Monday, September 17, 2012
Why Go to Mass?
The following is from an excellent homily by an FSSP priest, which you may listen to here. This is not an exact transcript – I’ve used many of the priest’s own words, but have done a lot of paraphrasing as well – and it may be a little rough…sorry! But I think the point still comes across, and I encourage you to listen to the recording, more than once, even.
Christ lives in Heaven interceding for us principally by His sacrifice on Calvary. Holy Mass is the projection of this continual sacrifice. It is where we are united to Christ, where we receive Heavenly Food that gives life to the soul. The points being made in this homily are these: For Mass and Holy Communion we must fix our intentions at the offertory; we must make our Communion for a specific purpose; and we must make a good and long thanksgiving.
First: the Offertory, which starts right after Creed. Here is where you must fix your intentions. The people offer Chirst’s sacrifice through the priest, so the intention is what you want to offer up your Mass for. You could offer it for a dying family member, or maybe you are struggling to overcome a particular vice by growing in virtue. Whatever your intention is, you should mentally place your intention on the host. When do you do this? The priest removes chalice veil, set chalice aside, and picks up paten with the host on it. That’s when you fix your intention. Then priest offers up the host, saying in part, “Receive O Holy Father, this spotless host, for all here present.” The priest is offering up the host for you.
If you don’t have an intention, come up with one right then! If you haven’t thought of one ahead of time, and can’t think of one at the time, offer it up for a holy death. The most important thing any of us will ever do is die! A holy death should be the “default setting” for your intention.
After the priest puts wine in chalice, he blesses the water, and adds a drop of water in chalice. That drop of water stands for your intentions; he places your intention in the chalice, and then he offers up the chalice.
Now the priest has offered the host and offered chalice. Then, the priest bends over the altar, hands together, symbolically groveling before the Father; he has his hands together like a slave at the threshold of the heaven. He’s interceding for everyone. He says, “In a spirit of humility and with a contrite heart, receive us O Lord and grant that the sacrifice we offer this day in thy sight, may be pleasing unto thee O Lord.”
That’s not the imperial “we” – he’s praying for everyone.
We’ve united ourselves to the sacrifice by fixing our intentions at the offertory. We should make a particular point, then, of uniting ourselves with the priest who is asking God on our behalf for a truly humble spirit and a contrite heart.
God has bound Himself to listen to the prayers of his priest. Since the priest has been consecrated precisely to offer this sacrifice, and since he has that role, as long as he’s doing everything right and not getting creative up there, God, the creator of heaven and earth, has bound himself to listen to his prayers. It’s really amazing when you really think about it.
There’s even sort of a last call if you’ve been distracted or daydreaming. The priest iss eht altar turns to the people and says “orate fratres” and he puts his hands together and turns in a circle; he’s mystically gathering intentions as he says “pray brethren that my sacrivice and YOURS may be acceptable..”
God the father looks down and accepts that host and wine, the offering the priest has made, but all he sees is a little piece of bread and a little bit of wine. But God the Father also sees all the intentions attached to them as long as we’ve made them!
Then it all comes together at the consecration. The priest consecrates the host and chalice and holds them up on behalf of everyone to God the Father. Now stop and think of what that means. Suddenly, by this marvel of transubstantiation, the bread and wine are completely gone (only appearances remains). By the power of the priesthood, Jesus Christ is now really present, body, blood, soul, and divinity. And now God the Father is looking down, and what does He see? He sees His Beloved Son, holding up those intentions we’ve fixed at the offertory.
Everyone needs to fix his intentions at the offertory. We have many things we need to pray for; let’s not neglect this.
Second: Holy Communion. Communion is God’s supreme gift to us upon earth.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent tells us: “Our Lord wished that the Most Blessed Sacrament should be received as the spiritual food of souls as an antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and preserved from mortal sin.”
It’s a solemn teaching of the church that communion is an antidote for sin.
You may say, “Father, I’ve been receiving Holy Communion for years, and I haven’t made much progress!” But remember: one Communion is sufficient in itself to make us a saint; there’s nothing lacking in Christ. If we’re not saints after our first communion it’s because of our disposition.
