Why Go to Mass ?
Bishop Michael Evans
A simple explanation of the Eucharist and our encounter with Christ in it.
New meaning, new value
Although far from adequate on its own as an understanding of God’s transforming work in the Eucharist, the giving of new meaning and value is an important aspect of the Spirit’s work in the celebration. At the Last Supper Jesus ‘gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup’ (n. 1334), and ‘gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning’ (n.1340). People come to Mass seeking meaning for their lives, and a sense of value and worth for themselves. The Eucharist gives new meaning, and value to God’s creation and to the people: ‘the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value’ (n. 1368).
In Eucharistic Prayer 2, we ask the Father to make us worthy, but we also thank him ‘for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you’. In the early Church, standing was the Christian way to pray. To be allowed to stand in God’s presence was a sign that God looked on us as his own sons and daughters. Nothing can affirm our dignity and value more strongly than taking part in the Eucharist and hearing what God says to us about ourselves.
The presence of Christ
The risen Christ is truly present in his Church in many ways: in the Scriptures, in the Church’s prayer and worship ‘where two or three are gathered in my name’ (Mt 18:20) and in the poor, the sick and the imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46), in the sacraments and in his ministers. But he is present most especially and in a unique way under the Eucharist species, the consecrated bread and wine: here in the Blessed Sacrament, ‘the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained’ (n. 1374).
We believe this simply because Jesus says of the bread and wine: ‘This is my body’, ‘This is my blood’ (Mk 14:22-24). The risen Christ continues to say these words today through the ministry of his priests. Jesus himself is our bread of life (Jn 6:48). Take time to reflect prayerfully on the following passages from the New Testament: 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:17-34; Jn 6:22-69; Lk 24:13-35.
Traditional Catholic theology distinguishes carefully between the ‘accidents’ or appearances of a thing (what our senses can grasp) and its ‘substance’, its ultimate reality. Although the appearances of bread and wine remain after the consecration, the deepest reality (or ‘substance’) of Christ’s body and blood become present by the conversion of the deepest reality (or ‘substance’) of the bread and wine, a change usually referred to as ‘transubstantiation’:
by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood (n. 1376).
This conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of
Christ happens ‘in a way surpassing understanding’ (n. 1333). The Catechism highlights the role of the Holy Spirit as the one who ‘makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist’ (n. 737). The Western Church’s focus on Christ’s words of institution or consecration (‘This is my Body’, ‘This is my Blood’) and the Eastern Church’s focus on the invocation of the Holy Spirit (the epiclesis) are woven together in the Catechism’s repeated teaching that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood ‘by the words of institution and the invocation of the Spirit’ (nn. 1333, 1353, 1357, 1375). By the power of the Spirit and the words of Christ, Christ himself is ‘really and mysteriously made present’ (n. 1357).