THE MASS A MEMORIAL
1. The Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord
Let us go in spirit to Nazareth of Galilee, and there enter into the peaceful home of Mary and Joseph. Mary is at prayer, when behold an angel in beauteous form stands before her, and, with respectful salutation, announces to her the tidings that she has been chosen to become the Mother of the World's Redeemer. " The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God " (Luke i. 35). Our Blessed Lady, on thus learning the honour she was to receive of becoming the Mother of God, through the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost, bowed in all humility to the Divine Will, and exclaimed : " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word." At that moment, when her consent was given, as expressed in these words, the Holy Spirit formed of her pure flesh and blood a perfectly organised body, an equally perfect soul was created for it, and the Son of God took them both, and united them to His own Divine Person; thus did He become man for us, the " Word was made flesh," to redeem mankind.
When the fulness of time arrived, Mary and Joseph, in obedience to an imperial decree, betook themselves to Bethlehem, the city of David, to whose royal line they both belonged ; driven to take shelter in a stable, Mary there brought forth her Son, the Man-God, and fell on her knees to adore Him.
Consider now the Altar of a Catholic Church, where Holy Mass is being offered. The Sanctuary Bell has already announced that the solemn moment of Consecration is at hand. At present there is on the Altar bread and wine only, to adore which would be pure idolatry. But now the priest pronounces the life-giving-words of Consecration, and behold we have then the true Body and Blood of Our Redeemer, present under the Sacramental Veils, the selfsame that Mary's womb contained, after the Angel's word had been spoken, and her assent had been given. And no matter on how many altars all over the globe the Holy Sacrifice is offered, the same marvel is repeated, thus recalling the great mystery of the Incarnation. In it, Our Lord uses His omnipotence to make Himself man, while in the Mass He uses it to change bread and wine into Himself. In His birth, He conceals His Divinity under the form of His Humanity: in the Mass, He conceals both Divinity and Humanity under the elements of bread and wine.
If Bethlehem be a great place of pilgrimage, if a visit to the Cave wherein Our Lord was born fills the heart with tenderest emotion, at the thought of the great event that occurred there, how much more should the heart of a true Catholic be affected by the wondrous prodigy that takes place on the Altar! For there Our Lord is daily born again into the world in thousands of churches, by a miracle of love and power. Thus does Holy Mass truly become a memorial of Our Lord's Incarnation and Birth into our midst more than nineteen hundred years ago.
2. Life of Our Lord.
It is the duty of each one to form himself, as far as he can, on the Divine model which God Almighty has given us in the person of His own beloved Son made man. While He lived on earth, He practised in His daily life, as well as taught by His words, all the Christian virtues He desired His followers to learn and imitate.
Now if we contemplate devoutly the mysteries of Holy Mass, and remember how the officiating priest represents Jesus Christ and reproduces the mysteries of His life, we shall surely be eager to assist frequently at the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, which is the compendium of that life.
Thus on the Altar we have the same Divine Child lying before us as lay in the Crib at Bethlehem, but under more lowly form, the form of bread and wine.—In the Gospel, though it be the priest that pronounces them, we have the very words of Our Lord Himself, and they have the same weight and authority now, as when He addressed them to the multitudes.—The miracle He once wrought in Cana is surpassed by the miracle of Consecration, which re-enacts daily the scene of the Last Supper.—Our Lord's humility, so conspicuous in His mortal life, stands clearly out before us in the lowliness of His mystic existence on the Altar.—The obedience He ever showed to His parents is renewed towards His priests, who move Him from place to place in His sacramental form, and to their will He freely submits. —The greater part of His life on earth was spent in obscurity, unknown to the world ; in the poverty of His home in Nazareth, He unceasingly offered Himself as a living victim to the glory of His Father. So, on the Altar, Our Lord maintains this state of obscurity, lying there as victim, ignored by the greater part of men, too often unheeded even by His own followers.
Thus does Our Lord continue in the Holy Sacrifice the work of His visible career on earth, and renew in every Mass that is offered what it took Him thirty-three years to accomplish.
Think, then, once more what immense benefits may be derived from the hearing of Holy Mass. With what eagerness should we endeavour to assist at it! What fervour should animate our hearts, as we do so! How is it we are so indifferent to this easy means of obtaining eternal treasures, while so keen to acquire temporal wealth ? Only let us know and understand how the Mass renews Our Lord's life on earth and recalls His infinite perfections, then shall we have greater love and devotion in regard to it, and endeavour to copy in our lives the virtues of Our Lord, of which the Mass is the perpetual memorial.
3. Passion and Death of Christ
(The two following chapters will also help to recall, in many details, how Holy Mass is truly a memorial of the Passion and Death of Christ.)
