1. The Resurrection of the Lord
And in the end of the Sabbath, when it began to dawn towards the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, to see the sepulcher. And behold there was a great earthquake. For an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and coming rolled back the stone and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning and his raiment as snow. And for fear of him, the guards were struck with terror and became as dead men. And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not you: for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen. (Matthew 28:1-7)
Our participation in the sacred liturgy is truly nothing less than participation in the very life of Christ – the living Christ who is mystically present and active among us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in no less substantial way than when He walked this earth with the Apostles.
It is here where we are invited to enter into that glorious reality wherein we stand at once at the foot of the Cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary to join ourselves to the spotless Victim who sacrificed Himself once and for all time, but also to peer with wonder as it were into the empty tomb; called to be one with the Risen Lord, that He might accomplish in us the work of our redemption.
In his excellent treatment of the liturgy, Hidden Treasure, St. Leonard of Port Maurice writes:
“It may be said, with all truth, that in every Mass Our Redeemer returns mystically to die for us, without really dying, at one and the same time really alive and as it were slain – vidi Agnum stantem tamquam occisum, “I saw a Lamb standing as it were slain” (Revelation 5:6).
Yes, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we encounter Christ who was truly crucified for our sins; indeed, we are present at that very Sacrifice, and yet it is not the crucified Lord that we seek, but rather the resurrected One; He who sends us forth to tell all the world the good news: He is risen!
2. The Ascension of the Lord into Heaven
Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer and to rise again from the dead, the third day: And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. And I send the promise of my Father upon you: but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as Bethania: and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. And it came to pass, whilst he blessed them, he departed from them and was carried up to heaven. (Luke 24:45-51)
At His ascension, the Lord Jesus “was taken up into heaven where He sitteth at the right hand of the Father” (cf. Mark 16:19). This “sitting,” however, should not be viewed as rest, as though the Lord’s mission is thus completed.
As the Catechism tells us, “Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom” (cf. CCC 664) – a work that is yet to be brought to fulfillment in His Body on Earth, the Church Militant.
We are invited to participate in the Lord’s saving work in the Sacrifice of the Mass, that He might accomplish in us the work of our redemption in a personal sense, yes, but also as co-operators in the work of building the Kingdom of God on earth. It is here, in the liturgy, where we enter into Holy Communion with the Great Mediator between God and man, “Christ Jesus that died: yea that is risen also again, who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34), so that “together with Him and through Him we may make our oblation, and in union with Him offer up ourselves” (cf. Mediator Dei – Pope Pius XII).
In Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon) the priest prays, “Almighty God, we pray that your Angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven.”
In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us:
“The priest does not pray that the sacramental species may be borne up to Heaven; nor that Christ’s true body may be borne thither, for it does not cease to be there; but he offers this prayer for Christ’s mystical body, which is signified in this sacrament.”
In other words, you and I – members of Christ’s Body on earth – having consciously placed the sacrifice of our lives upon the altar at Holy Mass, participate in a mystical way in a foretaste of that ascension that will be the lot of all who die in union with Christ.
3. The Descent of the Holy Spirit
And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming: and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire: and it sat upon every one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost: and they began to speak with diverse tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. (Acts 2:1-4)
Contemplating the ascension of the Lord naturally leads one to recall the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost, as Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go. For if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you: but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
This promised outpouring the Holy Spirit that took place in a most magnificent way on Pentecost is more than just a singular event; rather, it is an ongoing reality in the life of the Church. At times, we discern the ever-present coming of the Spirit in relatively small, personal ways, like those inspirational moments in prayer when we are tangibly moved by God’s grace. At other times, however, the Spirit is poured out in more profound and public ways, one of the greatest of which is in the celebration of Holy Mass.
