Why Go to Mass ?
Bishop Michael Evans
A simple explanation of the Eucharist and our encounter with Christ in it.
Thanksgiving to the Father
‘Eucharist’ means first of all ‘thanksgiving’ (n. 1360). It is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a sacrament of gratitude in which the Church sings glory to God in the name of all creation (n. 1361).
In the Eucharist sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father though the death and resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful and just in creation and in humility (n. 1359).
Is this dimension of thanksgiving central enough to our own understanding and celebration of the Eucharist? Do we come to the Eucharist consciously united with all creation in praise of the Father, simply to lift up our hearts to God because ‘it is right to give him thanks and praise’?
Sacrificial Memorial of Christ
The Catechism echoes the central importance of the concept of ‘memorial’ for biblical, patristic (Church Fathers) and modern Eucharistic theology. A ‘memorial’ involves far more than simply remembering what happened once upon a time:
In the sense of Sacred Scripture the memorial is not merely the recollection of past events but the proclamation of the mighty works wrought by God for men. In the liturgical celebration of these events, they become in a certain way present and real. This is how Israel understands its liberation from Egypt: every time Passover is celebrated the Exodus events are made present to the memory of believers so that they may conform their lives to them (n. 1363).
The Passover is a ritual meal, celebrated as a ‘memorial’ of the great escape from slavery in Egypt and the entry of God’s people into a new friendship, a new covenant with God. The Jewish idea of memorial involves evoking the past in such a way that a past event is made effective and fruitful here and now. The heart of the event itself is made present for us today (n. 1334).
Jesus took the Passover Meal and fulfilled its deepest meaning. He transformed it into the memorial of his own saving death and resurrection. The heart of Jesus’ saving work is made present for us here and now: in the Eucharist, Jesus himself is personally present as our crucified and risen Saviour (n. 1340). There we powerfully ‘proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes’ (1 Cor 11:26). It is Jesus himself who tells us to ‘Do this as a memorial of me’ (1 Cor 11:24, 25), and when we come to Mass we keep his special commandment of love.
A ‘sacrificial’ understanding of the Eucharist is the heart of Catholic teaching on the Mass. This is clearly reaffirmed in the Catechism in a way which makes full use of the New Testament language of memorial: