Welcome to Beautiful Light, a liturgical catechesis rooted in the Church’s mystagogical tradition. Mystagogy is an ancient form of catechesis that helps us go deeper into the mysteries we celebrate in the sacraments. Every week a new theme will help you focus on the graces available to you through the Mass as you prayerfully reflect on the content.
The priest’s attention is upon the fragments of bread and drops of wine contained in the sacred vessels. Your eyes move, tracking his actions as he carefully lifts the host with his hands. “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.” You silently adore Jesus as the Host is lifted high by the priest. A silent pause … a gentle laying down of the sacred Victim … your head bows. Moments later, these words echo in your ears: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” The candles upon the altar reflect off the gleaming chalice as it is lifted toward Heaven, and you silently speak from your heart, ‘Jesus, I love you.’ Soon, you and He will be one in body and soul, and through him, intimately united to the whole Church.
I have witnessed this solemn moment many times, but have I been truly vigilant? Do I simply “attend Mass,” or do I consciously “participate” in the celebration of the Eucharist? At the Consecration, for example, do I make an offering of myself with Jesus to the Father?
On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.” Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood? Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as St. Peter says, in the divine nature.
—St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Recounting the story of the birth of Jesus, St. Luke teaches us something very important: that from his conception, Jesus subjected himself to human and Mosaic law and took part in every human experience, except for sin. Though he was the Son of God, he did not exempt himself from such laws, or from the discomforts of traveling for a census, or from much greater sufferings to come. Not only was he to fulfill the law—he was to fulfill it perfectly, so that it could be surpassed by a new one, for us.
Luke gives a further hint at Jesus’s mission as he recounts what the angel said to the shepherds:
“Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10–12)
The Savior was “to you” and “for you”—everything about him was to be a gift of love, a sacrifice, “for you”—that is, “for us.”
Perhaps this point will be clearer if we think of the words the priest pronounces at the Consecration, the very words of Jesus:
“This is my body, which will be given up for you.”
“This is the chalice of my blood… the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
It’s helpful to note that among the liturgical reforms of Vatican II was the inclusion of the words “for you” in the consecration of the bread; previously those words appeared only in the consecration of the wine. The implication of this change was that the Lord’s sacrifice was “for us” in an all-embracing, complete, and eternally present fashion: his Person and his Priesthood are one.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Pastores Gregis that in Christ Jesus, we see a clear pro-existence, “a way of living… which is spent totally in worship of the Father and in service of neighbor” (no. 13). It follows, then, that when we are fed by the Holy Eucharist—by the one eternal sacrifice of Christ—we are to see our lives, too, as “for the Father and for others” in a total gift of ourselves.
When we participate in the celebration of the Eucharist, we are there, at the Last Supper and at Calvary! There, we are given the opportunity to offer ourselves—our love and devotion, our adoration, our joys and our sorrows, our struggles, and our frailties—with Jesus to the Father in his one eternal offering. There, it is the Lord himself who gives us his Body and Blood during this eternal moment; the Lord himself who strengthens his Body, the Church; the Lord himself who fortifies the bonds of unity among the members of his Body; and the Lord himself who sends his disciples forth with the Great Commission.
It is common for us to ask ourselves on Sunday afternoon, “What did I get out of Mass today?” Although that question is at times self-serving, it can be a helpful question—if our desire is to savor the blessings of the liturgy.
However, there’s an important question we should ask before Mass begins: “What have I brought to offer with Jesus to the Father?” That question can make all the difference in determining the quality of my participation in the Mass about to begin.
Later, reflecting on today’s celebration of the Eucharist, we begin to realize that we received gifts beyond counting, graces beyond description. We were there this morning—there at the Last Supper, there at the Sacrifice of Calvary! Jesus was there, entirely present to us, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity! Jesus fed us with food that nourishes and changes us, food that remains with us, food that feeds the deepest hunger that nothing of this earth can satisfy. Jesus drew us more closely to his heart, reminding us that his Body was given up for us, that his Blood was shed for us. Jesus strengthened his Body, the Church, and drew us closer to all the members of his Body.
Powerful, life-changing graces, graces so remarkable that they lead us to ask ourselves, “Why would I ever miss Sunday Mass?”
As the Lord sent us forth from the liturgy, he gave us a commission, about which Peter teaches us in his first letter:
“Beloved, Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… You are a ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (cf. 1 Peter 2:4-9).
Peter exhorts us to take seriously the Lord’s commission at the end of Mass. Having been sent forth by the Lord himself, how will I allow the graces of the Mass to influence my daily life, my actions, my words, my desires, my goal to be a more committed disciple? Will I conform my life to the mysteries of salvation I have celebrated today?
Finally, there’s another question to ask when reflecting on this morning’s Mass: “Jesus was truly present to me. Was I truly present to him? Did I offer myself with him in worship to the Father?”
Through the Beautiful Light series, each week from April 13 to May 25, 2023, you'll be invited to go deeper into the mysteries of the Mass through four steps:
1. Meditating on a rite (or part) of the Mass;
2. Reading an excerpt from one of the Church Fathers related to the rite;
3. Engaging with a catechetical reflection on the rite of the Mass;
4. Considering how you can "Live Christ Today", bridging your experience of faith with your daily life of discipleship.