Title: A Biblical Walk Through the Mass
Author: Dr. Ted Sri
Length: 3h 5m (3 discs, 6 episodes)
Dr. Ted Sri begins by relating a personal anecdote about a conversation he had with a Pentecostal about the Mass. She had been to a Mass once, and beyond all the sitting, standing, kneeling, and reading, she knew there was something deeper going on than met the eye. This “something deeper” is something we can miss if we simply go through the Mass at a superficial level, doing and saying things from rote. Our worship as Catholics is deeply rooted in Scripture, and Dr. Sri’s three-hour series is meant to be a liturgical Bible study that reveals the Scriptural origins and meaning behind the gestures, prayers, and rituals of the Mass.
Dr. Sri says that the Eucharist has three key aspects: 1) Sacrifice, 2) Real Presence, and 3) Holy Communion. He takes some time to describe the “Real Presence” and “Holy Communion” aspects of the Eucharist; the “Sacrifice” aspect is discussed in sessions 3 and 4 (on the Liturgy of the Eucharist). Dr. Sri explains what the Church means by saying that Jesus is “really present” in the Eucharist, that His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are present in substance under the outer forms of bread and wine.
Next he explains how the sharing of a sacrificial meal in the Old Testament was a means of forming a covenant between two parties: a sacrifice is followed by a communal meal in that sacrifice, which forged covenant union. One example he uses is of Isaac and Abimelech, who, after sharing this sacrificial meal, consider each other brothers. (cf. Gen. 26:31, in a literal translation of the Hebrew) Another example he gives us of Moses and the elders of Israel eating a covenant meal in the presence of God on Mt. Sinai. (cf. Ex. 24) This same sequence of sacrifice-meal-covenant is found at the Last Supper, where Jesus applies sacrificial language (of a body being given up and its blood being poured out) to Himself, and then He shares a communal meal (in His Body and Blood) with the Apostles. St. Paul describes this pattern in 1 Cor. 5: 7-8, where he says that “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” and therefore we should “celebrate the festival [feast].” In John 6, Jesus speaks of Himself as “the bread of life” which “comes down from heaven,” and that the bread He gives is His flesh, offered “for the life of the world.” This language implies a sacrificial offering and a communal meal.
He concludes by mentioning the other materials provided for the study course, and how they can best be used.
II. Session 1 – Introductory Rites
Dr. Sri begins this session by looking at the Sign of the Cross: the words and the ritual of signing the cross. The words ("In the name of the Father…") invoke the name of the Lord; we call upon God's name for worship, for protection, and for help. The ritual of signing (or sealing) oneself with the cross is foreshadowed or prophesied in Ezekiel 9:4, when God has an angel seal the faithful in Jerusalem with a "mark" (the letter tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks like a cross or X or T) on their foreheads.
Then he examines the greeting, specifically the words "The Lord be with you." This greeting is not the Catholic way of saying "good morning," but rather a prayer for God's presence with a person. Old Testament heroes like Joshua and Gideon, whom God had chosen to carry out some mission for the protection of His people, were told "The Lord is with you" or "The Lord will be with you." He also looks at the response of the congregation, "And with your spirit," which is a more faithful rendering of the Latin and which brings us into union with Catholics of other languages who make a similar response in the Mass. This response acknowledges the special working of the Holy Spirit in the priest, in virtue of his ordination.
Next, Dr. Sri looks at one form of the Penitential Act, the Confiteor. In this prayer, we acknowledge that we sin in thought, word, commission, and omission. Dr. Sri draws our attention to what our sins produce (or fail to produce) in our relationships and in the world: we are called not only to avoid sin, but to imitate Christ. He mentions the new translation, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault," which he says helps us better express our heart-felt contrition.
Looking at the Kyrie, Dr. Sri compares a popular notion of mercy with the Catholic notion of mercy. The childhood game of "mercy" involves two people trying to bend the other fingers back to the point where the one losing will cry out "mercy!" But this is not how Christians view the mercy of God; God's mercy is not simply about a powerful being pardoning a less powerful one, but about God expressing His love for His creation, for His children. Sri provides a few examples from the New Testament where people come to Jesus and ask Him to show mercy on them and to help them or someone close to them.
