Theological Explanation of the Mass

In 07 Observations on 2014/06/27 at 12:00 AM

Dear Catechists and Friends,

Instead of a summary, a whole transcript of  Fr. Barron’s theological explanation of the Mass .

I do want to interject though, since yesterday was Corpus Christi and Fr. Barron touched upon the Eucharistic Miracle of 1263 that led to the Feast of Corpus Christi, that our Good Lord goes to an extreme to help our unbelief without trampling on our freewill.   For centuries there have been Eucharistic Miracles, generally occurring to dispel doubts of the true presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in Transubstantiation during the Consecration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I’ve personally seen 2 of these miracles up-close.

• Belgium, Bois-Seigneur-Isaac  In 1405 a particle of a large consecrated Host is left in a folded corporal. It clung to it and began to bleed. After 4 days, the bleeding stops after staining almost all the corporal.  I saw the corporal in a small church in a town south of Brussels.  http://www.therealpresence.org/eucharst/mir/english_pdf/Boisseigneurisaac.pdf

• Lanciano, Italy.  This Eucharistic Miracle is probably the best known in the Church. In the 8th century A.D., in the little church of St. Legonthian, a Basilican monk was having doubts about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During Mass, after the two-fold consecration, the Host was changed into live Flesh, and the Wine was changed into live Blood. As I was standing in front of the almost 1300 year old  Host-Flesh and the coagulated Blood of our Lord, I marbled at His Love for us and realized I no longer need to see such miracles because I have found Him fully alive in my soul and my unbelief no longer persists.  This youtube has more information about the miracle at Lanciano: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=lanciano+eucharistic+miracle&view=detail&mid=B7DB793F81E11FA63AF2B7DB793F81E11FA63AF2&first=1&FORM=NVPFVR

Lesson 7 – The Liturgy and the Eucharistic Communion with the Lord.

Fr. Barron starts by pointing out that we do the Liturgy for its own sake, because it is good and beautiful.  In the act of giving right praise to God in the Liturgy, we achieve inner harmony and peace.  God’s good order is preserved in the midst of a sinful world. The Mass is our participation and anticipation of the heavenly Liturgy where the right praise is given to God by the saints and angels.

The Mass begins with the way in which the people who participate gather.  They come from all walks of life, education, economic stratus, moral excellence, and both genders.  We humans are interested in people status but for Christ there is no difference between Greek or Jew, slave or free, man or woman, He doesn’t put labels on anyone.  All are members of his Mystical Body.  In Church the rich and the poor, the great dame and the servant, the educated and the uneducated kneel side by side in the Liturgy.  When the Catholic historian Christopher Dawson converted to Catholicism from his native Anglicanism, his mother was not happy.  She said that it wasn’t the doctrine that bothered her but the fact that his son will now be worshiping with the help.

By the simple of gesture of starting the Liturgy in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we already announce we belong to the Triune God.   Modern secularism is predicated on the assumption that we essentially belong to no one, that we are self determined and self directing, pursuers of happiness according to our own likes.   But Paul told Christians long ago in Romans 14:8.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  In contradistinction to modernity, biblical people say your life is not about you.  This is a fundamental truth which does not change .  We all belong to our Creator whether we believe or not.

THE LITURGY – Everything about the Liturgy (Mass) has theological meaning.

INITIAL RITE; Sign of the Cross, Greeting, Penitential Rite

Sign of the Cross. The Liturgy signals this from the beginning with the Sign of the Cross:  The Cross speaks of the great act by which the Father sent the Son into god-forsakenness in order to gather us through the Holy Spirit into the Divine Life:  The story of our salvation in one sentence.  Because the Son went all the way down, He was able in principle to bring even the most recalcitrant sinner back into fellowship with God, thus when we invoke the Cross at the beginning of the Liturgy, we signify that we are praying in God and not merely to God.

Greeting. After the sign of the Cross the priest greets the people in Christ’s name (not his own).  The priest operates in the person of Christ therefore his expression, movements, and words are expressive not of his own perspectives and convictions but of Christ’s. Which is why the people respond And With Your Spirit because they are addressing not the individual man but in Jesus in whose person the priest is operating.

