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Vol. XI, September 2005

 

The First and Greatest Eucharistic Devotion
—The Holy Mass!

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The end of the Eucharistic Year is approaching. Certainly the most central and personal point for us priests is the celebration of the Holy Mass. The Church highly recommends daily celebration: “Priests are therefore earnestly invited to offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice daily” (can 276), they are “strongly urged” to this “their greatest task” (PO 13). We may wonder how it has come to the point that the celebration of the Holy Mass passed in the daily life of some priests from the first to the last place. They say, “if it fits in, I’ll say Mass; if not, then, no matter, tomorrow’s another day”. The frightening truth of the matter, of course, is that charity has grown cold, as our Lord prophesied (Mt 24:11).

And He gave the reason: the many false christs that would arise; and these arise because of the love (ambition) of mammon, honor, position, sensuality, all of which eviscerate zeal and true piety, which engender acedia and a soft, effeminate spirit. For the prior ambitions fill the mind and heart with imaginary gratification in such a way that the palate for spiritual things withers. The only remedy is, with the help of the fear of the Lord, to acknowledge the need for mortification (especially for mortification of the heart) and a renewed fidelity to the spiritual exercises which renew our delight in Christ and in the Kingdom of God. In view of the regularly necessary restoration of our first love, we wish to reflect, with the help of the angels, on some of the truths about the Holy Sacrifice, so that our principal vocation be ever more our principal avocation!

1. The Sacrifice on Calvary Present on Our Altars

a) “It is the Lord!”

At the heart of the Eucharistic Mystery lies the profound paradox that this Sacrament is Christ Himself. That very Sacrifice by which He offered Himself in obedience “unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:8) “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8) is rendered mystically and really present. With “the words of Eucharistic consecration, which we say every day in persona Christi” we “make present on our altars the Sacrifice made once and for all on Calvary” (John Paul II, Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, 2005, 1). But, “the Eucharist does not simply commemorate a fact; it commemorates Him” (ibid., 5). It is the deepest donation of love, the greatest gift He ever could have given us, because He gives us Himself! Therefore, everyone should be able to find Him, like St. John who recognized Him and said: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7).

b) The Eucharist: The Fulfillment of All Promises          

To his disciples St. John presented Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jo 1:29). Herewith, he reminded them of essential moments of their history. And they are made present, as John Paul II reminded us, as they found their fulfillment in Jesus: Recall “the call of Abraham, the sacrifice of Isaac, the many acts of God in defense of His people” (Letter, 5), the “Paschal meal” with the immolated lamb whose blood saved the Israelites from the destroyer (cf. Ex 12:12-13.21-23; Circ. III, 2). Recall the “offerings of oxen to the LORD” on Mount Sinai, when Moses threw half of the blood upon the people and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you’” (Ex 24:5,8). Isaiah said of the Servant of the Lord: “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, …so He opened not His mouth” (Is 53:7).

Jesus is this Lamb, slaughtered on the Cross for our sake: “Not a single bone was broken; rather His side was pierced so that Blood and water flowed out for our Redemption. This is all made visible in every Holy Mass in the separated species of bread and wine, being Jesus’ Body and Blood. Already then Jesus foreknew and suffered all that which throughout the centuries should happen to Him in this Most Blessed Sacrament” (cf. The Stations of the Cross—Of Eucharistic Reparation in the last Circular). His total love bound Him to the Cross for us sinners where He offers Himself for us to the Father: “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit” (Lk 23:46).

c) “Another will gird you.”           

This reminds us of St. Peter who was told by Jesus: “Truly, truly, I say to you…when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jo 21:18). This referred to his future death on a Cross—like His master, like the Lamb. In these days we might remember what Benedict XVI, successor of St. Peter, affirmed when he assumed the Bishop-seat of Rome: “This power of teaching [is]…a mandate to serve…[in] obedience to Christ and to His Word” (May 7, 2005). This can be understood also with regard to the celebration of the death and Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Mass: We are bound by love and girded by the rite: He Himself will guide us and we shall follow Him in loving obedience.

2. Celebrating the Eucharist

The entire history of salvation is recapitulated in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is Christ’s Sacrifice, His bequest to the Church, in whose docile service we ought to stand. When we start the Holy Mass, we are responding to a singular invitation of God! What could be compared with this? If a distinguished visitor is announced, we change our plans to receive him. If a close friend or someone important to us dies, we stop everything and dedicate our time to paying our last respects. So, who is Jesus for us? Where does He rank on our list of important persons?

