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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 12 - The Mass as Heaven on Earth and Conclusion

I wanted to recap a couple of things from the last session of the study by talking a little bit about the mystery of the Church and how it relates to our participation in the heavenly.  This word mysterion, as Fr. Peter Toon points out, occurs 27 times in the New Testament and it is always used in association with verbage that points to the proclamation of the Gospel.  The Church therefore, as the word apocalupso we pointed out indicates, is the Bride of Christ, and the mysterion therefore is the real "meat" of that apocalupso of Christ with His Bride, the Church, in mystical union.  It is indeed the "great mystery" the Apostle St. Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:32 (Peter Toon, Worship Without Dumbing-Down: Knowing God Through Liturgy.  Northumberland, UK:  Edgeways Books, 2005. pp. 97-99).   And, as Christ's Bride, the Church therefore participates in the heavenly in an intimate sense, as also is noted in the Gospels, which we now look at.

Do you remember what the first two things Jesus preached when He began His public ministry?  If you look in Mark 1:15, as well as in Matthew 4:17, you see that His first proclamation had two parts around which the remainder of His pedagogy would be constructed as we read further in the parables:

1.  Repentance
2.  The immanency of the kingdom of God

When we look at the component parts of the Mass, we see a lot of references to repentance, even beginning in the Collect for Purity at the very outset, which petitions "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord, Amen."   It takes repentance and sanctification to prepare us to enter into the presence of the throne room of God Himself, and to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and therefore the theme of repentance - which bears its own study - is to be seen throughout the whole of the Mass, even up to the "Domine non sum dignus" that we repeat thrice before going forward to partake of the Holy Eucharist itself.  This is where we now pick up with this study.

As Dr. Hahn points out, to go to Mass is to go to heaven in a real sense, and there are reasons that we go, and he lists four of them.  First, we go to heal sadness (Revelation 21:3-4).  Secondly, by the act of repentance we just talked about, we place ourselves under judgment.  Thirdly, it is to renew our covenant with God, as at a marriage feast in this context.  And finally, it is to receive the fullness of grace, the very life of the Trinity, within us - as the Cherubimic Hymn of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom reminds us, we are to lay aside all distractions ("earthly cares") in order that "we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly upbourne by the angelic hosts."    This is something that no power on heaven or earth can give us more of, because in essence we are receiving God into ourselves.

In the Mass, God has given to us His very life.  This is not merely metaphorical either, nor is it a mere symbol or foretaste, but rather it is a supernatural reality.  This is why we must go to Mass with eyes, ears, and other senses open to receive the truth which is before us, a truth which "rises like incense" (Psalm 141:2).  The life of God we receive in the Holy Eucharist is a gift we must receive properly and with gratitude.  And, God dispenses grace through the Holy Eucharist, which is why it is truly sacramental.  And, if that grace is received unworthily, it subjects us to judgment.   To receive "unworthily" doesn't necessarily imply that we need to be perfect to receive the Eucharist, but rather that we have a correct understanding of the Gospel  - as my spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, points out, a willful ignorance (in creationist Kent Hovind's translation, this means dumb on purpose) of the Gospel will cause those who receive Communion to also receive judgment and condemnation, and it can even lead to physical infirmity and premature death according to Apostolic warning (I Corinthians 11:29) (Eusebius Stephanou, Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized.  Destin, FL:  St. Symeon the New Theologian Press, 2005. p. 181).  I recall once a story one of our traditional Anglican clergy related involving this very type of judgment.  This particular priest was pastoring a parish in a city which had a serious issue with occultists, and some of these occultists were going to Catholic and other parishes and partaking of the Holy Eucharist in order to desecrate it in one of their pagan ceremonies.  Unbeknownst to this priest, one of those occultists was in his parish at Mass one Sunday, and came forward to receive.  When occultists do this, they do not consume the Host, but rather retain it in their mouth while they hastily leave the church, at which time they "reserve" it for the desecrating ritual they want to do with it.  At the time my priest friend gave this witch the Host, all of a sudden the witch's mouth experienced a seering burn, because the Holy Spirit was bringing judgment on this person for what they were about to do.  The witch ran from the church in a panic, and not long after that the occult infiltration of parishes stopped.  This story serves to remind us that the Holy Eucharist is a very precious thing - it is the very Body and Blood of our Lord we are receiving, which is why when the Prayer of Consecration is invoked over the elements in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the declaration  "Wisdom, let us attend!  Holy things for the holy people!" is loudly sung by the priest.  As faithful Christians, it is our duty when receiving the Holy Eucharist to choose the blessing through self-examination and penance and reject the curse - better we go through a self-judgment than suffer God's divine justice!
As Dr. Hahn continues the discussion on page 156, he addresses the importance of holy water and the Sign of the Cross.  By dipping our finger into the font of holy water at the entrance of the church and signing ourselves with the Cross, we renew a personal covenant that was initiated when we received the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  There is an important difference though - at your baptism (if you were baptized as an infant) your parents made that decision for you.  When we bless ourselves with holy water, we make the decision for ourselves by signing the Name of Him in whom we were baptized.  And, at this point an application of one of the "Four Pillars of Catechesis" comes into play - by signing ourselves, we accept the Creed and all it proclaims, rejecting Satan, and we testify of our commitment to follow and serve Jesus.  This therefore puts us under an oath - recall that the Latin word sacramentum literally does mean "oath," and it is one reason why baptism is called a sacrament.   And, that brings into application another of the "Four Pillars" - in the Book of Common Prayer, almost at the very beginning of the Mass the "Summary of the Law" is given, which is also found in Scripture in Mark 12:30-31 - it says this:  "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And, the second is like unto it; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (BCP, p. 69).  The "Summary of the Law" was Our Lord's condensation of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which is one of the "Four Pillars," and the whole Decalogue is recited as part of Anglican practice at least once a month.   Making the Sign of the Cross renews our obligation to uphold and live up to the rights and duties of the Decalogue.   Then there is the word "Amen."  Amen is a Hebrew word that literally translates "so be it," and it is more than just a response or a bookend to a liturgical prayer or your grace before a meal - when it is said, it is to be meant!   These seemingly insignificant things like the word Amen serve to remind us that we are not mere spectators in the Mass, but we participate fully in what is going on - it is the renewal of a covenant.

