Understanding the Liturgy of the Mass: Part III -- The Liturgy of the Eucharist

by Father Chester Zalubski

For this season of Advent, Father Chester and your deacons would like to help you make the Mass come to life for you in a new and personal way. Our homilies in the next four weeks will be based on the book by Mark Hart, entitled Behold the Mystery: A Deeper Understanding of the Catholic Mass. We highly recommend that you order a copy for yourself and read it. Mark Hart is a layperson, who is an executive vice president for Life Teen International, and hosts a SiriusXM Catholic radio show called "Fired Up!"

Mark Hart states that the Mass is a cataclysmic event because it brings Heaven and Earth together. It requires that we put our gifts and talents in the hands of God, allowing him to take something simple and transform it into something majestic. Christ is present in the liturgy, not like you and I are present, but deeper than that. We encounter Christ in four places at every Mass. At the community gathering through our Baptism, in our priest, in Sacred Scriptures, and finally most importantly in his Eucharistic Body and Blood. The Mass is made up of movements and content and the better we know what the movements and flow of the Mass mean, the more we will understand the why the Catholic Mass is, first and foremost, a sacrifice.

Presentation of Gifts: The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the presentation of the gifts and the preparation of the altar. When offering the gifts of bread and wine we also are supposed to be offering our prayers and ourselves. This is the time when we place ourselves on the altar of sacrifice. We offer back to God all our gifts and talents and our very self. In essence, we are walking into the sanctuary and lying down upon the altar, offering our lives in honor of our Father.

At this point in the Liturgy there are two things that the priest does that I would like to mention. First we see the priest or deacon diluting the wine with water. We may be thinking, "Makes sense. That wine is really sweet." Well, yes, but it's much more than that. When the water and wine are mingled, it's supposed to point us toward the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Water symbolizes the earthly; wine, the divine. When we see the water and wine commingle, we are supposed to be reminded of how God took human flesh -- Jesus becomes Human and Divine.

The second action is when the priest turns and washes his hands. Again we may think, "Good, there are a lot of germs around." But this action is symbolic of the priest recognizing his own sinfulness. During the moment of ceremonial washing, the priest is beseeching God to take away his iniquity and to cleanse him from his sins.

The Preface: The Preface is when we hear the familiar prayer; The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just.

At this moment the priest is praying that God's spirit will be very much alive and animated within us. Why? Because we are going to need power of the Holy Spirit to accept what we are about to do. What are we about to do? Lay our life, hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties -- our very self -- upon the altar, to be consumed and transformed by God. Here we are giving God permission to take, break, and remake our lives in him. At this moment of the Mass, we give God our everything.

Holy, Holy: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts....When we sing the Holy, we are joining in the song of the angels in heaven (Revelation 4:2-8). It is pure worship. It's a song of praise celebrating God's presence among us.

Epiclesis: The epiclesis is a monumental moment within the liturgy. It is a prayer invoking the Holy Spirit (signified by the sweeping-down motion of the priest's hands over the gifts upon the altar) to come down and transform the gifts of wine and bread into body and blood of Christ. Note: it is not the priest but the priest's prayer that changes the gifts upon the altar.

Consecration: Consecration happens when the priest recites the words of Jesus over the bread and wine: "This is my body which was given up for you; this is my blood of the new and everlasting covenant, do this in memory of me." During the consecration the bread and wine become nothing less than the very Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. God is made present upon the altar...for you and me. God fulfills his promise never to leave us (Matthew 28:20). This reality deserves contemplation.

Then the priest elevates both the bread and the wine. The elevation ought to draw our minds back to the "elevation" in Scripture -- of Moses with the healing saraph serpent in the desert (Numbers 21:4-9) and of Jesus elevated upon the cross to redeem our sins.

The Memorial Acclamation: "We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again." None of us doubt that Christ died. None of us doubt that Christ rose. Judging by decisions many of us make on a weekly basis, however, one could make the argument that a large percentage of us doubt or possibly forget that Christ is coming back. The good news is that he's already here, at this exact moment, upon the altar in his glorified flesh and blood. This proclamation is so powerful that we do it when kneeling.

The Memorial Prayer: At this moment we are "remembering" Christ's self-sacrifice and death upon the cross. Remember that while Christ is not being "re-crucified" in any way, in God's timelessness we are being transported back in time to Calvary. In this moment, we get to participate as a Church in what Jesus did on the cross; our tiny sacrifices are being taken up and joined with his perfect sacrifice. Our prayers, pains, struggles, doubts, joys, hopes and dreams are all being elevated and perfected as we offer them to our Father in heaven. We see now why it is so important that we bring something to the Mass -- some intention -- along with us.

The Doxology: The Liturgy of the Eucharistic ends with a doxology. The priest elevates the sacred Body and Blood of Jesus exclaiming: "Through him, and with Him, and in Him, Oh God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever." This is more that a short hymn of praise to God -- it is eruption of praise to God. What just minutes ago, was simple bread and wine, now is our Savior, the God of the universe. The only acceptable response is one of praise, as all people in the church collectively affirm in one voice --"Amen".

The Great Amen: The Great Amen is an expression and affirmation of our belief in and love for Jesus who is now present in our midst. The corporate and great amen should be loud enough that the angels ought to cover their ears with their wings (if they had wings or ears).

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