The First Annual Catholic Congress: Essays and Papers
New Haven, Connecticut, November 3-5, 1925
Philadelphia: Published by the Central Conference of Associated Catholic Priests, 1926.
How to Use the Mass
THE REVEREND FRANK L. VERNON, D.D.
St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia
THE Christian uses the Mass as the institutional means whereby he unites his will with the Will of Christ Crucified. The Mass is the Christian Sacrifice in which the one Oblation once offered upon the Cross is re-presented upon the altar. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the same as that of the Cross.
The same Lord Jesus Christ who offered Himself upon the Cross, is offered upon the altar by men who have been made partakers of His Priesthood by the Sacrament of Holy Order. The manner of the offering is sacramental. The Sacrifice is a true Sacrifice because the Sacramental Presence is a real Presence. On the Cross and on the altar and in Heaven, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.
The essence of sacrifice is the offering of the will. "Nevertheless not my will but thine be done." This was the prayer of the Great High Priest when He prepared Himself to sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. So it is that when the Christian becomes partaker of His Sacrifice, he offers and presents himself, his soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. The Christian at Mass identifies his whole being with Christ Crucified, in order that he may be crucified with [91/92] Christ, suffer with Him, die with Him, and hide his life with Him in God. Whatever else may be his needs, self-oblation in union with Christ Crucified is his basic intention. So the Christian uses the Mass for self-oblation.
Having offered himself, the Christian presents his needs to his only Mediator and Advocate, who on the altar of Sacrifice will plead his cause.
His first conscious need is of forgiveness. In the Sacrament of Penance he has offered the fruits of Contrition, which are Confession, Satisfaction and Amendment. But at Mass he unites his imperfect and insufficient oblation with the one Oblation that takes away the sins of the world. "O, Lamb of God," he whispers, "that taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us."
Like the penitent on his cross beside his Lord, he pleads, "Lord, remember me." And "between his sins and their reward, he sets the Passion of God's Son, his Lord." The Christian uses the Mass to beseech God, that by the merits of Jesus Christ, he and all the whole Church may obtain remission of sin and all other benefits of the Passion. So the Christian uses the Mass for Reparation.
The Christian comes to Mass with his most pressing need, and all his needs, and with the needs of those he loves best. He would see Jesus, who best knows the secrets of his heart. And the priest prays for comfort and succour for him, and for all those who, in this transitory life, are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. The prayers go out and far. But he kneels at the centre of his world. So the Christian uses the Mass for Intercession.
 As he prays he is cheered by the knowledge that His Lord has overcome the world. The memories of all the loving kindnesses of God flood his mind. He looks steadfastly toward Him who stands in the midst of the candlesticks, and he knows that it is He with whom he has been left ever since he was born, His God even from his mother's womb. No one else has ever been so wise, so strong, and so patient and so gracious. The Friend who knows two worlds, and rules supreme in both, is his Friend, his own Friend. His creation, his preservation, all the blessings of his life, and above all his redemption, the means of grace and the hope of glory, all this has been God's gift to Him. The Mass shows forth to him His Lord's life which procured his salvation. To Him he pays his homage of honor and glory. To Him he presents his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Christian uses the Mass for Thanksgiving.
As the Christian assists at Mass, he becomes more and more conscious of the fact that time and space are annihilated. He is in mystic, sweet communion with those for whom he prays, whether in the flesh or out of the flesh, with the Holy Church throughout the world, with Angels and Archangels and with all the Company of Heaven: For the Blessed Sacrament is the centre of unity. The Mass is the centre of the Church. At Mass the voice of the Good Shepherd is heard. And his sheep know his voice. Through all the horrors of the years of doubt and dishonor, the voices of strangers have never once deceived him.
Where there is no Mass, there is no Church. It is the Mass that matters. He has suffered the dismay of rending schisms and distressful heresies. But through it all, the Mass remains. It is the evidence which [93/94] quiets his fears and satisfies his soul. Where the Mass remains, the gates of hell have not prevailed. He shares in the secret prayer of the Priest "O Lord Jesus Christ, Who saidst unto Thine Apostles, peace I leave unto you, my peace I give unto you: Regard not my sins, but the faith of Thy Church, and grant her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy Will, Who livest and reignest God, for ever and ever." The Christian uses the Mass for Unity.