After the Kyrie comes the Gloria, which Dr. Sri describes as not coming from any ordinary hymnal: the opening words come from the angels who announced the birth of the Lord. Because the Introductory Rites are about preparing ourselves for an encounter with the Lord, it is fitting that we sing what the angels sang to welcome the Lord and to prepare the shepherds for their encounter with the newborn King. Sri looks at some of the particular expressions in the Gloria: Jesus is the "only-begotten Son" of the Father and the "Lamb of God" Who takes away the sins of the world, two phrases evocative of the prologue of John's Gospel. Those phrases, along with "seated at the right hand of the Father," make the Gloria a summary of salvation history.
Sri concludes the session with a brief mention of the Collect prayer, which collects the prayers of all the faithful and offers them to God.
III. Session 2 – Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are the "two main pillars" of the Mass, flanked by the Introductory Rites and the Concluding Rites. The Introductory Rites serve to prepare us for the whole Mass, and for hearing the word of God in particular.
In the Liturgy of the Word, God comes to speak to His people through the sacred Scriptures. Because the Scriptures are the inspired word of God, they are fully human and fully divine, just as Jesus (the Incarnate Word of God) is fully human and fully divine. This divine element of the Scriptures means that the lector at Mass is not simply reading the Bible aloud at Mass, he is lending his voice to God so that God's word may be proclaimed to His people today.
After Vatican II, the one-year cycle of readings was replaced with a three-year cycle on Sundays and a two-year cycle on weekdays. The readings for each day are not decided by the celebrant of the Mass, but by the Church as a whole, which provides a unity of worship among Catholics. The First Reading is usually an Old Testament reading that is thematically connected to the Gospel for that day. The Old Testament is read in the liturgy because all of Scripture is inspired and important; knowledge of the Old Testament is necessary to understand the New Testament.
At the end of the First and Second Readings, the lector says, "The word of the Lord," and the congregation responds, "Thanks be to God." We offer this thanks to God because the Scriptures reveal to us God's plan of salvation. After the First Reading is a Responsorial Psalm: we respond to God's word with God's word.
While we sit for the other readings, we stand for the reading of the Gospel. The Gospel is preceded by the singing of Alleluia, a procession with the Book of the Gospels to the ambo, prayers of preparation by the priest or deacon (invoking the imagery of Isaiah 6:1-5), and additional gestures of blessing. The Gospel is given extra attention and reverence because of its pre-eminence over the rest of Scripture. (cf. Vatican II, Dei Verbum 18) After the Gospel, the Scriptures are explained through the homily, a special catechetical moment in the Mass.
After the homily comes the Creed. Dr. Sri asks why we repeat this profession of faith week after week. Is it just a test to see if we remember the core contents of the faith? No, he says, it is about affirming our belief. Referring to the Catechism, Dr. Sri explains that belief is both an act of the mind (giving assent) and an act of trust (entrusting yourself to God). (cf. Catechism 150) The Hebrew word amen means "I take my stand on this" – in other words, it means that you believe, you trust in something. We must strive to move beyond the mere mental act of giving assent (as one can believe that 2 + 2 = 4) and enter into the deeper act of entrusting ourselves to God (as a man and woman entrust themselves to another in marriage).
The first word of the Creed in Latin is Credo ("I believe") and English was the only major language to translate the word into the first person plural ("We believe") rather than the singular. The new translation uses the first person singular; one effect of using the singular is that it reminds the person that the faith must be personally assented to, and that the faith is a personal act of trust in God. The new translation also uses the word "consubstantial" (consubstantialis) to describe the relation of the Son to the Father: the Son is "of one substance with" or "of the same substance as" the Father. (cf. Catechism 242)
After a brief mention of the Prayer of the Faithful, the session concludes.
IV. Session 3 – Liturgy of the Eucharist: Part 1
The third session begins with a visual overview (from the workbook) of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which has three components: the Preparation of the Gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Communion Rite. The first two components are covered in this session; the third component is covered in the next session.
One of the parts of the Preparation of the Gifts is the Presentation of the Gifts, in which people bread and wine to the priest. Dr. Sri explains that in the early centuries of the Church, people brought forward bread and wine that they themselves had made, along with other offerings. The act of presenting these offerings was an external manifestation of the internal offering of our time and labor and lives to God. Today, the presentation of bread and wine represents our offering of our whole selves to God, joining ourselves to Christ and His sacrifice. After the priest receives and prays over the bread and wine, the priest washes his hands. Dr. Sri points to Exodus 30:17-21, where Levitical priests would ceremonially wash their hands before entering the tabernacle for their service. In the Mass, this washing is not a matter of hygiene, but a matter of spiritual preparation.
