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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What You Need to Know about the Catholic Mass

Robert Barron - What You Need to Know about the Catholic Mass

Robert Barron - What You Need to Know about the Catholic Mass

Peace be with you. Friends, we have a great privilege now this week and the following three weeks: we're going to read from the extraordinary sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. It's a wonderful way to meditate upon the Eucharist. Can I recommend to everybody: break open your Bibles, and during these quieter days of summer, do a prayerful reading of the sixth chapter of John. Maybe spread it out over these weeks. Read it a little bit at a time. It's one of the most profound reflections we have on the meaning of the Eucharist. You know, a peculiarity of John's Gospel is there's no so-called institution narrative, you find those in the other Gospels, namely, an account of what Jesus did at the Last Supper with the bread and the wine and so on. You don't have that in John.

You have the washing of the feet, you have a long discourse, but you don't have an institution narrative. But it doesn't mean for a second that John isn't intensely interested in the Eucharist because you find it in chapter 6. So we're going to read through this now in the next several weeks, and we get to this wonderful discourse that Jesus gives in the Capernaum synagogue. But chapter 6 opens with John's account of the multiplication of the loaves, and it's a wonderful way now to get into this chapter because when we decipher this reading, and remember, John is a high theological master but also a great literary master. And he composes these texts so artfully, and they're meant to be read at a number of levels. Historical, to be sure.

This miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, it's in all four of the Gospels; it so deeply impressed the first Christians. But as John lays it out, it's also meant to be read at more mystical levels. And one of them is this: it's an account of the Mass. Like the Emmaus story, by the way; that's an account of the Mass too. How do we best understand the Eucharist? Well, in its proper liturgical context within the context of the Mass. So what I want to do in this homily, real briefly, is just walk through this account, and help you see how it's a symbolic presentation of the Mass. We hear first that Jesus went up a mountain with his disciples.

Now, mountains in the Bible are invariably symbols of the encounter between human beings and God. Even the Garden of Eden is a mountain because the rivers are flowing out from it. Whether it's Mount Sinai where the Law is given, whether it's Mount Zion where the holy city of Jerusalem and the temple are found. Mountains are places of encounter. We go up, God comes down, and the two meet in this heightened place. What's the Mass but the mountaintop experience par excellence? The Mass is the place where we go up, where God comes down so to speak, and the two of us now commune. It's a place of heightened awareness, heightened consciousness, heightened experience.

Think of the story of the Transfiguration, similar thing. We go up a mountain, and there the encounter with God takes place. So the Mass is a mountaintop experience. We then hear that Jesus sits down with his disciples. Now, we're going to miss this or say it's just a little tiny detail. But see, sitting down in the ancient world was the attitude of the teacher. The teacher would sit in his teaching place. Think of the bishop in the ancient Church in his "cathedra," in his chair. That's where he would teach. The disciples would be then arranged at his feet. The Mass is the mountaintop experience. What's the first part of the Mass? We call it the Liturgy of the Word, where Jesus speaks.

The first reading from the Old Testament, well, that's the Logos of God, speaking through patriarchs and prophets and the Psalmist. The Psalm, our response to the Word of God. The second reading, whether from Paul's epistles, or from John's epistles, or Peter, it's the Word continuing to speak. The Gospel, now in a very heightened, personal way, the Logos, Jesus himself, speaks to us. The homily is meant not to be the private musings of the priest, but rather a continuation of, an application of, the divine Word. The first part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Word, that's Jesus sitting down. We arrange ourselves, so to speak, at his feet, and we listen to him. It's the first part of the Mass. Then we hear in John's account: "The Jewish feast of Passover was near".

In John's Gospel, the Last Supper takes place on the eve of Passover, the day when the paschal lambs were slaughtered. Well, Christ himself is the Lamb of God. That's why in John's Gospel, John the Baptist when he sees Jesus says, "Behold, there's the Lamb of God". He doesn't mean just a nice, peaceable person. He means there's the one who's come to be sacrificed. What's the second part of the Mass after the Liturgy of the Word, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the climax of which is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ? Yes indeed, Passover is near at every Mass. Every time we attend the Mass, there's the slaughtering of this Passover Lamb, Jesus himself, offering his Body and Blood for the salvation of the world.

