The Mystery of Faith
From the time we begin to gather in the name of Jesus, we are aware of the presence of Christ. At Mass, our active participation draws us into the depths of this presence. Our singing and praying is a manifestation of the presence of Christ in his mystical body, the Church. As the procession enters the assembly we recognise in the ordained minister(s) the living icons of Christ the Shepherd. When the presider says the words of our baptism, we all mark our bodies with the sign of the cross. We recall our baptismal promises and respond "Amen," indicating our lives are joined to the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. So it is that we begin our Mass with a dialogue that recognises and blesses the presence of Christ in each other: Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo, literally translates "The Lord (is/be) with you. And also with your spirit."
In the first half of the Mass, we encounter the presence of Christ in another way - in his Word. In the readings and the responsorial psalm, it is Christ speaking to us. Our response to the Gospel is addressed to Jesus in this new presence of Christ among us: "praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ." In the homily, Christ the Shepherd nourishes us from the table of the Word - "feed my lambs" (Jn 21:15). In the prayer of the faithful the whole body of Christ prays to the Father for the needs of the church, the world, the poor and oppressed, and the local assembly. Our active participation draws us into the depths of the presence of Christ in his Word - as readers and listeners; as singers and homilists; as intercessors of prayer.
In the second half of the Mass, we encounter the presence of Christ in yet another way, a very substantial way - as food. This feeding is called Eucharist, which is Greek for thanksgiving. This is not any kind of food, but the bread of life and the cup of the new covenant. Jesus said that the bread he gives for the life of the world is his flesh (Jn 6:51): "for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them" (Jn 6:55-56).
We begin this meal with the people bringing up the gifts of bread and wine, fruit of the earth, work of human hands. The presider takes these gifts from the people. In the great prayer of thanksgiving he then blesses these gifts, calling on the Holy Spirit to make them the body and blood of Jesus. After recalling the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, he presents to the assembly the flesh and blood of Jesus - no longer bread and wine, but the bread of life and our spiritual drink. He then calls us to proclaim the mystery of faith.
Our memorial acclamation is addressed to Jesus in this new found substantial presence of Christ among us: "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life, Lord Jesus, come in glory." The mystery of faith we are acclaiming is that the Jesus who suffered and died, who was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, who will come again in glory on the last day, this Jesus is truly present among us and is the source of our salvation. For Jesus said: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day" (Jn 6:54). The presider calls on the Holy Spirit to "grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ" (Eucharistic Prayer III).
After the sign of peace, the presider breaks the bread, the bread of life. He then gives us the flesh and blood of Jesus, feeding us from the table of the Eucharist - "feed my sheep" (Jn 21:17). This is no ordinary food, which is assimilated into a person's body. This food assimilates (verb, transitive). As we participate in this sublime communion, consuming the flesh and blood of Jesus, he assimilates us. His substantial presence abides in us as we are sent forth into the world.
8. The Mystery of Faith
Why We Do the Things We Do at Mass © 2005 Paul Mason
Paul Mason is Pastoral Associate at Naremburn and Northbridge parishes. He is a member of the Australian Academy of Liturgy and the Diocesan Liturgical Commission of Broken Bay.
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