As Catholics, each and every one of us has participated in Masses that have been offered up for deceased members of our church community. We listen to the names of these brothers and sisters in Christ and, in a very personal way, share in the intentions of a family that we may or may not know. In that brief moment, as the priest is acting in persona Christi, or as a mediator between God and man, time and space does not exist. When we look upon the consecrated Host, we are looking upon our Lord and Savior.
It is the first Good Friday and we are with Him at Calvary. As we read in Romans 10:14, "For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated." We are in our Lord's presence. In His presence, we have a sacred obligation to ask for His most blessed intercession for those we have loved and who are now awaiting His final judgment. As Catholic Christians, we are participating in a grace given to us by the Father, which is, hence, our sacred obligation. It is a grace we may freely choose to accept or decline.
But how many of us are accepting this grace? Have we shied away from this opportunity because secular clouds have cast a shadow upon it? Have we mistakenly bought into the secular message that, by paying a stipend for a Mass we are "buying" our way, or a loved one's ticket, into heaven? Or are we simply unaware of the beauty and significance of such a divinely offered grace? Let's clear our way to freely embrace God's gift of the Holy Sacrifice of Mass for ourselves and our loved ones.
In a world alive with Harry Potter and tales of magic, sorcery, and a supposed "divine union" between Christ and Mary Magdalene, we have allowed our faith, and its rich history, to be caught up in the winds of secularism and superstition. Because our culture is not steeped in the teachings and dogma of our faith, the lines between the fiction of the DaVinci Code and the non-fiction of the Catechism have disappeared, as for many they have become one in the same. We find ourselves in conversations with Catholic brethren who question the validity of what we do and how we practice our faith. Or, worse yet, our doubting conversations are internal and our theological compass is without "true north." We wonder if the graces given to us through our sacraments are any more than the tales we are told in popular literary works. Theologically speaking, the "slippery slope" is underfoot.
Adding to the magnitude of the blurred, or vanishing, distinctions between the Truth of our faith, with a capital "T," and worldly truth, with a lower case 't,' is the notion that stipends are our attempts to "buy" a place in heaven. However, when we understand that stipends are used for the care of the flock, for the spreading of the Good News, and for the needs of the many, our ability to return to this grace should be hastened. The tiny stipends usually offered for Mass intentions are not for the purchase of salvation nor could we earn it through any works that we are able to accomplish in our lifetime. It is a gift freely given and ours to freely accept. We are never "worthy" of it but instead are able to embrace it, and be nourished by it, as we continue our earthly journey living according to God's edicts. Catholics have never believed that they could purchase salvation. They have, however, understood their call to live in accordance with the reality of Romans 14:12 that says, So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.
If salvation is not something we can earn, then why do we offer Masses for our loved ones and pay stipends? We do this with the belief that Christ is our ultimate intercessor and when we join Him at the altar, we are placing our requests at His feet so that He may take them to the Father. Stipends are simply our response to Christ's earthly edicts that call us to care for one another, feed one another, and do the work of His Church. In fact, stipends received that exceed one per Mass are given to the Holy See or in some way are made available to other institutions for His work. They are not, nor have they ever been, a fast track to eternal life in heaven. Christ is the only way to the Father and joining our small offering to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are witnessing our complete understanding of that fact.
The beauty and significance of the words of St. Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians 4:16-18 ring true for us as we all say in our hearts, Therefore, we are not discouraged, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen in eternal. We fully believe and have faith that these words only have Truth in Christ. At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are participating in the eternal, albeit unseen, Good Friday that Christ offered Himself as the one bloody sacrifice. It is a grace given by God that we do well in understanding and freely accepting.
October 13th was the tenth anniversary of the passing of my grandmother. More than a dozen of the seventy-five members of our family attended a Mass offered for her, our beloved matriarch. At Mass, we surrounded my ninety-year-old grandfather with support and love and found the true gift of Christ's peace as we heard the mention of my grandmother's name. We were overcome with joy and gratitude as we participated in this God-given grace. Our prayers for my grandmother's eternal rest were joined with the one, true sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In a moment that truly transcended time and space, we joined the choirs of angels and saints in the worship of our Creator, the Creator of all this was, is, and ever shall be.
May we all, as Catholics, recognize with clarity, and accept with gratitude, the graces that our heavenly Father has bestowed upon us, allowing us to raise our intentions to Him, through our Savior, Jesus Christ at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.