Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Mass as Mission (Part IV)

The Mass, which is modeled (generally speaking) after Christ's life from Palm Sunday through Ascension Thursday, is an exchange between God and man, between heaven and earth. While the dismissal of Mass corresponds to the Great Commission (and the Lord's subsequent Ascension into Heaven), the whole Mass is, for each of us, an experience of Pentecost.

This encounter with Pentecost is where the Church draws the strength to carry out the mission given to Her by the Lord to preach to all the nations of the world. The primary end of the Mass is to glorify God by rendering proper worship unto the Blessed Trinity by prayers of adoration, petition, contrition, and thanksgiving, culminating in the ultimate prayer and the ultimate sacrifice, the Eucharist: the offering of the Son, through the Holy Spirit, to the Father. But the secondary end of the Mass is the sanctification of God's people, and through them, the world. It is through the sustenance and refreshment which God gives us in the Mass that each of us is able to be a disciple of and witness to the Lord in the world.

Pentecost and the Birth of the Church

More than one event has been called the "birth of the Church". One such incident is the piercing of the side of Christ as he hung lifeless on the cross (John 19:33-34), which corresponds to the forming of Eve from the side of Adam (her spouse) while he slept; but Pentecost also represents the "birth of the Church" because it is here that the Church begins to carry out the mission entrusted to Her by the Lord.

St. Luke, companion of St. Paul, wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a veritable sequel to his gospel, a chronicle the early years of the Church. He records for us the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, a Jewish feast day held 50 days after the sabbath following the Passover. (Leviticus 23:15-16) At the time, the Apostles were praying in Jerusalem along with Mary the mother of Jesus and other kin of the Lord and the other women who had followed him. (Acts 1:12-14) After the first novena — nine days of prayer starting on the day after the Ascension to that Sunday of the Pentecost — the Holy Spirit manifested himself to them in the form of tongues of fire. After this, they began to prophesy and St. Peter preached his first sermon, calling for the faithful Jews who had come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to repent and be baptized into Christ. (Acts 2)

The Church, born from the side of Christ, now took her first breath, a divine breath, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit. It was on Pentecost that the mission began to be lived, and as soon as this mission had been commenced, the new disciples of Christ "devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers". (Acts 2:42)

An Exchange Between God and Man

The Mass, by God's grace, gives us what we need to fulfill His will for us on earth. Receiving the Real Presence of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament when we receive Holy Communion is not the only thing we "get" out of Mass, and we put far more into it than we might imagine. Over the next several installments (under the title "The Mass as Exchange") we will examine each part of the Mass to see what "exchange" is made between God and man, always using Pentecost as our point of reference. Every grace and blessing which the newborn Church received to carry out Her mission is made present for us at every Mass. This perspective, whereby the Mass is our personal Pentecost, will help us to understand the Mass as mission and prepare us for living that mission daily.

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

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