In the pope’s comments on today’s readings, he spoke about mass as a theophany: an encounter with God. There have been many posts in the past weeks about teaching the faith (Joanne McPortland rounds them up), but teaching the faith is a relatively simple matter for those who practice the faith. Sure, they can use a deepening of their understanding to make people disciples rather than just practitioners, and that’s why we’re working on adult formation programs.
But when teaching children, the biggest problem is that people simply don’t practice their faith. The religious education programs are sacrament mills used by many non-mass-attending families to get their kids through Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation. (About 20-30% of the families in our programs attend mass each week, although my wife has had some success recently in getting that percentage up to 50% for her kids in sacrament prep.) It’s not possible to teach a faith that is not practiced.
Thus, we need to draw those families back. They need to understand mass as something more than an hour of drudgery a week done out of habit, but as a true encounter with the living God. We can worry all we want about the Church’s moral and social teachings, but unless people encounter God, none of that really matters. And the place to encounter God is in the mass. Practice is medicinal. It’s not everything, but it’s the beginning, and nothing else will take hold without it.
This is what Francis spoke about today: the mass as a place where we encounter a God who is “closer, without mediation, near. It is His presence.” It is “not a social act, a good social act; it is not a gathering of the faithful to pray together. It is something else. In the liturgy, God is present… The presence of the Lord is real, truly real.”
When we celebrate the Mass, we don’t accomplish a representation of the Last Supper: no, it is not a representation. It is something else: it is the Last Supper itself. It is to really live once more the Passion and the redeeming Death of the Lord. It is a theophany: the Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. We hear or we say, ‘But, I can’t now, I have to go to Mass, I have to go to hear Mass.’ The Mass is not ‘heard’, it is participated in, and it is a participation in this theophany, in this mystery of the presence of the Lord among us.
The Vatican Press Office has not made the whole transcript available yet, but offers this summary with additional quotes:
Nativity scenes, the Way of the Cross… these are representations. The Mass, on the other hand, “is a real commemoration, that is, it is a theophany: God approaches and is with us, and we participate in the mystery of the Redemption.” Unfortunately, too often we look at the clock during Mass, “counting the minute.” This, the Pope said, is not the attitude the liturgy requires of us: “the liturgy is God’s time, God’s space, and we must place ourselves there, in God’s time, in God’s space, and not look at the clock.
“The liturgy is to really enter into the mystery of God, to allow ourselves to be brought to the mystery and to be in the mystery. For example, I am sure that all of you have come here to enter into the mystery; however, someone might say: ‘Ah, I have to go to Mass at Santa Marta, because on the sight-seeing tour of Rome, each morning there is a chance to visit the Pope at Santa Marta: it’s a tourist stop, right?’ All of you here, we are gathered her to enter into the mystery: this is the liturgy. It is God’s time, it is God’s space, it is the cloud of God that surrounds all of us.”
The pope recalled that, as a child, during the preparation for First Communion, there was a song that spoke about how the altar was guarded by angels to give “a sense of the glory of God, of God’s space, of God’s time.” And when, during the practice, they brought the hosts, they told the children: “Look, these are not the ones you will receive: these count for nothing,” because they have to be consecrated. So, the Pope concluded, “to celebrate the liturgy is to have this availability to enter into the mystery of God,” to enter into His space, His time, to entrust ourselves to this mystery:
“We would do well today to ask the Lord to give to each of us this ‘sense of the sacred,’ this sense that makes us understand that it is one thing to pray at home, to pray in Church, to pray the Rosary, to pray so many beautiful prayers, to make the Way of the Cross, so many beautiful things, to read the Bible… The Eucharistic celebration is something else. In the celebration we enter into the mystery of God, into that street that we cannot control: only He is the unique One, the glory, the power… He is everything. Let us ask for this grace: that the Lord would teach us to enter into the mystery of God.”