‘One Body, One Spirit in Christ’ – An introduction to the Mass
What is the Mass?
In the celebration of Mass, we:
· Live our baptismal promises and profess our faith
· Listen to God’s word
· Offer our gifts of bread and wine
· Take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which they are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church to the glory of God the Father into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ
· Receive those same gifts in Holy Communion so that we may grow in communion with God and neighbour
· Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
‘At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Christ throughout the ages until he should come again, and so entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of this 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.”’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47)
The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ (Lumen Gentium, 11)
Why is ‘Mass’ called ‘Mass’?
No one really knows! According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘the inexhaustible richness of [the Eucharist] is expressed in the different names we give it’ (CCC 1328). Here are some of them:
· The Eucharist: the Greek words eucharistein and euloegein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, sanctification (cf. Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24)
· The Lord’s Supper: not often used in Catholic circles, this is a reminder that the Mass is intimately connected with the Last Supper and because it anticipates the marriage feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem. (cf. 1 Cor 11:20; Rev 19:9)
· The Breaking of Bread: This is the first term used by the early Christians to describe what we call the Mass. Jesus broke the bread as part of the Last Supper, and this was the action by which the disciples recognised him after the Resurrection. By sharing in the one bread, we become one body, one spirit in Christ. (cf. Mt 14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mk 8:6,19; Lk 24:13-35; Acts 2:42,46; 20:7,11; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:24)
· The Eucharistic Assembly: The Mass is a synaxis – it is celebrated by the whole Church, the assembly of the faithful (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34)
· The Memorial: The Mass is a memorial of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
· The Holy Sacrifice: The Mass makes present the one, true, and eternally salvific sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and this includes the Church’s offering of the great sacrifice of praise. (cf. Ps 116:13,17; Mal 1:11; Heb 13:15; 1 Pet 2:5)
· The Holy and Divine Liturgy and the Sacred Mysteries: This is how Mass is often designated in the Eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodox Churches, because the Church’s liturgy finds its focus in the celebration of the Eucharsit.
· Holy Communion: By this great sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ who makes us all sharers in his Body and Blood to makes us one body, one spirit. (cf. 1 Cor 10:16-17)
· The Holy Mass: The Latin Dismissal, Ite missa est, is a reminder that we are sent from Mass on a mission, so that each of us may fulfil God’s will in our lives.
‘The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the centre of the whole Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as well as for each of the faithful individually. In it is found the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. In it, moreover, during the course of the year, the mysteries of redemption are recalled so as in some way to be made present. Furthermore, the other sacred actions and all the activities of the Christian life are bound up with it, flow from it, and are ordered to it.’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 16)