Penitential Rite: After the greeting the priest asks those in attendance to call to mind his/her sins. This is of extraordinary importance. The relevant distinction among us is not between sinners and non-sinner, but between those sinners who know it and those who don’t as we are all sinners.   The great heroes of our faith (the saints) are those who ordered their lives to God and therefore they are keenly aware of how far they fall short of the ideal. John of the Cross compared the soul to a pane of glass.  As long as the glass is away from the light, its imperfections don’t appear but if you turn it towards the light, all the smudges and marks become visible.  This explains the paradox of the saints saying “I’m the worst of sinners.”  They have directed their lives toward the light of God therefore they are more and not less aware of their sin.  As the Liturgy begins and we are bathed in the light of the Trinitarian God, we mimic the saints admitting that we are sinners.   By doing so we offer correctness to a pervasive cultural tendency toward exculpation.  I’m ok and you are ok we tell ourselves.  But to subscribe to such naïve sentiment is ipso facto, to prove that one is facing away from the clarifying light of God.  We call to mind our sins in preparation for the Kyrie Prayer…Lord have Mercy!  There is no room for the self aggrandizing and self deception.  We know we are incapable of saving ourselves, that we are beggars before the Lord.  Compelled by the Liturgy into this correct and finally liberating attitude we hear the voice of the priest asking God to have mercy on us and forgive us our sins.  God wants to forgive but it is of upmost importance that we recognize that we have something in us that needs forgiving.

The Gloria: After the Kyrie comes the most magnificent prayer in our liturgical tradition: The Gloria.
The whole of Catholic theology is in it.  The first prayer (Glory to God in the Highest and on Earth peace to people of good will), is a kind of formula for a happy life.  When we give God the supreme glory above all else, then our lives become harmoniously ordered around that central love.  Peace breaks out among us when God (and not pleasure, money, or power,) is given Glory in the highest.  The word worship comes from the old English worth ship designating what we hold dear.   Aristotle said that a friendship will endure only in the measure that the two friends fall in love not as much with each other but together with a transcendent third. In the Gloria we expressed our shared love for God’s glory.

LITURGY OF THE WORD – TELLING OF THE STORIES.  The next major move in the Liturgy is the proclamation of the Word of God: Usually a selection from the Old Testament, from one of Paul’s epistles and the Gospel.  We do this for us to draw into the strange world of the bible   Remembering that the priest is in the person of Christ, he proclaims the Gospel of Christ and delivers a homily which does not include the priests private convictions about politics, culture or religion or anything else, but speaks the mind of Christ and only the mind of Christ. The preacher surrenders to the divine voice and conforms himself to the attitude of Christ.  After the homily comes the recitation of the Creed, usually using the Creed from the Council of Nicaea in 325 which expresses that Jesus shares fully in the divinity of the Father and defeats the heresy of Arius of that time which questioned the divinity of Jesus.  The Church protected by the Holy Spirit will never succumb to a heresy. This particular heresy would have rendered Christianity invalid since its foundation rests on the divinity of Christ thus ensuring our salvation.  Instead, for almost 1700 years this declaration of the Divinity of our Lord, the Creed, is recited at every Sunday Mass across the world.  Those who faithfully profess the Creed are standing resolutely athwart all forms of idolatry, ancient and cotemporary, material or emotional.  After the Creed we offer prayers for the living and the dead expressing the interdependence of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. We pray for one another precisely because we are implicated in one another connected by the deepest bond in Christ.  One member of the body cannot coherently say to another, ‘Your concern is not mine.’ for we are not a club but an organism.

