The Mass: On Earth as it is in Heaven

In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams”, John Kinsella (a baseball great from the past who has long passed away) visits his son, Ray, on a baseball field built by his son in a small town in Iowa.  John asks his son, “Is this heaven”?  And Ray replies, “No, it’s Iowa”.  John replies, “It sure seems like heaven”.  The Mass, as St. John Paul II once stated and that the Church has always taught, is “Heaven on Earth”.

He goes on to say, “that what we celebrate on earth is a mysterious participation in the heavenly liturgy”.  This heavenly liturgy he speaks of is what St. John, the Apostle, saw in his vision of heaven that is recorded for us in the Book of Revelation, where all the angels and saints are gathered before the throne of God and before the Lamb Himself in perpetual and eternal praise and worship.  The Mass, in other words, is not merely just another “religious service” among countless other religious services celebrated on earth, but is the most sacred Event we celebrate and participate in on the face of the earth.  When we come to Mass, we are literally in the presence of not just those we see around us (the church on earth) in the pews, but also those who are invisible (the church in heaven and in purgatory) to our natural sight.  In other words, we are not alone.  There is a whole other “Reality” present with us – an invisible Reality.  In fact, if you recall, every time we profess our Faith in reciting the Creed at Mass, we say we believe in “all things visible and invisible”.  United with us in our celebration of this “heavenly” liturgy (“Divine Liturgy” as eastern Catholics call it) are all the souls (including our loved ones) in purgatory and in heaven, along with all the angels and saints, our Blessed Mother, Mary, who all stand with us before God’s throne in perpetual awe and praise and adoration of the Lamb who has been slain for us and for the whole world.  However, Jesus’ sacrificial offering of Himself on the cross over 2000 years ago for the salvation of the world is not merely a historical Event, but through the gift of the Mass (the Holy Eucharist) it is perpetually and mysteriously made present to us on our altars.  In other words, the Holy Sacrifice (Jesus crucified) of the Mass is not merely some past event that we are remembering intellectually at Mass, but this most sacred event of Calvary transcends time and space and is made present to us on our altars every time we celebrate the Mass.  WOW!!!  His sacrificial offering of Himself on our altars today, and ever since His ascension to heaven, is the one and the same sacrificial offering He made of Himself at Calvary over 2000 years ago.  The only difference now is that His sacrificial offering of Himself on our altars is an unbloody sacrifice given to us in and through the sacramental elements of bread and wine.  In offering Himself on our altars, He then invites us who gather with Him around His altar to unite our own sufferings with His for the salvation of souls.  He is the Lamb of God who continues to “take away our sins” and those of the whole world by perpetually offering Himself on our altars.  His desire is that we, as St. Paul says, “offer your bodies [uniting them with His bodily offering] as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1)  Our offering of ourselves and all our sufferings, as His beloved Bride united with His offering of Himself, then has “redemptive” value.  In other words, we literally (by grace) become “co-redeemers” with Christ as He continues to save me and you and the entire world.  So when someone asks you “Are you saved”?, your response, as a Catholic who truly believes in what is taking place on every altar in every Catholic church around the world, should be “Yes, I am saved, and I am being saved each and every day because of the saving-Event of Calvary made present to me on our altars each and every day.   Praise God!  What a tremendous and unfathomable Mystery (to say the least) that you and I, and every Catholic, share in every time we come to consciously participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  WOW!  This is why the Church, in the Eucharistic prayer at Mass and after the consecration of the bread and wine, proclaims to all of us “The Mystery of Faith”, for so it truly is!   It is a Mystery we are so blessed and so privileged to partake of.

With all that being said, I would like to address a few areas of concern regarding the Mass and what Mother Church asks of us before Mass and during Mass.  Many of us are old enough to remember those days when entering a Catholic church before Mass it was the custom, and even expected of us (even as it is in a library or a court room), to maintain silence prior to the beginning of Mass.  Unfortunately, in many of our Catholic churches throughout the U.S. this is sadly no longer the case.  Has the Church changed Her custom and expectations of us in regards to our preparation for Mass?  Quite the contrary.  In fact, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), paragraph 45 states:  “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”  What has changed, unfortunately, since the Second Vatican Council is not the expectation of our Mother, the Church, but our sense of the sacred.  Why does the Church ask that silence be observed before Mass not only in the church, but also in the sacristy, the vesting room and even the adjacent areas to the church?  First, and most importantly, we are silent because upon entering a Catholic church, we are entering into the very presence of our Lord and Savior Himself who resides Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in our Tabernacles.  We literally come before the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  This is why we genuflect, or bow if we are physically unable to genuflect, toward the Tabernacle before entering and exiting our pew or our seat, and why we take time to kneel (if we are physically able) and pray in silence before His Majesty.  We do it because He is our King and we owe it to Him.  We do it because we love Him.  And to prove our love for Him we humbly bend our knee(s) and bow before Him out of love, reverence and respect to the One who has graciously saved us and who continues to give Himself to us in Word and in sacrifice on our altars.
And wherever the King resides (i.e., our Tabernacles) there too is His Kingdom.  And what is this “Kingdom” Jesus speaks of in sacred Scripture?  It is the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is Heaven Itself!  In other words, and as I stated earlier, the Mass is “heaven on earth”.  So if you knew you were about to literally enter into heaven, would you not want to take time in silence and prayerful reflection before Mass to prepare yourself for this most awesome and sacred Event?  I remember when my dad was informed by his doctor that he had only a few months to live.  Suddenly nothing in this world (except his wife and family), not even golf and the Golf Channel ☺, really seemed to matter to him anymore.  All he wanted to do is pray, to unite his sufferings with Christ for others, to celebrate Mass, and prepare himself for heaven.  When death is imminent, and heaven is literally knocking at our door (which is true at every Mass) suddenly all that really matters is God.  Suddenly, all I really want in this life and the Life (heaven) that awaits me is HIM, and Him alone.  All I really want is to prepare myself for my Bridegroom’s arrival, and for that heavenly wedding banquet (i.e., Mass) that He and his Father have so graciously prepared for me.  This is precisely the attitude every Christian should have each and every day of his/her life, and most especially Catholics before Mass as we prepare ourselves (in silence and prayerful reflection) for “heaven on earth”, the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It is so essential, therefore, that we not enter the church before Mass unprepared for this most sacred and heavenly Event, or that we treat our Lord in the Tabernacle with indifference and even disrespect at times.  Taking time to prepare for Mass enables me to be better disposed to receiving all that our Lord so deeply desires to give me in and through the Mass.

