, those who are sick and have different needs, those who have died and we often mention someone in particular by name as well.
Like anything else we become familiar with it and take it for granted, but can you imagine if you weren’t familiar with what it was and someone said to you, ‘You have to come down to this place where the Christians have this extraordinary meeting each week. Jesus comes among them in what they call the Eucharist and He speaks to them through the Scriptures and then they actually receive the Body and Blood of Jesus!’ That is what the mass is. That’s what happens every time we come together. As soon as we say that we ‘have’ to go to mass, we are turning it backwards. We are looking at it as an obligation, a burden, instead of the most incredible encounter with God where we actually listen to him speak to us and are then united with him in the most intimate way possible.
In the year 170AD a man called Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor describing what the Christians were about and what happened at each mass, as people were very suspicious about them especially when they heard about eating the body and blood of a man. But in his account of the mass back then, 1800 years ago, he describes almost exactly what we still do today, including the collection! It hasn’t changed because it came from Jesus and not from us.
At this time of the year we focus especially on the dead and we pray for them with the greatest prayer that we know: the holy sacrifice of the mass. We always come back to it because we don’t know of anything greater. If we had something greater, we would do that instead and even though if is only Catholics who believe that, it doesn’t matter. It is enough. God has given us this gift of faith and shown us this treasure in his world, and He invites us to come together and pray for his people, and for all the needs of the world, and to remember what He has done for us.
Here is something that probably never occurred to you. Each of us is a master piece carefully designed by God from all eternity. We think of our life as beginning at conception, which it does physically, where we are also given an immortal soul. But long before this God has carefully designed each of us, how we would look, the color of our skin, eyes, hair; the gifts we would have, the families we would be born into. Then at conception that masterpiece begins to take form.
When an artist creates a masterpiece, he doesn’t begin with a canvass putting on paint to see what will happen. He has an idea/picture in his mind as to what he wants to create. Then he begins to put together that creation and finishes with a masterpiece. And like any masterpiece, he takes great pride in it and great care of it.
The gift of the Eucharist is a reminder to us that we are that masterpiece and God is so interested in us that He remains intimately close to us and interested in us, guiding and teaching us every step of the way. He is not observing from a distance, but so close to us that we can actually receive him into our bodies. What could be more intimate than this? Through the Scriptures He continually guides, teaches, warns and admonishes us, because He is so interested in each of us, his masterpieces.
None of us is worthy of the Eucharist, and could ever be worthy, but it is God who makes it possible. That’s also why we always begin by acknowledging that we are sinners and we also acknowledge our unworthiness, ‘Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Jesus wants us to receive him and that’s why He gives himself to us.
So the next time you find yourself saying ‘I have to go to mass,’ stop yourself and remind yourself what it is: an extraordinary encounter with God, where God speaks to us and where Jesus comes among us and where we can touch and receive him.
‘This is my Body, which will be given up for you.
Do this in memory of me.’