THE OFFERING.  Commences the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In most cultures, an encounter with a person usually involves two moves: First conversation and second a meal.  The Mass is an encounter with Christ.   In the Liturgy of the Word we listen as He speaks to us in the Scripture and in the Psalms and responses we speak back to Him, we converse.  Then in the Liturgy of the Eucharist we sit down to eat at a meal that He himself prepares for us.  A fundamental biblical principle is that in a world gone wrong, there is no communion without sacrifice.  This is true because sin has twisted us out of shape and therefore intimacy with God will involve a twisting back into shape, a painful re-alignment, a sacrifice.  God doesn’t need the sacrifice; in fact God doesn’t need anything at all.  The point is that we need sacrifice in order to reorder us and thereby restore communion with God.  What is given back to God, sacrificed to Him, breaks against the rock of the divine self-sufficiency and returns for the benefit of the one who has made the offering.  Sacrifice produces communion.  This is the distinctive logic that undergirds the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist bread wine and water are brought to the altar so that the priest can offer them to God.  To say bread and wine implies wheat and vine which implies earth, soil, water, wind and sunshine which lead us to solar system and the cosmos itself.  These small gifts symbolically represent the entirety of Creation.  Taking this gifts in hand, the priest speaks the Berakah prayer, “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation…we offer you this bread and wine”..  The bread and wine offered to a God who doesn’t need them will return to us immeasurably elevated as the Body and Blood of Jesus.  After the Berakah, the priest moves into the climatic prayer of the Mass,  the Eucharistic prayer in the course of which Christ becomes really, truly and substantially present.  First the priest involves the participation of the heavenly community: “And so with the angels and the saints…..we acclaim”… this is not pious decoration, this links the Mass on Earth to the eternal Liturgy in Heaven and we join in the praise of the angels and the saints.  Therefore as the gathered people sing: “Holy, Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts….” They are like the angels and saints giving glory to God in the highest and hence actually realizing the unity that God desires for them.   The prayer commences with a word of gratitude to the Trinitarian God for the sheer grace of His creation and redemption. “You are indeed holy, o Lord and all you have created rightly gives you praise…….” He then beckons the Father to send down the Holy Spirit for the sanctification and transformation of the bread and wine.  “Therefore Lord we humbly implore you by the same spirit graciously make holy these gifts….” He then continues with what is termed the “institution narrative” which is an abbreviated form of the Gospel account of what Jesus said and did at the Last Supper.  He recalls how Jesus took bread and gave thanks and then he moves from 3rd person description to direct quotation, speaking the very words of Jesus “take this all of you and eat it for this is my body which will be given up for you”. The priest does the same in regard to the cup of wine, recounting how Jesus gave thanks and passed the chalice to his disciple and then moving to first person quotation, he says, ‘this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins…”  The faith of the Church is that by the power of these words, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Jesus becomes really, truly and substantially present to His people under the appearance of the Eucharistic elements.


In the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus Himself taught, after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the walking on the sea, he went to Capernaum.  The people followed Him and He told them “don’t go after food that perishes; go after the food that will last into eternal life.  I myself I’m the living bread from heaven. My flesh is food for the life of the world.”  It is hard to imagine anything that is more theologically problematic and disgusting for 1st century Jew that those words since it was prohibited in their law to eat animal with its flesh and blood. When they protested Jesus had every opportunity to render his language more spiritual or metaphorical perhaps say “Well, I means something symbolic”. But instead he said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you”. And the words in Greek are interesting.  He used the word “trogein” not Phagein, the way humans usually eat, trogein is the way an animal would eat, like gnawing.  In other words, when they object to the physical realism of it, he intensifies it.  Many of the disciples went away, that teaching was too much for them to bear and He turned to His own inner circle, the Twelve, and He says,” Are you going to leave me too.”  It’s as though this teaching of the “real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist” is a standing or falling point.

It is Peter who speaks up “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life. ” Peter confesses the truth of the Real Presence.  In Orvieto, year 1263, a priest named Peter of Prague, stopped in the little Italian town of Bosena to celebrate Mass. He had been entertaining doubts about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Just after the words of consecration, blood began to run from the Hosts onto his hands then down unto the corporal on the altar.  Confused he went directly to Orvieto where Pope Urban IV was visiting.  He confessed his unbelief and the Pope sent a delegation immediately back to Bolsena. They returned with the corporal stained with the blood.  So impressed was the Pope that he declared a new feast for the Church called Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ and he turned to a Dominican Friar who also happened to be in Orvieto in his entourage and he asked him to composed the office for the feast with a  series of prayers and hymns.  This was Thomas Aquinas and he responded with the most poetic and beautiful hymns which we still sing to this day.  Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris. So identified was Thomas Aquinas with the Eucharistic mystery that he couldn’t get through the Liturgy without copies tears.  He never felt he did justice to the Eucharist and after writing at treatise about the Eucharist, he put his work at the foot of the cross filing he failed the Lord.  He heard Jesus speaking to him for the cross saying in Latin “You’ve written well of Me, Thomas.  What would you have as a reward?” Aquinas responded “I will have nothing except You”.

