Fr. Bryan Howard
3rd Sunday in Easter – Year B – 15 April 2018
When I got into the parish, one of the first things that I did was to place this crucifix on the altar. You may have noticed that the crucifix always faces towards me. Some people have asked me about that, and today I want to use this altar crucifix to explain something about the Mass. You know that the Mass is a prayer. In fact, it’s the highest prayer of the Church. But, when we pray, who are we talking to? We’re talking to God. The Mass is a prayer that the entire Church offers to God. We use the same prayers and readings on the same days throughout the entire Church. The same Mass is offered everywhere in the world. If you go to Mass in another country, or go up the road to the Spanish Mass at OLPS Sundays at 12:30 or to Mary, Queen of Vietnam, even if you don’t understand the language, you recognize that the order of the Mass, the prayers, and the actions of the priest are all the same. One Mass is offered throughout the entire world to the one God.
That’s why I put the crucifix on the altar with the corpus facing me. In the prayers at the altar, I may be facing you, but I’m not really talking to you, I’m talking to God. In the old days we showed this by having the priest and people face the same direction, with the priest turning to address the people at the appropriate times. That Cross is a reminder for all of us, but mostly for me, that the Mass is a prayer that we offer to God as one community. It’s a reminder that I’m not the focus of the Mass, God is.
Okay, so the Mass is a prayer that the priest offers to god for the people, but what exactly are we offering? In our second reading St. John says, “I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Jesus ascended bodily to heaven to present His suffering to God the Father and to intercede on our behalf. St. John calls Jesus our “advocate.” The term used here comes from legal terminology. The advocate is similar to a defense attorney. It’s someone who testifies on our behalf and intercedes with the judge. That’s what we do in the Mass. The priest, standing in the place of Christ and in His name, offers the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to God the Father for the Church. I can’t do anything in my own name. That would be worse than useless; it would be the sin of presumption, but, if I offer it in the name of Jesus and with His authority, then I can call down the Holy Spirit to turn ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which are then offered to God in the Mass. When the priest offers the Mass, or hears confession, or anoints the sick, he is acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. It isn’t the priest himself who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass or forgives sins, it’s Jesus working through the priest.
So, that’s what the Mass is: the Church gathering together to offer the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to God the Father, but we’re called to offer something ourselves, too. The bread and wine are brought up from the congregation because they represent your offering to God. When I take the bread, and lift up the paten, the little plate, to present it to God, spiritually put your offerings on the paten with the host. Offer God your own sufferings, your own acts of love and kindness, your own needs and prayers and those of your loved ones, especially those who are most in need. Say to God, “Accept my offering with the offering of Your Son. Unite my sufferings to His sufferings, and as this bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, transform me through the Mass to resemble Christ more in the way I live my life.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.