So, let us talk about this covenant now we are renewing at this point.  The covenant is not a past event, but is an ongoing reality - it is perpetually present as well as continually realized and reactualized.  The entire Mass is our perpetual renewal of that covenant.   First, it is a solemn oath taken before countless witnesses.  Secondly, it is not just what we pray, but also what we hear; it is the very Word of God.  In the Mass we swear to the Bible, and as we hear it we will be held accountable to it.  What that means is a couple of things.  First, in the Creed (one of the "Four Pillars," remember) when we confess "I believe one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," it means we live by her teachings.  Second, when we pray in the Lord's Prayer (another of the "Four Pillars") the petition "forgive us our trespasses," we receive  God's mercy, but also are responsible to dispense it to others, in particular those who have offended us in some way.  Also, when the priest says "the Lord be with you," and we respond "and with thy spirit," we are extending peace to our neighbor, yet we need to ask ourselves how to continue that peace? So, do we lose our tempers, etc.?  This is part of that internal self-judgment we have been discussing, which also is ongoing in a big way in our participation in the whole Mass.  Then there is the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist itself (another of the "Four Pillars") in which as we receive the Body and Blood, the priest says to us, "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in rememberance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.  The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.  Drink this in rememberance that Christ's Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful" (The People's Anglican Missal, p. 301).  This reminds us to ask ourselves this question - with what attention do we approach the table of the Lord?  To hear the Word of the Lord (kerigma, "proclamation") and to receive the Bread of Life (eucaristw, "Thanksgiving," or the Panis Angelicus) are profound mysteries - they are incredible gifts of grace that carry with them serious commitments on the part of the recipients of them.  Therefore, if we treat earthly elements (fire, water, electricity, etc.) with due respect, then how much more respectfully then shall we treat the very mysteries of heaven, which fill us in Holy Communion?   

The consequences of failing to live up to our witness are serious, and they need to be examined now.  In I Corinthians 11:27, there is a dire warning from the Apostle that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily is tantamount to blasphemy.  A couple of verses later in verse 29, we are warned that bad Communions can bring physical judgment, as Fr. Eusebius noted in his book in the earlier quote.  Going back to verse 28, we are reminded of the importance of self-examination and confession of our sins before receiving Communion.  We naturally do want the blessings of the Covenant, and not their curse.  Therefore, the more we prepare for Mass, the more (sacramental) grace we take from Mass - that grace is also infinite, and the only limitation is our own capacity to receive it.  What grace consists of therefore is with God's help, we can be able to do what we could never do on our own, namely to love perfectly, sacrifice completely, and lay down our lives as Jesus did for us.  In essence, to live the Mass is a sort of "white martyrdom."   The word martyr is from the Greek root of a word that means "witness," and what it entails is doing all things, including mundane daily activities, as unto the Lord.  Our whole lives get caught up (raptured if you will) in the Mass, and this aspect becomes our participation in it.  As heaven therefore descends, we lift up to meet it, thus how the kingdom of God is made manifest to us (Remember Jesus's first message, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand?"  In a real sense, this is it!).  Although we were made to live on this earth, ultimately we were made by our Creator for heaven.  And, in the Mass, heaven is unveiled for us now in the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  That means that the Communion God created us for is now, made possible by our incorporation into His Bride, the Church.  And, when we participate in the Mass, heaven touches earth and waits us now (Revelation 3:20).  The door opens now to the Marriage Supper - will we accept the invitation?

Jesus says to us, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock," (Revelation 3:20).  We, as the Church, are the Bride of Christ unveiled (remember the Greek term apokalusw).  Jesus wants each and every one of us to enter into the most intimate relationship with Him.  And, He uses wedding imagery to communicate how much He loves us, and how close He wants us to be and to stay with Him.  Therefore, as we have emphasized throughout this study, we go to heaven whenever we go to Mass.  It is not merely a symbol or metaphor, but is as St. Athanasios said, "an eternal, heavenly Feast."  And, it is also the "hidden manna."   Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts (John 3:20) and it is Jesus who truly is the "Hidden Manna," the Panis Angelicus of heaven.  

With that, we now come to the end of this series of studies, and if you haven't experienced the fullness of faith in Christ, I want to invite you to do so today.  Some reading this may have never been converted intially in the first place, and you need to know two things.  First, Jesus died for your sins - John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."   All of us are in need of a Savior too, for the concupiscence to sin is unfortunately a sickness that has condemned us, and nothing we can do of our own volition can save us from its consequences - only the shed Blood of Christ and His broken Body can do that.  If that is you today, first you need to listen to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to you, and confess to God your sins, as well as committing to repent of them.  Then, you need to find a godly clergyman (preferably one who has Apostolic orders, but a good Protestant pastor will suffice too) who will prepare you to be baptized into the Church.  Then, read the Gospels, prayerfully and believing what you are reading, and "study to show yourself approved."  In time, you too may be able then to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church.  If you need a church or a pastor to counsel with, and have problems finding one, you may also email me at, and I may be able to refer someone in your area to you.  Thank you again for participating in this study, and the next lesson will begin a new series.  God's richest blessings be with you always.