What do we see at Mass? (Part II)

Last week I began asking the question, “Why do some people no longer feel like they are involved in the Mass when the priest turns to face the tabernacle?”

I began to suggest some answers from the point of view of what is seen. At the end I proposed that three things could help a person refocus and become involved again, even though the priest is facing the tabernacle. I wrote about the first two: having seen what takes place a person already knows what is taking place, even if it is now hidden from view; what is visible can only be an aid to lead us to the invisible reality that we can only grasp by faith, so we need to focus more on that invisible reality.

Now, let address the third thing, a consideration of what is seen when the priest faces the tabernacle.

What do the people see?

The priest’s back. How boring.

Consider that three Sundays ago, I wrote about the meaning of veils in our worship. I wrote: “Veils remind us that in this life we still receive the divine light through the veil of faith, rather than the face-to-face vision of the heavenly kingdom.” The veil of the priest’s back reminds us that all the things that are hidden from our sight on the altar are like veils that both reveal and conceal the mystery. The veil of the priest’s back reminds us that here and now we still walk by faith, not by sight.

What do the people see?

Three times they see the priest turning towards them: inviting them to pray that his sacrifice and theirs might be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father; greeting them in the peace of Christ; inviting them to the “Supper of the Lamb.”  To change the way we are ‘involved’ in the Mass is to let these three moments structure our participation.

What do the people see?

They see the elevation of the newly consecrated host that has become the Body of Christ and they see the elevation of the chalice that contains what is now the Blood of Christ. Some make a quiet profession of faith at this moment whispering with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Perhaps this moment is the key to becoming truly involved in the Mass.

When the priest faces the people, the people still see the elevations, but it is less dramatic. It gets lost, we might say, in the multitude of things that are seen. Also, together with the host and chalice, the priest’s face is seen, which at the moment is really a distraction more than anything else.

When the priest faces the tabernacle, the double elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ really becomes the center of focus. The Liturgy of the Eucharist leading up to that moment becomes a time of growing anticipation, coming from that moment is, we might say, a time of letting the reality sink in until it ‘sinks in’ fully in the reception of holy communion.

With everything hidden by the ‘veil’ of the priest’s back, the elevations become moments of ‘unveiling’ of ‘revelation’. What, then, is revealed?

The Body of Christ is shown us beneath the appearance of a piece of bread; the Blood of Christ is shown in the appearance of a chalice of wine. The two are shown separately. This is full of meaning; the meaning is central to the whole Mass.

Jesus Christ, who was crucified, whose Body and Blood were separated in his crucifixion, has now risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of his Father. He is alive. The Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity are now forever inseparable.

Nevertheless, in the Mass, in the double elevation, his living and true Body and Blood are shown to us separately. This is a living image of his crucifixion. Unlike the crucifix on the wall above the tabernacle, the host and the chalice that are elevated contain the living Jesus, shown to us in the form of his death, though alive.

At this moment the reality of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is made present here and now. At this moment we are brought to the foot of Calvary to keep company with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, John, the Beloved Disciple, and St. Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner.  To be truly involved in the Mass is to be there at the foot of the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, learning from her how to say, “Amen”, to her Son’s sacrifice, learning from her how to offer ourselves together with him.

But perhaps the reason some people no longer feel involved when the priest turns to face the tabernacle is not so much because of the change in what is seen, but in the change of meaning, the change in what the whole ‘panorama’ so to speak represents. (To be continued)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.