The Most Holy Mass is the celebration of Christ’s Liturgy of Eucharistic sacrifice which merges Heaven and earth when celebrated by His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
Packed into this one statement is a trove of mysticism and theological depth which is often hard to grasp. The Mass is the anamnesis of Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation. It compresses time and space while opening the gates of Heaven uniting the entire body of Christ—we the militant on earth, those suffering in purgatory, and those triumphant in Heaven—in praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Its liturgical order and celebration originated with the teachings and actions of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels and exemplified by the Apostles and their successors. This liturgical celebration can only be efficaciously celebrated by members of His Mystical Body when lead by the Biblically and Traditionally prescribed hierarchy of bishops and priests who act in persona Christi Capitis. To fully grasp the mystery which is the Mass, one needs to deeply explore its Scriptural and Traditional understandings in unison with its liturgical prayers and actions.
It happens then, that the Mass possesses four essential realities for its undiminished understanding. The Earthly Reality is what we observe and do through our human senses. It comprises our visual observances, what we say, the things we hear, the actions we take, and the smells and tastes we consume. The Scriptural Reality reveals to us what the Words of God themselves say about the Mass. It points to its origins and legitimacy through the foreshadowing of the Old Testament, Christ’s actions and teachings, and the written instructions of the Apostles to the geographical churches they founded. The Traditional Reality is that which comes to us from the most ancient and revered saints and fathers of the Church. It is found in the oral traditions and teachings of the Apostles carried forth by their sacerdotal followers and gives authentic interpretation, meaning, and life to the liturgical ceremonies of the Church and the Scriptures themselves. These three realities evidence the Mystical Reality, which is actually their antecedent. This, the true nature of the Mass, is what happens behind the scenes. It is the spiritually invisible veiled by the taint of original sin leaving visible only the elements of this world. These realities come together in one unified and beautiful liturgical ceremony embodied by the Catholic Mass.
The elements of the Earthly Reality point to and symbolize the Mystical Reality of the Mass. Why do we kneel, sit, or stand? Is there a reason we sing when we do? Is the priest holding that piece of bread up just so we can see it? Why must we learn foreign languages in Mass? Every act, including silence and stillness performed in the Mass is vital to symbolism of what his happening just beyond our senses. The priest, holding the broken body of Christ offers it up to the Almighty Father. The congregation kneels devoutly in upmost reverence while silently and intensely focuses on the offering being made. The incense and candles lightly fogging the sanctuary-giving it that otherworldly visual, sending our prayers upward, and creating that o-so-familiar smell which we only get at Mass. Each points us to Mystical Reality
The Mystical Reality of the Mass
As previously mentioned, the Mass has a reality that is all together mystical: it is the celebration of Christ’s Liturgy of Eucharistic sacrifice which merges Heaven and earth by His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Through all of its various parts, the Mass is a single liturgical service from beginning to end. This one mystical act is complete only when each of its parts are whole-heartedly carried out and is otherwise incomplete if any is missed. It is all at once, an act of penance, forgiveness, praise, thanksgiving, sacrifice, and unification with the entire Body of Christ.
In the Mass, we fallen humans partake in the unending glorification of God in the Eternal Heavenly Mass. We acknowledge our fallen nature and unworthiness to receive the Beatific Vision. We confess our sins and ask for mercy and forgiveness. We praise our Lord and herald His coming as we mystically join the shepherds who first witnessed the singing of the angels announcing Christ’s birth. And we glorify Him as we ask that He receive our prayers and supplications offered from us through the priest to the Almighty.
Only after all this, are we prepared to hear the Words of God as He revealed His plan of salvation through the centuries. In one continuous story God unravels our creation, our fall, our proper way of life and worship, and our redemption in full communion with the eternal Father. The words given to us from the Old Testament, the Gospels, the apostolic epistles, and the message of Christ which flows through the priest form a continuity which only Truth possesses. Then we capture all that is authentic Christianity in a creed forged by trials both theological and bloody as we unify with all those through time who formed it, professed it, and died for tenacious belief in it.
The Mass reaches its mystical climax aptly enough in the physical and spiritual, yet imperfect, unification with Christ’s entire Mystical Body. We exceed the bounds of understanding and join the angels and saints in Heaven singing glory to God, witness the Spirit working through a mere man to transubstantiate bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our beloved Jesus Christ. As He stands there in our midst just shy of human perceptibility, we not only recount His salvific acts for us, but we are incomprehensibly transported to each event to witness His Passion, Death, and Resurrection and profess “So be it!” loudly and boldly consenting in mind, body and spirit all that was said and witnessed. After this spiritual unification we turn to the physical as we follow His command to “gnaw” on Him in the Eucharist, placing Him deep within us.
There we sit for just a few moments to contemplate our mysterious traversing of time and space and meditate on our spiritual and physical unification with Christ. Knowing that this is the closest we can get this side of death to our Lord, we intimately commune with Him from the depths of our soul. Then again, we pray through the priest to God for the blessings and graces which come from the receipt of the Sacrament of Sacraments. Finally, we are reminded of our baptismal responsibility as priests, prophets, and kings as we are dismissed with the same mission the Apostles received: to give glory to God by spreading the Gospel while living as Christ commanded.
This is the truth of the Mystical Reality of the Mass. It is not a symbolic community worship service. Though the earthly ceremonials, gestures, and instruments are not the sum total of the glorious nature that is the Catholic Mass, they none-the-less point to its true nature. We must add to them the Scriptural Reality to finds its origins and the Traditional Reality for its complete understanding.