Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is the Mass a meal or a sacrifice?

Being brought up in a Catholic family and having studied in a Catholic Institution, I was always taught that the Mass is special and sacred... it is a sacred meal and a sacrifice. But it was only when I attended my first TLM almost 2 years ago that the reality of the nature of the Mass was made clear. Even the most simplest of its forms, the Low Mass, clearly illustrates its sacredness, its mystery and its sacrificial nature. Is it the orientation, silence, the gestures, or the language, or even the priestly vestments? It is no question that these elements I mentioned contributes to the sacredness and sense of mystery to the Mass and perhaps the de-emphasis on the orientation, silence, gestures and language led to the de-emphasis on the sacredness, mystery, solemnity that eventually led to the de-emphasis on its sacrificial nature. What is left is the emphasis, or should I say over emphasis of the meal aspect, over emphasis that "transforms" it into merely a "communal" meal.

A theology of the Mass that is totally centered on "communal" meal aspect makes me ask myself: are we witnessing or partaking a mere breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack with some music and prayers? Are we just eating a mere bread and drinking a mere wine? Or are we witnessing a miracle, the greatest miracle that happens daily...the transformation of bread made by human hands, and wine made of fruit of the vine, into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we meeting some dignitary that we should show some sign of respect, or are we meeting the King of kings and Lord of lords face to face that we should show the greatest signs of reverence that we have? Is it a mere bread, or is it our God and King? What should our actions, our demeanor, our disposition be like in front of our God, our Lord and King who offers His Body and Blood for the sanctification of our souls?

The realization of the meal aspect, will never go away, unless we remove the bread and wine so that we can never communicate. The mere fact that bread and wine is present at Mass to be eaten is a sign and indication that it is a meal but the realization of the sacredness of the meal and the sacredness of sacrificial aspect can easily be hidden or taken away by means of the abuses and banality that had crept into the Mass, by making the priest face the people the entire Mass, by taking away and limiting the silence and gestures, sacred art and architecture, and even vestments that reminds us of the Real Presence of our Lord all in the name of simplification. The realization of the sacredness and sacrificial nature of the Mass, of our Lord's real presence, should in fact move us to show greater signs of respect, that is reverence and adoration towards the Lord by our disposition, our demeanor, gestures, music, sacred art and architecture, vestments, and prayers.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary continue to be our model and guide as she witnessed and united herself in the sacrifice of her beloved Son for the salvation of our souls.


erik said...

I am also a Catholic who was raised in Catholic schools but I never knew that the Mass is a sacrifice. All I knew was that we eat the host as Jesus said, "Do this in memory of me". There was a time that I began to question myself why we kept on doing this over and over again and even thought that we should do some of the things that borg-again christians do; long lively emotional preachings, lively music etc. My mother who was raised in the Tridentine Mass would always tell us that the Mass before feels like that you're in heaven but she never went into specifics. As I became older (I'm now 30) I stopped attending Mass (my mother had also stopped attending Mass)but I still consider myself a loyal Catholic. It was just because I wasn't getting anything from the Mass, for me it was boring. But the guilt feeling was always there but to make the long story short, it was not until a year ago when I came across EWTN that my faith again was reinvigorated and it was thru EWTN that I learned that the Mass is a sacrifice. I again started attending Mass but still with this feeling that we could incorporate what protestants are doing in their worship services. But the first time I watched a
Tridentine Mass in EWTN (that was last Christmas), I immediately fell in love with it and until now I'm hooked up with it. It was very reverent, silent, dignified and I can feel the sense of mystery. Finally I realized what my mother had been telling me of the way the Mass was being celebrated before. But theologically speaking I'm actually more knoweledgeable of my faith now than my mother even if she was raised in the Tridentine rite. I don't think that she never ever knew that Mass is a sacrife, but she along with many other of her age loved going to Mass then. My point here is that not everyone will really grasp the real meaning of the Mass. But if we celebrate the Mass in a way that promotes the real meaning of the Mass as a sacrifice everyone will behave accordingly inside a church during Mass. Lex orandi,lex credendi, lex vivendi, I hope I got that one right but it simply means the way we worship reflects on what we believe and influences our actions. So if the Mass is celebrated that promotes it as a sacrifice people will behave properly in the Mass and you don't expect people to be chatting or letting their children play during the Mass or people clapping their hands or waving their hands and dancing as in many charismatic masses. We just simply must do these things as we witness Jesus's unbloody sacrifice on Calvery represented in the Mass. As I see it in the Church today there is really a lot of pressure on priest to entertain the people hence the abuses. Catholics now do not anymore sense the mystery in the Mass it has become so banal and casual they're leaving the Church for heretical Protestant churches (some of my relatives had). I pray to God fervently the our present Pope can reverse the damage done to the Church in the name of Vatican2 and bring back the glory of Catholic Church. In the meantime I am hoping to take my mother with me one day when I attend any of the Latin Mass here in Manila (she lives in Batangas)to bring her bach to the Church.

Bruce in Iloilo said...

It is too bad that the implementation of Vatican II wasn't more respectful of tradition. Many went too far. They changed too much. The language could have been changed to the vernacular without so many of the other problems. Things could have been implemented better, If they had looked at the Anglican tradition, now officially part of Church as Anglican Use.

The new English translation of the mass will be an improvement when fully implemented. Will it be implement in the Philippines?

Regarding the meal, we must remember our Jewish roots. In Judaism the holiest traditions happen in the family around the dinner table. Passover is not a celebration in the temple; it is a family meal. The Sabbath is not celebrated by a ceremony at the temple but primarily by a meal at home. And it was Passover that Jesus was celebrating when he took the bread and wine, the Last Supper.

The Catholic Mass is not a pagan celebration at a Hindu or Shinto temple. It is not the sacrifices of the destroyed Jeruselum Temple (though there are elements of it). it is a meal, a Passover meal, that we are echoing back to, and recreating in a real way.

But it is not a common meal. It is, simply, the Mass. When we decide how to celebrate a mass, we should look to Catholic tradition and the scores of licit masses available to us. These metaphors -- meal, worship, sacrifice -- are helpful but we should not let our use of such words drive how we celebrate the mass. The mass is unique. It may share elements with other things we do in our lives, but we shouldn't import elements from outside just because we adopt the "meal" imagery or the "sacrifice" imagery.

Humility is helpful with this, as with so much else. We should be humble when faced with tradition. Maybe our ideas are an improvement, but humility requires small, increment changes, not wholesale reform. Ultimately, the fault of so much that has been done in modern times is not the result of "meal" vs. "sacrifice" but the result of a lack of humility. It is the result of people who had the power imposing because they think they know better then us masses, that they know better then the masses that came before us.

It wasn't a word that led astray, it was the lack of humble respect for tradition, for the wisdom of the ages.