The Mass: An Encounter with Heaven

Forty years have gone by since the Second Vatican Council concluded its work. The 16 conciliar documents have brought about many changes in the Catholic Church. One of the most visible of these changes is the way the Catholic Mass in the Latin rite is celebrated.

Unity or Warring Camps?

Unfortunately, shortly after the close of Vatican II, the liturgical reforms that the council set in motion have been upset by ignorance, misinterpretation, and even infidelity. The Catholic liturgy in America has become an ongoing battleground for three groups. On the one hand there is a large group of Catholics who reject the missal of Pope Paul VI. On the other hand, there is another large group of Catholics who have misconstrued the liturgical norms of the Paul VI missal and continue to spread errors and abuses that have nothing to do with Catholic liturgy. Finally, there is another group of Catholics in this country who are attempting to show the importance and the beauty of the liturgical changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council through a delicate fidelity to all of the liturgical norms of the Catholic Church. Much has been written on the subject by Pope Paul VI, John Paul II, and Josef Cardinal Ratzinger before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Those who reject the liturgical changes of the Second Vatican Council and maintain a rigid adherence to the Tridentine missal of Pope Pius V, need to understand that the missal of Pope Paul VI is not a divergence from Catholic liturgical tradition. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal clearly states:

In setting forth its instructions for the revision of the Order of Mass, the Second Vatican Council, using the same words as did St. Pius V in the Apostolic Constitution Quo primum, by which the Missal of Trent was promulgated in 1570, also ordered, among other things, that some rites be restored “to the original norm of the holy Fathers.” From the fact that the same words are used it can be seen how both Roman Missals, although separated by four centuries, embrace one and the same tradition. Furthermore, if the inner elements of this tradition are reflected upon, it also becomes clear how outstandingly and felicitously the older Roman Missal is brought to fulfillment in the new, (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #6)

In recent times, the Church has repeatedly stated that those who have a special devotion to the Tridentine Mass must be treated with respect and fraternal charity. They are not to be treated as if they were part of a leper colony. Nevertheless, these Catholics are to adhere to the true teachings of the Church; they are to embrace the teachings of the Second Vatican Council; and they must cease their continual criticisms of the proper celebration of the Mass according to the Pope Paul VI missal.

For their part, the other rather large group that believes that the Catholic Mass is subject to continual personal innovations and experimentation, need to understand that no one has the right subjectively to make changes or deviations from the prescribed norms of the liturgical texts. As a priest friend of mine says to other priests: “Say what is in black, and do what is in red.” Or as Sacrosanctum Concilium puts it: “Therefore no other persons whatsoever, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on their own authority” (#22.3).

Since the arrival of the Pope Paul VI missal, much damage has been done to the fabric of the unity of the Catholic Church by irresponsible innovators who have confused and even scandalized the Catholic lay faithful. This is why the Vatican issued a recent document in an attempt to halt the many dangerous and insidious errors that have crept into the Catholic Mass.

Whenever an abuse is committed in the celebration of the sacred Liturgy, it is to be seen as a real falsification of Catholic Liturgy. St. Thomas wrote, “[T]he vice of falsehood is perpetrated by anyone who offers worship to God on behalf of the Church in a manner contrary to that which is established by the Church with divine authority, and to which the Church is accustomed.” (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Redemptionis Sacramentum, #169)

How to Study the Mass

For those of you who are interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the Catholic Mass, I suggest that you begin by reading each day, little by little, the Book of Exodus. It is essential that you especially understand the first Jewish Passover which is found in chapter 12.

After reading Exodus, the next step is to read the Gospel narratives on the Last Supper. These narratives are found in Matthew 26: 17–29; Mark 14: 12–25; Luke 22: 1–20; and John 13–17.

Through a careful study of these sections of the Scriptures we can understand the Church’s definition of the Catholic Mass. Briefly stated:

The Mass is the sacrifice of the New Law in which Christ, through the ministry of the priest, offers himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. The principal priest in every Mass is Jesus Christ, who offers to his heavenly Father, through the ministry of his ordained priest, his body and blood which were sacrificed on the cross. The Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross because in the Mass the victim is the same, and the principal priest is the same, Jesus Christ. The manner in which the sacrifice is offered is different. On the cross Christ physically shed his blood and was physically slain, while in the Mass there is no physical shedding of blood nor physical death, because Christ can die no more; on the cross Christ gained merit and satisfied for us, while in the Mass he applies to us the merits and satisfaction of his death on the cross.” (Baltimore Catechism)

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, gives a complete description of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. I encourage everyone to read and study numbers 1322–1405, but the passages below will suffice to underscore the great seriousness with which we must evaluate our participation in this rite.

Divine Sacrifice

The Catechism makes very clear our need for the Mass. This is no mere human construction that is some optional “nice ritual touch” to add to our Christian life, rather it obtains for us the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and is hence necessary for our salvation:

Because it is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” In the Eucharist, Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit….

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different. And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.” (CCC 1365–1367, italics in the original)

Reflecting on these realities will encourage Catholic priests to celebrate the Eucharist with reverence and fidelity to all of the liturgical norms of the Catholic Church. I also urge the lay faithful to come to a deeper understanding of the liturgy so that they may participate in it with greater awareness of the awesome mystery that we celebrate, truly the feast of heaven and earth:

In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory. (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, #8)

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Father James Farfaglia is Pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, Father has founded and developed apostolates for the Catholic Church in Spain, Italy, Mexico, Canada and throughout the United States. He may be reached by email at


Fr. James Farfaglia is the pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX. His Sunday homilies and blog can be found at You can contact Father James at

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