Why Go To Mass?
Whenever I celebrate a baptism, after the child has been baptised I gather the parents and godparents around the altar for the concluding rite, saying the Our Father and blessing of the parents. I begin this part of the Rite by saying to all present that the Altar we stand around is known as ‘The Altar of sacrifice’ and also the ‘Table of the Lord.’ The altar is a place of sacrifice. It transports us back to that moment in time when Jesus divested himself of bodily clothing and divine splendour, in order to offer himself on the altar of the cross, as victim of sacrifice.
It isn’t easy to fully comprehend that this one person is at the same time victim, priest and altar of sacrifice. Jesus is the priest that performed, on the altar of his body, the sacrifice that reconciled us all with God! This sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist is the heart of Catholic teaching on the Mass.
The dual reality of altar and table sometimes baffles us, but it is good to remind ourselves that death is celebrated with a meal. The Mass we celebrate today comes from the Jewish Passover. This ritual is celebrated every year, as a memorial of the time when the Jewish people were freed from the slavery of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.
Jesus took the Passover Meal and fulfilled its deepest meaning. He transformed it into the memorial of his own saving death and resurrection. What we celebrate is a ‘shared banquet, a holy feast, a rite of eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ in Communion. It is therefore, the Paschal meal’ (Joseph Champlin).
My dear friend Michael Evans wrote a small book, Why go to Mass? In it he wrote:
‘People come to Mass seeking meaning for their lives and a sense of value and worth for themselves. The Eucharist gives new meaning and value to God’s creation and to the people: the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value.’
The Eucharist is as vital to our spiritual life as ordinary food is to our physical and mental life. Just because there are times when we don’t seem to get anything out of the celebration of Mass — because of tedious preaching, uninspiring music, a lack of a sense of community, hypocrisy and unsympathetic priests — this is no reason for walking away. These are sometimes valid criticisms. But we all have a responsibility to contribute our gifts and talents into the greatest thing we do together: the celebration of Mass.