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Catholic Faith Corner

Living in the Light
of Jesus Christ

Symbols at Mass

Again I’m relearning facts about the Eucharist from doing research for my book on the sacraments. This is making me pay more attention to our daily Masses. Hope this blog post does the same for you.

Candles are lit because Jesus is the Light of the world.

We sing because singing well is praying twice according to St. Augustine. Besides, voices combining to create one sound is a symbol of unity.

The Mass begins with the priest kissing the altar. He does this because the altar is a symbol of Christ, who is the priest and the victim of the sacrifice.

Before reading the Gospel, the priest makes the Sign of the Cross on a page. We stand to hear the proclamation. At the end, the priest kisses the Book of the Gospel. These are all ways to honor the Word of God. Jesus speaks to us in Scripture. You might listen to hear the verse he means for you personally that day.

During the Creed we bow at the words “by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” This describes the fantastic incarnation, the moment when God, the almighty pure Spirit, took on flesh and blood for love of us. We adore God for this and so we bow.

The bread and wine are brought to the altar. They are not the only gifts we present to God. Formerly, people brought other things like animals, food for the poor. Today at this point money is brought up. Also, mentally we offer God ourselves: our work, joys, and sufferings.

The priest adds a little water to the wine. This symbolizes the union of humanity and divinity in Jesus.

Before the consecration, the priest washes his hands. This was practical long ago when he handled the things people brought up in the offertory, which may have been dirty. Today this washing is symbolic. It stands for his being purified of sin.

The Consecration

The priest lays his hands over the bread and wine and then makes a sign of the cross over them. He does this as he calls down the Holy Spirit, the One who brings about transubstantiation: the change in the substances of the bread and wine. Then Jesus becomes present in the consecrated bread and wine. Really, truly. It’s said that 70% of Catholics do not believe this! However, Jesus declared,

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them” (John 6: 54-56).

Hearing those words, some disciples walked away. Jews did not consume blood. To them this sounded horrific. Yet, Jesus did not call them back, saying, “I’m only using a figure of speech” or “I’m just kidding.”

At the end of the Eucharistic prayer there is the Doxology:

Through him, and with him, and in him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor is yours,
for ever and ever.

The “Amen” that follows is the most important one of the Mass. We are saying yes to the great glory due to our Triune God. St. Jerome reported that in Rome when Amen was proclaimed, all the pagan temples trembled. The Amen should be like a thunderclap.

The priest breaks the sacred host, the Fraction Rite, because this is what Jesus did at the Last Supper. In fact, at first the Mass was called the Breaking of Bread.” The two disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized Jesus when he broke bread.

Then the priest breaks off a piece of the sacred host and drops it into the sacred wine. This co-mingling stands for the resurrection when the blood of Christ will return to his body.

Communion

When we are presented with the body and blood of Christ, we respond, “Amen.” This is an act of faith. We mean we believe this miracle.

The fact that we are all partaking of the same meal indicates that we are all one in Christ.

When we are dismissed, we are sent to take Christ into the world. The word Mass is derived from the Latin word missa, which means “sent.”

• What was the most memorable Mass you ever participated in?

• What do you pray after receiving Communion?

• What is your favorite part of the Mass? Second favorite?

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