Secondly, and also very important, we keep silence before Mass out of love and respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ who wish to pray and reflect in silence so that they too can be better prepared and disposed to enter into this great Mystery in a “devout and fitting manner”.  One of the great attributes of St. Edwards over the years has been our hospitality toward others, especially toward new members and visitors to our community.  People feel welcomed when they come to worship with us.  The challenge for all of us, however, is that our hospitality, love and respect must also extend to those in the pews who wish to pray in silence before Mass.  Yes, hospitality toward our neighbor in the pew should be an essential attribute of every Christian community.  But for us, as Catholics, the first “Person” we must acknowledge and welcome (upon entering our worship space) with love, reverence and respect is our Lord and Savior in the Tabernacle.  He is the primary reason we are here at Mass.  The Mass is primarily about HIM, and not about ME.  He is our first and primary focus.  Our hospitality toward our neighbor must first be grounded and derived from our hospitality to our Lord.  Jesus is our Host who has invited us to His heavenly wedding banquet (i.e, the Mass), and we are His guests.  Do I show my respect to the Host by first acknowledging Him as I enter the church, and thanking Him for inviting me?  As I enter the church, am I first acknowledging His presence in the Tabernacle by genuflecting before entering (and exiting) my seat?  Am I taking some quiet time before Mass to visit with Jesus in the Tabernacle, or do I spend most of my time, if not all of it, talking and visiting with others, forgetting that my first responsibility is to our divine Host?

When I first arrived at St. Edward, I noticed most of our school children at our school Masses were not genuflecting before entering their pew nor upon leaving their pew after Mass.  This is a learned behavior.  My dear friends in Christ, it is our duty as baptized Christians and as parents (and especially mine, as your pastor), to restore and protect the sense of the sacredness in our churches.  Otherwise, our churches will quickly (if not already) become merely social halls, void of the sense of the sacredness of God, and this is not what God intended them to be.  Our Lord in Matthew 21:13 says to those who turned His Father’s house into a “marketplace” that “My house shall be a house of prayer”.  Our churches were consecrated (that is, “set apart”) for one purpose, and that is for the sole purpose of prayer, praise, and worship of our heavenly King who has graciously chosen to reside with us in our Tabernacles.

Beginning this First Sunday of Lent, I am asking that, as we enter the church for Mass, we maintain a spirit of silence and prayer for the reasons I have shared with you.  I know this will be a true “sacrifice” for some, but we (as a community) can make this our Lenten sacrifice, uniting it with our Lord’s sacrifice on the altar for the salvation of souls.  This does not mean we cannot acknowledge our friends with a simple smile and greeting as we enter the church for Mass.  We can always chat and visit with each other after Mass.  Since some of us may find silence difficult here are just a few helpful (hopefully) suggestions while in silent preparation before Mass (just choose one):

•    Read — or reread — the Scriptures for the Mass from the missalete. Listen for the voice of God in what you read; mull over any word or phrase that strikes you.
•    Talk to the Lord as you would your best friend.  Don’t be afraid or ashamed to share with Him your thoughts, feelings, and desires.  Talk to Him about your struggles, trials, and difficulties.  Offer these “sufferings” to Him and ask Him to unite them with His sufferings on the altar.
•    Pray the Rosary or the Divine Mercy chaplet
•    Pray the Morning Offering prayer below (hopefully we will have this on our monitors)
“O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joy and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for my friends and relatives and for all those I promised to pray for, and in particular for those intentions recommended by our Holy Father this month”.
•    Or simply just sit and rest quietly in our Lord’s loving presence.  Use your child-like imagination.  Picture yourself sitting in Jesus’ lap as a small child and resting against His sacred Heart.  Simply bask in the warmth and Light of the Son and His love for you.
. “My Lord and My God”

Lastly, again those of you who are old enough to remember the Latin Mass, perhaps you may recall that at the elevation of the consecrated Host and the precious Blood by the priest you whispered (while striking your breast) “My Lord and My God”.  The Second Vatican Council, regarding the Mass, said “Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop…. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, #22).  So it is very clear from this document of Vatican II that no priest “on his own authority” may  “add, remove, or change anything in the Mass”  As most of us know, saying “My Lord and my God” out loud was “added” to the Mass here at St. Edward.  Although laudable in the eyes of God and very pleasing to Him of course, these words (“My Lord and my God”) are to be whispered and not out loud.
So I encourage all of us to continue this
beautiful proclamation, but that it be said quietly under our breath as the Church asks of us.