Not infrequently, as I greet people after Mass I am met with the saying: ‘that was a lovely Mass Father.’ Mostly, I just say thank you. Sometimes I respond ‘Well, every Mass is lovely’ but usually that is just met with something like; ‘but that was an especially lovely Mass.’ Most priests are familiar with this phrase and whilst on one level, I am grateful and pleased that people have had a positive experience of the Mass, on another level the phrase really grates on me. Why? What does it mean? What makes some people experience Masses as lovely and others as not?
I guess my big problem is with the word ‘lovely’. Lovely is word I would use to describe a cup of tea, a slice of cake, a time with family and, at a push, a meal out. It is not a word that I would use to describe the source and the summit of the Christian Faith – the Mass.
The Catholic Faith teaches us that the Mass is indeed the source and summit of the Christian Faith. This is a bold statement. The Source: the origin and root of our faith. The Summit: the highest point of our faith. Its not until we get to the nuts and bolts of what is going in Mass that we begin to see how source and summit are indeed the appropriate terms for the Mass.
Firstly, the Mass is a sacrifice. It is not any old sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of Christ. At the heart of the Mass is the un-bloody re-presentation of Christ’s eternal sacrifice. This is a point that many Christian's and sadly not a few Catholic’s also don’t understand: The Mass is Christ’s sacrifice but this does not mean that every time Mass is celebrated Christ is re-sacrificed. Christ died on the cross once and for all. The Mass re-presents that one sacrifice. In effect, time and space collapses in the celebration of the Mass and we are present, by the power of the Spirit, at the foot of cross – at Calvary.
Secondly, the Mass is a meal. It is not just any meal it is the paschal meal: The Last Supper. At every Mass we are not simply playing out events that happened in the past, but we are remembering them in such away as the one event is taken out of the past and experienced in our present. The Mass punches a hole through the fabric of time and space and we are partakers, with the disciples at the Last Supper.
Thirdly, heaven touches earth in the celebration of the Mass. Jesus is truly present to us in the Mass. He is present in his Word proclaimed from the Scriptures, He present in the Priest, He is present in the people gathered and he is most especially present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharistic species: the bread and wine which is changed into Jesus. In Holy Communion Jesus feeds, us with his very self! We are not just in the presence of God, but God enters our bodies, feeds us and is intimately close to us. At every Mass the King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s comes personally to us to invite us into a deeper share of his divine life. The Mass is indeed the source of our faith because it is the sacrifice of Jesus, it is the summit of the faith because God comes to us. There is no way in this life to be closer to God than to come to Mass, this is why I don’t think ‘lovely’ truly cuts it!
What its more, this happens at every validly celebrated Mass. Every Mass: Ordinary Form or Extraordinary Form, sung or said, High or Low, with two or two million people – every Mass, full stop! To say that one Mass is more lovely than another doe not makes sense! To be fair, what I suspect is really being said is: ‘I was particularly aware of God’s presence in that Mass Father’, or ‘this Mass was celebrated in such a way that enabled me to really appreciate the awesome mystery it is’ But ‘lovely Mass’ doesn’t really say this.
You see, every Mass is truly lovely, truly beautiful. Christ is present to us in every Mass, the problem is, so often, we are not present to Him!
Whilst appreciate the intended kindness of someone saying ‘lovely Mass Father’ I would love it if people would come out of Mass and say ‘Thank you for Mass, God is awesome’. I don’t believe I have ever offered a lovely Mass and never intend on doing so, an awesome Mass, A beautiful Mass, A glorious Mass perhaps (and that is every Mass!), but a lovely Mass? Just sounds a bit naff to me!