A Meditation of Christ Past, Present, and Future in the Mass
“And it is in this immediate encounter with Christ that explains the threefold historical orientation of the they are first of all an or a commemoration of the past sacrifice of the Cross because of the relation of the eternally actual redemptive act, present in the , to the historical moment in which Christ shed his blood. Secondly, they are a visible affirmation and bestowal of the actual gift of grace inasmuch as the recipient becomes concerned in the enduring redemptive act by which the Kyrios is reaching out to him here and now. In the third place, they are a pledge of eschatological salvation and a herald of the parousia because the are the sacramental presence of Christ the Eschaton, either because of a real transubstantiation (in the case of the ), or because of the sacramentalizing of this eternally-actual redemptive act (in the case of the remaining six ).” (Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., Christ the , p. 74). For
Many people have the transcendent experience of forgetting time and space in their encounter with Christ in the celebration of theliturgy. Very often people cannot describe why it is they have this feeling. Religious experience can be very subjective, and therefore very difficult to validate. However, in the case of this experience, we have a very concrete explanation as to the temporal dimension of the celebration of the . Fr. Schillebeeckx’s dense explanation above provides us with the foundation upon which to build a reflection on the profound experience of leaving the temporal realm in the celebration of the .
Most Catholics rightly understand theto be a memorial of the Last Supper, the re-enactment of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on . Yet, this description only scratches the surface of the remembrance of a past event, for Catholic theology of the borrowed a very important understanding from our Jewish roots: namely, that in celebrating the past event the people involved in the celebration are actually taking part in the original event itself. When the Jewish people gather to celebrate Passover each year, they are not merely remembering the past event of freedom from Egypt, but rather the event of the past becomes present to them in the celebration of the pasch. For Catholic theology, that experience is the very essence of celebrating the Passover of Christ: in the remembrance ritual of the Mass the sacrifice of Jesus becomes present to us so that we are present to that event.
Hence, the present dimension of the is intimately connected to the past dimension. When we speak of the real presence of Christ, then, we are acknowledging the presence of the risen Christ among us under the species of bread and wine through the sacramental action of the priest acting in the person of Christ together with the assembly professing their faith in this reality. Christ becomes present to us in the celebration of the because the action of and the resurrection of Christ once again becomes present to us in the liturgical action.
And yet the final temporal dimension of the sacramental celebration – the pledge of future glory – is also intimately connected to the remembrance of the events of the Lord’s Supper, the sacrifice of, and the resurrection of Jesus. The celebration of the Lord’s banquet anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem. The reality of the heavenly court in the final eschatological fulfillment becomes a present reality to us in the celebration. Every celebration of the Mass, is an echo of the final words of the New Testament – Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus! That refrain is the culmination of the book of Revelation, the place where we find the most vivid description of the heavenly liturgy that we only glimpse very briefly in the celebration of the liturgy.
While the Memorial acclamation “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” has been suppressed in the third edition of the, there is a very real truth this acclamation expresses about the . In coming together for the celebration of Mass we recall that Christ has died in the of the canon. We experience the risen Christ present to us just as the apostles did in the as that risen presence exists in the matter of bread and wine. Finally, we look forward to Christ coming again so that we can celebrate the heavenly liturgy of the wedding feast of the Lamb that we anticipate with every celebration of Holy Mass.
So, the next time you have the experience of losing a sense of time in the sacred liturgy, know that this feeling is perfectly natural and appropriate. For time has ceased. Past, present, and future have melded into one eternal now. We are in the presence of God, I am who am, and we can say with Peter on the mount of the, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”
Have you had a religious experience that reflected this truth? Does the reality of Christ being witnessed in the past, present, and future during Mass resonate as something you have meditated on in the past? We would love to hear from you.