Thankfully I have lived long enough to learn, only in this last week, what the Mass is. At least, in part. It took Venerable Fulton Sheen’s book Life of Christ to make me understand.
Only Divine wisdom could have conceived such a Memorial! Humans, left to themselves, might have spoiled the drama of His Redemption. …they might have regarded His redemptive death as a drama presented once in history like the assassination of Lincoln. In that case, it would have been only an incident …. Regrettably, this is the way so many look upon the Cross of Christ, forgetting His Resurrection and the pouring-out of the merits of His Cross in the Memorial Action He ordered and commanded … His death would be only a national Memorial Day ….
Or they might have regarded it as a drama which was played only once, but one which ought often to be recalled only through meditating in its details. In this case, they would go back and read the accounts of the drama critics who lived at the time, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This would only be a literary recall of His death … no different from the death of any man.
Our Lord never told anyone to write about His Redemption, but He did tell His Apostles to renew it, apply it, commemorate it, prolong it by obeying His orders given at the Last Supper. He wanted the great drama of Calvary to be played not once, but for every age of His own choosing. He wanted men [to offer up] their body and blood with His in the re-enactment of Calvary … that the heavenly Father looking down on them would see them in His Son, see their sacrifices massed in His sacrifice; their mortifications incorporated with His death, so that eventually they might share in His glory.Life of Christ, chapter 36, “The Last Supper”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church agrees with Venerable Sheen, or maybe we should say it’s the other way around. “The work of our redemption is carried out” in the Mass (CCC 1364), and “this sacrifice is truly propitiatory” (CCC 1367).
Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention but I never got this bombshell information in childhood religious education classes, nor at a Catholic high school — no surprise in either case really, we are talking about the 1970s and early ’80s, when everybody in the Western world practically was intellectually AWOL. I never even got it from our good Bishop Barron’s much more recent The Mass video talks, nor in my very good pastor’s long set of articles, in the parish bulletin, explaining the Mass just this past year. I did not know that if you’re upset about world sorrow, about the problems and tragedies and crimes which have their root in man’s sinfulness, if you “feel powerless” and for example “don’t know who to vote for,” the concrete action of most use is the Mass. Here you are joining the Apostles at the Last Supper, and our Lady and St. John at the foot of the Cross. You are truly taking part in the “unbloody re-presentation” of the one remedy that God Himself applied to us, the sacrificial death of Christ His Son.