On the Meaning of the Mass

Interview With President of Pontifical Liturgical Institute

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ROME, SEPT. 23, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Catholics are so used to the marvels of the Mass that they might easily fail to be astonished.

So says Benedictine Father Juan Javier Flores, president of the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Rome and one of the participants in the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

In this first of a series of interviews with ZENIT, the Benedictine priest answers some of the fundamental questions that both believers and nonbelievers ask about the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Flores, who is from the Monastery of Silos, is president of the New York-headquartered Pontifical Institute of Liturgy Foundation.

Q: What is the Mass?

Father Flores: The Mass is the Lord’s Supper. The Mass is the celebration of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ. Christ instituted the Eucharist in the cenacle on Holy Thursday, in the framework of the Jewish Passover, to leave to all Christians the new Passover with its saving presence until the end of time.

Christ’s supper is united to his redeeming cross, that is why the supper is the ritual anticipation of the sacrifice of the cross which comes to us in the form of a banquet and in this way we have the three elements that are fundamental in any Mass or Eucharist: the sacrifice of Christ, the memorial of his death and resurrection, and the festive banquet where we eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood.

Thus we see clearly that the Mass or Lord’s Supper is at the same time and inseparably: sacrifice, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated; memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection; [and] sacred banquet, in which by communion with the Body and Blood of the Lord we eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ.

Q: Are some of these dimensions — sacrifice, memorial, banquet — more important than others?

Father Flores: These three dimensions of the Eucharist are inseparable. The sacrifice perpetuates the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross.

The memorial transmits to us and actualizes this death of Christ through the centuries, and the banquet takes us to the cenacle where Christ instituted the Eucharist, anticipating ritually and sacramentally the sacrifice of the cross.

It is necessary to consider the Eucharistic mystery in its totality under its different aspects, so that it will shine before the faithful with due brilliance, and the understanding will be brought about which the Second Vatican Council proposed to the Church.

In No. 47, the constitution on the liturgy states this with clarity and precision: «At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.»

It is a profound and synthetic text, a magnificent synthesis of ecclesial faith in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist. It is certainly worth underlining the specific intention of the cited text to accentuate the objective and concrete character of Christ’s words: «Do this in memory of me.»

It is a memorial, that is, of a salvific event that is actualized every time it is repeated. Moreover, the Eucharist is entrusted to the Church, Bride of Christ and everlasting repository of the Lord’s memorial. The Eucharist is the pledge given to the Church by her Lord.

The Eucharist is the memorial of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In it is recalled the «blessed passion, resurrection from the dead and glorious ascension into heaven» of Christ Jesus.

Q: What is its relationship with the Jewish Passover?

Father Flores: From all this, one deduces that the Eucharist is the center and synthesis of Christ’s paschal mystery and because of this the center and summit of the whole of Christian life.

The Second Vatican Council text is heir of other texts pf the Council of Trent. In keeping with the apostolic and patristic tradition, Trent saw in the death of Christ the fulfillment of the ancient paschal event and distinguished the Jewish paschal rite from the memorial event celebratory of Jesus Christ.

But, in turn, this relationship between the Jewish Passover and the death of Christ is present in the evangelical accounts themselves, as in Matthew 26:2: «You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.» And in John 13:1: «Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father …»

All the liberating, salvific and spiritual force of the ancient Jewish Passover has passed to the Christian Easter which finds its full realization in the Eucharist, but with the fundamental novelty and basic component that Christ himself gives, who has given it a new meaning, assuming and continuing the previous one.

The paschal rite prolonged in time the Passover of the Exodus that was the deliverance of Israel and its election to be a holy people. Now Christ sees in his paschal sacrifice the full and total deliverance of man, his redemption from slavery, his elevation to holiness.

The Church, perpetuating in time this Passover, ancient and new, has gathered all its liberating potential, offering it to man. And as the Jewish Passover had become a rite, that is, it had been ritualized and every year a memorial is made of it, so would be the case with the Passover-death of Christ, ritualized sacramentally in our Eucharist.

For Christ, his death is the true Passover, his passing from the world to the Father, a passage which includes the full redemption of men. For Christians, this Passover is the origin of their existence, because it is the origin of the Church, born from the side of Christ.

The Eucharist is the continuation of the mystery of Christ; the moment in which the same worship that Christ has given to the Father becomes our worship, in which we now participate.

The Eucharist as paschal sacrifice of Christ, of his death and resurrection, reflects in itself the whole reality of the Church; it synthesizes it, makes it concrete, represents it, is its source and summit.

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