Tuesday, March 22, 2011

THE TENSION BETWEEN THE MASS AS MEAL AND AS SACRIFICE






It was a feast for the whole person and all his senses, sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch and the sense of the sacred. I'm speaking about our Extraordinary Form Solemn High Mass for the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Mass was instituted by our Savior on Holy Thursday during a Seder or Passover meal. It was a formal affair and Jesus reinterpreted the meaning of this meal, although within the hermeneutic of continuity of its Jewish meaning, to show forth the saving events of Good Friday, the passion and death of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice on the Cross that saves us from sin and death. He also changes the bread and wine of this meal into His Body and Blood.

His actions at the Last Supper can only be fully comprehended with 20/20 hindsight in light of Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.

The Sacrificial aspect of the Mass comes first. We are prepared for it through acknowledgment of sin, more elaborate in the EF Mass than in the OF Mass, but present in both. We listen to the Word of God and are instructed by God Himself in the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed.

We remember the events of salvation during the praying of the Eucharistic prayer as the One Sacrifice of Christ which is now eternal is made available to us in the present, although in an "unbloody" way. Having experienced the essence of our salvation, Jesus' self-giving to the Father on our behalf which is for all present (even those unable to receive Holy Communion), the many than come forward to share in the banquet of the Body and Blood of our Lord under the form of bread and wine. Not all are invited, only those initiated into the Church through Holy Baptism. For those who have committed mortal sin after baptism, the sacrament of penance is necessary in order to worthily receive Holy Communion. Those who are not properly prepared or disposed should not come forward to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. But they should be at the Sacrifice of the Mass participating as the Church requests.

The only problem I see with an emphasis on the "meal" aspect of the Mass is what people mean by a meal. We can't take it for granted anymore that people have any sort of a formal meal at home, not even on Sunday. We've become a fast food culture. this has corrupted our understanding of meal.

And the type of meal that is the Holy Eucharist isn't one of laughter and gregarious fellowship. After all the Last Supper was precisely that, the Last Supper of a Man who would be condemned to death. It was a sober event tinged with anxiety and pain. It was a meal that preceded the Host being sent to the gallows. I wouldn't call that a time of superficial fellowship and clinking glasses in inebriated delight.

We're talking about a "meal" that remembers the passion and death of our Lord, the cruel torture He went through to sacrifice His life so that we could live for ever with Him in heaven. We're talking about a sacrifice so profound and painful, that the Heavenly Father embraces it and His Son as the final act of sacrifice needed for the atonement of sin. The animal sacrifices of the Jewish Temple are no longer needed or required. Jesus' sacrifice is it! It is cosmic in its eternal nature far outreaching any sacrifice that preceded it.

Perhaps we should reexamine just what kind of meal we are sharing and experiencing in the Most Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Wouldn't it be better to have fellowship after the Mass, receptions, church dinners and the like? Shouldn't we fast before Mass and feast only afterward?

The type of fellowship modern liturgists tried to drag into the Mass these past forty years is really the type of fellowship that should be experienced after the Mass, in our Church halls and our dining rooms at home.

After Vatican II, liturgists tried to suppressed every form of popular devotion, including Eucharistic Adoration, and dump every form of odd devotion onto the Mass including the more profane understanding of meal. In doing so it turned the Mass into a closed circle of hand holding, Kumbaya singing, emotionally needy people who thought every liturgical novelty from clowns to leaping dancers would making the Mass more meaningful. They even turned the event of receiving Holy Communion at the altar railing which is an extension of the altar table into a drive through service where one walks up, grabs His "Food" and walks away while eating.

I much prefer the manner of receiving Holy Communion in the EF Mass. It's not like a drive through at a fast food restaurant or a ration line for the victims of some kind of natural disaster. The manner of receiving Holy Communion at the EF Mass is much more like a real, formal meal than the manner of receiving at the OF Mass, which is more like the grab and run of the McDonald's Last Supper.

14 comments:

Nancy A. said...

I absolutely agree, Father. I think it would be wonderful if we could use the kneelers for Communion at all the Masses and not just the Latin.

Bill Meyer said...

"The type of fellowship modern liturgists tried to drag into the Mass these past forty years is really the type of fellowship that should be experienced after the Mass, in our Church halls and our dining rooms at home."

Well said, Father, well said, indeed. I am often disturbed, in my parish, at the atmosphere which prevails in what should be a place of reverence. The noise prior to worship (mostly from choir and other ministry members who should certainly know better), the milling about that should happen in the narthex, not in the sanctuary, and even, on a couple of occasions, a catechist tapping me on the shoulder to say good morning, as I knelt in prayer.

My experience has been that prior to the EF, or even to the NO with Latin and Greek in use, there is a greater reverence. Moreover, unlike my own parish, these parishes generally include music written before 1985. On the rare occasions that I hear such in my parish, it is usually Amazing Grace.

Anonymous said...

The last four paragraphs are a great summary and recommendation. Many years ago my parish had a coffee and donuts social after the early Sunday Mass and it was very well attended. Everyone stood around and talked and caught up families and various goings on. It is a fond memory. That would also be a good setting to perform some of the tunes people like, but are not really 'good' music for the Mass. I miss that a lot and hope people would support that if we could get it started in my current parish.