But listen now to the description in John. Jesus sees the great crowd gathered, and he said to Philip, "Where can we buy enough food for them to eat"? Andrew said to him, "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish". Could God feed his people without any cooperation from us? Yeah, sure. He's God. He can do whatever he wants. But one of the great master themes in the Bible is God delights in drawing forth our cooperation. At every Mass, Christ speaks to us, and we listen. At every Mass, the great sacrifice is made. And at every Mass, Christ feeds his people. That's the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Christ feeds his people with his Body and his Blood. But he invites us to present to him the little that we have, so that he might take it, elevate it, multiply it, transubstantiate it, so that we might be fed with the Bread of Life.

There's a moment at Mass, and I want all the Catholics now to pay special attention, the moment at Mass when after the prayers of the faithful, everyone sits down; usually a little music is played; and then the ushers go around, and they collect a monetary offering from the people of God; and then that little offering of bread and wine and maybe a little water are brought up to the altar. Sometimes I think, for many Catholics, that's like a little pause in the action. So, we've had the first part of Mass, and now we're just kind of pausing for a moment while the ushers collect the money. And then we're going to resume Mass once all that's over. No, no, no, no; that's an integrally important part of the Mass. Why? It's Christ calling upon us to give him the little that we have.

So then he looks out, and there's the great crowd. "I have to feed this crowd with the Bread of Life". But first he says to his Apostles, "Well, what do you have? What can you find"? And they find this little offering. And so we at every Mass offer to Christ the little that we have: these monetary gifts and this little offering of bread and wine and water. But then he transfigures it. He elevates it so that it becomes food unto eternal life. Listen now as John goes on. "Jesus took the loaves" and "gave thanks". How does this elevation happen? We speak of the Eucharistic Prayer, at the heart of which are these words of Jesus the night before he died. "Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my Body". "Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my Blood".

The Eucharistic Prayer, it just means the prayer of thanksgiving, is the moment when the little we have offered is elevated and transfigured for the feeding of the multitude. The priest at every Mass is not operating in his own name or with his own authority. That's one reason, by the way, the priest wears vestments. It's meant to cover up his individuality and personality because he's operating not in his own person, but we say "in persona Christi," in the very person of Christ.

So the priest takes these little gifts that the people have offered, and then acting and speaking in the very person of Christ, speaking these words of the Last Supper, the transubstantiation is effected, the transfiguration of these elements. Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks. That happens everybody at every Mass in the prayer of thanksgiving. And then we hear this: he distributes the multiplied loaves, and they had as much as they wanted. Something physical being described there? Sure. In this historical instance, Jesus literally fed them. But read it mystically. We're all hungry for the Bread of Life. We're all hungry for eternal life. Nothing in this world can possibly satisfy the deepest longing of our heart. The only thing that can satisfy us is Christ himself.

And that's why, again, they had as much as they wanted. That's you and that's me at every Mass. I mean, the literal bread and wine brought forward would never satisfy even a mild physical hunger. But now those elements transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ fill up the soul at the deepest level. We had all we wanted. And then beautifully, Catholics will get this right away, after the multiplication and the feeding of the enormous crowd, it said they gathered up fragments, twelve baskets. Twelve, of course, a figure of fullness, the twelve tribes of Israel. After the distribution of Communion, we do indeed gather up the fragments, don't we. We preserve them in the tabernacle.

We bring them to the sick. It signals now the twelve, the figure of fullness, the feeding, yes, of the whole world. That's what the Mass is meant to embody. Everybody, take a look this week at this very beginning of John 6, and see in this scene, in this description of an ancient miracle, see the miracle of every Mass. Isn't it tragic, by the way, every time we do this, when we think about the Mass profoundly, isn't it tragic that the overwhelming majority of our own Catholic brothers and sisters stay away from Mass on a regular basis? This mountaintop experience par excellence, this place where we hear the words of Jesus, this place where we are fed at the deepest level of our souls. Take a look at the beginning of John chapter 6. It's a good preparation now for a deeper and deeper appreciation of the Eucharist. And God bless you.
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