Next Dr. Sri moves to the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the Preface dialogue. The call of the priest to “Lift up your hearts” comes from Lam. 3:41, and is evocative of the words of St. Paul in Col. 3:1-2, where we are instructed to set our minds on things that are above. Sri also quotes the fifth mystagogical catechesis of St. Cyril of Jerusalem to the same effect: at all times, but especially at this moment of the liturgy, we should have our mind on the things of God, and we must avoid being hypocrites whose lips confess that our hearts are with God, but whose hearts betray those words.
After the Preface comes the Sanctus. By calling God “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we are using a Hebraism which denotes a superlative: God is the absolute holiest. These words come from the heavenly liturgy depicted in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4, where Isaiah and John the Evangelist see angelic beings bowing in worship before God and continually praising Him as “holy, holy, holy.” Our use of these angelic and heavenly words reminds us that our participation in the liturgy on earth is really a participation in the liturgy of Heaven. After these angelic words come the words which are sung when Jesus entered Jerusalem in the week that He died. Just as those people welcomed Jesus with those words, so do we welcome Jesus into our souls in Holy Communion by these same words.
Next, Dr. Sri covers the words of consecration: “This is my body … This is my blood … Do this in memory of me.” By looking at them in their original context, we can learn how the Mass (and the Eucharist) is a sacrifice. In the Mass, we do not see the external signs of sacrifice found in the Old Testament: priests with knives cutting the throats of animals and burning their bodies on the altar. But the context of the words of consecration, the Last Supper, reveal the sacrificial character of the Mass. The Last Supper was a Passover meal, and the Passover was a “memorial” in the Hebrew sense of the word (zikaron, Greek anamnesis). A zikaron did not just recall a past event, but mystically made that past event a present reality. What is curious about the account of the Last Supper is that there is no mention of a lamb, a necessary element of the Passover meal. But Jesus identifies Himself with the Passover lamb by applying sacrificial language to His Body and Blood. After offering His Body and Blood, Jesus says “Do this in memory of me.” Jesus is telling His Apostles to make the sacrifice He is offering present for future generations, carrying out a memorial in the biblical, liturgical sense. The Catholic Church does not teach that the Mass is another sacrificing of Christ or a mere representation of Christ’s offering, but a re-presenting of Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross.
Dr. Sri addresses some of the changes in the new translation. The word “chalice” is used instead of “cup” for calix, drawing our attention to what makes this vessel special and different. The words “for all” have been re-translated as “for many” (pro multis), a change which has left many wondering what that means. These words are faithful to the Latin and to the Scriptures. Quoting Francis Cardinal Arinze, Dr. Sri says that while Jesus’ death on the cross is redemptive for all, not all choose to accept it, and so it will be fruitful only for many. In addition, these words of Christ (“for you and for many”) are evocative of the language in the prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, where the words “for many” or “of many” are used three times.
This session by considering the “Amen” which concludes the Eucharistic Prayer, by which we give our faithful assent to what has taken place on the altar. Our “Amen” should be a resounding celestial thunderclap, as St. Jerome said; it should be our signature under the words of the priest, as St. Augustine said.
V. Session 4 – Liturgy of the Eucharist: Part 2; Concluding Rites
Dr. Sri concludes the walk-through of the Mass by looking at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist (the Communion Rite) and the Concluding Rites.
The Communion Rite begins with the Our Father: as we make our final preparations to enter into intimate union with God, we pray the very prayer taught to us by God the Son. The priest's introductory words remind us that we "dare to say" this prayer. We "dare" to call God our Father; the Jews viewed Israel as the Father of Israel, but not so much as their Father individually, but Jesus taught us to call God "Abba", a word for "Father" that denotes a close and intimate relationship. God is not just like a Father to us, He is truly and really our Father. (cf. 1 John 3:1) We are sons and daughters of God by His grace, by the divine life of Christ dwelling within us: we are "sons in the Son." (Aquinas) As St. Paul said, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (cf. Gal. 2:20) We do not simply God "Father" or "my Father", but "our Father." The communal character of this expression means that we are brothers and sisters through that same grace that makes us children of God.
