In preparing to give a workshop on the liturgy, I was struck by a truth that seldom comes to mind: As we praise and thank God at Mass, all of the angels and saints are with us. This includes all of our loved ones who have “crossed over” and are now with God. They are all present but in another dimension, worshiping God right along with us: St. Francis, Mary Magdalen, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael the Archangel, our grandparents, and deceased friends. Actually, it’s not so much that these holy ones join in our liturgy as that we join in theirs.
There’s a story about a parish priest on a small Greek island. One day a visitor asked him, “How many people usually worship here on Sunday?” The priest replied, “Oh, about ten to twelve thousand, I suppose.” Bewildered, the visitor said, “This is a tiny island. Where do all these people come from, and how can they possibly fit into so small a church?” The priest smiled and said, “All the people who ever lived on this island since it received the gospel message are still here. In the sacred liturgy we pray: ‘And so, with all the angels and the saints and the whole company of the faithful we praise your glory forever.’ When we sing the Holy, Holy we are joining with all the holy ones who have ever worshiped in this church.”
St. John recorded his vision of heaven. He wrote that multitudes, every creature in heaven and earth, sing, “To the one seated on the throne and the the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13) This is our ultimate destiny, to behold our loving Creator and to worship him forever. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that our Eucharistic banquet is only a foretaste of the eternal feast of heaven. At each Mass the sacrifice of Jesus that made eternal life possible for us is re-presented. We celebrate the mystery of his death and rising and give glory to God for it. We anticipate the day when we will number among those can thank and praise God face-to-face.
As we celebrate Mass surrounded by images of the saints in statues and stained-glass windows, we might think of these people and our own holy ones. We might imagine them filling the sanctuary and singing and praying with us.
My earliest memory is of my grandmother taking me to Mass as St. Vitus. I remember I cried because of the incense, and she and her friends tried to quiet me! My faith tells me that my grandma is still with me whenever I’m at Mass. Who do you especially wish to be aware of as present the next time you celebrate the liturgy?