Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Mass as Mission (Part II)

In order to understand the Church's mission, we must first understand Jesus' mission. What is his mission? And who gave it to him?

The Gospel of John makes the mission of Jesus quite clear: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17) The very name of Jesus means "YHWH saves" or "YHWH is salvation", and the angel told Joseph that Jesus "will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus tells us who gave him this mission: "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)

In John's gospel, the word "send" or "sent" is used 50 times in conjunction with the Father sending the Son, or the Son sending the Holy Spirit or his disciples. Jesus worked great miracles (such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11) that the Jews to whom he ministered would believe that God had truly sent him. God the Father sent His Son into the world, "that the world might be saved through him". (John 3:17) So the mission of the Lord pertains to the salvation of those who receive him. But salvation from what?

Luke's gospel gives us additional information about the Lord's mission. Soon after Jesus began his ministry, he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the Scriptures: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:18-19) Jesus was anointed by God as the Christ (the Messiah, which means "the anointed one") to preach the gospel ("good news").

Who are the poor? Who are the captives, the blind, and the oppressed? Is the release and sight and liberty which Jesus brings purely a social or physical gift? Jesus restored the sight to many who were blind and cured all kinds of illnesses, but the depth of his mission goes far deeper. When he instituted the greatest of all sacraments, the Eucharist, Jesus said that the cup he gave to them to drink was the "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20); Matthew records the purpose of that covenant: "[it] is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28)

Matthew ends with the "Great Commission", where the Lord says to his disciples: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) To receive a "commission" is to be entrusted with something.

So Jesus sent his disciples out to all nations. He assured them of his presence with them, and he gave this promise to them (and to those to whom he sent them): "he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me." (John 13:20) Jesus identified the sending of his disciples with his own being sent by the Father: "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." (John 20:21) Jesus also made it clear why he was sending them: "I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." (John 15:16)

Jesus sends the Church, he sends us, into the world for the same reason that the Father sent him. And the Church wasted no time! Just read the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles! The mission of the Church, then, is nothing other than the mission of Jesus Christ. But what does this have to do with the Mass? We'll cover that in the next installment.

May the Lord bless us +, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

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