Sunday, May 24, 2009

Is Church Almost Over?

Children often ask the most profound questions. My five-year old son does not much like attending mass. After Communion, he nearly always asks, "Is church almost over?" While I wish he enjoyed mass more, his question does give us older folks an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the Church and the mass.

I would like to think that I would rather die than not go to mass each week (unless I was literally unable to go). However, that does not mean that I always want to go to mass. In fact, Saturday when we went to the vigil mass, I was reluctant to go. I was tired. I wanted to stay home and rest. And yet, I knew that I would not do that; it was not an option. Love is about the will, not about feelings. I don't always feel like doing chores around the house, mowing the lawn, giving the kids a bath, or any other number of things. However, I do them because not to do them would be to add more work to someone I claim to love (namely, my wife) or to not take care of someone I claim to love (namely, my children). Because going to mass is an important way to show that we love the One who loved us so much that He created us, gave up His life for us, and sanctifies us, then I could not skip mass and say with any credibility to God, "I love you." Jesus did not feel like suffering and dying for us. However, he did it out of love for the Father, and for us.

"Is church over yet?" I am reminded of Jesus' words: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The Church will not be over until Jesus returns in glory at the end of time. And we thank God for that consolation that the Church will be with us until then, giving us the sacraments, strengthening us, showing us how to draw closer to God.

Of course, my son is confusing "church" with "mass." He really means, "Is mass over yet?" The Church is the assembly of the faithful, the People of God, the Body of Christ with Christ as the head and the faithful as the members of his body. The church is also the physical building in which we worship. But the mass is the liturgy, the worship itself. Also, the word "mass" and "mission" come from the same Latin root. At the end of mass, we are told in English "The mass is ended; go in peace." But in Latin the text is Ite missa est, which literally means, "Go, having been sent." The mass is meant to go with us, to strengthen us to do what we are called to do, which is to witness Christ to others. In Propositio 42 from the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held October 2-23, 2005, we are told:

This eucharistic encounter takes place in the Holy Spirit, who transforms and sanctifies us. He reawakens in the disciple the firm desire to proclaim boldly to others all that he has heard and experienced, to bring them to the same encounter with Christ. Thus the disciple, sent forth by the Church, becomes open to a mission without frontiers." (Quoted in Pope Benedict XVI's post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, section 13, footnote 29)

As such, the mass is never over. The mass and the mission are inextricably bound together, and neither has any frontiers. The mass and the mission transcend the frontiers of space and time. As Vinny Flynn writes in 7 Secrets of the Eucharist:

So, in reality there is only one Mass, one eternal Liturgy of the Eucharist, and it's taking place in heaven all the time. Christ, the One Great High Priest, is celebrating it, perpetually offering His once-for-all sacrifice to the Father in the heavenly court, surrounded by Mary and the saints, and by the angels, who sing His praise in endless adoration." (p. 44).

Is church almost over? No, son. Thanks for asking.

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