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.