“If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
Why do we go to Mass? Is it habit, ritual, obligation, or are we seeking something more? Are we genuinely seeking Jesus Christ and the transformative experience that encountering him will no doubt cause in our life? I bring to you these questions today because we need to deepen our understanding of what it is that we do here at this altar every Sunday. In the gospel, Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it and the total and complete fulfillment of the law takes place here on this altar where Christ, the spotless lamb, is sacrificed for us at every Mass.
This week, Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Eucharist at his Wednesday audiences and asked: “How do we experience the Eucharist?” He is challenging us, as I challenge you from time to time, to go deeper into the things we do in this church. This is why he gives us three indicators to help us experience the Eucharist in a whole new way:
The first indicator is our way of looking at or considering others. In the Eucharist, Christ is always renewing his gift of self, which he made on the Cross. His whole life is an act of total sharing of self out of love; thus, he loved to be with his disciples and with the people whom he had a chance to know…We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in his passion and his resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the most needy? I wonder, and each one of us should wonder: I who go to Mass, how do I live this? Do I try to help, to approach and pray for those in difficulty? Or am I a little indifferent? Or perhaps do I just want to talk: did you see how this or that one is dressed? Sometimes this happens after Mass and it should not! We must concern ourselves with our brothers and sisters who need us because of an illness, a problem.
Strong words from the Holy Father who is challenging us to take our blinders off when we go to Mass and recognize those who are poor around us and those who need our help. The second indicator he gives us is all about God’s mercy:
A second indication, a very important one, is the grace of feeling forgiven and ready to forgive. At times someone may ask: “Why must one go to Church, given that those who regularly participate in Holy Mass are still sinners like the others?” We have heard it many times! In reality, the one celebrating the Eucharist doesn’t do so because he believes he is or wants to appear better than others, but precisely because he acknowledges that he is always in need of being accepted and reborn by the mercy of God, made flesh in Jesus Christ. If any one of us does not feel in need of the mercy of God, does not see himself as a sinner, it is better for him not to go to Mass! We go to Mass because we are sinners and we want to receive God’s pardon, to participate in the redemption of Jesus, in his forgiveness.
Catholics should not have a superiority complex just because we go to Mass every Sunday. We come because we recognize that we are in need of something: Christ’s mercy. We come because we need to be regenerated by God’s love. This is why the Mass must always be a life-altering experience. If we truly engage and encounter Christ, we have no choice but to change our lives. Which then leads us to strengthen our church community which is the third indicator that the Holy Father presents:
A last valuable indication comes to us from the relationship between the Eucharistic Celebration and the life of our Christian communities. We must always bear in mind that the Eucharist is not something we make; it not our own commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is precisely an act of Christ! It is Christ who acts there, who is on the altar. It is a gift of Christ, who makes himself present and gathers us around him, to nourish us with his Word and with his life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church flows from there, from the Eucharist, and there always takes its shape…Through the Eucharist, Christ wishes to enter into our life and permeate it with his grace, so that in every Christian community there may be coherence between liturgy and life.
This reminds us that the Mass is not a private event but rather a very public work of the people. This is what liturgy literally means in Greek: the work of the people. Christ sanctifies this work and sanctifies us so that we may transmit what we live in here to how we live out there. So once again, I challenge you to ponder that first question and ponder how you approach these sacred mysteries: Why do you go to Mass?