The Mass is the most familiar of our rituals. The theology and spirituality of the Mass gives us images of its place in the life of the Church and in the life of the participating individuals. Some of these dimensions are more accessible when we look at the unfolding of the Mass as a ritual from beginning to end:
- its opening rites,
- the proclamation of the word,
- the liturgy of the Eucharist, and
- the concluding rites.
We need to have a grasp of how the Mass is a ritual and of how the good use of that ritual is vital to us.
The Mass brings together two rituals that once existed separately: a liturgy of the word, and a liturgy of the Eucharist. Each is influenced by its association with the other. In addition, various rites help us with transitions:
- as we move from our various homes and individual lives into this time of prayer together (preparation rites):
- as we move from word to Eucharist (preparation of the gifts); and
- finally as we move from the prayer toward home (concluding rites).
All of this is quite natural. People seek familiar ways to gather and go about their prayer. From their very early times, Christians have gathered to break bread on the first day of the week, Sunday, or the Lord's Day as they came to call it. The day after the Jewish Sabbath day, which is the seventh and last day of the week, was associated with the eighth day, the day beyond time, the day of salvation. Marking this day kept the familiar rhythm of the seven-day week. Christians assembled to give thanks and praise and share the holy communion. When Christians gathered on other days fo the week in their households or with larger groups, it would be to read scripture, to pray and to sing hymns, but not for Eucharist.
In the course of the centuries, many things altered this practice. Very early, the rites of word and of Eucharist were joined. In stages, the celebration of word and Eucharist together, our Mass, spread to the weekdays. Also in stages, the Mass as the action of the assembly gave way to the Mass as the ceremony of the presider, and it made little difference whether people were present or how they participated. The Protestant reformers for the most part did away with the practice of Mass on weekdays. Some of their followers went even further and had Eucharist on Sunday only a few times a year.
Through all this and much more, most churches retained the association of the Eucharist with Sunday. Sometimes this association has been weak, and sometimes it has been maintained only through the sense of the "Sunday obligation," but it is part of our tradition that won't go away. If anything, recent practice and teaching have led toward enriching the weekdays at home and in the parish with Morning and Evening Prayer, strengthening the tie between Sunday and the community's celebration of Eucharist. The first day of the week, Sunday, and the gather of the breaking of the bread belong together. Each enhances the other. The day, kept in some way as a sign of the new creation and of the freedom from death an sin, calls for Eucharist. Eucharist, as proclamation of the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes, needs Sunday, the day of the Lord kept holy by the people. That means something more than trying to work Mass into a busy schedule. It means that Sunday makes way: It sets us free from our million cares, free to pray over them, free to listen to the scriptures, free to remember and celebrate what sometimes gets lost in the week. We are human. We are active but need contemplation too. We need the rhythm of the one day set off against the other six.
Sunday - a day of liberation, a day of space, a time of memory, a time for recreation, a space to gather, a place for gathering, a gathering for worship in thankfulness. In the end, everything has to work together: individual and family efforts to make Sunday special and to lead up to and away from the Mass, and the efforts of liturgy planners and ministers to do liturgy so well that all present know that they do the Eucharist together.
[Source: St. Paul Roman Catholic Parish Bulletin, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, February, 2008]