Canon Anthony Charlton recently wrote six reflections on the Mass which he published on the website of Saint Thomas’ Church, Canterbury. we are glad to take up his invitation to share them with you a little later than the Easter season he prepared them for. They are also relevant to the days leading to Corpus Christi.
Thank you, Father Anthony!
A new word came my way when I became deputy director of the Christian Education Centre in the late 1980’s. The word was ‘mystagogia’. It comes from the Greek word meaning ‘to lead through the mysteries’.
The Catechism describes mystagogy as a ‘liturgical catechesis that aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ’ (CCC 1075). It is the time after Easter Sunday when those who have been baptised as adults reflect and review the mysteries they have experienced when they were baptised, confirmed and receive the Eucharist for the first time.
It can also be an opportunity for all of us to deepen our understanding of what it means for us to be baptised, to celebrate the Eucharist and to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. This time between Easter and Pentecost is of great significance for all of us.
So this is an ideal time to reflect on one of the three sacraments, the Eucharist, which is ‘the source and summit of our Christian life’. I want therefore to reflect on the actions of parts of the Mass. The Jesuit, Gerald O’Mahoney, wrote a small book some years ago entitled: ‘The Mass from Start to Finish’. This is what I want to do in the next six weeks of the Easter season: to go from start to finish.
It begins even before we sing a single note or say a word. Our Mass begins with the Gathering of the people. The first liturgical act is when we assemble as Church. By coming together on a Saturday night or a Sunday at St Thomas, we are affirming our true identity as sons and daughters of God. We are not just being present at Mass, we are celebrating Mass. Celebrating is the action of the whole assembly. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:
‘In the celebration of Mass the faithful form a holy people, a people of God’s own possession and a royal priesthood, so that they give thanks to God and offer the unblemished sacrificial victim not only by means of the hands of the priest but also together with him and so they may learn to offer their very selves.’ (no: 95).
This is what we are doing; offering ‘the unblemished sacrificial victim’ with the priest — and we are offering ourselves to God. As you prepare your family or yourself to come to Mass, your celebration has already begun. The orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann says that ‘the Eucharist is not one of the sacraments or one of the services, but the very manifestation and fulfilment of the Church in all her power, sanctity and fullness’. Christ is really and truly present with a congregation of a few souls, or a congregation of hundreds of people. Every gathering is a manifestation of the Church and embodies the presence of Christ.
I like this sentence written by Jim McManus:
‘As we enter the sacred assembly the first person there to meet us is Jesus. When we start to assemble, we are not just waiting for the priest to come out and begin Mass. We are already gathered as the Church, with Christ in our midst. We are the Church because Jesus Christ is in our midst, uniting us as one body, his body.’
So when you next come to Mass, think about how you are actively present as a member of the Body of Christ, right from the time you enter the Church building, and prepare yourself accordingly for the gathering.
Door of Mercy, Zakopane, Poland,