Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” So begins Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist and Its Relationship to the Church). Drawing from the documents of the Second Vatican Council, His Holiness identifies the Eucharist as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen gentium, 11), reminding his flock that, indeed, “the most Holy Eucharist contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth: Christ himself, our passover and living bread. Through his own flesh, now made living and life-giving by the Holy Spirit, he offers life to men” (Presbyterorum ordinis, 5). Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love. (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 1)

We can offer God no higher praise than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the means through which the graces won for us by His precious Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, are poured out upon the world. Members of the Apostolate draw upon this great wellspring of grace by attending Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion at least three times each week (for those in the first stages of formation). By the time a person is prepared for Consecration, he or she attends Mass and receives Holy Communion daily.

How to Pray the Mass

by FatherJohn A. Hardon, S.J.

I should like to say something more immediately practical now on how we can pray the Mass more effectively. Let me make these recommendations:

First, understand the Mass. Whatever else the Mass is, it is a vocal prayer in which every word is vocalized and most of them aloud. Even the most reverently offered Mass takes only a short time. There is no time to be giving immediate thought to every syllable as it comes along. Hence the wisdom of learning to understand the Mass, know it better, its mysterious meaning and profound significance through periodic reading, meditation and study beforehand. Some years ago I was asked to assemble a bibliography on the Mass for the Catholic colleges in the United States. The then-current books on the Mass in English in print were over one hundred. I wonder how many Catholic could name, I do not say then, but even one current title on the Mass. The Mass is, indeed, a mystery. But mysteries are not only to be believed, they are with God’s grace to be ever more clearly understood. We must come to better understand the Mass. A single expression like that of Saint Leonard of Port Maurice can affect our whole life. “Except for the Mass,” he said, “being daily offered on thousands of altars, the world would long ago have been destroyed because of its sins.” I would summarize this first recommendation by using the imperative verb “meditate.” Meditate on the Mass.

Second, plan your Mass. If the Mass is the important action that faith tells us it is, we should plan for it. It is common knowledge and experience that we plan for things according to the importance we attach to them. Unimportant things we hardly plan for at all. Important things we plan for at length, with this planning can mean different things. It can mean looking ahead to know what Mass is to be said. If we wait till the Mass begins, it will take us ten minutes to find out what the Mass for today is all about. It can mean that I read the Scripture lessons beforehand, the orations, know what or whose feast is to be commemorated in the Mass. It can mean that I have given some thought before Mass to what will be said during Mass, and, I would emphasize, to what I will be thinking about during Mass. I have taught too many classes not to know, and on occasion I have had to walk into class quite unprepared. An unprepared class, I might just as well have called off. It should always mean that I have a definite intention or intentions for which I will offer my Mass. Since the Mass is of infinite value, do not hesitate to multiply the intentions. I would summarize the second recommendation by saying: anticipate the Mass.

Third, be attentive during Mass. The degree of participation in the new liturgy is such that most people are almost necessarily kept alert during the offering of Mass. In fact, that is one of the reasons for the vernacular and the antiphonal responses between the priest or the ministers at the altar and the congregation, and the out loud saying of what used to be silent or very subdued parts of the Eucharistic rite. But the attention about which I am speaking here is something more. It is attention not only to the verbal forms being heard or said or the actions of the priest being performed, it is what I call internal attention to the mystery of faith that is being enacted before my eyes. I would compare attendance at Mass to recitation of the rosary. In both cases, there are vocal prayers and silent reflection, and the two should not conflict but harmonize. What I mean is that it would be well for us to mentally place ourselves – and we have many options – at the Last Supper, or the Garden of Gethsemane, or with Christ before Herod, or before Pilate or the Sanhedrin, or on His way to Golgatha, or being nailed, or dying on the cross. Each one of us, according to our own devotion, should united ourselves in spirit with Christ now as He was then in body. Let us remind ourselves that at the time when He offered His Mass, His first Mass, He had us in mind. Should we not repay Him in kind and now have Him in our mind in return? I would summarize this third recommendation as concentrate.

