On the Mass as sacrifice, not entertainment.
Here’s my homily from this weekend. As always, I type (most of) my homilies out, then memorize them and deliver them without anything in front of me. Thus there are a few variations from Mass to Mass. I think these texts are certainly wholly representative if not 100% verbatim what I said in the actual delivery.
While I was gone I had the chance to catch up with many friends. Many would ask about my new assignment. One of the things I consistently mentioned was how much fun I’ve been having working in the school.
So this week when I got back I made sure to get back to the school as well. There was one class I still had not been able to visit with, so they were wanting to get to know me a little bit. One of them asked me, “Father, if you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?” We all laughed but then I answered the question.
I told him, “bread, wine and a chalice.” Once they all figured out the reason I had suggested those items was so that I could offer Mass, this raised another question.
“but father, you’d be alone…who would you offer Mass for? No one would be there.”
Bingo. Great question!
Listen to St. Paul today, “Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people.”
So whether I’m on a deserted island, or here with all of you, there is something in common, the Mass is offered to God. Not to you or to me. It is offered for your sins and mine. But what matters most is not who is or isn’t here. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a million people with Pope Francis in Philadelphia, or a priest on a deserted island, Mass is offered to God.
This is why the priest used to face the other direction when celebrating Mass. Often people say, “when the priest turned his back on people.” I don’t like that because it makes it seem like the priest doesn’t care about the people. No, it’s because he’s leading the people to God. Note, this homily is not about saying that’s how we should celebrate Mass, it’s about the fact that Mass is always about God.
What’s behind the question, “Well father, what if there’s no one there?” is an assumption that makes me not a priest but an entertainer. I’m sorry folks but I’m not here to entertain you. I’m not seeking a grammy, a tony or an oscar. If want to be entertained, go home. Turn on the radio or the television. Go to a game or a concert. I am not an entertainer, nor is the Mass to be entertainment.
This is why there a big fat book with a fancy title, Roman Missal, not missile. Because the Mass is not about me, nor is it about you. It’s about him. It’s not my Mass, nor your Mass. It’s Christ’s Mass. Through his Church he has passed down these texts and rituals. It it was mine or yours, we could make it up, and we’d be out of here in half an hour. Instead we follow the Missal. It’s not some sort of secret recipe book, where if we just do this or that, then poof, magic happens. No, it helps us to stay focused on Christ. If we start changing it around, or making it up, then it becomes about us, the Missal keeps us going in the right direction, towards God. If we start changing it, it is not longer Christ’s Mass, but ours. It becomes entertainment not worship and sacrifice.
If it’s not entertainment, then what is the Mass? It’s a sacrifice. Maybe when you hear that word you think of some weird cult in the woods, or historically of indigenous groups. But what sacrifice is the Mass about? It’s the sacrifice of the Cross.
In every Mass, we enter into that very same sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. That’s a big deal! It’s crazy! Not only does God send his only Son for the forgiveness of sins, but he even invites us to enter into that same sacrifice. That’s why the priest says, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
When I was in college some friends of mine and I were invited to a party. When we got there, the host was smoking a brisket. My friends said, “hey you’re on the BBQ team, you should go help.” So I did. Then I realized what a jerk I had been. Here I was invited to this guy’s house, telling him what to do. So why should it be any different with God?
Back to the original question, “why offer Mass without any people on a deserted island?”
If Mass is entering a sacrifice and not entertainment, then it is about glorifying God. But God already has everything. He doesn’t need our glory. But we need him. That’s why we come to Mass, and we bring to this sacrifice all our doubts, fears, worries, struggles, failures, weaknesses and sins. We place them before God and say, “I can’t do this on my own.”
It’s hard to do that if Mass is entertainment. We are too busy wanting to receive, to be entertained to enter into the sacrifice.
Just because Mass is so special and unique, unlike anything else we do with our lives does not mean that it belongs in some secret or special corner of our lives. If we really believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. If we really believe that the celebration of Mass is entering into his sacrifice on the Cross. If we really believe that Jesus died for our sins, then that should transform us. It should change the way we think, the way we see, the way we speak, the way we act. That’s why at the end of Mass, the priest says, “Go Forth!” not “hang out a while and do nothing.” But to do that we must come to Mass, not to be entertained, but to enter into the sacrifice of Christ’s love poured out for us upon the Cross, so that love will transform us.