I have long said that celebrating Mass, and for that matter, all the sacraments, is a believing person’s activity. It is essential that those who celebrate the Eucharist believe in what they are doing. That may be simply stated. Sometimes the simple truth eludes us. The grounding of our participation in the Mass is faith in what Jesus came to earth to do.
Jesus sacrificed his life to God the Father on the cross. That was a historic moment which revealed the deeper mystery of the relationship of the Father and Son. The Son eternally gives himself to the Father and the Father eternally receives and gives life back to his Son. This exchange of love is animated by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus came not only to reveal this truth to us but to invite us to share in that exchange of love who is God. Jesus gave us baptism that we might receive the Holy Spirit. He gave us confirmation to strength that Holy Spirit within us. Then, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as the means whereby we come to share the very life of God. At the Last Supper he gave us this ritual and told us to “do this …” We remember Jesus’ sacrificial death AND we join in that sacrifice. As we enter the sacrifice of Jesus to God the Father, we receive back through, with and in Jesus, his life. We are united to God by sharing in the body and blood of Jesus. We receive his life into our life, and we are transformed by this heavenly food. In short, as the bishop often says, at Mass we truly encounter Jesus. This is essential and first.
Too often, we become consumed with the form and the matter of the celebration. We focus on the signs and symbols. Are they done well, and right? Do I like them or not? Is it beautiful, and theologically accurate? How long did it take and why are people participating or not participating in the way they should? I am guilty of asking all these questions. Sometimes we (I) make of supreme importance what we like and do not like. Please don’t misunderstand. The form and matter of the celebration of the Mass are important. We should not make Mass ordinary and mundane. The beauty and the gloriousness of the Mass really do make a difference.
Yet if we do not believe in the deep mystery we are participating in, all the external expressions of this mystery we are entering into, no matter how well they are executed, will not make a difference. Catholics have walked away from the most glorious and mysterious of liturgies as easily as they have from the folksy and sloppy liturgies not because they were one way or the other. Rather it was because they did not believe. Likewise, Catholic have through the centuries stayed in the pews because underneath the form and matter however it was dressed up or stripped down, they believed that being there and participating in this action of Christ really lead them to encounter Jesus and brought them into the heart of divine love.
When we believe what happens in the Mass, we will strive to the best of our ability to celebrate this holy moment with all due reverence and enthusiastic participation and it will transform us. However, when we truly believe, how Mass is celebrated will be important, but it will not distract us from the essence of its reality.