Source and Summit

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12th in a series of short homilies on the Mass

The Mass is an amazing thing, like nothing else in the world. So you have come, and stood heart to heart with other faithful, joining all the angels and saints, and leading the entire universe. You have encountered Christ made truly present—the eternal high priest offering the one perfect sacrifice. You have united yourself with him, offering yourself also, and entered the heart of the Trinity.

Now what?

No matter how wonderful it is, the Mass, like this homily series, has to come to an end sometime. Eventually the moment comes when the priest says, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Now what?

Now is when you go forth to live your life as a living sacrifice; when you allow the Mass to pull your life more and more into itself; when every moment of your life is lived in union with Christ, given completely to the Father.

Blessed Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity that she founded have stood out for their loving service to the poorest of the poor, in the difficult settings of Calcutta and many other cities around the world. When people would ask her, “How do you do it?” she would point to the fact that every day they attended Mass, and also spent at least an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. She said,

Do we recognize Jesus under the appearance of bread? If we recognize him under the appearance of bread, we will have no difficulty recognizing him in the disguise of the suffering poor, and the suffering in our family, in our own community.

She is an example is what it can look like when all of your life is taken into the Mass.

And this is why the Scripture readings and homilies at Mass cover such a wide range of topics within the two- and three-year cycles: so that we can consider, one facet at a time, what it means to live our lives as a living sacrifice. And so that we can be encouraged to do so. Because it’s all too easy for a living sacrifice to crawl back off the altar! Facet by facet by facet, let us put every part of our lives under the kingly rule of Christ.

And there is an analogy that pulls this all together. We know that St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33), draws an analogy between the marriage of a husband and wife, on the one hand, and the union between Christ and his Church, on the other. And one of my professors compared the place of the altar within our life in Christ to the place of the marriage bed within a marriage.

  • In both cases, this is only a part of the whole: for no married couple spends all their time in the marriage bed, and no baptized person spends their whole life at Mass—not even a priest or a cloistered nun!
  • Yet neither is this just one act among many. In the marital act, the spouses ratify the total mutual self-gift that they promised with their lips in their marriage vows; manifest it, renew it, strengthen it. So too in the Mass, the vows we made and the transformation accomplished in baptism, we consummate and strengthen in our union with our Divine Bridegroom.
  • And then all the rest of life flows from that center—in loving communication, gestures of affection, common purpose, close cooperation. All of married life flows out from the marriage bed; all our life in Christ flows out from our union with him at the altar, as an extension of it.
  • And so when we next return to it, that next act of union is all the richer and deeper for the love-lived-out that we bring to it.

The marital act could then be called the “source and summit” of Christian marriage. And that is just what the Second Vatican Council called the Mass: the “source and summit of the Christian life.” (Lumen Gentium 9, cited in CCC 1324)

And so the Mass comes to an end, and we are sent forth, to let all our lives become the Mass, and the Mass take in all our lives. So that we live completely as living sacrifices in union with Christ—until at last we arrive at the marriage supper of the Lamb, of which this is a pledge, and we see our Divine Bridegroom face to face.

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