After the Our Father and a prayer by the priest, the congregation prays a concluding doxology: "For the kingdom…" While many Protestants consider these to be the Scriptural conclusion of the Our Father, these words do not appear in Scripture originally, and they are not from the mouth of Christ, so we do not include them as part of the Our Father in the liturgy. These words do appear in early Christian writings and liturgies, such as the Didache (8:10, 9:9, 10:10). The words are also found on the lips of King David in 1 Chronicles 29:10-11.
Dr. Sri next considers the title "Lamb of God" in the Agnus Dei. We know Jesus as the true Passover lamb as well as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who is led away to slaughter like a lamb. We also know Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, as John the Baptist declared Him to be on the shores of the Jordan. (cf. John 1:29) This title of Jesus as the "Lamb" comes up again in the liturgy immediately after the Agnus Dei, when the priest holds up the Host and says "Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." These words come from an angel in Revelation 19:9 (with the omission of the word "wedding"). This chapter contains a blend of Passover and nuptial imagery: the Lamb is coming as a bridegroom, and the Church is the bride. The bridegroom-and-bride imagery is found throughout the Old Testament: Israel is the bride of God, but Israel is often unfaithful to her husband. But the prophets maintained that though Israel was unfaithful, God would remain faithful, and so the scene in the book of Revelation is the eternal re-union and union of God and His bride.
Holy Communion, then, is a wedding banquet, and the acclamation of the priest "Bless are those who are called…" is a wedding invitation. The members of the Church are then individually and collectively the Bride of Christ, and Holy Communion is the intimate union of Bride and Bridegroom. Dr. Sri then relates Pope John Paul II's words about the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist at the end of his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, how Mary bore the Body of Jesus in her womb, and how she would receive that Body into herself again when she received Communion at the Church's first Eucharistic liturgies. Sri urges us to spend time with our Lord in thanksgiving and reflection after receiving Him in Holy Communion.
Dr. Sri moves to the dismissal of the Concluding Rites, when the priest says "The Mass (missa) is ended." He looks at the word missa, which means not just "dismissal" and "sending forth" on a mission (missio). With that, the session comes to an end.
VI. Information Session
The final chapter of the DVD provides information about the new translation, which is an occasion for a great catechetical movement, to re-examine what we are saying and doing in the rituals of the liturgy.
Dr. Sri begins by answering a few general questions. Is the Mass changing? No, but the translation of the prayers is changing. Why do we need a new translation? The first translation in the late 1960's and early 1970's was "dynamic equivalence", but after a few decades of use, it has become apparent that many biblical allusions are not as clear as they should be, the rich imagery of the Latin is not conveyed, and there are other areas for improvement; so the new translation will be more faithful to the Latin and to the Scriptures.
What are some of the new theological terms in this new translation? In the Gloria, we will call Jesus the "only-begotten Son", not just the "only Son." We are all sons and daughters of the Father, so Jesus is not the "only Son", but He is the "only-begotten Son." Jesus' Sonship is unique: He is the Son by nature, we are sons and daughters by grace. In the new translation, we will say "and with your spirit" instead of "and also with you." The greeting of the Mass (and the other times when we use this phrase) are not just about a mutual exchange of pleasantries, and so the phrase "and with your spirit," we are acknowledging the working of the Holy Spirit in the priest, by virtue of his ordination.
Biblical quotations and allusions will be much more clear in the new translation. Instead of "Happy are those who are called to his supper," the priest will say "Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." These words are straight from Revelation 19:9. Our response was "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…" but now we will say "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof," from Matthew 8:8. We are using the words of the centurion who approached Jesus and asked Him to heal his servant; we trust that Jesus can heal our souls and make us worthy to receive Him into our bodies.
The tone of the language in the Mass will be more elevated, more formal. Dr. Sri uses the example of the Confiteor, where we will say "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."
What can we do to better prepare for the new translation coming in Advent? Contact your parish or diocese for news about seminars and programs. Study the Mass and the new translation on your own. Books and booklets (like "A Guide to the New Translation of the Mass") and web sites (like www.GuideToTheMass.com) are available for additional education. Dr. Sri has a study that contains a workbook (and leader's guide), this DVD series, and a book ("A Biblical Walk Through the Mass"). Above all, grow in devotion to our Lord especially in the Eucharist, by participating more deeply in the Mass now: read the readings ahead of time, arrive early and stay afterward to pray, spend time in Eucharistic adoration.