by Fr. Rufus Pereira
Gone are those days when the Sunday congregation 'heard' Mass, 'said' in a language not understood by them, and that too rattled off inaudibly, except to the altar servers who replied in Latin mechanically, the celebrant with his back to the people, the pious ones busy 'saying' the Rosary and the less pious ones staring into space, the former coming in time for the offertory and the latter making sure they did not receive communion.
Thanks to the Conciliar document on Sacred Liturgy the faithful now realize that the Mass is both the Proclamation of the Word of Life, and the Breaking of the Bread of Life. The Mass is therefore meant to be a Celebration of the Paschal Mystery, calling for an active and joyful participation of the whole assembly; and a Eucharistic Pilgrimage of the Christian Family, a demonstration of effective discipleship and evangelism.
The Eucharistic Assembly of the Parish Community
The Mass really begins with the Entrance Procession or Eucharistic Pilgrimage of the Christian Family: leaving our individual homes (the Domestic Church), then proceeding together with joy as one Family, entering the 'Tent of Meeting', the Parish Church, and, in the words of that Biblical hymn, 'gathering together, unto Him,' - One with Christ and his Church.
The greeting of the celebrant welcomes us to experience the love of the Father as his Family, the grace of Jesus as his Body, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as his Temple. Jesus himself has promised the Christian Family, "Where two or three meet in my name I shall be there with them, and when they pray in agreement my Father will grant their prayer". Even today, "The Master is here and wants to see you" (Jn 11:28).
A Call to Repentance and Reconciliation
As the prophets, like John the Baptist, and the Apostles, like Peter, did, the Church then invites us to acknowledge our sins, in deed but even of thought, of commission but even of omission, to repent and ask forgiveness of both God and our brothers and sisters in the Parish Eucharistic Community, to ensure a worthy and joyful celebration of the Eucharist.
We then ask one another to pray for a sincere experience and a joyful assurance of God's forgiving love. Later on before asking the Lamb of God to take away our sins, we will be offering one another the Family sign of Peace aware that, though we are members of one Family and of one Community, we may have hurt one another and we need Reconciliation both before we offer our gifts to God and share them with others.
Glorifying and Praising God
It is only then that with cleansed hearts and lips we first sing our Praises and Glory to God for his Holiness, for what he is in himself, our God, King and Father, and then express our thanks to him ('Eucharist' means Thanks), for his Love, for what he has done for us, in giving us his only Son, as our Lord, and his sacrificial Lamb, as our Saviour, who alone takes away our sins.
That is why even if liturgically the 'Gloria' is omitted, the whole Mass is meant to be Our Song and Sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving to God, bringing all that is within me, and the whole of creation, in tune with the angelic choir of the first Christmas, to give Glory to God in the heavens and to thank him for his Peace to our human Family on earth, - and Jesus alone is our Peace, and the Glory of God is Peace in and among men.
Proclamation and Acceptance of the Good News
Inspired by the example of the Master himself and following the practice of the Apostles, the Church proclaims the Word of God, so well broken in the beautiful Lectionary of the Mass. For God's Word is alive and active, cutting to the heart, as it did through Peter at Pentecost, changing our lives and healing our hurts, as the Centurion knew would happen.
The homily that follows is meant to help us to understand and to reflect on that Word, as Mary did, thus making it relevant to us today. It should lead us both to Renew our Faith in reciting the 'I believe', that faith that gives us life, and to start acting upon it in the general intercessions, called the Prayer of the Faithful, for our own families, for the actual needs of the parish community, for the church and the world at large.
The Offering of Bread and Wine
As we progress from hearing the Word of God, we now proceed to doing it, (Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only- James 1:22), bringing to the Altar of God our symbolical gifts of bread and wine, equally the fruit of the earth (God's gift) and the work of our Family hands (human labour), together with our offerings for the poor, needy and marginalized families.
We then pray that our sacrificial offerings may be so acceptable to God, that they may become our Bread of Life and our Cup of Joy, - the very Body and Blood of Jesus, - so that, as we offer ourselves at the Family Altar, we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity, for the Divine became a human so that we humans could become divine, and it is Christ who will then live in me.
The Consecration of these Gifts
The Eucharistic Prayer begins with thanking God for sending his only Son to be our Saviour, sacrificing him on the Cross for our salvation, raising him from death to give us life, 'thus fulfilling your will and winning for you a holy people'. We call to mind that before his death he took bread and wine and said, "This is My Body broken for you, My Blood shed for you; Eat it and Drink it".
Since all life and holiness comes from God through Jesus his Son by the working of the Spirit, we ask God to transform these gifts by the power of the same Spirit so that they may become the Body and Blood of his Son. The Family of God then proclaims this Mystery of our Faith with thanks, Christ has died thus destroying our death; with joy, He is risen thus restoring our life; and with hope, He will come again in triumphant glory.
The Memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection
Soon after proclaiming the historical fact of the Lord's Paschal Mystery, we pray for the Fruits of his Redemption to be seen through the intercession of the Saints, in the eternal rest to our deceased family members, and in strengthening the Eucharistic Pilgrim Church in faith and uniting it in love, thereby advancing the salvation and peace of the whole world.
For the best memorial of the Lord's Death and Resurrection is our own dying to sin and rising to a new life with him. We pray that, his death having now reconciled us to himself, we, the Eucharistic Family, may, by receiving his body and blood, be filled by his Holy Spirit and become one body in Christ. The Lord will thus make of us his everlasting gift to the Father and sharers in the inheritance of Mary and the saints.
All the Communion prayers, that prepare us to Receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, as our spiritual food, from the 'Our Father', to the 'Amen' in response to 'The Body of Christ', are meant for our total healing. In our desire to receive this 'daily bread', we pray for forgiveness of our sins, for deliverance from every evil, for reconciliation and healing, for inner peace and joyful hope.
Praying that this Communion may not bring us condemnation but healing, we cry out in faith, 'Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. Say but the word and I shall be healed', for the Lord looks not at our impiety but on our faith. We are then invited to eat what we are (the Body of Christ), so that we may become what we eat (the Body of Christ), thanking his Church for this unexpected invitation and this incredible privilege.
The Sending Forth on Mission (Mass)
Like the Gospels, the Mass began with an invitation to come up to the mountain of the Lord, even to the House of God - with the upward or vertical movement of 'Com-Union with the Trinity', 'In the name of …'. It now ends, like the Gospels, with a command to go down into the plains of the earth, of mankind, - with the downward or horizontal movement of 'Unity in the Community', 'Go to love and to serve …'.
The Mass (Sent or Mission) in this sense really begins after the Mass, as we are blessed and sent back into the world to live the Mass and every part of it in our personal and family life, in our community and in society. We then go forth blessing and thanking the Lord, for the privilege of continuing his ministry of proclaiming Good News and of doing Good Works to everyone, everywhere and every time.
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