Uniting heaven and earth

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8th in a series of short homilies on the Mass

When we come to Mass, where are we? And who is with us? This would seem like an obvious answer, right? We are in Bethesda; and we can look around to see the others, all 15 of them. But it’s actually not that simple.

In this series of homilies, we have considered how Jesus Christ is the great, eternal high priest, bringing God and man together in a way that no one else ever could; and how he offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice, infinitely pleasing to the Father. Because of who he is—true God and true man—and because of what he is doing—saving the entire cosmos—his act of sacrifice, which certainly occurred at a particular time and place, nevertheless resides outside of time; and it is accessible from all times and all places.

So where are we? When we open the Book of Revelation, what do we see? A Lamb that seemed to have been slain surrounded by living creatures and elders and angels, with great bowls of incense, who bow down and sing to the Lamb. (Rev 5:6-10) And at times we see the great multitude that he has won, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue … wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev 7:9-10)

Dr. Scott Hahn wrote about the time when he first visited a Catholic Mass, back when he was a Protestant minister, and as he watched from his back pew, he noticed a striking similarity to the description in the Book of Revelation. He wrote, “I hardly knew which way to turn—toward the action in the Apocalypse or the action at the altar. More and more, they seemed to be the very same action.” (The Lamb’s Supper, p. 11)

And it is no accident. For when we approach the altar and our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is made present upon it, heaven and earth are united. The Second Vatican Council told us that “we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy… toward which we journey as pilgrims.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 8)
The saints and angels worship our Lord Jesus truly present to them, seeing him as he is—we worship him, truly present to us, but under sacramental appearances. And so when we come to the Mass, when we unite ourselves to Christ, we join with them—apostles, prophets, and martyrs, all holy men and women, all the angels. They are, as it were, in front of us.

And that’s not all. Who is behind us?

Theologians, when they speak of the entire cosmos and all creation, will sometimes speak of exitus and reditus.

  • Exitus: in creation, all that has been created goes forth from the Father, in his great gift of being and life and goodness.
  • Reditus: all creation is supposed to then return to the Father in love and thanksgiving.

And all creation should be led by humanity—not because we are the best or most powerful in all creation, but because we sum it up, since we alone are composed of both an intellectual or rational soul (which we share with the angels) and a material body (which we share with everything else). We then sum up creation and are to lead it back to the Father. So, how have we done at that mission? Not so great. Through our Fall into sinfulness, instead we corrupted the entire universe.

But our Lord Jesus, through his Incarnation, death, and resurrection, is the New Adam, remaking the human race and all of creation in his image. And he picked up where we had failed: leading us—and, through us, leads all of creation—in our joyful return to the Father!

So, when we come to Mass, where are we? Joined with heaven itself. And who is with us? Before us, all the angels and saints; behind us, following after us, all of humanity and all of creation—animals and plants, planets and stars—all together in a joyful procession of return to the Father—following Christ our head.

In the words of the hymn:

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

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