Christ’s Passion is the Mass in its entirety. It is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. My perspective on the concept of worship changed when I came into the Church. I soon realized that the Mass, mysterious and holy, is indeed much more than a pastoral service. With time, the power of the Mass entranced me. I began to look at the cross the way Jesus did. I saw a sacrificial and liturgical offering of worship to the Father on our behalf. From the garden to the crucifixion, Christ leads us as a prime example of how we should worship in the Mass.
The Agony in the Garden is detailed in all four of the gospels. What does this moment of Christ’s life teach us about the Mass? One of the critical things it teaches us is the importance of prayer. In Matthew 26:39 Christ prays to the Father “My Father if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” This example from Christ teaches us that not everything we will is what the Father wills. We have to accept the will of the Father, despite what we think we know. Christ said that His soul was “sorrowful unto death” (Matthew 26:38). Our souls will be sorrowful sometimes as well. We are called to bring these situations to the Father in prayer in the holy Mass.
By way of the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also teaches us that we are sinners. Examining the agony through the eyes of the disciples shows us that even though we are sinners, Christ still died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus asked Peter in Matthew 26:40, “So, you could not watch with me one hour?” Quite often I think to myself: I would have stayed up with Jesus. In reality, I probably would not have been able to! As much as we don’t like to admit that we are sinners, recognizing this arduous truth is at the heart of embracing God’s mercy in the Mass.
Lift Up Your Hearts
The Eucharistic Prayer is one of the most mysterious and profound elements of the Mass. During the liturgy, the priest addresses the congregation with the words, “Lift up your hearts.” As we anticipate the Lord’s coming down to us on the altar, we also utter in response, “We lift [our hearts] up to the Lord.” This is another way to say that we meet Christ in His sacrifice when we lift our sacrifices and prayers up to Him. In John 12:32-33 Christ described His death on the cross as being “lifted up from the earth.” In essence, when we lift up our hearts, we are intertwining our sufferings with Christ’s, melding our sacrifices with His.
The Blessed Virgin embodies dying to her will on behalf of the Father’s and lifting her heart up with Christ’s cross. In Luke 2:35, the holy Simeon prophesies that a sword would pierce her soul so that thoughts of many hearts would be revealed. Mary knew that she had to suffer alongside Christ at the Father’s will. She united her suffering with Christ’s passion so that the Father would be glorified and our hearts revealed.
Christ’s Wounded Side
John explains in his gospel that, after Christ expired on the cross, a Roman soldier pierced His side with a spear. Blood and water came flowing out of His side symbolizing the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. St. John Chrysostom describes the pierced side this way:
For there came forth water and blood. Not without a purpose, or by chance, did those founts come forth, but because by means of these two together the Church consists. And the initiated know it, being by water indeed regenerate, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. Hence the Mysteries take their beginning; that when you approach that awful cup, you may so approach, as drinking from the very side. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 85 on the Gospel of John)
Christ shows us, through the water of Baptism and His body and blood, the way in which we are nourished in the Church. During the Mass, it is especially important to realize that Christ is truly present in these sacraments. We dip our fingers in the font of healing waters and cross ourselves when we enter the cathedral to remember the vows of our Baptism. Romans 6:4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
As we receive the body and blood of our Lord, we are called to remember that through His passion we are raised to life. Jesus tells us firmly that if we do not eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us (John 6:53). John 7:38 says “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Even in Christ’s Passion, we are called to celebrate the newness of life and the resurrection.
Repentance and the Prayer for Unity
The thieves on either side of Jesus at Calvary are a reminder to us of the need for repentance. One thief agrees with the crowd, telling Jesus to save Himself. The other thief realizes that Jesus is innocent, and humbles himself to acceptance and repentance. He receives mercy. During our everyday lives, and even more so during the Mass, we are called to look upon Christ on the cross with repentant hearts. The two thieves remind us that we are sinners, and the way to forgiveness is through mercy. Conversion pulls our hearts closer to God every day. It is only with this mindset that we see Christ’s purity and the beauty of His sacrifice.
Jesus poured His heart out to the Father in a stunning prayer for unity among His disciples and in His Church. This intimate prayer reveals a close bond between the Persons of the Trinity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “The Church is one because of her source: the highest exemplar and source of this mystery is the unity, in the Trinity of Persons, of one God, the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Church is one because of her founder.” (Catechism, 813). The prayer reveals to us just how essential unity was for Christ. Christ prays that, through unity, the world may come to believe that the Father sent him (John 17:23).
Christ’s life and death reveal to us many mysteries of how to worship in the Mass. Meditating on these phases of Christ’s life provides us with spiritual nourishment not only for our daily lives but also to go out and evangelize to others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “the liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (missio) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives” (Catechism, 1332). Holiness and spiritual enrichment increase in our daily lives when we follow Christ along the path of the cross.