The Mass As Medium

Is the Mass a drama or a medium? Certainly, it is the dramatization of our faith in Jesus. But is it more? Is it not the medium for fulfilling Jesus’ goal of creating the Christian Community, the Beloved Community?

Jesus revolutionized public worship. He changed it from a ritual performed exclusively by and for priests and levites, centered around a bloody sacrifice of animals, exclusively in the temple atJerusalem—to a celebration in a Eucharistic Community, centered around a love meal, wherever Jesus’ followers come together.

Moreover, Jesus gave us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Not as we love ourselves, but as Jesus loved us. Jesus would not have given us this new commandment without giving us the means for accomplishing it. The Mass is, or should be, the medium for accomplishing Jesus’ goal of creating the Beloved Community.

Perceiving the Mass in this way opens us up to its spiritual potential. Naturally, when we join in the celebration of Mass, we enter into the ritual as individuals. But given the right intentionality and interior disposition, when we leave Mass, we could leave as mem-bers of the Beloved Community. A good sign? When we find ourselves being carried beyond ourselves to reach out to others, we know that we have fulfilled Jesus’ goal.

Of course, the Beloved Community doesn’t happen automatically. We must bring deep spirituality to bear on the ritual of the Mass. What kind of spirituality? A spirituality focused on personal transformation. Transformation from negative attitudes and behaviors. Transformation into becoming agents of the Spirit, beauty and new life for others as Jesus was. Without personal transformation as our goal, we will not possess the right intentionality to create the Beloved Community. The two are intimately connected.

Follow the Drama. At the level of drama, the Mass’ liturgical ritual takes us through Jesus’ Incarnation, his life of teaching on earth, his death, resurrection and incorporation of us into his Risen Body. Now let’s look at the Mass as if it were a drama with a number of movements or themes that represent different approaches of spirituality—all built on the basic liturgical movement that we are all familiar with.

For the sake of clarity, these different spiritual movements will be described as separate spiritualities, but in practice we will weave them in and out of the Mass ritual. We will move from one to the other as the Spirit guides us. Our intentionality remains the same —the creation of the Beloved Community through self-transformation.

Embrace Mystery. Before Mass, let us enter the first movement of spirituality. Here we ponder the great mystery of the infinite love of God dramatized in theMass. We ask the Spirit to help us fathom the mind of God just a little as to why the Infinite Being should want relationship with us.

For a moment, contemplate the Infinite Being taking on finite form at Jesus’ Incarnation. How incredible! How wonderful! The Infinite Being living our finite lives to teach us how to live. How incredible! How wonderful! The Infinite Being dying the  death of a finite being! How incredible! How wonderful! The Infinite Being becoming finite material, our bread and wine in Eucharist. How incredible!  How wonderful!

We can understand why Fr. Henri Nouwen described this demonstration of Divine Love as God’s descending way of love. Let this incredible mystery capture our full presence, hearts and minds as we enter into the celebration of the Mass.

Seek Conversion.  As the Mass begins, we enter into the second movement of spirituality. We ask ourselves: Do we need to ask for forgiveness? What does God want us to change in our lives? Is it our attitudes toward God, others, ourselves, life, reality? It focuses on the metanoia process—Invitation, Surrender, Empowerment andUnion, described in No. 31 of this Program.

Mary is the exemplar of this process. The Spirit invited her to be the mother of Jesus. She surrendered to the Spirit’s invitation. She was empowered by the Spirit. She was united with Jesus.

For us we seek to find the Spirit’s invitation for self-transformation in the Scripture readings and sermon. We may not always discern it. More important are our openness and desire to find the invitation. When we do discern the Spirit’s invitation for transformation, we should follow Mary’s example at the Annunciation: Surrender to the Spirit’s invitation. That is our gift at the Offertory.

At the Consecration, we are both priest and victim with Jesus, sacrificing whatever prevents us from saying “Yes” to the Spirit’s invitation. We pray for the Spirit’s empowerment to accept and live the invitation. In receiving Holy Communion, we embrace the Spirit’s invitation to self-transformation. Our personal transformation leads us to greater union with God and opens us up to greater union with the Beloved Community.

Engage the Jesus Process. While the second movement of spirituality concentrates primarily on self-transformation with the Spirit’s help, the third movement focuses on Jesus doing the transformation from within us through the Jesus Process.

By “Jesus Process”, we mean that the Risen Christ has preserved the historical Jesus’ life experiences, and has created through them a power source at the center of our personhood. It is from this inner power source that the Risen Christ gifts us with the Spirit’s gifts. That’s the Jesus Process. We need to engage the power of the Jesus Process within us and surrender to its dynamics.

Our prayer: “Jesus, be the center who transforms us from the inside out through your Spirit’s gifts of greater love, hope and faith.” Our desire here is to connect with Jesus and unleash the Spirit’s gifts. This spirituality focuses on Jesus powering our lives to carry on his on-going Incarnation that we might become sacraments of peace, healing and forgiveness to our sisters and brothers, and create the Beloved Community.

So we must surrender to the Jesus in the Jesus Process within us when we listen to Scripture and sermon.  We might pray: “Jesus, be the center who enlightens us through your Holy Spirit.”

At the Offertory, we surrender to Jesus in the Jesus Process within us when we recall Jesus at the Last Supper preparing his heart for self-giving by washing the feet of the Apostles. We know that we too must prepare our hearts for self-giving to join Jesus’ self-giving at the Consecration. So we offer up bread and wine as symbols of our lives, and pray that this offering will prepare our hearts for sacrifice in union with Jesus and life in the Beloved Community.

At the Consecration, when the priest offers up the Consecrated Bread and Wine, he offers the Risen Jesus and us as members of the Body of Christ. We must surrender to the Jesus in the Jesus Process within us as he takes us down the descending way of Divine Love with him to make us share in the sacrifice of theMass.With Jesus, we too are sacrificed for our sisters and brothers. We must ask the Risen Jesus for the Spirit’s power to live our self-gift to God and others in the Beloved Community.

At Holy Communion, we must surrender to the Jesus in the Jesus Process within as he takes us down the descending way of Divine Love with him to make us Eucharist with him. We receive the Body of Christ and our sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ receive us as bread to eat and wine to drink, uniting us all in solidarity to become the Eucharistic community, the Beloved Community. 

Conclusion. The ritual of the Mass is at the heart of our faith. For it is a dramatization of our Christian beliefs. The challenge is to enter deeply into that drama to create the Beloved Community. However, we celebrate it in the context of public worship. As necessary as that must be, the problem is that public worship orients us toward the external action of theMass.

To engage in spirituality that recreates us to create the Beloved Community, we must re-orient our experience of the Mass by taking a contemplative approach to it. We must bring to bear our spirituality—our wonder at the mystery we celebrate, our intentionality for self-transformation, our surrender to Jesus in the Jesus Process who brings about our transformation from the inside out. Only then will we be able to experience the Mass as the medium for accomplishing Jesus’ goal of creating the Beloved Community.

Signs of the Beloved Community in the process of becoming are seen in the way we offer the Kiss of Peace and the way we greet and relate to one another afterMass.But the truly Beloved Community doesn’t turn in on itself. Rather, it radiates out the Spirit of Jesus to the larger community of society.

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