The Holy Mass is the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, in a real liturgical manner. At the Last Supper (also known as the First Eucharist), Jesus created the Mass for each one of us to be present at His great sacrifice, even through time and space. The word “Mass” comes to us from the Latin word “missa” (dismissed, or sent). At the end of the Latin Mass, the priest says, “Ita missa est,” or “Go, you are sent.” The word “Christmas” is an abbreviation for “Christ’s Mass.” Let’s explore why the Mass is what it is, and why it is so important to our salvation.
Sacrifices in Scripture
In the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 7:1, God sent fire down from heaven to consume King Solomon’s sacrifice in the newly built temple, which was God’s dwelling place on earth:
“When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”
But in the New Testament Church, God instead sends down the fire of the Holy Spirit to transform unleavened bread and wine into His sacred body and His precious blood so that we can consume Him instead, thus overcoming Adam and Eve’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit.
Two Liturgies in the Mass
The Mass is comprised of two basic liturgies, or ceremonies. The first part is the Liturgy of the Word, where prayers of adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication are mixed in with three (on Sunday) Scripture readings. The Scripture readings are usually one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles, and one from the Gospels. To show the harmony of Sacred Scripture, two of the three readings always have a common thread, like salvation, repentance, the Eucharist, etc.
The second liturgy of the Mass, which occurs right after the sermon in the Liturgy of the Word, is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is where the priest, through the power of Christ, changes ordinary bread and wine into the sacred body and precious blood of Christ–what we call “transubstantiation” (the substance of the bread and wine become the substance of Christ’s body and blood). We can only see the priest and his assistants on the altar, but in reality, Christ is present there and He is the one who acts. Also present is Mary with the Communion of Saints and angels. In Scripture, it says about the Mass, in Hebrews 12:22-24:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”
The Mass in Sacred Scripture
The biblical story of Jesus on the road to Emmaus with his disciples is another example of the Mass. The disciples and Jesus discussed the Scriptures (Liturgy of the Word); Jesus then gave them a sermon on what the Scriptures meant; and then they had a meal where the bread was blessed and the disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread (Liturgy of the Eucharist). Jesus then disappeared from their sight, for a reason. From now on, Christ would be invisibly present in the consecrated bread and consecrated wine, and His physical presence would no longer be necessary. Henceforth, we walk by faith, not by sight, when it comes to the Eucharist.
Jesus said to Satan in the desert in Matthew 4:4:
“Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Here Jesus foretells the Mass, with both the Liturgy of the Eucharist (bread) and the Liturgy of the Word (every word that comes from the mouth of God).
While we refer to part of the Scriptures as the “new testament,” the term “new testament” (or “new covenant”) is used one time by Jesus, in Luke 22:20:
“And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Here we see that participating in Holy Communion (“This cup”) is the very essence of the new covenant–notice he didn’t say that the new covenant was just believing in him, or reading about him. No, the new covenant is an action: participating in Holy Communion.
The Passover meal that Jesus began in the upper room was not finished there. The fourth cup of the Passover meal, the cup of consummation, is not mentioned in the Gospels. The meal broke up after the cup of blessing was drunk and a hymn was sung (Matthew 26). Jesus even said that He would not drink again of the fruit of the vine until later. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed in Matthew 26:39:
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Finally, on the cross, Jesus drank the sour wine and said in John 19:30: “It is consummated.” The Passover meal that was started in the upper room was finished on the cross, forever tying the Eucharist to the crucifixion of Christ.
The Mass as Sacrifice
It is important to remember that in the Mass, Jesus is both priest and victim. We learn in Hebrews 6:20 that Jesus is a high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek, both the King of Salem (shalom, or peace) and the High Priest, in Genesis 14:18, offered blessed bread and wine to Abraham in honor of his victory over his enemies and the rescue of Lot. After the golden calf incident, priests in the Old Testament belonged to the tribe of Levi, and they offered sacrifices for sin, only they offered animal sacrifices instead of bread and wine. God commanded these animal sacrifices because the Israelites, while slaves in Egypt for 400 years, had begun to imitate the Egyptians and worship cattle, sheep, and goats. By having to kill these former “deities,” the Jews were weaning themselves off of the gods of Egypt.
These animal sacrifices came to a halt with the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD, and Judaism stopped having priests offer sacrifices. Now, Judaism only has rabbis, or teachers. But Jesus said he came to fulfill the Old Testament, in Matthew 5:17, not to do away with it. It says in Hebrews 5:9-10 that Jesus is a high priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek. So now He continually offers up His one same divine sacrifice of 2000 years ago, in Heaven, for each new generation, in the form of bread and wine, like Melchizedek. If he wasn’t doing this now, then He wouldn’t be a high priest forever. We on earth participate in that heavenly sacrifice at each and every Mass. In Revelation 5:6, John says He sees a lamb standing as though slain, which perfectly describes a priest standing who is also a victim.
The Mass is foretold in Malachi 1:11-12:
“For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the LORD’s table is polluted, and the food for it may be despised.”
Some references to things in the Mass are included in the Book of Revelation, which reveals to St. John the heavenly liturgy that is occurring, called the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation 19:9.
The Book of Revelation makes several references to the Mass; indeed, it’s really a coded explanation of the Mass. To find an accessible and detailed explanation of this, check out “The Lamb’s Supper, the Mass as Heaven on Earth,” by Scott Hahn.
Quotes from the Saints on the Mass
The writings of the saints are filled with wonder at the glory of the Mass:
“The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer!”
–Bl. Pope Paul VI
“For each Mass we hear with devotion, Our Lord sends a saint to comfort us at death.”
–revelation of Christ to St. Gertrude the great.
“A single Mass offered for oneself during life may be worth more than a thousand celebrated for the same intention after death.”
“One Mass before death may be more profitable than many after it.”
–St. Leonard of Port Maurice
“The Holy Mass would be of greater profit if people had it offered in their lifetime, rather than having it celebrated for the relief of their souls after death”
–Bl. Pope Benedict XV
“Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “ATTEND ONE MASS.”
–Revelation to St. Teresa of Avila
“The Blessed Virgin Mary once told Her faithful servant Alain: “My Son so loves those who assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that, if it were necessary He would die for them as many times as they’ve heard Masses.”
–Revelation to St. Alain
“If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”
–St. Jean Vianney
“The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.”
–St. Thomas Aquinas
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.”
–St. Padre Pio
“The Mass is infinite like Jesus. Ask an angel what the Mass is, and he will reply to you in truth,”I understand what it is and why it is offered, but I do not, however, understand how much value it has.” One angel, a thousand angels, all of Heaven know this and think like this.”
–St. Padre Pio
“If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice, we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass.”
–St. Padre Pio
“Renew your faith by attending Holy Mass. Keep your mind focused on the mystery that is unfolding before your eyes. In your mind’s eye transport yourself to Calvary and meditate on the Victim who offers Himself to Divine Justice, paying the price of your redemption.”
–St. Padre Pio
“Every Holy Mass, heard with devotion, produces in our souls marvelous effects, abundant spiritual and material graces which we ourselves, do not know.”
–St. Padre Pio
“The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
“The angels surround and help the priest when he is celebrating Mass.”
“When Mass is being celebrated, the sanctuary is filled with countless angels who adore the divine victim immolated on the altar.”
–St. John Chrysostom