Every time we come to the Mass, the Lord in His divine providence nourishes us not just with the awesome gift of His Most Holy Body and Blood, but also with His sacred word. The texts of the Mass, the readings and prayers, speak not only to the mystery we celebrate in general terms, but to the particular celebration in its context. Today’s Mass is no exception. Let us begin with a question: Why have Catholics been so frustrated at not being able to attend Mass during the present health crisis? The answer is, I think, found in liturgy today. First, we recall that the Mass is not a thing. It is not just the best form of prayer (though it is); an activity or something we do. It is not the way Catholics ‘do church,’ in contradistinction to other Christians. Rather, the Mass is the Christian life. It is more than a ritual or ceremony or service; it is the action of God in which we, through baptism, are invited to participate. It does not begin with the Sign of the Cross and end with the Blessing; it is the life of the Most Holy Trinity which, through our incorporation into Christ in baptism, is our life also. So for Catholics the Mass is fundamental; essential. In the present crisis food stores and hospitals have rightly been considered essential by the civil authorities. In a very real sense the Most Holy Eucharist is our food and our health, our salvation.
As we return to the Mass today, albeit in a limited way, the prayer of the Church echoes the prayer of our hearts these past few months. The Gradual we have just heard calls out, When I was in trouble, I called upon the Lord: and he heard me (Ps. 120:1). The Alleluia cries, O Lord my God, in thee have I put my trust: save me … and deliver me (Ps. 7:1). At the Offertory we will pray, deliver my soul: O save me for thy mercy’s sake (Ps. 6:4). And through this the Psalms put upon the lips of the Church today ask the Lord for help, for aid, for deliverance, for rescue.
How does He respond? The words of the Introit tell us: he delivered me, because he delighted in me. Out of perfect delight, perfect charity, perfect love, the Lord God offers us a way to be rescued, to receive salvation. Because of His perfect charity, in the words of Saint John, we have come to know the love of God, that He laid down His life for us. That perfect act of love, then, is found in the complete giving of His own life for us in the sacrifice of the Cross; in the once-for-all offering of Christ that takes away the sin of the world, and by which He rescues us from own wayward selves.
That action of Christ was once-for-all, a single offering, but “in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner” on the altar of the church. The same act of perfect love by which the Lord God once answered the cry of His people in the salvation won by Christ on the Cross, is given to us in our own time when we renew that cry in our hearts. We see this in the Gospel where the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacred banquet in which Christ is made present, is held up as the means not just of salvation but, through that, of our eternal union with, and participation in, the life of God Himself (Lk. 14). The great supper to which we are invited is no earthly meal, but the eternal nourishment, the heavenly food for which every human heart longs. In the Mass, and particularly in Holy Communion, we respond to the invitation of the Divine Master and, unlike the ungrateful guests in the parable, come instead gladly to the feast He has prepared, to join with Him in the banquet of the saints; to dine on the life of God Himself.
The liturgy again narrates the drama of God’s action for us. Just as we voiced our cry at the start of the Mass, so after Holy Communion the Church sings I will sing to the Lord who gives me good things, and prays in the Postcommunion collect: may these holy mysteries more surely avail our salvation. The perfect love of God, the perfect charity of the Most High, is given to us in the Mass; the perfect response of the Creator to the created in our time of distress. For good reason, then, we rejoice at our return to this sacred encounter, and with the saints before us our hearts are full as once more we come to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread (cf. Lk. 24:31).