Where am I in the Mass?
No, not a bewildered Protestant, but a genuine question we should all ask ourselves. Because, according to how we answer this question will depend our understanding of the Eucharist. And from what I consider the fullest answer comes the greatest joy.
First, it is most obvious that in every Mass we repeat the actions of our Lord at the Last Supper. “He took; he blessed; he broke; he gave” describes what he did on the night he was betrayed, and what the priest does in every Mass. And so, in the Mass we sit like the apostles at the table in the Upper Room, hear the Scriptures read and the Blessing said, and then take “the bread of life and the cup of our salvation” from the altar.
Secondly, we do more than sit in the Upper Room: we also stand at the foot of the Cross at every Mass. Jesus said the bread was his body, which would be given for us, and the wine was his blood which would be shed for us. The full meaning of what he said that night did not dawn on the Apostles until they saw his body broken on the Cross like a bit of bread, and his blood pouring out like wine into a cup. But Jesus had said “Do this as my memorial” and when they began to do it (at first in that same upper room) they knew they were re-presenting his sacrifice of himself on the Cross.
And thirdly, at every Mass we sit at the heavenly banquet in God’s Kingdom. The first two place, the Upper Room and Calvary, are in the past, and are brought into the present by the actions of the Mass. But the heavenly banquet is in the future, yet it too is brought into the present in the Mass. All we see and all we taste are bread and wine, but in them is contained, as the oak tree is “in” the acorn, the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. “Eye hath not seen…what shall be revealed”, says St Paul, but every Mass assures us that the whole creation will be transformed by the love of God “for those who love him”.
And there’s the utter necessity of the Mass. It is where we charge our batteries to love God by loving our neighbours. We have to share with them the intimacy of the Last Supper, the pain of the Cross and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead into eternal life.
What a Gospel!