It is of faith that the Holy Eucharist was instituted by Our Lord to perpetuate the memory of His Passion and Death. " Do this for a commemoration of Me," He said to His disciples, when annihilating Himself, as it were, under the appearances of bread and wine, and burying Himself wholly under the shroud of the sacred species, and these words are daily repeated after the Consecration. S. Paul, on the other hand, reminds us that as often as we eat this bread and drink this chalice, we show forth the death of the Lord, till His second coming at the end of time (i Cor. xi. 26).
The Church teaches that the sacrifice of the Mass is the same as that of Calvary, which clearly shows how it is to us a memorial of all that our Lord suffered, when He first allowed Himself to be subject to the torments of His Agony and Death.
It is of great importance that men should ever remember this, because only by the application of Our Lord's merits, acquired in His Passion, can they ever hope to save their souls. Moreover, it is impossible that the Faithful could have been present on Calvary, but in the Mass they may earn the same graces and merits, as if they had stood with Mary and John, under the Cross on which Jesus died, because it is, and always will be, the selfsame Sacrifice renewed daily till the end of time.
How is this? The priest, by the omnipotent words of Consecration, calls down the Son of God upon the Altar, and encloses Him under the sacred species, devoid, as it were, of all movement, of all life and speech. And by the separate consecration of the bread and wine, and the apparent separation of the Precious Body and Blood, Our Lord is placed in a condition like unto death, though possessing life, for ''Christ dieth now^ no more," and yet unable to show external signs of life.
As in His Passion He was delivered into the hands of men, so in the Mass He is given to the will of those who keep Him in their custody, who can move Him from place to place, or retain Him as a prisoner of love in the Tabernacle.
The Holy Eucharist perpetuates the Passion and Death of Our Saviour, inasmuch as He is therein the Victim of the same treacheries and violence and humiliations as of yore. Judas betrayed Our Lord to His enemies ; but bad communicants do the same, when receiving Him into their souls stained with grievous sin, souls wherein His archenemy dwells. Violence was done to Our Redeemer, as He was scourged and crowned with thorns ; but violence is still offered to Him, when His Tabernacles are rifled and profaned by sacrilegious hands, when the sacred particles are trodden underfoot, or scattered about in contempt. And the humiliations of the Passion are repeated nowadays, in the blasphemies of Infidels, the ignorance of many Christians, by their grievous sins and ingratitude.
These saddening thoughts, based on facts too evident and too frequent in the world's history, should lead us, the followers of the crucified Master, to the spirit and practice of reparation. Let us then go to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, or assist at the Holy Sacrifice, and by our acts of atonement share the consolation and the honour of Veronica, who wiped the adorable face of Our Lord, of Simon, who helped Him to bear the Cross up the hillside of Calvary, of the Holy Women, who gave Him their sympathy and their tears, and especially of His Holy Mother, who offered Him the reparation of her intense and burning love. We can give Him our cordial " Hosannas" of praise for the cries of outrage and insult that fell upon His ears, as He hung on the Cross, and for the blasphemies against His real presence in our own day.
How many travel year by year in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, not indeed to witness Our Lord's Passion and Death, but to see and honour the places where these terrible tragedies were enacted! How many go every decade to see the Passion Play among the Bavarian Highlands, and witness the representation of the scenes that filled in the last days of Our Lord's mortal career! All return home from the Holy Land or Ober Ammergau deeply moved and impressed by what they have seen and heard, and delight to relate to their friends the many incidents that moved their hearts, and perhaps drew tears from their eyes.
Yet, if we remember that Holy Mass is the commemoration and memorial of the Passion of Christ and of His Death for our sins, nay more, is the very renewal of those sufferings, that He Himself is there reposing on the Altar by actual presence as the Divine Victim of sacrifice, how eager should we be to assist thereat, and witness the reality, here no longer a mere representation, as is the Passion Play in every tenth year! If we attend devoutly and frequently, we shall soon experience the benefits of so salutary a practice, joy and gladness will lighten our hearts, grace and strength will be imparted to us, and, weak though we be of ourselves, we shall yet be able to resist the corruption of sin, through the power and sweetness of the incorruptible Blood of Jesus, shed over our souls.
"As often as thou sayest or hearest Mass, it ought to seem to thee as great, as new, and as delightful, as if Christ that same day . . . was hanging on the Cross, was suffering and dying for the salvation of men."— Imitation, IV., ch. ii.
" The statues of sovereigns have often served as asylums to men who flew for refuge to them, not because they were made of brass, but because they represented the persons of princes. In like manner, the blood of the Lamb saved the Israelites, not because it was blood, but because it prefigured the Blood of Our Saviour, and announced His coming. Now, then, if the enemy perceives, not the blood of the typical lamb on our doors, but the blood of the true Lamb shining on the souls of the Faithful, he will depart farther from us. For, if the angel of destruction passed by, where he saw the figure, how much more terrified will not the enemy be at beholding the reality."— S. John Chrysostom.