What Happens At Mass?

Illumination of John 6 from the St John's BibleYesterday at Mass we heard in the Gospel how those who thronged along the beach around Jesus “were like sheep without a shepherd” and how, in fulfillment of the First Reading from Jeremiah, the promise of the Lord to “appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them” takes flesh in the very person of Jesus who, “moved with pity for them…began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34). This set of readings which the Lectionary appoints for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B) not only presents its own occasion for exegesis but also sets the stage for the next five Sundays (July 26, August 2, 9, 16, and 23). Owing to the short length of the Gospel of Mark from which we have been hearing during this Cycle B of the liturgical year when compared with the other two synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke, assigned to Cycles A and C respectively) the next five Sundays of the Lectionary substitute the Gospel of John’s account of the multiplication of loaves and fishes (6:1-15) for the parallel event in the Gospel of Mark (6:35-44) on the coming Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) and then expands to fill the subsequent four Sundays with the shepherd’s teaching from the Gospel of John’s lengthy Bread of Life Discourse (John 6:22-69) as Jesus himself teaches his flock what the miraculous multiplication means. On each of these five Sundays the Lectionary pairs richly typological First Readings with the Gospel, each prefiguring the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ who remains sacramentally with us.

Cover of the Book What Happens At MassThis five Sunday sequence presents preachers and catechists alike a wonderful opportunity to help lead the flock of the faithful to encounter Christ anew in the Bread of Life, that celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, those mysteries into which the resurrected Christ has passed over. On the heels of facilitating an online course on Liturgical Theology by Dr. Fagerberg during which I happily read for the umpteenth time What Happens At Mass by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll which I have used extensively for liturgical catechesis (see CCC 1074ff.) it occurred to me how frequently we participate in the Mass only bodily and miss the depths to which Christ goes in order to invite us to encounter his saving love therein. Would that the shepherds of souls whom the Lord sends to teach would realize and be equipped to “ensure that the faithful take part [in the sacred liturgy] fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 11). A comprehensive program, Believe Celebrate Live developed by the liturgical staff of St James Cathedral, offers a five week study for parishes that would, together with other great resources already mentioned as well as some additional ones below, could profitably be used for parish catechesis. In order to bring “all the faithful…to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy…their right and duty by reason of their baptism…the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” I had occasion to coach our Liturgy Office intern, Julianna Castro, as she developed a script for a Commentator to use during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, offering prepared reflections before the Mass and at other appropriate times indicated in the Order of Mass, meant to assist pastors in bringing about “this full and active participation by all the people” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). I’m happy to share with you these Commentator scripts and example intercessions as an example and welcome your insights on additional resources you have found fruitful. If you are so inclined to use these Commentator scripts (or a similar form of Mass catechesis) in your parish, faith community, or domestic church over the coming weeks during which the Church unfolds the mystery of the Eucharist in an explicit way please do share your experiences with such.

May we who are nourished by the Bread of Life “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (Ps 34:9) who opens his hands to feed us (Ps 145:16) with the bread come down from heaven (Ps 78:24) so that he might make us sharers in him in whose Body and Blood we have Communion.


Some additional resources:
Meeting Christ in His Mysteries by Abbot Gregory Collins
The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy by Goffredo Boselli

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