The Mass

The Mass

Sanctifying, renewing, reassuring, comforting, refocusing, amazing, community, fantastic, awesome, peace, joy. My friend Tom suggested that I explain the Mass in my own words so I will start with these.

Catholics participate in the Mass at least every Sunday and some, as often as every day. The Sacrifice of Mass is much more than a Christan “worship service.” It is a celebration in which we not only hear the word of God, but are in His direct presence. We encounter Our Lord in the literal sense. Heaven touches earth. If these seem like extraordinary claims – they are, and Mass is every bit that extraordinary!

Today’s Mass and that of the early Church have much in common. It is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. Structurally, it is divided into two primary parts: the first focuses around the word of God and the second around the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear Old and New Testament Bible readings. Not just any readings, but readings prescribed for that day. Any given day, Mass said in every Catholic church in the world will use the same readings. Over a 3 year period the daily readings cover most of the Bible.

Following the readings, a priest or deacon will deliver a homily related specifically to that day’s scripture. These usually range from 5 to 15 minutes and are optional for the daily Masses (but common and short).

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the second part of Mass. Catholic bishops are direct successors to the Apostles who were present at the Last Supper. They, or ordained priests under their authority, act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) to consecrate bread and wine (with a little water) into the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Son of God. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the Last Supper.

Jesus sometimes taught by parables. Other times he was crystal clear and specific. Establishing the Church, the authority of the Apostles (the first bishops) and the gift of the Eucharist are examples of the later.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

After the consecration of the Eucharist, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” It has been said that the Eucharist is the only food you can not consume, it consumes you. In receiving communion we are truly united with Christ.

The Mass is no mere worship service! Nor is it a social event, entertainment or Bible study. It is solemn and treated with all the respect one should give in the literal presence of Our Lord. Non-Catholics are very welcome to join us, but only Catholics who fully understand the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and are properly disposed (including absolved of all mortal sins) may receive communion. Paul explains it this way:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Our churches are beautiful, our priests dedicated and inspired, the homilies insightful, the music moving, our attention focused and hearts open. Usually. Sometimes in place of a church a tent must be used, the priest is tired, the homilies uninspired, music that you would rather not hear and our focus diverted by worldly concerns. Even then the tremendous blessings and benefits of Mass are received. St. Thomas Aquinas said “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” St. Gregory noted “The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “attend one mass.”

Heaven on earth and literally uniting ourselves with Christ — that is the Catholic Mass. I will give St. John Vianney (Patron Saint of Parish Priests) the last word: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”

Communion, like no other

Communion Like No Other

Catholics attend Mass (at least) weekly. A central part of Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist during which we receive Communion. Of the seven sacraments (see The Sacraments), the Sacrament of Holy Communion is received most often.

Jesus was very clear and not ambiguous when he gave the first Catholic bishops (the Apostles) this sacrament:

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”

Jesus was not speaking figuratively. He meant what he said – “this is my body.” Jesus also said “do this in memory of me,” commanding the Apostles and their successors to repeat this act of consecration and giving them the authority to do so. Catholic bishops and priests maintain that authority through an unbroken line of succession.

When a Catholic bishop or priest at any Mass worldwide consecrates bread and wine, those elements are literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This moment is often observed by the ringing of sanctus bells in many Catholic churches. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the last supper. To claim anything else is to dispute what Jesus said!

By consuming His Holy Body and Precious Blood we unite ourselves with Christ, grow in likeness to Him, sanctify our own body, remove the personal guilt of venial sins and receive other graces. Jesus also made the importance of this clear:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”

How wonderful this gift is! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.

His Body and Blood may be consumed only by those of the proper disposition. The recipient must fully understand and accept the sacrament without qualification (i.e. be Catholic), may not have separated themselves from God (i.e. committed any non-absolved mortal sin), must have fasted and be eligible (i.e. not received Communion earlier that day – in most circumstances). Again, scripture is clear:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

His Body and Blood must be, and are, respected with the greatest possible reverence. There are protocols as to how the Host is distributed. Procedures have been established for unfortunate accidental situations. This IS the Body and Blood of our Lord and we act at all times in accordance of that fact and nothing less.

