People often go to great lengths and spend large amounts of money to go on vacation, to go to a musical on Broadway, to go to a concert, to go to a resort, or to go to a restaurant. Great food, time in relaxation and incredible sights can give joy and recreation but only partially and only for a time.
When we come to Mass anywhere, we enter into the place where heaven and earth are united. We could say that there we step into heaven. The entire rite of the Mass mirrors how the heavenly liturgy described in the Book of Revelation unfolds as the angles and saints adore and offer praise to the most Holy Trinity through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present.
We read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “You have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made prefect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:22-24) This passage describes where we go when we step into a Catholic Church for Mass. Do we think of Mass in that way? Do we hear that message given to us when we come? We should.
The Mass is filled with beautiful words, symbols, gestures, vestments, sacred vessels and objects in a place with unique architecture. Every aspect of it should remind us that we are entering into the heavenly liturgy of the Mass where Christ Himself, the great High Priest offers Himself to the Father and then gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. Becoming more and more familiar with the Sacred Liturgy of the Mass helps us to deepen our faith in the outpouring of grace, mercy and love that happens at every Mass celebrated.
So let’s begin to look at the parts of the Mass and how they form us as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.
One of my earliest and fondest memories is hearing the bells of our parish church ring. From our house, looking out of our kitchen window or from my bedroom, I could see the steeple of the church. The bells ringing called us to come to Mass or to pray the Angelus, or to pray for the soul of someone who just died. Traditionally, church bells are called vox Dei, the voice of God. He calls us as his people to gather together in prayer and especially in the most perfect of prayers, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, where Christ Himself becomes substantially present to His people.
In every Catholic Church, especially on Sunday mornings, the faithful cross the threshold of the church and step into the house of God. They enter into the place where Christ Himself enters into the lives of people. When we come to Mass, we do something that completely unlike anything else we do in life. Others things may mirror it. For example, when we pray the Rosary, or read the Scriptures in our homes. These and other ways of praying help us to enter into the Mass and helps us to encounter Christ. When we appreciate a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or walk along a beach, or hike in the mountains, we are inspired to thank God for His many gifts and appreciate His wonderful power in creation. Entering into a Catholic church is a different experience. By doing so, we enter into a holy place, a space consecrated to God and the worship of Him, there we thread on holy ground.
So how should we enter? We should enter into a church, especially for Mass, with awe and reverence. We come with the joy of knowing that we enter into the Divine Presence, for He is truly present in the tabernacle. We should come with a lump in our throat and with our heart skipping a beat, because we come to Love Incarnate Himself.
We should take care to come to the church early for Mass if at all possible. Why? So that we can spend some time in prayer to be able to enter into the Sacred Liturgy with minds and hearts raised to God. We all know what it like to come rushing to church at the last minute and struggle to recollect our thoughts and open our heart to the beauty of what unfolds before us at Mass and to be able to enter into it as the Church ask of us. As a matter of fact, we should be preparing for Mass since the last Mass we participated in. A holy priest used to say to me, “We will only pray as well at Mass as we pray between Masses.” The Mass is not a drive-by experience to get something. The Mass is an entry into the liturgy of heaven where we bow down in in the presence of the living God.
As the priest and other ministers enter the sanctuary, the faithful gathered pray or sing the Entrance Chant (antiphon). This text most often is taken from Sacred Scripture and helps us to focus our hearts on the feast day, on the Sunday, and on the Sacred Mysteries that we are entering into. I find that the Entrance Antiphons are a rich source of prayer and meditation that allows me to open my heart to hear the Word of God proclaimed and be united with the Sacrifice of Christ. Sometimes, especially on Sunday, a hymn will be used that helps us to do the same.
We find ourselves before the altar as members of the Body of Chris. There we are united in praising and adoring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We are walking of holy ground and have taken off the sandals of ordinary life to become one with the Savior. How blessed we are that He immerses us into the Mysteries of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. Stay tuned for the next step deeper into the mystery of the Mass.
Most Reverend William J. Waltersheid
Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh
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