Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Mass as Rest (Part 2)

NB: This is the second in a series of sermons on the Mass, preached on the 26th Sunday per annum.

Hans Holbein the Younger's Dead Christ in the Tomb

If there is one thing most of us who are workers and laborers desire from our labors, it is rest. If we could spend the rest of our days without having to earn our keep by the sweat of our brow, we would most likely embrace it wholeheartedly. Our vacations are always too short, and the weekends fly so fast that Monday seems to hit like a brick wall. We love to take our rests, no matter how long they may be. And we should, for God created us to enjoy rest.
We observed last week how the Mass is the act of worship offered to God in union with the sacrifice of the Cross. But the Mass is also meant to be the pinnacle of our rest, in particular the Sunday Mass offered in part to fulfill the Third Commandment: Keep holy the Sabbath. In the first story of creation in the book of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth in six days, then rested on the seventh day, blessing and sanctifying this day to Himself (Gen 2:2). This rest was so important that it was given as one of the Ten Commandments handed on to Moses and to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:8; Dt 5:12). The prophets, in calling Israel back to their original relationship with God, called them to return to the observance of the sabbath rest. But it is in Jesus that we see the fulfillment and elevation of rest in man’s relation to God.
Our Lord, while doing great wonders and stupendous miracles throughout His ministry in Judea, would often separate Himself from the crowds and make time for prayer and more in-depth teaching with His disciples. In fact, He even commanded them to rest, saying “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31 RSV-CE). This rest will find its completion when Christ’s body is laid to rest after the work of the Cross on Good Friday and remains in the tomb on Holy Saturday. But a new rest is given to us with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, that marvelous event which we commemorate each Sunday of the year.
In fact, this is the main reason why we are obliged by the Church to come to Mass on Sunday: to rest in the new work of creation which God has wrought through the Resurrection of Christ His Son. We are called to come to the Mass so as to find our rest in the only One who is capable of offering us the rest that we so desire from our labors. It is also the means whereby we continue to observe the Sabbath rest God commanded of old, though now within the framework of resting in Christ our Savior. We worship God through the sacrifice of the Cross, we marvel at the wonders done by the Lord, we rejoice in all that He has done for us, and we beseech Him to continue to remain with us, to strengthen us with His grace, and to free us from all sin and temptation.
But we are also called to rest in particular in the Mass because it is here that we realize the truth that astounds the heart and mind: we were made to rest in God. Humanity was not created to be separated from everything else to the point of complete autonomy and independence; we were created for God. Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians in the Church’s history, reflected on this in writing his autobiography. Augustine had sought debauchery, philosophy, even entering into a false religion before he entered the Church. Upon reflection, Augustine would pen these famous words: “You made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You” (Confessions 1.1).
It is only in God that our hearts will find that rest which comes in discovering the one thing that will truly satisfy our hearts. Nothing in this world can give us total and complete rest from this desire. We have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that cannot be satiated by any other creature; it can only be satiated by the infinite God who first loved us and created us so as to share that love with us. The Mass is the primary means whereby we who have found God can rest in Him who has created us, in Him who has redeemed us, in Him who has sanctified us. Only in God will our hearts be totally and completely filled.

Let us then enter into the rest which the Mass offers us, mindful that God has done the brunt of the work for us in sending His Son to die for us. Let us rest in the prayer of peace and union which the Mass offers us each time we approach the altar.  Let the Mass become more and more the place where we discover this hidden God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, the human face of God. Just as the couple who are in love seek to rest more and more with each other, let us find rest in the One who loves us beyond measure and desires us to return that love. Let us rest in Him so as to be strengthened for the labors that remain to us here on earth, so that we may be made worthy by His grace to receive the eternal rest of the faithful in Heaven.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Mass as Worship (Part 1)

NB: This sermon was given on the 25th Sunday per annum (OF) as the first of a series of sermons on the Mass.

To get at the heart of a religion, one must look not merely at the beliefs or ideas of the religion, but one must look at how it worships the central deity. It is not enough to understand the intellectual ideas of the religion, but the public way in which this religion corresponds to its god. The Catholic faith is no different than any of the other religions in this aspect of its worship of God, yet it is different in how that worship is done and what she understands worship to be. For the Mass is the central act of worship in the Catholic Church, the act that is at the heart of what we believe as Catholics and as Christians. The better we understand and appreciate the Mass, the better shall we be able to participate in it and to be transformed by the Mass so as to be faithful Catholics in our daily lives.
What is the Mass? The Church has defined the Mass as the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross offered in an unbloody manner in union with the original sacrifice of Christ. Every time we participate in the Mass, we are present at the mysteries at the heart of our Christian faith: the Last Supper, the condemnation of Pilate, the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection. All of these events either lead up to and prepare for the Cross or are the fruits of the Cross. The prophet Isaiah foretold that “by His wounds we are healed” (53:5) and so it is that Christ becomes the Lamb of sacrifice offered on the altar of the Cross so as to win for us our redemption from sin and our salvation in God.
We must be careful, however, not to think that the Mass is a new sacrifice of Christ, as if we are somehow enacting that sacrifice on Good Friday once more. St Peter tells us that Christ offered that perfect and complete sacrifice “once for all, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Pet 3:18) The Mass, therefore, is not a new sacrifice, but a re-presentation of that one perfect sacrifice on the Cross, now shown not in the bloody manner of Good Friday, but in the unbloody manner of bread and wine similar to what Melchizedek had offered on behalf of Abraham (Gen 14:18). This is one of the reasons why the sacred liturgy makes the proclamation, “The mystery of faith,” after the priest has consecrated the bread and the wine and made them the body and blood of Christ, for only by faith can we see this transformation, or transfiguration as the Church declares it, happening before us.
The Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross as the primary act of worship to God. God has always commanded worship throughout the history of salvation, from Abraham offering two goats instead of Isaac, to Moses on Mount Sinai, to the grand temples of David and Solomon in Jerusalem, worship is a necessary aspect of the relationship between God and His people. And it continues today with the Church, the New Israel, the New People of God, whenever we gather together to celebrate and to offer the Mass. The Mass is an act of divine worship as seen from the invocation of the Holy Trinity at the beginning to the gift of divine blessing imparted at the end. The Roman Canon, that venerable traditional prayer of the Mass, begins, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father...” signifying that this action of the Church is directed to God the Father through God the Son by the workings of God the Holy Spirit.  We have been commanded by Jesus Christ to make this act of worship when He tells us, “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19, 1 Cor 11:24).
Let us seek the Lord while He may be found among us whenever we gather together to worship at the Mass. Let us praise the Lord who lifts up we poor souls from bondage to sin so as to be united with Himself. Let us continue to make the supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings that St Paul commanded in union with Christ and which has continued for two millenia wherever the holy Mass is offered. Let us be trustworthy in appreciating and treasuring the gift of the Mass that has been handed on to us and for the greatest fruit of the Mass: the Holy Eucharist in which we are nourished and strengthened by that same body and blood so as to become what we receive. Let the Mass truly be our act of divine worship so that we give God what is owed to Him, and that He, in turn, will give us the reward of being united with Him always in the divine worship of Heaven.