I spent my high school years at an all-boys Jesuit school in downtown Cleveland. It was an excellent experience where I met some wonderful people, had lots of fun, and started to be formed into the man I am today. Amidst all the craziness that came with going to school with fifteen hundred teenage boys, some of my fondest memories come from my time spent in a little chapel hidden in the hallway of one of our main academic buildings. Every week during free period, the Jesuit priests celebrated daily Mass in this little chapel for our school community. It was a very small space, maybe fitting twenty people if it was really packed. Some days it was full of faculty, staff, and students, but there were a handful of times when it was just the priest and me.
There is something quite unique about celebrating the Eucharist in such an intimate setting, especially when it is just you and the priest. First, there is enormous pressure to get all the responses right, as there is no one to back you up if you forget a line in the Penitential Act. Additionally, it feels like you are right up close to the action, not only seeing what the priest does, but even hearing some of the extra prayers that priests usually say to themselves in a larger setting. Looking back on these memories, these Masses are a reminder that the Mass is not just a nice occasion for Catholics to gather for an hour to pray together. The Mass is the eternal worship of the Son to the Father; through the priest, Jesus’s Paschal Mystery is made present, and the perfect love of the Trinity is on full display. In this sense, the Eucharist is not about us just eating a little piece of bread we believe to be Jesus’ body; it is about the Father and Son’s perfect love for one another, which does not depend on whether there’s one person or one thousand in the pews.
While these small, intimate Masses hold a special place in my heart, something about them felt incomplete. There was no one to shake hands with at the Sign of Peace. Mine was the only voice responding as the Holy Scriptures were being proclaimed, and receiving Communion took about fifteen seconds. This reveals the mysterious truth that while the Mass is primarily the eternal worship of the Son to the Father, because of the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery we are destined to be united with Christ in His worship of the Father and the love of the Holy Spirit. When we go to Mass, we are brought into this divine mystery not just as individuals, but as a community. The Eucharist is the Body of Christ, and it brings us members of the Church (also the Body of Christ) into deeper communion with God and with one another.
Considering this, I’d like to suggest three different levels on which we might view the Mass. At the end of the day, these are all describing the same Eucharistic mystery, but it may help us to truly appreciate what is going on when we go to Church. First, we witness up close the eternal worship of the Son given to the Father through the Holy Spirit. The powerful, mysterious, life-giving love of the Trinity is on display, which is quite simply mind-blowing. The God who spoke the stars into existence and took on flesh to save us has come close to show us His inner life. Secondly, we don’t simply watch all of this happen, but we actually get to receive it. This happens through the proclamation of the Scriptures, where we receive God’s word, and then through the reception of the Eucharist, where Jesus’s flesh and blood mingle with ours, and we receive the very life, love, and peace which we witness in the Trinity. Thirdly, we are gifted with the ability to experience all of this not just on our own, but alongside our brothers and sisters. Jesus came not just to reconcile humanity with God, but also to reconcile us with one another and with ourselves. So there is a level where God is relating to God, a level where God is relating to me, and finally a level where God is relating to all of us together, and we relate to one another.
So next time you go to Mass, ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to truly see the different layers of divine activity at play in the Eucharistic celebration. Ask for the grace to see that Mass is more than just a gathering of believers. Ask for the grace to see God’s jealous love poured out for you as an individual in the Eucharist. Ask for the grace to see how the Eucharist unites us as the Church. The Eucharist is not about us, but it also is. God desperately desires to draw us into His love and communion as one Church, and in the Eucharist, He has given us an incredible gift which does just that. May we let Him draw us in.