Consuming the Lord. Mass Revisited.

“Do we have to go to mass today, Mr. Phillips?”

“Yes we do”
“Ugh!”
This is one of the responses that I have received from disgruntled middle school students when their weekly trip to mass comes around. For some of them (not all), the mass seems boring, repetitive, and uneventful. Is this sentiment shared only by young people such as these, or are we, as the “spiritually mature” adults, prone to such a disposition? My observation is that contrary to what we might want to believe about ourselves, we adults are often times struck even more profoundly by this attitude than our children. 
Growing up as a Baptist preacher’s kid, I remember going to church every Sunday morning and most Sunday nights and Wednesday nights. The importance of coming together as an assembly to worship communally and support one another in prayer and deed was an indispensable part of our week. I even remember the occasional “reminder” from the pastor to “be here every time the doors are open.” Though I did not always openly receive the direction of my pastor, I always knew that going to church was important and that God desired my presence there. 
As Catholics, how wonderful is the opportunity we have to gather together as the body of Christ each Sunday to worship our God. The physical, emotional, and spiritual aide that we receive from one another is truly indispensable. As wonderful as all these things are, however, there is still one thing greater that we receive when we arrive at church and participate in the mass: the Eucharist. Known to me as the Lord’s Supper when I was a Baptist, this celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection takes on a unique significance on the altar of a Catholic Church. Though difficult to comprehend, Catholics believe that the bread and wine during each mass are transformed into the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of the divine Son of God. This belief can be traced all the way back to the earliest days of Christianity and it should, if we truly believe it, revolutionize the way we think about going to church. Listen to how the early Christians  described this great miracle of our faith…
 Ignatius of Antioch 
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110]).”

St. Justin Martyr 

“We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e., has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).”*

As is immediately clear, these early Christians stressed the importance of this sacrament and fought to preserve it from unbelievers and heretics. At a time when it would have been much easier to deny the reality of the Eucharist to escape persecution and martyrdom, these Christians proved resilient. Can we say the same? Do we find joy in encountering the Lord in the Eucharist, or does it remain for us a burden, an abstraction, and just another box to check off our to do lists? I am not suggesting that each and every mass should make you “scream and shout” lest you be weighed and found wanting. True joy does not depend upon our feelings which are fleeting and subjected to several changes throughout the day. The joy of knowing Christ is present, both spiritually and physically in Eucharist, is something that is capable of transcending every mood, feeling, and disposition. So the next time we are tempted to distraction or to bemoan going to mass, we should remember the words of St. Jean Vianney: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”

Peace be with you! 

*Quotes taken from the Catholic.com article “The Real Presence”. For more go to  http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-real-presence
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