The Catechism tells us that the “mystery of salvation is made present in the Liturgy by the power of the Holy Spirit” (cf. CCC 1111), a sacred action realized in the entirety of the Mass, but most notably in the Eucharist. The Epiclesis naturally comes to mind, “Let your Spirit come upon these gifts…,” so too does the Elevation; “Through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit…”
It is the Holy Spirit that prepares us to encounter Christ in the sacred liturgy (cf. CCC 1098) and it is in Him in whom we glorify God as participants “in the heavenly liturgy” (CCC 1112). For laity, this naturally calls to mind our Baptism – the gateway to participation in the liturgy, but it should also move us to acknowledge the effects of Holy Orders as we do in the response, “And with your spirit,” for it is that which makes the Eternal High Priest present to His people in the person of the ordained minister who celebrates the sacred mysteries in persona Christi.
The mission of the Spirit does not stop here, however, as He is operative at the dismissal and beyond as we go forth from Holy Mass to proclaim the Gospel to the world such that “the gift of communion bears fruit in the Church” (CCC 1112).
4. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth. Blessed be the Lord who made heaven and earth, who hath directed thee to the cutting off the head of the prince of our enemies. Because he hath so magnified thy name this day, that thy praise shall not depart out of the mouth of men who shall be mindful of the power of the Lord forever. (Judith 13:23-25)
Of the Lord’s Day, Pope John Paul II wrote, “This is the day on which the Church, showing forth more clearly her identity as ‘Bride’, anticipates in some sense the eschatological reality of the heavenly Jerusalem. Gathering her children into the Eucharistic assembly and teaching them to wait for the ‘divine Bridegroom’, she engages in a kind of ‘exercise of desire’, receiving a foretaste of the joy of the new heavens and new earth, when the holy city, the new Jerusalem, will come down from God, ‘prepared as a bride adorned for her husband'” (Dies Domini).
This “eschatological” dimension of the Mass refers to the way in which the liturgy is oriented toward the fulfillment of all things in Christ, nay more than that; it is actual participation in the heavenly liturgy – a reality wherein the Bride who is already perfected, the Church Triumphant, dwells in perfect unity with Her Bridegroom.
In reading the Holy Father’s words, “Gathering her children into the Eucharistic assembly…” we are well justified in turning our thoughts toward the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother who ever so gathers and leads her children to Christ.
The Catechism expresses very beautifully how our eschatological orientation at Holy Mass is served by contemplating the Blessed Virgin Mary – she who was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven:
After speaking of the Church, her origin, mission, and destiny, we can find no better way to conclude than by looking to Mary. In her we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own “pilgrimage of faith,” and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. There, “in the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity,” “in the communion of all the saints,” the Church is awaited by the one she venerates as Mother of her Lord and as her own mother.
In the meantime the Mother of Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God (CCC 972).
5. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cried travailing in birth: and was in pain to be delivered. (Revelation 12:1-2)
The woman of Revelation 12 is none other than the Blessed Virgin Mother who gave birth to Israel’s long awaited Messiah. She is also, however, the Mother who labors still to deliver her spiritual children – members of the Pilgrim Church, her Son’s Body on earth – into that Heavenly perfection in which God will be all in all.
This is the end to which the sacred liturgy is ordered; it is not the dismissal, but rather the fulfillment of all things in Christ. It is for this reason that Holy Mass entails a sending forth wherein those nurtured in the Blessed Sacrament are implored to “go, announce the Gospel of the Lord, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
And so we are compelled in faith to turn to Mary Our Queen, placing all that the Lord has given us in her Immaculate Heart, that she may guide us and protect us as we go about building the Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for His glorious return. In the words of the Council Fathers:
The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, who while leading the life common to all here on earth, one filled with family concerns and labors, was always intimately united with her Son and in an entirely unique way cooperated in the work of the Savior. Having now been assumed into heaven, with her maternal charity she cares for these brothers of her Son who are still on their earthly pilgrimage and remain involved in dangers and difficulties until they are led into the happy fatherland. All should devoutly venerate her and commend their life and apostolate to her maternal care (AA 4).
We will conclude our reflection next week with a look at the Luminous Mysteries.