Mystery of the Mass

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/01/08 at 12:00 AM


 In medieval times if you walked into a Catholic church, you would often find a curious architectural element called a rood screen, which separated the nave (where the pews are) from the chancel (the part of the sanctuary containing the altar).
 Often elaborately carved and decorated, the rood screen served to demarcate the most sacred part of the church, but it also partially obscured the view of the altar so that worshippers in the nave could not always see clearly what the priest was doing.
 The point of the rood screen was to remind the faithful that, like the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, there are some places that are sacred, where only the priest should enter.
 But the rood screen also reminded people that what takes place at the altar during Mass is a mystery – a mystery that none of us will ever fully understand in our earthly lives. Thus, this architectural element was really an invitation to us to strengthen our faith.
 It was a reminder that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to Mass, and that what is necessary to penetrate the mystery of the Mass is not good eyesight, but the eyes of faith.
 While we no longer use rood screens in Catholic churches, we have retained some liturgical elements that remind us of the mysterious nature of the Mass, things like incense, Latin, and even when a priest uses the ad orientem posture at Mass.
 The smokiness of incense obscures our vision just a bit to heighten the sense of mystery. And Latin, too, because most of us cannot understand it, acts as a sort of auditory veil that reminds us that God and the mysteries of our Faith are ineffable.
 When a priest faces ad orientem, i.e., toward the East, so that only his back is visible to the faithful in the pews, what’s taking place on the altar is obscured from view, also heightening the sense of mystery at Mass.
 After the priest consecrates the bread and wine at Mass, he says: “The Mystery of Faith.” These words are a statement of fact that what is taking place is indeed a mystery. But these words are also an invitation to enter, by faith, into the mystery of the Mass.
 In the past 5 1⁄2 years we’ve modified our liturgy here at St. Ann’s considerably, in large part to heighten the sense of mystery and to make it clear that the Mass is not reducible to a coalition of ministries. The Mass is so much more than that.
 Mass is not something we “do”, nor is it an event that we merely attend like a baseball game. Rather the Mass should be something that we are swept up into.
 Actively participating at Mass does not require you to be an usher, or a lector, or sing in the choir. While I’m so grateful to all of you who help in these ways, true participation in the Mass happens by entering into its mystery through prayer.
 We actively participate in the Mass by fervently praying through it, offering ourselves and those we love to God the Father, just as Christ – in the person of the priest – offers Himself to the Father, serving as both Victim and Priest.
 As we prayerfully participate in the Mass, we are taken to Calvary, and the sacrifice our Lord made of Himself upon the altar of the cross is re‐presented to us in an unbloody fashion. This is a mystery that we experience every Mass, and it’s remarkable!
 Throughout the course of the liturgical year, we celebrate many mysteries of our faith. In this, the Christmas Season, we focus on the mystery of the Incarnation: that God became man, and did so without any loss of His divinity.
 And not only did our Lord become man, but He humbly became a helpless baby, born miraculously of a virgin, and laid in a manger to be adored by shepherd and king alike.
 Our second window on the left side of the church shows us an image of today’s feast: the Epiphany. Here we see our infant Lord being presented with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh by the three Magi from the East, with the star that guided them to Bethlehem in the background.
 In this event we see our Lord being made manifest to the world, as He is worshipped and adored by the three wise men – giving credence that what we believe by faith is true.
 The Epiphany reminds us that the tiny child whose birth we celebrated 12 days ago is noordinary child. He is the Word‐made‐Flesh, the eternal king!
 In the adoration of the Magi, who are from a foreign land, we see that the newborn Christis the Savior of all people, Jew and Gentile alike.
 Because Christ was born so that He might save us from our sins, it’s a tradition toannounce the dates of the Easter mysteries on Epiphany, as we did after the Gospel. Thisproclamation reminds us of all that hinged upon Christ’s birth: our very salvation!
 Indeed, He is the light that shines in the darkness, the light that dispels the thick clouds ofsin and darkness that cover the peoples. So we are told in our first reading to “rise up insplendor,” for our “light has come,” and that “the glory of the Lord shines upon [us].”
 But while we may know this to be true, being 2000 years removed from the miraculous and mysterious events of our Lord’s life can leave us a bit slow to believe, can it not?
 The demands and frantic pace of daily life, coupled with the allure of worldly things and the brutal assaults on the veracity of our faith by our media, culture, and even our government can also erode and debilitate our faith in God and His Church.
 And because the mysteries of our Faith are precisely that: mysteries, we cannot rely on our senses and our intellects alone to bring us to certitude. It is only by faith that these mysteries can be grasped – a faith bolstered by hope and strengthened by charity.
 So as we consider the great mystery of our Lord becoming man so that He might die for our sins, we must be willing to strengthen our faith so that we might believe as we should, not only for our salvation – but also to render our Lord the proper respect.
 And the way that we strengthen our faith, my dear brothers and sisters, is through a living relationship with our Lord that we build through prayer. That begins here at Mass! By prayerfully entering into the Mass, we enter into a relationship with Christ!
 As we begin this new year, I urge you to make the resolution to go to Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation.
 Holy Mother Church obliges her children to go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation not because she’s a strict mother, but so that you won’t miss out on your relationship with Christ.
 And at Mass, make it a point to pray ‐ as best as you are able. Set aside all else for this one hour each week and allow yourself to be swept up into the mystery of it all so that you may truly pray.
 As you do, ask our blessed Lord to manifest Himself to you – just as He manifested Himself to those three wise men so long ago. God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres in prayer (St. Teresa of Ávila).
 And when He does manifest Himself, respond in kind by giving Him your best: not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but a true and lively faith, bolstered by the hope of Heaven, and strengthened by charity toward your neighbor.
 So much of our faith is a mystery, a mystery that we can grasp only with the eyes of faith. May we all make the effort to strengthen our faith while on earth so that we will be well prepared to enjoy the mysteries that will be revealed to us in Heaven.

Microsoft Word – Epiphany – 2013

06 January 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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