As the Christian assists at Mass, he offers to God the pains of his own crucifixion with Christ. He offers the agonies of his temptation. He offers the pains of his penitence, the voluntary acceptance of his trials, the patient endurance of his griefs, the desolations of his disappointments, the derelictions of his bereavements, the afflictions of his body, and everything else which may be involved in his sharing of the Cross.
He identifies himself with the Sacrifice. He is no mere onlooker, but a partaker in the Sacrifice. He offers his alms, his obediences, his works of charity, his labors, his whole life. The Mass is not an act of devotion which lasts a certain number of minutes, from which he departs detached until the next Mass. The Mass is timeless because it is the Sacrifice of the Cross, the Altar and the Heavenly Throne. With that timeless Sacrifice he unites himself in body and soul by virtue of his Communions. The Christian uses the Mass for Communion.
In Holy Communion Christ enters and dwells within him and he in Christ. By virtue of that indwelling, it is no longer he who lives, but Christ who lives in him. He carries Christ in his soul. He enters a state of Communion. His act of receiving Communion is not a momentary contact, it is an abiding state. He leaves [94/95] the altar, after Communion, but he carries Christ within him. Wherever he goes, wherever he is, by day and by night, waking or sleeping, he lives in a state of perpetual Communion. He is constantly and continuously feeding upon Christ in his heart by faith with thanksgiving.
In feeding upon Christ in his heart, his heart becomes energized with the love of the Sacred Heart, and the essence of that love is sacrifice. This is the love greater than which no man can have, because it moves him to lay down his life for his friends. This is the energy which moves him to lose his life for Christ, to find it in him. This is the energy which directs his life under the law of mission. That law requires that what has been given to him shall be given through him. Nourished with the life, energized by the love, governed by the laws, the Christian responds to the bidding of his Lord, "Go. As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." The Christian uses the Mass as the source for the spirit of Mission.
Self-oblation, reparation, intercession, thanksgiving, unity, Communion, mission,—all of this and more, the Christian receives at Mass, and to atttain these he uses the Mass. The Mass is the center of his world, the source of his power, the secret of his victory, and the pledge of endless life with Him who is alive forever more, and in Him, with those with whom he is bound in the bundle of life, together with all Saints and holy souls, who are members one of another in His mystical Body.
The Christian finds in the Mass, the peace which the world cannot give. He finds the cure for all his ills. The cure for which he can find no satisfying substitute elsewhere. He comes to Mass distracted with the [95/96] inescapable accumulations of suppressed suggestions which are the involuntary reactions to the various experiences of his life in the world. Out in the world he must bear his speechless burdens, and "hide his aching heart behind a smiling face." At Mass he finds saving relief. He may speak to the Lord of his life. Down underneath all that he may be conscious of, the repressed and apparently forgotten uprisings of his imagination, superinduced by his temptations, his voluntary renunciations, and his involuntary rebellions, are given vent. Long endured repressions will work havoc with the sanest mind and the strongest body. At Mass repressions are relieved. The mind is restored to peace.
He comes to Mass disturbed by the suppressed emotions involved in the struggle and strain of his conflict with the powers of evil which beset him. Emotions have been perhaps only partly suppressed, and underneath it all, the current of his life is turbulent. He is actually living over a volcano. Temporary suppression affords him no safety and denies him rest. He comes heavy laden to Mass. He sees Jesus. His unendurable suppression is relieved as he manifests his miseries. And he is at rest, for Jesus Christ gives him peace.
He comes to Mass oppressed with introspections which may have verged perilously on morbidity. He longs to get out of himself, away from himself. But how? To whom shall he go? As he kneels in some dim church, early in the morning, before the pressure of his day has overtaken him, he watches the drama of redemption as it moves serenely and swiftly on; he hears the holy words which are soothing as the murmur of a summer wind in a garden, and before he has [96/97] realized it, he has forgotten the outside world and his cares and himself. Presently the bell rings, and there, under the red lamp, in the midst of the flickering tapers, on the white corporal, he sees his Lord. He kneels at the Communion rail, with outstretched arms. He gives his life to the Lord of life.
