What is the Mass? Who is it for?

There was a letter in the Catholic Virginian from a reader who, upon looking back on the first year with our new translation of the Mass, contemplated the changes and mentioned that he didn’t like all of them. While he does appreciate some of the changes, he took specific issue with using “I believe” instead of the old “We believe” in the Creed. His argument centered around the Catholic faith being communal, being universal, being for everyone. Nowhere in his letter was an inkling that he knew that the proper translation of the ancient creed is “I believe.” This is what originally struck me as I read over his letter.

But during Adoration on Wednesday night, I was reading Introduction to Christianity, written in the 1960’s by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. The book is based on a series of lectures he gave as a professor, and is an in-depth explanation of the Faith via the Apostle’s Creed. I’ve been reading it a little at a time (it’s so deep, I need frequent breaks to ponder it), and since our family started reading the Catechism for the Year of Faith, I’ve been able to see Ratzinger’s fingerprints all over the Catechism. (He was one of the theologians who helped to write our Catechism.)

The phrase “Credo Deus” came up in my readings this week, and my mind went back again to this man’s letter. It really niggled my mind. Finally, I was able to figure out what exactly irritated me about the letter.

His entire letter gave the impression that the Mass is there for us.

While there is some truth in this – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, after all, is the time when we’re able to receive our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist – the Mass, in fact, is not for humans. It’s for God.

Mass is the time when we stop living our lives for a time and pause in the presence of God. We offer Him worship and praise, not as we like and feel good about, but as He requests and desires. We need look no further than the book of Revelation to see what the unending Heavenly worship looks like: altars, incense, candles, prayers, Holy! Holy! Holy! There, we see the perfect worship of God, and it looks an awful lot like Mass. Even looking to the Bible, the description of what was done at the Breaking of the Bread looks like it. Early Church history shows that people gathered for what is pretty much what our current Mass looks like:

St. Justin Martyr

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

     On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen”. The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

     The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

     We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.“

 But why are we at Mass?

Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: More than it seems!

It’s not for us. It’s for God. The Mass, the prayers, the words … they are all for Him, not me. This is why it doesn’t matter if I understand the new phrasing of the prayers that Father says during the Consecration. It doesn’t matter if the prayers are in Greek or Latin. It doesn’t matter if I know the people in the pew next to me.

What matters is that I’m there to worship God. Those prayers are not for me, they are for Him. I am there to praise God. I am there to humble myself.

And when I say the Creed, I say it on my own behalf, not my neighbors’.

The Creed is ancient – written in the Fourth Century – and should be taken seriously. The words have meaning, and when we say them, we ought to mean it. And we shouldn’t take it lightly when ancient words are changed to make our modern sensibilities feel better.

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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