So many seem to view the Mass as a simple ceremony that it seems almost superstitious. Crossing yourself is almost like throwing salt over your shoulder. We have a mass before the start of our festival and there is a significant group, many from our Parish Council, that complain about it delaying the opening and how many customers they miss. I had a discussion with the Parish Council about their attitude.

I think solemnifying the mass will go a long way toward helping people understands its value and respecting it.

rcg

Templar said...

Bless you Nancy. I'm sure Father is about tired of always hearing me say that (or see me type it as the case may be).

SqueekerLamb said...

Nancy and Templar..ditto here

Anonymous said...

God Bless your Parish and Ministry Father. You've got it right in Macon. Many of us look into your world from far away liturgical wastelands. Your parish seems like a lighthouse, a beacon of sorts.

Fr. Patrick Bonaventure de la Cruz said...

I think the melodramatic emphasis of liturgists on the “meal” aspect of the Mass in the aftermath of the Bugnini reform has really obfuscated the authentic understanding of the purpose of the Passover meal and eventually that of the Last Supper.

If we read Exodus and examine closely the intent of the Passover, one can readily notice that the main focus of the Passover meal is NOT THE MEAL per se; rather, it is to recreate in a concrete and sensible way the experience of that night in which the Angel of Death “passed-over” the houses of the people of Israel sparing their first-born sons from death and their eventual deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It was to constantly remind Israel and to perpetuate the experience of that night of their salvation that the Passover came to be: thus, you have the bitter herbs, the “haste-bread” (unleavened bread, because they had no time to wait for the dough to rise), and the retelling of the story of the Exodus. Eventually, every generation of Israelites would re-live, re-enact, and re-experience the saving work which God had wrought to them.

It was in this context that the Lord Jesus shifted the meaning of the Passover. From the perpetuation of the experience of Israel’s salvation from slavery in Egypt, the Lord gave to His disciples His own Body and Blood and commanded them to do so “in remembrance of me”. That command was similar to what the Jews were doing with their Passover: so as to perpetuate for all time, the experience of that night in which He suffered and would eventually die for “the sins of the many”. And holy mother Church has fulfilled this command from her Lord when at every Mass, she makes present in a physical, sensible, though sacramental way (veiled under the eucharistic signs of bread and wine), the very Body given up on Calvary and the very Blood shed on the Cross for the salvation of many. And we signify and claim for ourselves the fruits of that sacrifice when we receive Holy Communion.

Fr. Patrick Bonaventure de la Cruz said...

And so what of the meal aspect? The meal of the Passover together with that of the Last Supper and eventually that of the Mass (because there is eating and drinking) is NOT THE FOCUS, it is BUT THE MEDIUM through which the re-enactment and the re-living of God’s saving work is somehow achieved. Though generations may not have witnessed those events in history, nevertheless, the saving work is still constantly experienced, and as for us Catholics, the full power of that saving sacrifice is made perceptible and actual in the here and now of our earthly sojourn.

I therefore assert that emphasis in the “meal” is a great mistake and corruption of the main focus of the Mass. The emphasis on meal per se is the reason why we find the abominable exaggerated emphasis on community and the get-together in the Mass nowadays. If we are to re-orient the focus of the Mass as worship and as God’s perennial interaction with us, we should work to de-emphasize the “meal” of the Mass and explain that the meal IS BUT A MEDIUM AND NOT THE FOCUS of the great Sacrifice of the Altar.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Father McDonald.

I grew up with stripped down churches, guitars and tamborines playing not so sacred music at Mass, told not to genuflect (kneel? Never!), and to receive the Eucharist in my hand.

You gave me the opportunity to experience true reverence, and feel humbled by the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist;

The greatest gift I've ever been given.

That floor's hard ... A kneeler at Mass would be a close second. ;-)

Anonymous 32 said...

There are undoubtedly more examples, but two words in relation to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that make me lunge for the barf bag are “meal” and “presider.”

Thank you for your encouraging analysis about the overemphasis of “meal” in describing the Mass. Everything you said is absolutely right on!

What percentage of existing priests and emerging priests do you think share your opinion on this?

Frajm said...

In many ways when one over indulges on the meaning of meal and the bread and wine, making of the sacramental signs a god unto themselves, one misses the point. The sacramental signs point to Jesus who alone is God, but hidden or veiled under the sacramental signs. In the seminary we had to have bread that looked like table bread or was chewy, etc. Often when I received our homemade bread supposedly become Christ (the ingredients included level, honey and other spices which I think could have made the Eucharist invalid) I thought to myself at the moment of communion that I'd love this bread for breakfast in the morning with my coffee. It was totally distracting, too chewy, to sweet and too non-traditional. The focus was on the bread not Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, interesting reading.

Was it inspired at all by the extolling of the catechist who teaches "the Eucharist is essentially a meal"and the ensuing flaming over at Praytell?

http://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2011/03/19/teaching-liturgy-where-do-i-begin-part-iii/

pinanv525 said...

"The miracle rests upon the Mystery; the Mystery does not rest upon the miracle."

Anonymous 32 said...

Father, your comments about the invalid matter for the bread brought back a memory of visiting our daughter at college and going to Mass with her. The little chewy cubes (bread) were obviously invalid, but we were so happy thaty she was attendig Mass that we never said a word.