“What is the Mass? The Mass is a drama; it’s not a tragedy because there is a resurrection. In every good drama there is first of all the conception of it strong in the mind of the artist. Second, there are long rehearsals, the choosing of characters and types; third, there is opening night; and fourth, there are road companies. The drama of the Mass was conceived in the mind of the eternal dramatist, for the lamb was slain from the beginning of the world. Then there were the rehearsals and the types and choosing of characters: paschal lamb, the serpent, the many other instances and prototypes of sacrifice in the Old Testament. Then came the opening night, the Last Supper, which looked forward to the cross. And then the Lord sent out His road companies, his priests. “Do this in memory of me.” Same action, same words, same drama, only different characters pronouncing the lines. When, therefore, we begin the Mass, we are reaching back to the cross of Calvary and lifting it out of its rocks and planting it right down here in our midst. Every time a Mass is offered, Calvary is represented somewhere on earth.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Too often parishioners do not attend weekend Mass. Their excuse, they say, is that they don’t get anything out of it. One reason for this is that they bring nothing to Mass; namely themselves. There is more we can offer than a few coins in the collection plate. A little self-denial that we bring to Mass goes a long way in identifying with the Divine Sacrifice of the cross. Another reason is that they do not appreciate fully what is taking place each time Mass is celebrated. It is my contention that the majority who attend Mass have seldom cracked open the Catechism of the Catholic Church, let alone own one. How can anything be fully appreciated if so little is known of it? That failure falls upon the parishioners, as well as the clergy, in particular, who are responsible for guiding the faithful toward awareness and complete understanding. These negligent or neglected followers simply regard the celebration of the Mass as a reenactment of an event in history.
In the movie “Apollo 13” Ron Howard brought to life another event in history. It was a moment when the U.S. Space Program snatched victory from defeat and transformed what seemed certain failure into its greatest success. Many wondered how could a movie in which the ending is already known be of interest to movie goers? Yet the detailed manner in which the movie was constructed drew the viewer in and allowed them to experience the event as though it was happening at that moment. It was that method of dramatizing the facts of the event and eyewitness testimony of the astronauts who were on that mission that enthused the audience and inspired accolades experienced through the courage and heroism of these three brave men, scientists and engineers who collectively defied the odds and saved a mission and very likely the Space Program.
Catholic parishioners must approach attending Mass as did the viewers of “Apollo 13.” Not expecting a simple reenactment of history, but one that transcends time and space. Not as disconnected viewers, but as connected eye-witnesses.
As a young boy I remember a series titled: “You Are There.” The series narrator was Walter Cronkite, a well-known T.V. news anchorman of that time. The series brought to life events of history, such as the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. Those men of history were interviewed, figuratively, live during congressional sessions, bringing the viewer right into the debate. Thereby elevating the viewer to that of a witness to the actual proceedings. I recall how much more meaningful to me was that experience than that of a conventional production.
The same is true of the Mass. The Mass is a living event because the main character is alive in and through His Church. He is the vine and we are the branches. A vine that is ever-growing and everlasting. At the most dramatic part of the Mass, when the sacramentals of bread and wine are consecrated and changed into the body and blood of Christ, the pages of history are joined; the then and the now. When a believer understands this he will no longer say, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass.” Because, in all truth, all who attend actively participate and do not passively observe.
When Our Lord, at the Last Supper, blessed the bread and wine, instituting the Holy Eucharist, He foretold that the purpose for which He came into the world was upon Him. Wheat must be ground to make bread and grapes must be crushed to make wine. The sacrifice of the mass is the crucifixion of Christ. The congregation experiences the sights, sounds and emotions at that moment. The crack of the whip in scourging, the pounding between hammer and nail in penetrating wood, black and blue colored bruises, crimson stains of blood – the result of open wounds, and the mournful cries of the sorrowful. The pain, suffering, sacrifice, redemption and a love that surpasses all, overwhelms senses and strikes to the core of every heart. The then is now, and in the now, again, we are not observers but witnesses. Through the Mass we find ourselves not thirsting over an empty abandoned well, but forever quenched by His living water. This is so when we are not passive, but indeed active. We are richly fulfilled by the Mass rather than dissatisfied. Because, “We Are There.”