Finally, every Catholic church has a tabernacle in which undistributed Eucharist is reserved (stored). This is often near the altar with a red lamp nearby. This tabernacle lamp is lit to indicate and honor the presence of our Lord. When the lamp is lit, we kneel briefly on our right knee (genuflect) out of respect before entering a pew for worship.

When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence.

St. Francis de Sales

Walking into the light

Walking Into Light

I was received into the Catholic Church on Sunday! As my new friend Russ might say, I have crossed the Tiber. I have made it to the other bank safe and sound, but the journey continues…

Before Sunday I was a Christian. After Sunday I am still a Christian. What has changed is my full participation in the only Church Jesus founded and in the fullness of faith therein. The path to here was not only one of learning but of rediscovery and exploration of my Christian roots. I am now an enthusiastic part of a community that will stay true to God’s word. I am home.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

It was a bright, beautiful day. We candidates sat up front with our families and sponsors. The Rite of Reception took place after the Homily and included the Sacrament of Confirmation for those of us who were not already confirmed (that was most of us, including me). Father Paul prayed for each of us with his hands placed upon our heads and anointed us with oil that we may receive the Holy Spirit. Through this simple and touching ceremony we each began our Catholic lives.

The normal Mass continues with the Liturgy of the Eucharist for everyone, including (at last!) us newly confirmed. I chose to receive Communion under both forms, although it is equally valid to receive only one. It is proper to bow in the presence of our Lord as you approach to receive Communion. This is normally done as the person in front of you receives the Eucharist and was certainly my intention. I had carefully gone over this in my head. As things worked out, when I approached no one was in front of me and in my excitement and nervousness I forgot to bow. The respect was 100% in my heart, but I did not receive the sacrament completely as I had intended. We are so new!

After Mass the newly confirmed joined the exit procession and headed to the PLC. It was Donut Sunday, so there were donuts, bagels, coffee, juice, milk, etc. plus a cake in our honor. We all enjoyed this reception and the chance to talk with family and friends. During the months in RCIA, attending Mass, various events, Men’s Fellowship, etc. I made many new friends.

There were other memorable moments too. The applause that welcomed us, friends gently touching my shoulder as they passed for Communion, a surreptitious “thumbs up,” and big smiles all stand out. I did not discover one particularly touching part until I was at home. In the envelope with my confirmation certificate were 2 handmade, personal welcomes from children in our youth classes. Crosses, stars and other adornments decorated them with “George, U Rock!,” “Keep Working!,” “Good Luck!,” “Stay Strong” and signed by the kids. Such a perfect welcome.

The Sacraments


One very important aspect of Catholic life is the belief in, and reception of, the Sacraments. For Catholics, sacraments are gifts from Jesus to strengthen us and deepen our relationship with Him. Through each one, Christ bestows a particular grace, such as incorporation into Christ and the Church, forgiveness of sins, or consecration for a particular service. They are an ongoing part of our journey, bringing us His blessings and great peace.

Sacraments are grouped into 3 areas:

  • Sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist (communion)
  • Sacraments of healing: Reconciliation (confession) and Anointing of the Sick (a “last rite”)
  • Sacraments of vocation: Holy Orders (clergy) and Matrimony (marriage)

The Sacrament of Baptism is often referred to as the gateway to the other sacraments. In it we became Christian, received God’s sanctifying grace, were freed from original sin and (when baptized as an adult) absolved of all personal sins. Catholics recognize the validity of all Christian baptisms as long as the “trinitarian formula” was followed (“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”).

The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens and deepens baptismal grace. Through this sacrament the baptized are more perfectly bound to the Church. Like baptism, it may be received only once.

The Eucharist is the sacrament in which Catholics partake of the Body and Blood of Jesus and participate directly in his sacrifice. Christ’s sacrifice is represented at each Mass and Catholics with the proper disposition (generally a state of grace) receive Him. This Communion is not as a memorial but is the literal consumption of the Holy Body and Precious Blood of Jesus in order to join ourselves literally as well as spiritually with Him. The bread and wine are so converted (via transubstantiation) at the moment of consecration, exactly as Jesus first did on Holy Thursday. As at the last supper, the Body and Blood continue only in the appearance of bread and wine.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers us absolution for our sins, particularly our mortal sins. As with most Protestant faiths, Catholics may be forgiven outside of this sacrament if their private confession to God is an act of perfect contrition. While us sinners may or may not achieve that on our own, the absolution received in Reconciliation is certain. (My earlier posts What harm is a little sin? and Confession, getting out of deep trouble go into more detail.)