That contact transmutes the natural into the supernatural, as water once was changed to wine. See him as he turns to say his thanksgiving. Look at his face as he leaves the Church. He is a new creature. And in his heart he is singing, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." The Christian uses the Mass to seek strength of body, vigor of mind, and cheerfulness of spirit. And he finds it. It is sound psychology because it is true religion.
Uncounted thousands are restless, and will never rest until they rediscover the use of the Mass. The world cannot give the peace that is perfect. Perfect peace is the gift of God. It comes through Sacrament and prayer. The Mass is the Blessed Sacrament and the prevailing prayer, in resistless action.
The Mass is to be used for the glory of God; for the adoration of Our Most Holy Redeemer; for the praise of His love; for Communion with Him by whom we have access to the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost; for the merits of His Cross and Passion, whereby we obtain remission of our sins; for the needs of all those for whom we are bound to pray, both the living and the dead; for the oblation of ourselves and the strengthening and refreshing of our souls; for the overthrow of the kingdom of Satan; for the peace and unity of the Church; and for the relief of each and all our other necessities.
The Mass is to be used as the instituted means [97/98] whereby we have recourse and appeal to Our Saviour, our Mediator and Advocate. The Mass is to be used to get to Jesus. And when we get to Him, then what? Each Mass ought to be, and is, a conscious meeting with Him unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.
Above all else we must be simple. If we even partly know Him as He is, we will dare to be ourselves. That will make us humble. The moment we become simple and humble we shall become trustful. That is what He wants. He has said so. "Except ye become as little children."
If we are really simple about going to Mass, we will have no other thought than going to Him. The Mass is exteriorly the most perfect, exquisitely lovely thing in the world. The Catholic revival is the most thrilling event imaginable. The Anglo-Catholic crusade is the most romantic adventure in all the whole world. Every detail of it is fascinating. It is irresistibly joyous. But it is only when we get to the heart and soul of it all, that we discover the secret of its power. It is the interior reality of a valid Christian experience which silences all doubts as to its stability. Jesus is there. We know and do testify that we have seen Him. He is the beauty and splendor and the wonder of the Mass. It is not the Liturgy or the ceremonial or the vestments or the lights or the music or the incense,—it is Jesus. If we are simple at Mass, we shall see no man, save Jesus only.
If we are really humble, we will not make Mass the rare occasion for self-satisfied and self-conscious piety. We will not relegate it to our high days and holy days. We will not wait until we fancy ourselves to be at our [98/99] best. If we are really humble; we will come as we are.
No one knows better than our Lord, what we really are; and He wants us as we are,—guilty, wounded, soiled? Well, we know where to go to have that taken care of. The Confessional manages that.
Tired and starved and weak and poor, and inconsistent and outdone? Ah, Mass is the place to get to then. Lonely and anxious and depressed? There is no place like Mass for that. Dreary days and long nights and times that lag like lead? Mass makes the days glisten, and the nights expectant, and time swiftly fleeting. It is the thought of seeing Him in the morning that keeps us going. It is not because we are worth while, it is just because we are human. Timidity is pride. Eagerness is humility. We never need to be afraid to be ourselves with Him. He likes us better that way.
And then we never ought to forget that He cares, far more than we imagine, about what might seem to be the little things of life. They are not little to Him. He knows how much depends upon little things. We must not be afraid to tell Him. We ought to make the little affairs of life the occasions of special intentions. We always ought to bring to Mass a bundle of special intentions. A list of things that we would like to have Him attend to. We always ought to have some business to attend to at Mass.
It need not be, and it ought not be, always our own affairs. We ought to go to Mass to get something attended to that will smooth matters out for other people. Things we would never dream or dare to speak of to anyone else but our Lord. And when sometimes it happens, as it does, that we are puzzled and frightened and silent, He has a captivating way of saying [99/100] "You needn't tell me. I know. Don't be anxious." You can't help trusting Him.
This is the way our Lord means us to use the Mass, isn't it? Of course you will need books of private devotion. But after you have learned the structure and scope of Mass devotions, you very likely will pray more and more in your own words. And you will gasp out ejaculatory prayers that never were in any book. And they will be best of all.
And you will have to learn the meaning of the ceremonies. But after a while you will become so accustomed to them that they will become just the obvious and natural and most graceful way of doing things that need to be done. And you will feel quite at your ease in the King's House, because you will have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is.