With the penitential rite we remember the agony of Jesus in Gethsemani, where He willingly accepted to bear all the sins of all mankind. Even the threefold invocation of Divine Mercy—“Lord, have mercy, Christ, have…!” makes Jesus’ petition to the Apostles to ‘have mercy’ on Him (that is, to compassionate with Him) present to us. He asked three times, three times in vain! The opening prayer is like that profound “Yes!” of Jesus, the Son, to His Father in Heaven: Yes, Father, I accept, I say “Yes!”, but You need to help Me with the power of the Eternal Spirit (cf. Heb 9:14), in Whom we should join Him unquestionably.

And the readings of whatever liturgy are ultimately about Christ the only Righteous One, Who has in times past through the prophets but now personally “spoken openly to the world” (Jn 18:20). The Gospel always ultimately proclaims the truth which the high priest prophetically besought of Jesus: “‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed God?’ And Jesus said to him: ‘I am’” (Mk 14:61-62).

This truth of revelation moves us to turn to the Lord, or “to celebrate the Eucharist facing the Lord…as…a question…of guiding the people in pilgrimage towards the Kingdom” (Lineamenta for the Synod of 2005, 53). We collect all we find symbolized in water, bread and wine, and present it to the Lord on the Mount Sion in the presence of the myriad of angels (cf. Heb 12:22ff.), joining their “unending hymn of praise”. He Himself takes us with Him up to the Father. When we say at the consecration “This is My Body!” and “This is…My Blood”, the Lord comes. “Every time he proclaims these words after consecrating the bread and wine, the priest expresses his ever-renewed amazement at the extraordinary miracle worked at his hands. …On the altar, then, Christ crucified and risen is ‘truly, really and substantially’ present in the fullness of his humanity and divinity. What an eminently sacred reality! That is why the Church treats this mystery with such great reverence, and takes such care to ensure the observance of the liturgical norms intended to safeguard the sanctity of so great a Sacrament” (Letter, 6).

We have the honor to “bring down” the Lord and King to His people, in order to support and strengthen them on their journey to the eternal goal—What an event! What a mystery! What a history!

3. The Highest Moment for the Holy Angels

a) A Question of Rubrics or of Love

Such observations show that the celebration of the Holy Mass should never become a question of rubrics or law, but of the absolute preferential love of God and Jesus with which we do His will. Here the holy angels can guide us. These faithful servants accompanied Him throughout His entire life on earth (cf. CCC 333). They never abandon Him, not even in the poor Holy Eucharist. He is for them always the same! They are very attentive to the least thing that God asks of them, just because it is He Who asks it, He the infinite majesty and goodness, of them, poor creatures. We ask why is it that we men speak of obedience, restriction, obligation and loss of freedom, when what most matters in the eyes of God and of the holy angels is an ardent love? Such a love would unite us with Christ in imploring, “Not my will but Your will be done!” and so the implementation of the rubrics would become a gentle gesture of faithful love.

b) The Words of Eucharistic Consecration as a “Formula of Life”

The Fathers of Vatican II show us the heavenly, angelic side of religion: Religious obedience is “loyal submission of the will and intellect” (LG 25), which “leads to maturity” (PC 14). Liturgy is living union with Christ, where He leads us. Liturgy lifts man up to heaven, already now, in union with the angels. Are not the angels already sent out to invite us to the wedding feast of the Lamb, the Mass (cf. Mt 22:3; Rev 19:7)? Do we not ask for their intercession already in the penitential rite, uniting ourselves in the hymns of praise…so that we could ask for their assistance while we celebrate (cf. Rev 19:10)?  

The liturgy in its entirety, and especially in “the words of Eucharistic consecration…provide[s] us with illuminating insights for priestly spirituality: if the whole Church draws life from the Eucharist, all the more then must the life of a priest be ‘shaped’ by the Eucharist. So for us, the words of institution must be more than a formula of consecration: they must be a ‘formula of life’” (Letter, 1).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!                 

The Holy Mass is the highest or deepest prayer we ever can say. It is Jesus praying in and through us! If we would just give attentive heed to the meaning of the words, giving due attention to the people would not disturb us any more. We are called to guide the people towards the Kingdom of heaven, into the mystery of the Divine Love. The people come to the Church and want to meet God. This will be best achieved if we just serve the Lord, if we celebrate in a genuinely prayerful manner! The coming Synod will tell us what God expects from us and what Jesus wants us to do. Let us respond docilely like the holy angels and with deep gratitude.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC