Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What is this Mass you speak of? Part 1: An Introduction

"The highest point of the prayer of the [Mystical Body of Christ] is the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass"
--Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity

The Mass is likely the most familiar and most misunderstood (or at least under-understood) aspect of the Catholic faith. How can something that has been conducted for millenia right in front of our faces still create so much transcendent beauty and mystery, inspire miracles and saints, provide spiritual and physical nourishment to millions, yet at the same time be slept-through by millions, inspire hatred and vitriol, and be called out-dated, out-of-touch, and irrelevant by those within and without the Catholic Church?

The simple answer, of course, is that just as Christ was the Savior  yet also a sign of contradiction, so the commemoration of His passion, death, and Resurrection in the Mass will both vivify and divide. But merely stating the fact does nothing to help alleviate the associated tragedy of faith in our day--namely, that millions of Catholics attend Mass every week (most very faithfully) without having the foggiest idea why they go, what goes on, from whence it came, Whom they receive, when to kneel/stand/sit without watching everyone else, or where they even parked their car when they got there 10 minutes late. There are countless American Catholics who torture themselves and their families for one agonizing hour every Sunday without being able to elucidate why they force themselves to suffer so.

So why do they? Or, more to the point, why ought they?

To save their souls, one might say. Well, yes, but good luck bearing any fruit with that answer. It seems an explanation of the Mass is in order, as the more light is shed on this greatest of Sacraments, the more apparent its value and necessity will be. And because the Mass cannot defend itself, we will do our best to provide a general guide to some of the meaning, history, and wealth of grace contained in it. In no way could this be exhaustive; instead, it is merely our best effort at explaining the Mass, in a form short enough to avoid becoming an all-text Ambien. We proclaim no great expertise, only sincere and humble effort. We hope to help Catholics of all levels of faith (ourselves included)--it's as much for the crafty veterans as it is for the awkward, gangly rookies.

All of this, however, must be seen with the eyes of the Church rather than the dismissive gaze of the skeptic. Certainly not because the Mass can't stand the scrutiny, but because if you want to see clearly in the light, your eyes have to be open. Any fool can walk by a cathedral and criticize its stained-glass windows as dark, ugly slabs because from outside, they are. Only those who go inside and look from within the Church will see the light and beauty they truly afford.

So trust your mother Church as you would trust your own mother. She will always lead us to the Truth; that is, she will always lead us to Jesus.

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