Photo: Felix Carroll
If We Knew the Value of the Mass
"If we knew the value of the Mass, we would die of joy."
— The Cure d'Ars
By P.J. Kerbard
You've probably read the newspaper stories or heard about it on the television news: Sunday Mass attendance has fallen dramatically in the last 50 years. According to Gallup, Mass attendance peaked in 1957-58. It has declined from a high of 74 percent in the 1950s to 40 percent in 2003.
Moreover, according to a survey in 2004 by the National Catholic Reporter, a large majority of respondents said they could be good Catholics without attending Mass every week.
Without attending Mass?
It got me thinking. What is the value of Mass? And why should we attend? Actually, I was challenged by a friend who asked me what St. Faustina has got to say about Mass and was Mass really important in her life. I went to her Diary and began looking for the answer, and I was surprised at the frequent references she made to the Mass.
Like many saints, St. Faustina wrote of her union with divinity during the august sacrifice of Jesus made present by the mystery of the Mass. Indeed, a great portion of St. Faustina's revelations, inspirations or insights came during Mass or in times of Holy Communion or Adoration.
Often during Mass, I see the Lord in my soul; I feel His presence which pervades my being. I sense His divine gaze; I have long talks with Him without saying a word; I know what His divine Heart desires, and I always do what will please Him the most. I love Him to distraction, and I feel that I am being loved by God. At those times, when I meet with God deep within myself, I feel so happy that I do not know how to express it. Such moments are short, for the soul could not bear it for long, as separation from the body would be inevitable. Though these moments are very short, their power, however, which is transmitted to the soul, remains with it for a very long time (Diary, 411).
I read that, and I think: Why would anyone not go to Mass?
It has been said many times, Mass is the most powerful prayer on earth. Yes, we can pray to God at any time and anywhere, but at Mass we not only pray to God, but with God and in God dying on the cross at Calvary. Mass is a privileged moment when we share in His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in entry 1367, states:
The sacrifice of Christ (on the cross) and the sacrifice of the Eucharist (on the altar) are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated 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."
Thus, we rightly say that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church, and this Church is — as St. Paul says — "the Body of Christ" (1 Cor 12:27). The sacrifice of Jesus, the Head of the Church, becomes the sacrifice of the members of His Body, the Church. What this means is that "the lives of the faithful," as the Catechism says, "their praise, sufferings, prayer and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice, present on the altar, makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering" (1368).
Therein lies the extraordinary value of Mass. Through Mass, we unite ourselves with Christ because we are baptized into His life. We become with Him partakers, not only in the salvation gained on the cross, but also in the suffering endured on the cross. It is in this that we are co-redeemers with Christ and why true Christian spirituality fulfills what St. Paul wrote — and what we use at Mass — "if we die with the Lord we shall live with the Lord" (II Timothy 2:11).
It is Christ who makes perfect the sacrifice on the cross and the sacrifice on the altar, which in turn gives all of our sacrifices in daily life a new value.
Moreover, the Church considers the Mass as the greatest prayer of intercession. Saint Faustina helps us to understand how our prayers and petitions become deeply valuable when united with Mass. She wrote: "My sacrifice is nothing in itself, but when I join it to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it becomes all-powerful and has the power to appease divine wrath. God loves us in His Son; the painful Passion of the Son of God constantly turns aside the wrath of God" (Diary, 482).
The power of intercession is beyond our understanding, as St. Faustina pointed out:
Oh, what awesome mysteries take place during Mass! A great mystery is accomplished in the Holy Mass (271) With what great devotion should we listen to and
take part in this death of Jesus. One day we will know what God is doing for us in each Mass, and what sort of gift He is preparing in it for us. Only His divine love could permit that such a gift be provided for us. O Jesus, my Jesus, with what great pain is my soul pierced when I see this fountain of life gushing forth with such sweetness and power for each soul, while at the same time I see souls withering away and drying up through their own fault. O Jesus, grant that the power of mercy embrace these souls (Diary, 914).
Our soul will not wither away if we constantly bring to mind what Jesus commanded at the Last Supper, the eve of His Passion, and what He fulfilled on the cross — "Do this in memory of Me" (1 Cor 11:24-25). The value of Mass — the memorial of His sacrifice — is infinite. It has to be approached with awe and with reverence, but most of all it has to be considered, as the Catechism points out, in harmony with ages past and with the saints even into this time, that the Eucharist is: "thanksgiving and praise to the Father; the sacrificial memorial of Christ and His Body; the presence of Christ by the power of His word and of His Spirit" (cf CCC 1358 ff).
It is in this disposition that St. Faustina learned to "live the Mass." Through the Mass, she found the very purpose of her being and the fulfillment of the promise of God in Jesus Christ that He shall be with us until the end of all ages. Thus, she could say:
Without the least effort, I experience the profound recollection which then envelops me — and it does not diminish even if I talk with people, nor does it interfere with the performance of my duties. I feel the constant presence of God without any effort of my soul. I know that I am united with Him as closely as a drop of water is united with the bottomless ocean. Last Thursday, toward the end of my prayers, I felt this grace, and it lasted for an unusually long time, for it was throughout Mass, so that I thought I would die of joy. At such times, my knowledge of God and His attributes becomes more acute, and also I know my own self and my misery much better. I am amazed at the Lord's great condescension to such a miserable soul as mine. After Holy Mass, I felt completely immersed in God and am still conscious of His every glance into the depth of my heart. About midday, I entered the chapel for a moment, and again the power of grace struck my heart. As I continued in a state of recollection, Satan took a flowerpot and angrily hurled it to the ground with all his might. I saw all his rage and his jealousy (Diary, 411).
When I immersed myself in prayer and united myself with all the Masses that were being celebrated all over the world at that time, I implored God, for the sake of all these Holy Masses, to have mercy on the world and especially on poor sinners who were dying at that moment. At the same instant, I received an interior answer from God that a thousand souls (132) had received grace through the prayerful mediation I had offered to God. We do not know the number of souls that is ours to save through our prayers and sacrifices; therefore, let us always pray for sinners" (Diary, 1783)
Here we can note that the zenith of God's mercy is in the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus in Eucharist. The receiving of Jesus in total trust at Communion during Mass is the fullest of trust. This trust guides us time and again throughout each day as we encounter the realities of life, the burdens, etc. The evil one hates for souls to rely on the power of Jesus in the Eucharist — the Bread of Life — so this evil one keeps people away from Holy Communion by keeping them away from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the devil succeeds in keeping souls from Jesus, he wins and Jesus weeps. A soul has the free will to act in good by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus — which is made present in each Mass.
The sacrifice of the Mass is infinite in value for it is the sacrifice of the Divine Son of the Eternal Father. In our times, we have devalued Mass and have found very flimsy excuses for not participating. But consider Mass a personal invitation. Bring your life and your intentions frequently to the altar. In time you will learn to live the Mass, to reap the fruits of the greatest gift on earth: God's memorial of His Sacrifice.
"Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24-25).