We have Mass to worship and to receive God’s grace, to unify with him and with other worshipers through the sacrament of the Eucharist. As a sacrament, it is that Jesus himself acting through the Eucharist, and supplies all the graces we derive from it.
At Mass we are able to stand mystically at the foot of the cross and witness for ourselves the same self-sacrifice of Jesus, in an unbloody manner.
Mass is a celebration of this sacrifice. It is the active participation of all that come together in the place of worship. We do not come to Mass simply to receive something passively or to watch a show; we come as participants embracing the grace Christ pours out for us shed by his own blood on the cross.
Different people have different roles at Mass. Some people are Eucharistic ministers. They help distribute the Eucharist to assist the priest when it is necessary in order to maintain the flow of worship.
Lectors help proclaim the Word of God and make it come alive for us. Cantors and choir members lead us in song to help us stay in tune.
The priest is there to serve us by leading us in prayer acting in the person of Christ, explaining the Scripture (Bible) readings, and consecrating the bread and wine so that they may become the body and blood of Jesus.
We only get out of Mass what we put into it.
If we do not find much significance in the Mass it is because our whole mind, heart, and soul are not there. We are called to actively participate.
When we actively participate in the Mass we receive God in two primary ways: we receive him through his Word and through the Eucharist. These are the two main parts of the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Liturgy is a term that means work or public duty. It is the work of the people, not just one person standing at the altar. All the people gathered are doing the work of celebration.
Liturgy of the Word
During the Liturgy of the Word we receive God in his word. Generally speaking there are three readings and a Psalm (usually sung). The first reading is from the Old Testament, then the Psalm, the second reading is from the New Testament and the third is a Gospel reading.
All three of the readings are generally related; together they incorporate a theme. The priest then gives his homily regarding this theme, how it relates to everyday life or something along those lines.
It is all right if none of the readings or the homily affect you or move you in any fashion because the Mass isn’t just about you. The Mass is about the whole Body of Christ. When we celebrate Mass it isn’t just us or those that we can see in the congregation. There are millions of other people around the world celebrating Mass as well. Not only that, but there are also those people who came before us, have died in their earthly bodies but are still alive in Christ in heaven, just as we are alive in Christ but on Earth.
So a particular set of readings or a homily may not affect you, but there may be someone else who really needed to hear it. There may be someone else going through a tough time and really needed to hear those words of comfort or joy (or whichever emotion is appropriate).
In the first part of the Mass we receive God in his word and in the second part we receive God, through Jesus in body, soul and divinity. We receive God in the Eucharist.
Liturgy of the Eucharist
The first Mass was about 2000 years ago at the Last Supper. Jesus and the Apostles were gathered together in what was Jesus’ final meal before his crucifixion. During the meal Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to the Apostles and said, “This is my body which will be given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
Afterward Jesus took a cup filled with wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”
Jesus offers us a chance to partake in his sacrifice by offering for us his body and his blood. This is the sign of our covenant with God. Jesus’ body and blood is the new covenant and Jesus tells us to partake in it in memory of him.
At Mass when we receive the Eucharist, Jesus’ body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine (just like at the Last Supper), we are renewing our covenant with God. We are reconfirming our promise to God to live out our end of the relationship.
A covenant, in this context, is a type of relationship. The type of relationship that God has always had with his people is a covenant. Covenantal relationships are whereby each party mutually agrees to something.
God loves us endlessly and infinitely. God forgives us endlessly and infinitely. Our mutual response to God is to love him as much as we can even though our love is finite. Our response is to obey God and receive his freely given grace to help bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth.
When we receive the Eucharist at each Mass we are making that promise to God that we will hold up our end of the covenant. We are also unifying ourselves to God and to the other members of the Church through the Body of Christ.
The whole purpose of Mass is to worship God, unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus, and to elevate our lives to the life of God. We will only get out of this relationship with God what we put into it; God’s grace can only work in our lives if we are open to receiving it.
Why do we have to do this each week?
Our salvation is not a one-time ordeal where make a promise to God at one point in our lives. Life is a process and so is our salvation.
When we receive the Eucharist we are receiving Jesus, God. In doing so we are making that commitment each time to live out our end of the bargain. By God’s gift of free will to us we always have the opportunity to choose to fall away from God through sin and we need his grace and strength to maintain our relationship with him.
By receiving the Eucharist at least once a week and making that promise to love God and obey him we are receiving the grace necessary to do God’s will. We grow in faith each time we receive.
An analogous example is marriage. The ideal marital relationship is modeled after God’s relationship with his people. The two parties in marriage give themselves mutually exclusively to each other and promise to make self-sacrifices to support the other person.
The sign of the marriage covenant is sexual intercourse. A marriage is not consummated (made whole) until the husband and wife engage in sexual intercourse and each time thereafter they are renewing their covenant with each other in the unitive act of sexual intercourse.
Likewise we make whole our relationship with God through the Eucharist by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. We are renewing that covenant. We do it over and over and over again to renew ourselves and grow our relationship with God.
Most ordinary people honestly cannot say that if they are married they will only have sex with their spouse once. Likewise we continually renew our covenant with God through the Mass.