I received my Bachelors in Religious Studies from Liberty University – don’t let the name fool you. The religious studies degree is basically a Bible degree masked with a more neutral name to help the students be more marketable after graduation. That being said, I took classes on John, Romans, Daniel and Revelation, Genesis, Systematic Theology I and II, and on and on. I am blessed to say I have a pretty firm grasp on the content of Scripture (and a pretty lousy degree for making myself a career…).
Anyone who has a good grasp on Scripture will notice that the Mass is filled with Scripture. It brings it to life and brings it into the present moment as we participate in the words written by the Apostles many years ago. I wanted to highlight a few of them and tell you about where they come from in Scripture, what their implications are, and my little thoughts about them.
1. The “Our Father”
When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray he provided for them a beautiful prayer that continues to be powerful in the lives of Christians throughout the world. At every Mass we pray this prayer, the same prayer that has been prayed for two millennia by millions and millions of saints, martyrs, and simple believers. It has the power to transform us inwardly – Thy will be done, give us our daily bread (remembering to stay in the present), forgive us our debts (remembering that we are sinners), as we forgive our debtors (remembering to show others mercy). It also unifies us as we pray Our Father not My Father – we must remember that to love God is to be part of a huge, crazy family.
Oddly enough, Catholics are some of the only Christians who pray this prayer the way Jesus taught it. When Jesus taught this prayer it ended with, “…but deliver us from evil. Amen.” The early Church added on the doxology – “For the kingdom and the power and the glory is yours now and forever. Amen.” Most Protestants pray the Our Father with the added doxology without thinking about the fact that it doesn’t read that way in their Bibles*. Catholics in their recitation of the prayer end it the way Jesus did, though the doxology is recited in the Mass, but not as a part of Lord’s Prayer. It seems that sacred tradition may have seeped into Protestant circles without them realizing…
*I want to leave it at that… but I cannot because you, the reader, must have the full information on this. Some manuscripts have the doxology added to Matthew 6, but most of the earliest ones do not. King James Version advocates say that this doxology is from the original inspired Scriptures and they include it in their Bibles, though the scholars who contributed to translating most modern translations used in most Protestant churches (NIV, ESV, NASB) omit the doxology as a later addition to the original texts by the early church.
2. The Sanctus
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest”
This ancient hymn is rich, filled with words found in Scripture. Before the Sanctus is sung by all present at the Mass the priest says, “And so with choirs of angels, with all the heavenly host, we proclaim your glory and join their unending song of praise.”
The first two lines of the Sanctus draw from Revelation 4:8 and Isaiah 6:3. In both of these passages the Apostle John and the prophet Isaiah have a vision in which they see angelic creatures in heaven praising God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) So when we sing this in the Mass we are literally joining with the songs of praise being sung in heaven right now! In fact, in Revelation it states that these living creatures never cease to praise the Lord, day and night. It’s a powerful way to unite ourselves to the saints and angels in heaven and to foreshadow our future hope of joining with them in their song after we take leave from this earth.
The next lines draw from the Psalms and the Gospels. When Jesus was entering Jerusalem the week of his Passion the crowds gathered along the road that ran down into the city and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). They were quoting Psalm 118:26 which also says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” If you read Psalm 118 in its entirety you will see how fitting it was for the crowds to quote Psalm 118 before the Lord’s passion. In Psalm 118 the writer expresses his joy and thankfulness to God for rescuing him from the hand of his enemy, but he also continues to say, “Save us, we pray, O Lord!” (v. 25). We do the same as we celebrate the redemption Christ has given us through his death and resurrection and as we eagerly await his return and the coming of heaven on earth.
Honestly, until writing this post today I had never saw the rich meaning in the crowds quoting Psalm 118 to Jesus and I am so excited that I have this to think on and meditate on the next few weeks or months every time I say the Sanctus in Mass! A lot of people do not find this depth in Mass and a lot of Protestants think that written prayers and set words lack passion. I would say to them that you get what you put in. I am guilty of daydreaming during Mass or letting my mind wander, but when I realize this is happening I try to redirect my focus to what is happening. I try to let the words being said sink into my soul and I exert my will in applying meaning to the words I say in the Mass. Which brings us to the next and last phrase I want to bring up.
3. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This comes directly from Matthew 8:8 where a centurion comes to Jesus asking that he would heal his servant who was sick and dying at his house. Jesus consents to come and heal his servant but the centurion stops him and says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Somehow this Roman soldier understood that Jesus had way more power than people were giving him credit for! Even Jesus was astounded at the centurion’s faith and marveled at it.
These words in the Mass have meant different things for me at different times. While waiting to be received into the Church they meant, “Lord, I know you can work in my heart powerfully even though I am not receiving you in the Eucharist.” Now that I partake they remind me that the Eucharist is a gift that I am not worthy of. I am nothing, but God has made me his beloved daughter and given me himself through Christ.
As I read today and mulled over this passage a new meaning struck me that I look forward to thinking about more. The centurion recognized that Jesus had authority over everything and that if he could heal people in person he could also heal them from afar. In the same way, the Catholic Church believes that at the Last Supper our Lord instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist and now we have faith that by the power of the Holy Spirit he can continue to transform bread and wine into his body and blood. What he did when physically present he can also do from afar. We draw from the faith of the centurion when we say these words.
If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with this post. My prayer is that this may help you experience the Mass in a new, fresh way or if you have not been to a Mass that this may help you to understand the high view of Scripture that is held by Catholics. I am so thankful that God continues to teach us new things throughout our lives. Just as how I learned new things and new ways to think about the words of the Mass today by writing this, I hope to continue to learn new things and new ways to think about our Lord as I grow in faith, hope, and charity. God is good all the time!