What Is The Mass?

Fr Ev farewell MassCardinal Sarah’s speech to traditionalists yet lives in a thread here at CMAA’s forum. In the comments there, I was intrigued by a manifesto of questions ending with this one:

How many have ever heard that the Mass is first and foremost, a propitiatory sacrifice for sin?

Traditional Catholic language, I noted. But is it right? Orthodox? The Baltimore Catechism offers a differently worded view:

Q. 917. What is the Mass?

A. The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ.

More traditional language. No “first and foremost.” The modern catechism begins an exploration of liturgy at number 1066. It also cites Vatican II with this extended “first” description of liturgy:

The liturgy then is rightly seen as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ. It involves the presentation of (human)sanctification under the guise of signs perceptible by the senses and its accomplishment in ways appropriate to each of these signs. In it full public worship is performed by the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ, that is, by the Head and his members. From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree. (SC 7)

Perhaps many Catholics have not heard this either. This introductory section of PArt Two mentions “Paschal Mystery,” and I’m not sure all Catholics are familiar with that either.

A bit later in the Catechism, as the bishops get into a presentation on the Eucharist, all of 1323 is a citation from Vatican II’s Liturgy Constitution:

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'” (47)

Can these longer quotes be reduced to accurate one-liners? I don’t think so. But I would propose that the experience of millions of ordinary churchgoing Catholics aligns with an encounter with the Lord Jesus. My review of the “in brief” section 1110-1112 found this gem:

The mission of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church is to prepare the assembly to encounter Christ; to recall and manifest Christ to the faith of the assembly; to make the saving work of Christ present and active by his transforming power; and to make the gift of communion bear fruit in the Church.

When New Testament figures encountered Jesus, they frequently confessed being sinners, being unworthy, and the like. Simon the fisherman, the centurion, Saul on the road to Damascus. If a recognition of sin is sought, it would seem that encounter with Christ is essential. Other human beings, even priests, cannot demand it. They can only facilitate it. That is the connection between sin, sacrifice, and the Mass: aiming toward that holy encounter.

And most of those encounters continue to happen with the modern Roman Rite, celebrated with an unobstructed view of the altar, sometimes by priests who show off a bit too much, and also by a gathering of unworthy sinners. Things never change, right? Or not?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to What Is The Mass?

  1. Liam says:

    Understand that that list of questions did not come from Cardinal Sarah but an earlier commenter in that thread who would probably be shocked if someone thought she was approaching this primarily from a theological standpoint – in its original context, her thoughts are more clearly pastoral albeit not necessarily worded the way you or I might with that context in mind. I suggest that you ought only hold her to the precision you would expect to be held to here.

    FWIW, Emmaus for me remains a touchstone encounter with the Lord in the Paschal Mystery.

  2. FrMichael says:

    Liam, a video we showed before Mass some time ago on the connection of the Road to Emmaus and Mass. It’s a bit under 8 minutes. Went over well with the congregation.

    https://outsidedabox.com/film/on-the-road-to-emmaus/

    • Liam says:

      I’ve posted the following before on this blog, but it bears repetition:

      My preferred tastes in historical-traditional Christian church architecture run in the Byzantine-Romanesque direction, and as a result, while I can appreciate Baroque-Rococo, that’s not a direction I’d make my first choice – and thus by counterexample I can provide a stellar example of Bavarian Baroque-Rococo liturgical art: the splendid principal tabernacle (which, very sadly, in this picture is NOT being used as a tabernacle as it should be given its artfulness of design and purpose) of Neuzelle Abbey:

      • Liam says:

        link: “http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_71ZPiLxOVfU/ShU8yg2zy_I/AAAAAAAADIk/5j3Okd0o6Bo/s1600-h/P1020309.JPG”

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