The Mass….we all serve together
In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of how once Jesus fed the five thousand with the loaves and the fishes, all the crowds gathered around him. They are hungry for more of the bread that he gave them yesterday, and they want to be near Him. They ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Then Jesus tells the crowds that He is the Bread of Life, the one who fills our hunger and sustains us on our journey of life. At every Mass, where we receive the bread of life, we are sustained in our journey. We must each ask ourselves the question that the crowd asks: What do we do in order to worship God? How can we serve Him? How can we love Him? What is our role?
We’re in Week 2 of our 5 week series on the Mass. If you were here last week, you may recall that Fr. Toochukwu spoke about the Mass is heaven on earth.….and how it isn’t just something we sit through. It’s an encounter with God, who comes from heaven with all the saints and angels to meet us where we are… This week we would like to reflect on the role each one of us has in making the Mass heaven on earth.
Last week, Fr. Toochukwu also recommended this book, The Lamb’s Supper. In it, the author Scott Hahn writes:
“When we begin to see that heaven awaits us in the Mass, we begin already to bring our home to heaven. And we begin already to bring heaven home with us.”
― Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
This profound quote illustrates what we’re going to talk about this week: when we each participate in Mass, in all of our different roles, we encounter heaven. Each of us has a role to play as we worship God. To me the mass is coming home, to be with the Lord, and to worship God with the angels and the saints. This is what happens at the Mass, at every celebration. And just like in our homes, where the roles of many different people come together to build up our families, the same is true at Mass. Many roles come together to enable us to worship God and be strengthened for the journey of life. Let us focus on a few of these roles that we see in the Mass.
First, the priest is present at Mass “in persona Christi,” or “in the person of Christ.” Through the priest, Jesus is present to us. I feel this is an understanding that has been lost by some through the years. As the Bible says…specifically , In Hebrew 5:1-5 the priest actually has been “chosen from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.” So God has chosen priests to offer sacrifices for himself and for the people, on behalf of Christ. Think of the prayer “This is my body” that the priest says during Mass. The priest isn’t talking about his own body being sacrificed; he is speaking in the person of Christ to make Jesus present to us. We know that priests are called to do this because at the last supper Jesus said these words and then told the Apostles “do this in memory of me.” Jesus has given us priests specifically to act “in the person of Christ” during the Mass. This is their role in the celebration.
As for the deacon, his role is one of service. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles….Acts 6.1-4, the first deacons were chosen to serve and distribute the resources to make sure no one is in need. So in a parish community, part of a Deacons role is to identify individuals and/or groups who are in need, and who perhaps are forgotten, and need to have Jesus and the church as part of their lives. At Mass, the deacon, along with the priests, proclaim the Gospel and give homilies as another form of service to the parish. The Deacon also assists the priest at the altar. It is an honor for me to stand here each week to read the words of Jesus and to help distribute the Eucharist at Mass.
The altar servers have a special mission of service in the Mass, and if you ever want to learn the different parts of the mass, become a server and you will gain a real understanding an appreciation for the interaction between heaven and earth at Mass. Just this week, Pope Francis hosted over 70,000 altar servers and he had a special message for them when he said to “give glory to God in everything” and he spoke of the special ministry they have in service of the Lord.
We also read in the Bible that Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, which is why his mission of the altar server is so closely tied to Jesus… The practice of having altar servers also comes from the Bible. I am reminded of the book of Samuel in the Old Testament where the young boy Samuel is sent to the temple to serve. 1Samuel 3.1 says “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli (who was the priest).” In the story of Samuel, while he is in the temple, the Lord speaks to him and makes him a prophet. Samuel is ready to serve when he hears God’s call and responds to God “Here I am”. Isn’t that the message that God wants to hear from us, “Here I Am.” Our servers role in the Mass reminds us to always be ready to serve others and not to seek to be served ourselves.
Now let’s talk about the music ministry. Did you ever wonder why we sing at Mass? The songs we sing each week, like the Gloria, the Amen, and the Lamb of God, all come straight from the Bible. For example, the song “Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of Your Glory” comes from the last book of the Bible, Revelation, where we see and hear angels singing this song in praise of God. When we sing this song, we are adoring God along with the angels in heaven, encountering God through singing as community, and it truly is heaven on earth. Of course the choir leads us in song and prayer, and they do a wonderful job. But for the rest of us in the congregation, here is an opportunity where participation can play a major role in the celebration. I’ll give you an example from my own life. Sometimes I will lead worship at my work place, together we play songs praising God. I can make it sound alright with singing and playing the guitar, however it’s when we all sing together that is when I always think, “They just made it holy”. It is the same thing here at Mass, when everyone is singing, and we have full participation, it truly is heaven on earth. Let’s all heed the words of St. Augustine are true when he says, when you sing, you pray twice.
The extraordinary ministers of holy communion are those who help distribute the Body and Blood of Christ at Communion time, and they also have a unique and wonderful role of service in the Mass. In a real sense they get to experience the gospel today in a special way. Just like in the Gospel last week, where the Apostles distributed the miraculous bread to all the crowds as a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, today Eucharistic Ministers get to share the Bread of Life, Jesus, with the congregation. We are all on a journey to get closer to Christ, and it is the Eucharistic minister who distributes the Body and the Blood of Jesus to the faithful, so that we can all receive Jesus, be united to Him in heaven, and share in his divinity. Many Eucharistic ministers have another role too by bringing Jesus to those that are sick, and those who can’t come to Mass, because after all, we are all one community.
When speaking about the congregation, one of the most amazing aspects of the Mass for me is that at Mass, we are praying with the angels and the saints, because Mass is heaven on earth. I think of my father who passed away a few years back. I know in my heart that, because Mass unites me to heaven, I am worshipping with my father together, worshipping the Lord. So, if you want to be together with a loved one you are missing, come to Mass….it is a real as real can be. Did you know also, that Mass is celebrated somewhere in the world, at every moment of every day. So, heaven and earth come together in perfection somewhere in the world constantly! I don’t know about you but that amazes me.
You know….I could speak about the role of participating in the prayers, singing like we spoke about earlier, or participating by coming forward to receive communion. Instead I want to ask you a question. Did you know that people come to Mass here at St. Thomas More and stay here at St. Thomas More because the participation of the response of this congregation? Put more simply, people come and stay here because of you! It’s not just the answering of the prayers, or singing along to the hymns….which is all great, it’s the welcoming environment that we all have experienced when we come here. I felt it myself when I first came here, it’s something that you feel when you walk into the church……it’s real…..it’s tangible.
So, as you can see by all these ministries, and all of us ministering together, the words of the Scott Hahn quote have come to life here at STM. “When we begin to see that heaven awaits us in the Mass, we begin already to bring our home to heaven. And we begin already to bring heaven home with us.”
We come together on Sundays and weekdays to “come home” and get food for the journey. We come looking for the Lord, and we find him and each other at the same time. We gather together as community to sing, and pray, and to be one community of faith, encountering heaven on earth.
Let us pray today for the grace to continue our journey and help others to find a home at the same time…….and to have the courage to say, like Samuel “Here I am Lord”…..we ask this through Christ our Lord…..Amen.