UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAITH:
By Vic Scaravilli
Catholic’s main form of worship is the Mass. The Mass is the center of our liturgical prayer because it re-enacts the greatest event in the history of Christian faith: the passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ. The Mass re-presents the one eternal sacrifice of Christ who died in order to free us from sin and eternal death.
Let’s look at history and see how the Mass began. It developed during the first century of the church and always has been the center of Catholic worship.
The Mass was started by Christ at the Last Supper where he changed the meaning of the Jewish Passover to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist. Jesus gave his apostles the command: “As often as you do this, you shall do it in memory of me.” The early church continued to reenact the Lord’s Supper on a continuous basis because Jesus commanded it.
We have proof that the apostles did indeed celebrate the early form of Mass because it says in Acts 2:42 that “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” There are other passages in the Bible that refer to the breaking of bread that mean celebrating the Eucharist or thanksgiving meal.
The first evidence of the basic structure of the Mass occurs in the writings of St. Justin Martyr around 150 AD. He described the format of the Eucharistic celebration that is very similar to our present-day Mass celebration. There were many other writings from other leaders of the church during the first several centuries that also confirmed this description. [See Scripture Catholic].
The name of this celebration has changed in the first few centuries of the Church. In the first and second centuries it was called Breaking of Bread or the Lord’s Supper; third century the Sacrifice or the Eucharist; and in the fourth century the Mass. Mass comes from the Latin word for dismissal that is used at the end of the service.
The basic structure of the Mass has always been the same. It is comprised of two parts: readings from Scriptures now called the Liturgy of the Word and the breaking of bread called the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Liturgy of the Word, or the first part of Mass, begins with a time of repentance from sin to prepare us to hear God’s Word and receive him in the Eucharist. In the Penitential Rite, we ask God to forgive our venial sins and we acknowledge our human weaknesses. This is followed by a brief time of worship where the Gloria is recited giving God all the glory. Next, three readings from the Bible are proclaimed. The first one is usually from the Old Testament followed by the reading or singing of a Psalm. The second reading is from a New Testament letter followed by a reading from one of the four gospels. After the readings, a homily is given on interpreting and applying the readings.
We begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist saying the Nicene Creed that summarizes our faith handed down to us by the early church. After we pray for various needs of the church, we enter the main part of our worship service. The priest prepares the bread and wine and prays that the offerings be acceptable by the invocation of the Holy Spirit. While reciting one of the Eucharistic Prayers, when the words “this is my body…,” “this is the cup of my blood…,” are said by the priest, we believe that by God’s sovereign power and will, the bread and wine are really changed into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. After the great Amen, where we all acknowledge the love of God in giving his Son, we say the Our Father, the prayer that Jesus taught us.
Communion is the time when Christ approaches us personally and individually enters each person’s heart through the sacramental reality of his own Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity and gives us his grace. After communion, the priest by his authority of being ordained, blesses us on behalf of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are nourished, as followers have been for 2,000 years, by God’s Word and encountering the Risen Christ through the Eucharist in our Mass celebration.