I: I will go unto the altar of God, the God who gives joy to my youth.
Before we begin, we call ourselves to attention. The heading is from the Mass of my childhood, and was the beginning of the penitential rite in those days, and, though the words have changed, what we do is the same. We are called to attention, and prepare ourselves, by begging the forgiveness of our sins. We place to one side for this time all the distractions and troubles and trials in order to do this timeless work. All liturgy is the work of the faithful --- that is what the very word "liturgy" means.
Knowing our weakness and faults, but knowing also the faithfulness and the mercy of God, we draw near, both because we love and because we are commanded to do so. As our bishop or our priest ascends those three steps that separate the altar from everywhere else, to reverence the altar; as we beg each other for prayers in the Confiteor and plead for the Lord's mercy; we prepare ourselves to participate in this great offering with the entire Church in all times, and outside of time in the eternal present.
II: Wisdom! Attend!
Now that we have prepared, we turn to the ambo, the table where we are nourished by the Lord's words in the Sacred Scripture. We are nourished, we are strengthened, we are enlightened; we learn of the Lord's works and glories, and give Him thanks for His great generosity in giving us the Word's words.
We give especial honor to the Book of the Gospels. We stand. We sign ourselves, asking the Lord that we may be opened to hear and to proclaim. The risen Christ is truly with us in His holy Gospels.
Then our priest or our bishop teaches us, that we may more fully understand God's holy words, just as St. Philip explained the Scriptures to the Ethiopian on the road. We do not want to be ignorant. St. Jerome was correct when he said: Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
III: What earth has given and human hands have made
Even from the beginnings, there has been a collection as part of Mass. For, there's a necessity. The Eucharist is not only a gift granted, willy-nilly --- though Eucharist would not be without the Lord's continual generosity. The Eucharist begins as the good that we gather and offer to God for Him to use. There is no Bread of Life nor Cup of Eternal Salvation, no body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ really present, without there first being bread and wine that we provide, our gift to God. Our God has chosen, in this case, not to create His gifts from nothing, but to transform the gifts, small as they may be, that we give to Him, into His great gift to us.
"He took the bread and blessed it." How did He bless it? The gospels don't tell us. They didn't have to say, because everybody knew that. Every time bread had been eaten, all their life from infancy, they had heard the blessing. "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." And so we bless and offer up that bread, and that wine, that we give and that the Lord will transform for us from ordinary food that nourishes this life to the true food and true drink that nourishes life eternal.
IV: The Mystery of Faith!
Now, after our offering is prepared, we are again called to strict attention: "Lift up your hearts!" "We lift them up to the Lord!"
And, kneeling at attention, or standing at attention, depending on the canons and customs of our particular Church, our priest, our bishop, prays, and us with him, our great Eucharistic prayer, our hymn of thanksgiving. And we know, by our own experience, that our Lord's one great offering did not only happen two millenia ago to our long-unremembered ancestors --- that great offering is here among us, is always and forever now. Jesus promised us that He Himself would be our true food and drink, and He is God, who always keeps His promises.
Christ is, now and forever, risen; not in the past but now. We dealt death to Him, and He eternally conquers.
And that which had been the plainest of bread and wine is now, by this great gift, His own body and blood, that we might eat and drink and live life true and eternal.
V: We become what we receive, amen, amen.
This is what St. Augustine taught his neophytes about Holy Communion. It's an old, old truism that "you are what you eat." Before us, appearing in the lowly form of bread, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and we are invited to come and eat. We know we are not worthy of such a great and awe-filled privilege, but we also know that it's not so much an invitation as it is a command --- we must eat and drink if we are to live. So, as we begged at the very beginning, we ask again, only say the word, my Lord, and I shall be healed. And we come, and bow, and eat. I, a member of the body of Christ, receive the body of Christ. Receiving the body of Christ, we become the body of Christ. And, just as Christ shared in our humanity, we shall share in His divinity.
We are filled with Him, and may be even overcome with awe; there's a reason that many of us bury our face in our hands when we return to our places and pray and await as the other members of Christ's body who are gathered here with us receive the body of Christ also. And in respect, when physically possible, we stay kneeling or standing, not sitting down, until everyone has received and any leftover Hosts have been reposed. And we abide in the closest personal relationship possible with the Lord Jesus Christ, in great recognition of His Body, and we give thanks.
VI: Go, you are sent.
Why do we call the Mass the Mass? Because "missa est". Now that we have received Eucharist, we are commanded to take Eucharist with us outside the walls, beyond the walls, to all and everywhere.
That command, "Ite, missa est" is clear enough in just plain translation, but it's even clearer when we remember that it was military jargon, a command roughly equivalent to the modern command "fall out". The military company comes together for morning roll call, receives the orders of the day, their duty assignments, and then they "fall out" to go do them. We, the members of the Body of Christ, have received the Body of Christ, and more deeply become the Body of Christ, our general orders to be holy; now there is a time where any "special orders of the day" can be presented --- the announcements. Then we are blessed for our further strengthening, and then we are sent, and we begin the adventure of being the Body of Christ outside the church walls, beyond the church realm, every place we are and in every situation we may be in, throughout the entire world.
The mission is ours; may we accept it and fulfill it with joy.
copyright 2004, Karen Marie Knapp