In that treatise, Thomas explained the transubstantiation where the substance of something chances but not its appearance.  Most of the times, appearance and reality match, but not always.  You look up into the sky on a clear winter’s night and you see the stars but in fact those starts are not longer there because the light takes so long to reach us.  Appearance and reality are different.  It seems like the sun moves across the sky but in reality the earth moves around the sun.  Appearance and reality differ.  The church states in the case of the Eucharist that what appears to be ordinary bread and wine in fact has changed at the deepest level of its reality.  How can that be?  Consider the power of words.  Words not only describe reality, but under the right circumstances can change reality.  If I go to someone and say you are under arrest, those words have no power and it would be taken as a joke, but if a properly deputized officer of the laws said to you, you are under arrest, whether you are guilty or innocent, you are in fact under arrest. Those words changed reality. In a baseball game, a fan can yell to a player you are out, but it has no impact.  However, if the umpire tell a player you are out, whether he is or not, the words of the umpire have changed reality.  Those are our puny words, now consider God’s word.  In the bible, God creates through the power of his Word.  Let there be light, and there was light, Let the earth come forth and it came forth.  God’s Word does not just describe, it affects what it says.

Who is Jesus?  Not one figure among many, not one in a long line of prophets.  Jesus is the very “logos” the very Word of God made flesh.  The same Word by which God made creation becomes personally present in Jesus and therefore, what Jesus says IS. Lazarus, come out, and he came out.  Little girl get up, and the dead girl gets up.  The night before he died he takes bread and He said, “This is my body which will be given up for you.”  He took the cup. He said, “This is the cup of my blood.” Jesus’ Word is the divine word, it does not simple describes but rather, affects, creates, changes reality in the most radical sense.  When the priest pronounces the word of consecration, he is not using his own words.  He is using the divine word of Christ which can affect reality and change reality most profoundly.

At the very beginning of her career, Flannery O’Connor who would develop into the greatest Catholic fiction writer of the 20th century sat down at dinner with Mary McCarthy and a group of other New York intellectuals.  Flannery was so overwhelmed that she barely spoke.  Mary feeling sorry for her, made a few remarks about the Eucharist knowing that O’Connor was Catholic.  She said of the Eucharist “It’s a very powerful symbol.”  O’Connor looked up and in a shaky voice said, “Well, if it’s only a symbol, I say to hell with it.”  Fr. Barron couldn’t imagine a better summary of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence.

Communion and sending.

At the close of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Jesus who is really present under the forms of bread and wine is offered as a living sacrifice to the Father.  Lifting up the elements the priest prays, “Through him and with him and in him…. “ At this time the Catholic priest is in the true holy of holies and what he does is analogous to what the High Priest did in the temple on the Day of Atonement.  In the ancient time, the priest enters the Holy of Holies and there he would sacrifice an animal to Yahweh on behalf of the people.  He would sprinkle some of the blood around the interior of the sanctuary and the rest he would bring out in bowls and sprinkle on the people sealing thereby a kind of blood bond between God and the nation.

The Catholic priest at the climax of the Mass offers to the Father not the blood of bulls and goats but the blood of Christ beyond all price.  Since the Father has no need of anything, that sacrifice redounds completely to our benefit.  If our troubles began with a bad meal, by seizing the forbidden fruit, our redemption is affected through a properly constituted meal, God feeding His people with His own Body and Blood.  After the congregation has communed and given thanks, they are blessed and sent.  The priest says “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” It is said that after the words of consecration, these are the most sacred words of the entire Mass. Now that the people have gathered as one family, heard the Word of God, professed their faith, prayed for one another, offered sacrifice to the Father, and received the Body and Blood of Jesus they are at least in principle more properly formed, and hence ready to go out and effect the transformation of the world. Fulton Sheen reflected that after the Magi’s visit to Jesus they went back a different route, and Bishop Sheen concluded, of course they did, no one encounters Christ and goes back the same way he came!

The Liturgy is the privileged communion with the Lord.  It is the source and summit of the Christian life and therefore, those who participate in it never leave unchanged, never go back the same way they came.

Notes on Fr.  Baron by Aida Tamayo


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