Source & Summit – Defining the Mass, part 1

vaticanii“Source and Summit” is one of three regular series that we hope to propose to you as the life of this blog goes on.  We got the name of this series from the Second Vatican Council, which teaches that the Eucharistic Liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian faith.  The goal of “Source and Summit” is to explain and propose a liturgical spirituality.  We will explain liturgical objects and concepts.  Eventually, we will talk about the actual pieces that we use in the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, but first, some theological gems for your contemplation.

In our first through third installments, we’ll unpack the definition of the Mass, as defined by the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM).

So let’s get to work!

First, the word for Liturgy means ‘work’—as in, the work of the people of God.  The Catechism reminds us that In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in “the work of God.”Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church.” (CCC 1069)

The Liturgy is the work of the people of God in communion with Christ, who is imbued by the Holy Spirit, called to imitate Christ in order to glorify the Father.

Secondly, when Catholics generally think about the Liturgy, they oftentimes reduce this to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Mass.  A very rich definition of the Mass is from…

The GENERAL INSTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL.   This is basically the how-to book on the Eucharistic Liturgy.  What prayers do you say when, what do the altar servers do, when does the bishop take off his miter, when does the deacon ask for a blessing, etc.  Early on in the document, we have a rich definition of the Mass.

16. The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and of the People of God arrayed hierarchically, is the center of the whole of Christian life for the Church both universal and local, as well as for each of the faithful individually.  For in it is found the high point both of the action by which God sanctifies the world in Christ and of the worship that the human race offers to the Father, adoring him through Christ, the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit. In it, moreover, during the course of the year, the mysteries of redemption are celebrated so as to be in some way made present. As to the other sacred actions and all the activities of the Christian life, these are bound up with it, flow from it, and are ordered to it.

This is rather dense.  …so what does it all mean?  A few reflections….

Mass as the action of Christ.  Christ works through us and within us.  It is not only an expression of our love for God, but it is an expression of Christ’s love for the Father, and Christ’s love for humanity.   Notice here.  The first thing we hear about the Mass is that it is the work of Christ.  The work of the Son of God.  Not our work.  But it is Christ working in us and through us.  It’s Jesus’ liturgy.  It does not belong to the priest, choir director or Mass coordinator. This is Jesus’ work.

I’ve run into many priests that talk about their celebration style.  Some sing the Eucharistic prayer, others would rather use one penitential rite over another.  But for some priests—and thankfully, they are few in number—who actually think that the Mass actually belongs to them.  They say, “In my Mass, we’ll do…”  At worst, some break liturgical praxis for their own gain or comfort.  Rather, the Church teaches, the priest and the Church’s ministers are servants of the liturgy, and not its masters.

The liturgy is the work of Christ, and thus, it belongs to Christ.  The minister that ego-trips is not welcome to serve.  The liturgy belongs to the High Priest, Jesus Christ.

 –People of God arrayed hierarchically.  That is, the entire people of God, all forms of vocation is represented and is working together in this moment.  Bishops, priests, deacons, religious, married, single—the entire people of God.  The entire family is together to worship as one.  In this case, the Bishop is not greater than the father, and the father is not greater than the daughter, and the daughter is not greater than the widow.  All are arranged hierarchically, but more important, everyone is home to worship the Lord.

27Just a few weeks ago, I concelebrated the Mass for Life at the Cathedral.  This is a great example of what we are talking about.  The bishops and their altar servers were in the sanctuary, we concelebrating priests had our sections, the religious sisters had their, the Dominican friars took like, four rows (awesome), but there was also and overabundance of lay faithful, young old, babies, strollers, teenagers, as well as seasoned veterans of the Prolife Movement.  The People of God in its fullness, of all vocations, of all ways and states in life, gathered together to worship God.  God’s people, allowing Christ to work through them, through the Holy Spirit, to glorify God the Father.


We are hardly done with this very rich definition of the Mass.  Next time, we’ll cover one of the most intriguing words in all of liturgy – the synaxis.  I’m excited just thinking about it….

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

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