We need to make our communions for a specific purpose; for example, it could be for conquering our faults. Suppose you suffer from the temptation of anger against your neighbor – maybe the guy drives you nuts, and you even at times think you’d like to go over there and thrash him! Well, then you have a specific purpose to think about when you go to communion; you want to control our anger (or whatever your purpose might be).
And we need to talk to God about it. If we’re going to ask our boss for raise, we would spend some time thinking about what we would say. Well, this is God we’re going to be visiting with! So if we’re so careless about his visit that we haven’t been planning exactly what we want to ask for, and how we’re going to say it - and worse yet, if we don’t talk to him about it at all after we’ve received him – then small wonder if we’ve made little progress over the years! We shouldn’t just shuffle up to communion and shuffle back. That’s not going to help.
St. Teresa of Avila said that after communion, “Jesus remains in the soul as on a throne of grace, and asks ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”
It’s extraordinary! He doesn’t need anything; but we need him, and that’s why he’s coming to us in Holy Communion – to give us what we need. When he asks what we want him to do for us, we want to have a good answer. We want to plan out exactly what we’re going to ask him to do before we go to Communion. (Of course, we must have fasted beforehand, and we have to be in state of grace, etc.)
If, for example, you struggle with anger, then plan out how you want to talk to God about it.
Then go to Communion. And afterwards say: “Lord, thank you for coming to me in Holy Communion. I have a problem with anger; sometimes I have bad thoughts, even wanting to thrash my neighbor. I’m trying to remain meek and calm, but I’m doing a terrible job. I’m having a hard time doing it, but I know you can do it. I’m turning it over to you. I’m inviting you into that part of my life. You take charge of that part of my life, and rearrange my interior life in a way that’s pleasing to you. You help me keep a handle on my anger, because obviously I’m not pleasing you. Have mercy on me…”And so on; you get the idea.
We’re sinners; he came to save us. He wants us to be saints, but we have to do our part, so we have to ask.
St. Teresa of Avila said:
After Communion, let us be careful not to lose so good an opportunity of negotiating with God. His Divine Majesty is not accustomed to pay badly for his lodgings if he meets with a good reception.
We’ve got to pray and prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. And then we need to have a good reception and visit with Him.
Put yourself in this imaginary situation: Someone invites you over to visit. You go, and they greet you; but then they ask you to wait in a little broom closet, and they lock you in there while they go around visiting with other people – you can hear them visiting, having coffee, etc. How welcome would you feel? You’d be thinking, “Why did you invite me over? Let me outa here!”
How often do people receive Communion like that? It’s the Lord of Lords and King of Kings; he comes into their heart and they don’t have a thing to say to him. They can’t wait to get out the door, as if there’s a fire in the church. We have to prepare for Communion, prepare for a good reception, and then we have to spend time with Him asking Him to crush our sinful inclinations, and whatever else we need. The saints are unanimous on this.
St. Peter Julian Eymard said:
The most solemn moments of your life are those you spend in thanksgiving. When the king of heaven and earth, your savior and judge, is yours, fully inclined to grant all that you ask of him. Devote a half an hour if possible to this thanksgiving or at the very least 15 minutes. There is no more holy, no more salutary moment for you than when you possess Jesus in your body and in your soul.
The temptation often comes to shorten our thanksgiving. The devil knows its value; and our nature, our self-love, shrinks from its effects. Determine therefore, what the duration of your thanksgiving is to be, and never subtract a moment therefrom without a pressing reason.
Thanksgiving is absolutely essential if the act of communion, so holy, is not to degenerate into a mere pious habit.”
St. Alphonsus said: “What treasures of grace to they lose who pray but a short time to God after Holy Communion.”
The basic idea is easy to understand: we have all kinds of problems we need to take to the Divine Physician, who came to make all things new. The basic technique is also easy to understand: We plan out exactly what we’re going to ask Our Lord to do before we go to Communion. Then we spend 15-30 minutes after communion talking to him about our problems and begging him for mercy.
We started by asking, “Why go to Mass? What is the point? What are we to be doing?” There are things that we need from God, that we can only get from Him, and this is precisely set up by God Himself that we might receive them.
Let’s get serious, today, and at every Mass.
Fix your intentions at the offertory; make your communion for a specific purpose; make a good and long thanksgiving. Then you’re really on the path to holiness.