How holy this feast in which Christ is our food; His passion is recalled; grace fills our hearts; And we receive a pledge of the glory to come.
—St. Thomas Aquinas, “O Sacrum Convivium”
The Catholic Mass is the communal prayer of the Church. It is a ceremony in which Jesus Christ comes to us in a physical presence. It is a glimpse of Heaven on earth. These might seem like extravagant claims at first, but they are the truth. In order to understand the Mass properly, one must see it through the eyes of faith–accepting not merely what the eye sees, but what the Spirit reveals through the Church.
2,000 years ago on Calvary hill, Jesus Christ–God become man–died for the salvation of humanity. Whereas many Christian worship services recall this sacrifice in order to remind believers of its significance, Catholic Mass makes present Christ’s sacrifice wherever and whenever the Mass is being celebrated. Through the Catholic Mass, Jesus offers himself again and again for the faithful gathered in worship. The Catholic Church professes that the Eucharist received at Mass is “the Body of Christ”–not a symbol or a reminder, but the real, actual presence of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. The transformation undergone by the wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ is referred to as “transubstantiation.” While their outer appearance and physical characteristics remain that of wafer and wine, their inner substance–the true reality, too real for the mere physical senses–has transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. In other words, Christ is wholly present in the Eucharist.
In union with Jesus’ sacrifice, those present at Mass offer themselves–their time and attention, their prayers, and indeed their whole being. Attending and participating in Mass is how Catholics unite themselves with Jesus through self-sacrifice. This is why Catholic Mass is referred to as “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Mass is, above all else, a sacrifice–Christ’s sacrifice and ours.
But how can the Mass be Heaven on earth? The Mass is a wholehearted offering to God, given in love. This is both a foreshadowing of heavenly life, in which all beings will unite in praise of God and fellowship with Him, and a present participation in that “heavenly liturgy…when God will be all in all” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1326).
In Heaven, every moment is the Mass. This may seem strange to us, living as we do in our world of uncomfortable pews, ringing cell phones, and thousands of earthly distractions. But if one truly contemplates Christ during the Mass and in the Eucharist, it is possible to believe that somewhere, in a realm beyond human imagining, the angels and saints are indeed joining in the joyful chorus of praise to God.
So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.
—G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy