Why do we go to Mass on Sunday? Take a minute and think about that, about the reason you should go to Mass on Sunday. Most Christians, Catholics and Protestants, go to church on the weekend because their parents made them go as they grew up. However, as adults, we should do what we do for a rational reason. The executive summary is, we must go to Mass on Sunday and Holy Days because by the words of Jesus Christ, spoken by a priest, bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.
A question I get frequently is, “Where does it say that in the bible?” The answer is throughout the whole book. We are all familiar with the words of Christ recorded in the Gospels, this is my Body…this is my Blood (Matthew 26:26 – 28, Mark 14:22 – 24, Luke 22:19 – 20, see also John 6:35 – 58). There is a lot more than the Last Supper, however. Our second reading is a perfect example. The Letter to the Hebrews is about the Mass. It compares the ritual of Jewish sacrifice in the temple with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross which Christians continue to offer. That is the theme of the whole book, but we hear that very clearly in today’s reading;
Hebrews 12:22 – 24
You have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
The literal meaning of this passage is clearly the Christian approaching God in heaven. However, this is not set in the future, after death. Notice the present perfect tense of “have approached.” The approach to the City of the Living God is something we have done in the past and are still doing. The overall message of the Letter to the Hebrews is covenant relationship with God. The ritual sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem is part of the covenant, given by God, through Moses, to the Israelites on Mt Sinai. The ritual sacrifice offered by Christians, the Mass, is where we approach God in the new covenant in the Blood of Christ (Luke 22:20).
There are several things we hear in our second reading. The Mass is a boundary between heaven and earth, at Mass the angels and saints join us in the presence of God around His altar (CCC1419, The Bible and The Liturgy, Fr. Jean Danielou, pp. 129 – 130 ). That means that our loved ones who have died and been received into heaven are there with us every time we are at Mass. Christ is truly present at Mass in the Eucharist, “Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7, CCC 1358, 1373). The Mass is His sacrifice offered for us. Note that the phrase, “sprinkled blood” is a reference to the institution of the covenant with Israel on Mt Sinai (Exodus 24). The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice (CCC 1367).
The Church sums this all up beautifully in the monumental document of the Second Vatican Council, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (#11, CCC 1324), “The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.” However, this encounter with God has no meaning for us unless we make it a way of life. Living the life that Christ calls us to, in the teaching of the Church, is not easy, but we have help. God gives us material blessings in our lives. God gives us these material gifts out of love for us, but also to be used as tools to help build his Kingdom. More importantly, Christ has remained among us to assist us in our journey. This is the meaning of the sacramental life of the Church. We respond to the sacrifice of Christ when we give Him the sacrifice of our lives in obedience. Ironically, this sacrifice gives us full life, an eternal life that does not wait for our death, but grows as we deepen our faith life here and now.