The last few weeks we have been looking at different aspects of the Mass. We have been going through our ritual looking at different sections. We began with the beginning, the fact of gathering on Sunday in obedience to the Word of God, who calls us and forms us. Last week, we had a look at how to listen to and read the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, which we focus on in the Liturgy of the Word.
This week I would like to focus our attention on the middle of Mass, the bit that seems to lie between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is the Creed, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Offertory. Usually the Creed and the Prayers of the faithful are considered part of the liturgy of the word, and the offertory is considered part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but I think it makes a lot of sense to see them together. One author I read calls it the hinge of the Mass.
The way I would like to look at this is to consider yet another aspect of the Word of God: its dynamism. What do I mean by this? The Letter to the Hebrews calls the Word of God ‘living and active’. We know that the Word of God is Jesus who is alive, so it makes sense that the Word is living and active. And there seem to be two major movements of the Word: coming from the Father and returning to the Father.
We know these movements are real because we see them in Jesus. Jesus tells us that he is the Word of the Father. He is the one sent by the Father to us. Secondly, we see Jesus praying to the Father. He offers himself to the Father for the sake of the world. These two movements are made in the Holy Spirit and constitute the Divine Life, the Divine love.
This in fact is one way to think about prayer. Whatever prayer is, it is this. It is our participation in God talking to God. Our baptism is our entry into the Body of Christ such that we can begin to learn God’s language of total love. And this is what occurs in the Mass. The Word of God comes from the Father and returns to the Father. And because Jesus has become human, these movements now define humanity too. The Word both always seeks to become incarnate; and because Jesus has ascended to the Father, the Word always seeks to offer itself up.
We therefore hear in the Liturgy of the Word the proclamation of this reality in salvation history, culminating in the Gospel, the Word made Flesh. This Word seeks to become incarnate in our hearts. And it becomes Incarnate precisely to the extent that we become part of the body of Christ, being sent to the world and offering ourselves up for the world. We will look more at this more later when we consider the Eucharistic prayer, which spells all this out beautifully.
However, if we consider those two movements – the Word taking flesh and the Word offering itself up – I think we get a bit of a sense of the place of the Creed, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Offertory. In seeking to become Incarnate, the Word offers itself to us. We therefore have to receive the Word. This is role of the Creed. The Creed is the statement of faith that the Church, in the early centuries following Christ, came to in wrestling with the Scriptures, wrestling with the mystery of the Incarnation. The Creed marks the outer limits of interpretation of Scripture. It is a bit like a code breaker, except its role is to protect the mystery and prevent our misreading Scripture. Therefore when we proclaim the Creed together in response to the Gospel, we are affirming that we have received the Good News, the Good News that Christ gives only to his Church and therefore is only properly interpreted and understood by the Church.
This reception of the Good news, though, is no static thing. As we said, the Word is Jesus, so when we receive the Word, we are receiving someone alive. In fact, the Word of God enables us to receive the Word. As we saw, the Word creates the Church, calls her and forms her, and forms her after the image of Christ. So, when we receive the Word of God, we become part of the Word of God, and so we immediately live the life of Christ. And the first thing that Christ does is praise and pray to the Father. We see this in the Prayers of the Faithful. Our true reception of the message of God’s love is revealed in our humble trusting in that love, in our statement of our needs and those of the world, in the expectation that God hears what we pray in Christ’s name.
We can see the same thing happening in our offertory. We could spend a long time going through the prayers that accompany our offertory as they spell out so much of the meaning of Mass. However, I would just like to mention one aspect. The gift of Christ’s life generates our loving response; and once again, our response mirrors that of Christ’s. Just as Christ gives himself totally, so do we. We give our lives, and we give them in form of what we need to stay alive: food and drink, just as Christ did. But we should also remember that the offering of bread and wine is not purely natural. We have not just picked fruits and poured water. They are also the work of human hands, signifying our freedoms and our participation, both of which are also gifts from God. itself the gift of free participation. This symbolises our lives – pure gift and free affirmation.
All of these are gifts from God, but some of those gifts require our participation. God’s Word frees us, but it frees us by giving us the truth and inviting us to cooperate in God’s plan for creation. God’s freedom is not some aimless freedom. It always gives life and in giving life, encourages life by seeking a loving response.
So, let’s pray today that we are fully open to God’s Word, who is Christ, living and active in the Holy Spirit. Let’s trust that God has formed the Church to truly understand God’s teaching that we might live it confidently. Let us trust God by praying that God will continue to help us and our brothers and sisters. And let us do all this in truth and freedom by placing our whole lives on the altar in this Mass.