This past Sunday, I had occasion to speak on the Holy Eucharist at the National Center of the People’s Eucharistic Crusade in New York City at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers. It was inspiring to see a large church filled with fervent believers in the Holy Eucharist. What crossed my mind several times during the celebration was that all of this was due to God’s Providence to the deep faith of the Founder of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, his deep faith in the Holy Eucharist. Saint Peter Julian Eymard had a vivid sense of realism as he offered Mass, and he urged others to assist at Mass in the same spirit. I would like to share with you something of the easy childlike faith of this great lover of the Eucharist, in one of his many very practical suggestions for spiritual concentration during Mass. He liked to visualize the Mass as Christ on Calvary saying his seven last words. Listen to what Saint Peter Julian passed on:

  1. “Jesus prays for His executioners: ‘Father; forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Ask Jesus to forgive all your sins for you are more guilty than His executioners for having crucified Him. You sinned even though you knew better.
  2. “The good thief says to Jesus, “Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom’ and Jesus answers him: ‘Amen, I say to you, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.’ In his gratitude, the good thief united his suffering with the sufferings of Jesus. Repeat his prayer in your own favor for the present moment and for the hour of your death.
  3. “Jesus gives Saint John to Mary for her son: ‘Woman, behold your son.’ John is thus to take the place of Jesus as her son and with him all mankind receives Mary for a mother. Thank our Lord for giving her to you. Ask this good mother to give you her tender love, to guide you in all things to the service of Jesus.
  4. “‘Behold your mother.’ With these words, Jesus give His mother to be our mother. Thank your loving Savior for the glorious title of child of Mary which gives you a claim to her mother’s love and to all her goods and possessions.
  5. “‘I thirst.’ Adore Jesus crucified anew on the altar. He prays to His heavenly Father, willing to suffer still more for the love of mankind and cries out to Him, ‘I thirst.’ I thirst for hearts, thirst for Your glory. Slake this burning thirst of Jesus for suffering, for the world’s salvation, for reparation to the deeply offended majesty of God by suffering yourself and making reparation with Him.
  6. “‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Adore the holy and unspeakable desolation of the Savior suffered by Him to expiate your own criminal abandonment of God and His holy law. Promise Him that you will never again forsake Him.
  7. “‘It is consummated. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ With these words, Jesus dies. Adore Him, as in this Holy Communion He delivers Himself into the hands of men, body and blood, soul and divinity – all that He is. Unite yourself with the priest and adore Jesus taken down from the cross and given into the arms of His holy mother. As you receive Him in Communion, press Him to your heart and never let Him leave you.”

Fourth, share the Mass. My last recommendation on how to pray the Mass better is to share it. What do I mean? I mean we should always remember the needs not only of ourselves but of other people while we are at Mass. There is no more effective way of drawing down God’s blessing on a sinful, hungry, needy, wandering and confused world than by praying for others in the Mass and through the Mass. When Saint Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, he put at the masthead of his constitutions this statement: “The most important single means by which the Society of Jesus will obtain grace from God is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

When I say, “sharing the Mass,” I mean that we should share in spirit – we should join in the Masses that are being offered on so many thousands of altars throughout the Catholic Church. The Mass that we are praying is not only the Mass we are attending; it is all the Masses that Christ – the physical and mystical Christ, is offering.

What do I mean by sharing the Mass? I mean we should tell people about the Mass. To teach the Mass is to teach Christ and to teach the real Christ – the Christ who is God, who became man out of love for us and who died to prove His love. We shall be, I do not say inspired, but even reminded to tell others about the Mass and explain its meaning to them only if we ourselves have become imbued with the spirit of the Mass that we have ourselves meditated upon and thoroughly understood.

By sharing the Mass, I mean we should encourage people to have Masses offered for their own and other people’s intentions. This is our Faith. And not just for the deceased, but for the living – the living who are suffering, the living who are in need, the living who are estranged from God. There is an extraordinary special grace for those for whom Masses are offered. We should urge people to assist at Mass in order to grow in the faith. There is no more effective way of living the Catholic Faith than by attending the Holy Sacrifice. At Mass I am not only reflecting on a revealed mystery, but I am participating in what I believe. I become part of the most important action that has ever been performed on earth – the action of God dying for man.

We should, finally, help people to profit all that they can from the Masses they assist at and from all the thousands of Masses being offered daily throughout the world. We will profit from the Mass in the exact degree that we practice the virtue that Christ lived and (I don’t know how this is going to sound) died. Christ “died” a virtue when He offered Himself on Calvary in order that we might live, and perpetuate this cosmic event in our midst until the end of time. The Mass in which we believe is the Mass we are called upon to live. Living that Mass will mean dying the Mass. It means dying a thousand deaths to self until, happily, one day we shall die, like Christ, commending our spirit into the hands of the God from whom we came.

The preceding article is an excerpt from Praying the Mass, Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica. Used with permission.

More articles available at: http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Mass/Mass_007.htm