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of healing of both the soul and the body. It is one of the sacraments given to those in immediate danger of death (often called “last rites” — the others being Reconciliation and Eucharist). However, it is also used to help those with serious illnesses or about to undergo major surgery. Through this sacrament the Holy Spirit renews and strengthens us.

Holy Orders is a sacrament in which Bishops, Priests and Deacons are ordained by a Bishop into their order. This sacrament is licit only when administered by a Bishop in good standing and in the direct line of succession from the Apostles (known as Apostolic Succession).

In the Sacrament of Matrimony God creates a permanent and exclusive bond between a man and a woman. Like holy orders, marriage is a vocation – one in which the couple is called to continually sanctify each other and to raise children by the teachings of the Church. The couple themselves are considered the ministers of this sacrament with their Priest serving as witness. Marriage, like Holy Orders, is joyous but also a very, very serious vocation.

Many things are routine in our daily lives. The Sacraments are extraordinarily exceptional, providing us the opportunity to encounter Christ and receive His blessings. He gives us so much grace…

Bless me father for I have sinned

Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned

I was watching the calendar closely. Only 18 more days until I will be received into His Church! There is one, umm, “obstacle” – it has been many decades since my baptism, and I have never been to confession (a/k/a The Sacrament of Reconciliation – see Confession, getting out of deep trouble).

I was not planning on committing any mortal sins, of course, but I still didn’t want to have too long a period between my confession and February 7th just in case. For the first reception of the sacrament, it is recommended that an appointment is scheduled with a Priest. That way, no one is waiting in line behind you, and there is more time for Father to guide you through the process. Vince, our RCIA coordinator, told us it was time to schedule this now.

Not everyone does this, but I created a list. I was afraid my mind would go blank, and I would become a bumbling idiot. Along the same lines, I included acts of contrition with my list, so that I would not have to depend on memory or fumble for additional printed materials. Doing these things is completely OK.

On Wednesday I called the parish office not knowing what to expect. I thought about what I would say when the phone was answered, but I got a voice menu. I considered the options and chose #5 to connect with the office. No go, just the “general mailbox” at this time. That did not seem like the best choice. I called back and chose #2 to connect to a Priest. Maybe they have someone who handles their schedule. Nope, another choice to be made – #1 for Father {pastor}, #2 for Father {vicar}, #3 for Father…   I hit #1 and received our Pastor’s voice mail. A little flustered, I left a message. It was, I think, potentially coherent.

So far, so good. I felt a little relieved in that I didn’t have to talk to anyone at the moment or commit to a specific date. Delay is good, right? Our priests are very busy, so I expected to call back again in a day or two. That hope was quickly dashed only a couple hours later when Father Paul returned my call and offered to see me the next day. He was very gracious, and I quickly felt at ease. We were on for 2:00.

When a Catholic comes from confession, he does truly, by definition, step out into that dawn of his own beginning…   in that brief ritual God has really remade him in His own image. He may be grey and gouty, but he is only five minutes old.

G.K. Chesterton

Father had warned me he might be a little late, so I had additional time to look over my list and further examine my conscience. We proceeded to his office, a very comfortable environment, and got started. Father said a prayer and gently explained how to proceed. I felt completely at ease and was ready to jump right in.

One thing you might be wondering about is the wooden confessional as seen on TV. These are indeed still present in older churches, but these days most confessions are (so I understand) either behind a portable screen or just face-to-face as the penitent prefers. Face-to-face will be my preference.

After thinking about this for weeks I felt that, with the aid of my list, that I would not be too nervous. It was in fact easier than I anticipated. It was nothing like being called to the Principal’s office (for example) to explain your misbehavior. It was a lot more like speaking with a dear and trusted friend.

Father spent a few minutes when I was done giving me advice and a very appropriate penance. I then read an Act of Contrition. Father made a prayer of absolution, and we were done.

I didn’t look at my watch, but I think it was about 20 minutes or so, which I read is roughly typical for the first time. It turns out that Father Paul did not immediately have another appointment, so we just talked for about an hour more! We talked about our childhoods, views on various Church issues, our likes and dislikes, our vocations and so on. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other.