Mass as Heaven on Earth — Week One Homily

Introduction:

What makes Mass so special? Mass isn’t just something we come to on weekends—it should be the center of our entire lives. Why? Because Mass isn’t just some nice prayers. It’s the place where we encounter God, face-to-face. Mass is worth risking our lives for.

There’s an American priest who lived after World War II named Fr. Walter Ciszek

(pronounced “chiz-ek”). After he was ordained, he went to Soviet Russia during the Cold War to evangelize there, and was immediately captured and imprisoned because they accused him of being an American spy. He was put in solitary confinement for 5 years, and then was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in Siberia, even though they had no proof that he was a spy.

When he was released in 1963, he wrote a book about his experiences there called He Leadeth Me. Father Ciszek writes: “I have seen prisoners deprive their bodies of needed sleep in order to get up before the rising bell for a secret Mass…. We would be severely punished if we were discovered…. The Masses were held in drafty storage shacks and sometimes outside huddled in mud or slush. In these primitive conditions, the Mass brought us closer to God than anyone might conceivably imagine.” 

Why did Fr. Ciszek and the prisoners risk everything to go to Mass? Because in the Mass they encounteredGod. Even though the work camps of Siberia felt like hell, in Mass, those prisoners experienced God breaking through and giving them a taste of heaven. They brought their pain, sorrow, anger, and needs to Mass, and surrendered them all to God. 

The Mass is heaven on earth.

Mass 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, to nourish and give us strength for the journey of life, to cleanse us from our sins and prepare us for eternal life. 

Everything we do at Mass or liturgical celebration has a meaning/reason – encounter/communion. Everything at Mass shows us that Mass is where God in heaven encounters us on earth.

In today’s gospel we heard that “Jesus went up the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples…” (John 6:3). Why the mountain? In the Jewish tradition, it was a place of encounter – E.g. Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai, Mount Tabor, Mount Olives, Mount Calvary, etc. 

Historically speaking, Jesus died and rose once and for all for our salvation, i.e. SACRIFICE.

He can never die again but through the sacred action of liturgy, the effects of his dying and rising are carried into the present and on into the future so that people in every age can experience the love, mercy, forgiveness and redemption of God. 

Why the Mass/Liturgy not any other means? Because this is what Jesus gave us at the Last supper – “Do this in memory of me” … To the Jews, the word “remember” didn’t just mean to think about something in the past. To remember something meant that it was made present again. Remember my saving death and resurrection through the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup. Remember my forgiveness of sins, my healing of the sick, my blessing of marriage, appointing of priests, my sending of the Holy Spirit, my great commission to go and make disciples, etc. 

At Mass/Liturgy we come not only to remember what Jesus did in the past, but we make it present again.  

  • The greeting – invocation of the Trinity – reminds the community that we are in a sacred moment – in the presence of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We also enter in to communion and fellowship with those who are united to God: the angels and saints in heaven. All of heaven gathers at the beginning of Mass.
  • The penitential rite – We recall that we have not always lived in the presence of Christ as we should. We remember our sinfulness and ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness. In silence we consider our relationship with God and with other people, this is necessary for experiencing inner peace, freedom and joy.
  • Gloria – The words to this song come from passages in the Bible where the angels and saints sing to God in heaven. In the Gloria, with the joy of knowing that we have been forgiven we praise God with the Angels and Saints.
  • The Collect – in silence the community is invited to present their needs to God. The celebrant then “collects” these prayers and present them to the Father. 

In the opening prayer “Heaven and Earth comes together”, we become one with God, the angels and saints – our loved ones who have died. 

Every Mass is a mass for the living and the dead.

So when Father Walter Ciszek and the prisoners in Siberia risked their lives to celebrate Mass, it’s because they knew that God in heaven is present with us in Mass, that we unite ourselves to Him. Let’s pray the prayer of the rest of this Mass, knowing that this is where God comes to be present with us. 

Suggestion: Prepare for Mass by reading the readings for Mass and meditate on them before coming to Mass. 

You can also listen to the audiobook of Fr. Walter Ciszek’s entire incredible story, He Leadeth Me, on formed.org. If you already made a FORMED account, just go to www.formed.org, login using your email and the password you created, and type “He Leadeth Me” into the search bar. If you don’t have an account yet, go to formed.org, scroll down and click “Enter Code,” then enter our code K3ZWQZ to create a FORMED account! This is a free gift to you from the parish… ENJOY!

Also, you can read “The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth” by Scott Hahn. 

Next week, we’ll continue talking about “Mass as Heaven on Earth” by exploring the role of the ministers of the Mass and the congregation in making this Holy Communion a reality. May our Blessed Mother Mary intercede for us and accompany us in this five weeks spiritual journey through Christ our Lord, Amen. God bless you all!

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