Last week’s reflection on Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Liturgy) ended by speaking of the power of the Liturgy (Mass) that derives from the intimate and pervasive presence of Christ in the people, the minister, the readings and, above all, in the Eucharist. We now continue by looking at paragraph 8.
In Paragraph 8 we hear that, precisely because of the manifold presence of Christ, the liturgy is a “foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims.” The church does not teach that the liturgy ought to be a foretaste of heaven, but that it is a foretaste of heaven. This is a reality to which there is no exception. Always, everywhere and in every circumstance the Mass is a foretaste of heaven. This simple statement has immense practical spiritual value for us as illustrated by the following story.
In college, there was a young man who liked to go to daily Mass. Though various times were offered, only one fit into his academic schedule. After attending this Mass for a few days, he told a priest friend that he wasn’t sure he could keep going anymore. He said that it was too difficult for him to pray. He found the priest celebrant’s manner distracting, his homilies offensive, the music not to his taste, and the congregation to be loud and inconsiderate of those trying to pray. His priest friend, however, encouraged him to continue. Why? Because of the this teaching of Vatican II: The Mass is just as much a foretaste of heaven even when it does not match our personal tastes and preferences.
The priest went further and suggested that the student might even experience greater spiritual growth by faithfully attending, because it required him to look beyond those elements he found distracting at the Mass. The student would need to move beyond the music, personalities, noise, preaching , etc. in order to encounter the One who is mystically present every time the Eucharist is celebrated. He had to learn to focus on the true meaning of the Mass.
I know that this advice has proven true in my own life, both before and after I was a priest. I have participated in or celebrated Masses in a dozen countries, in multiple languages, in different cultures, and with vastly varying styles of music. In a single weekend I have celebrated Mass in three different languages, in differing worship spaces, with multiple cultures and with four different styles of music. Faced with such great diversity, not everything I encountered was my preference; I found it easier to pray in some situations than in others; I preferred some types of music to others; some congregations were quieter or louder than others. All of them, though, were equally a foretaste of heaven. Why?
Because the liturgy is not primarily the work of the priest or the congregation; it is not primarily the work of musicians or lectors, altar servers or sacristans. No, it is primarily the work of God. And knowing that truth, I am challenged to come to encounter God in every situation in which His Mass is celebrated.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!