Why Go to Mass ?
Bishop Michael Evans
A simple explanation of the Eucharist and our encounter with Christ in it.
Sacrificial Memorial of Christ
The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body (n. 1362).
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present (n. 1364).
‘Memorial’ is a biblical way of presenting our later idea of ‘sacrament’.
The liturgical celebration of the Eucharist is the outward, visible sign of the inward, invisible grace of Christ’s gift of salvation. The Eucharist is the ‘sacrament of salvation’. We call it a sacrifice because ‘it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit’ (n. 1366). This means that ‘the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice’ (n. 1367). By taking part in the Eucharist, we participate in Christ’s saving sacrifice, his death and resurrection.
This means that the Eucharist is much more than a Communion Service at which the Scriptures are read and Holy Communion is given. In some Catholic Churches, a deacon or lay minister leads such a service when there is no priest to preside at a celebration of the Eucharist. Such services are of great value when a priest cannot be present, but they are not the Mass and are ultimately no substitute for the Mass itself.
An Easter Communion
The Eucharist is the memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ (nn. 1323, 1330, 1337, 1341). This is an advance on some previous theology which understood the Eucharist as the memorial or sacramental representation only of the death or cross of Christ, rather than of the total mystery of salvation. Each Eucharist is therefore an Eastertidal moment, and there should be a note of ‘festive joy’ (n. 1334).
The death and resurrection of Christ (or rather, Christ is his death and resurrection) are present for us to share. The active participation of all encouraged by the Second Vatican Council is not primarily about everyone having some special ministry to perform at every Mass, although the Catechism does teach that ‘all have their own active parts to play in the celebration, each in his own way’ (n. 1348). Full participation, however, is something much deeper.
The holy Eucharist completes Christian initiation. Those who have been raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood by Baptism, and configured more deeply to Christ by Confirmation, participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist (n. 1322).