Jesus “has loved me and has sacrificed
Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
Jesus For Me
Pope John Paul II reminds us in his homily at Fatima on May 13,
1982, that Jesus on the Cross gave Mary to each one of us as Our
Mother. On the Cross also Jesus sacrificed Himself for our
salvation. Today Jesus continues to offer Himself to the Eternal
Father for our salvation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is
the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
Holy Mass is the Sacrifice of the Cross
Only in Heaven will we understand what a divine marvel the Holy Mass is. No matter how much we force ourselves and no matter how holy and inspired we are, we cannot but stammer on this divine work which transcends men and Angels.
One day Padre Pio of Pietrelcina had been asked, “Father, please explain the Holy Mass to us.” “My children,” replied Padre Pio, “how can I explain it to you? The Mass is infinite like Jesus ... ask an Angel what a Mass is and he will reply to you in truth, 'I understand what it is and why it is offered, but I do not, however, understand how much value it has.' One Angel, a thousand Angels, all of Heaven, know this and think like this.”
St. Alphonsus de Liguori came to affirm, “God Himself cannot bring about an action more holy and greater than the celebration of one Holy Mass.” Why? Because the Holy Mass is, one could say, the synthesis, because the Holy Mass can be said to sum up the Incarnation and Redemption and contains the Birth, Passion and the Death of Jesus, mysteries which God accomplished for our sakes. The second Vatican Council teaches, “At the Last Supper, the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus initiated the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, in order to continue the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until His return.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, The Constitution on the Liturgy, n.47) St. Thomas Aquinas, in an enlightening passage, wrote, “The celebration of the Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the Cross.”
For this reason, St. Francis of Assisi said, “Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.”
Indeed, inasmuch as it renews the Sacrifice of Jesus' Passion and Death, the Holy Mass, even taken alone, is great enough to restrain divine justice. St. Teresa of Jesus said to her daughters, “Without the Holy Mass, what would become of us? All here below would perish, because that alone can hold back God's arm.” Without it the Church certainly would not last and the world would become hopelessly lost. “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Holy Mass,” said Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. He was following St. Leonard of Port Maurice who had said, “I believe that if there were no Mass, the world would by now have sunk into the abyss under the weight of its wickedness. The Mass is the powerful support which sustains it.”
Wonderful are the saving effects which every Sacrifice of the Mass produces in the souls of those who participate. It obtains sorrow and pardon for sins; it lessens the temporal punishment due to sins; it weakens the influence of satan and the untamed impulses of our flesh; it strengthens the bonds of our union in the Body of Christ; it protects us from danger and disaster; it shortens the punishment of Purgatory; it obtains for us a higher degree of glory in Heaven. “No human tongue,” said St. Laurence Justinian, “can enumerate the favors that trace back to the Sacrifice of the Mass. The sinner is reconciled with God; the just man becomes more upright; sins are wiped away; vices eliminated; virtue and merit gain growth and the devil's schemes are frustrated.”
And so St. Leonard of Port Maurice did not tire of exhorting the crowds which listened to him, “O you deluded people, what are you doing? Why do you not hasten to the churches to hear as many Masses as you can? Why do you not imitate the Angels who, when a Holy Mass is celebrated, come down in squadrons from Paradise and take their stations about our altars in adoration to intercede for us?”
If it is true that we all have need of graces for this life and for the next, nothing can win them from God like the Holy Mass. St. Philip Neri used to say, “With prayer we ask graces from God; in the Holy Mass we constrain God to give them to us.” The prayer offered during Holy Mass engages our whole priesthood, both the ministerial priesthood even apart from that of the individual priest at the altar and the common priesthood of all the faithful. In Holy Mass our prayer is united with Jesus' prayer of agony as He sacrifices Himself for us. In a special way during the Canon, which is the heart of the Mass, the prayer of all of us becomes also the prayer of Jesus, present amongst us. The two Mementoes of the Roman Canon during which the living and the dead are remembered, are precious moments for us to present our petitions. Also, in those supreme moments when Jesus in the priest's hands undergoes His Passion and Death, we can beg for our own needs and we can recommend both living and deceased persons who are dear to us. Let us take care to profit by this. The Saints held this to be very important, and when they recommended themselves to the prayers of priests, they asked them to remember them above all during the Canon.
It will particularly be at the hour of our death that the Masses we have devoutly heard will bring us our greatest consolation and hope, and one Mass heard during life will be more profitable than many Masses heard by others in our behalf after our death.
Our Lord told St. Gertrude, “You may be sure that regarding one who devoutly assists at Holy Mass, I will send him as many of my Saints to comfort him and protect him during the last moments of his life as there will have been Masses which he has heard well.”
How consoling! The Holy Curé of Ars had reason to say, “If we knew the value of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, how much greater effort we would put forth in order to assist at it!” And St. Peter Julian Eymard exhorted, “Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of Religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more nor profit your soul more than devoutly assisting at It, and assisting as often as possible.”
For this reason we must consider ourselves fortunate every time we have an opportunity to attend a Holy Mass; and in order not to lose the opportunity, we should never withhold ourselves because of some sacrifice, especially on Sundays and holy days.
Let us remember St. Maria Goretti, who, to go to Sunday Mass traveled on foot, a journey of 15 miles going and returning home. We should think of Santina Campana, who went to Mass while she had a high fever. Think of Saint Maximilian M. Kolbe, who offered Holy Mass when his health was in such pitiful condition that one of his brothers in religion had to support him at the altar so that he would not fall. And how many times Padre Pio of Pietrelcina celebrated Holy Mass while he was bleeding and had a fever!
In our own daily lives, we ought to rank the Holy Mass ahead of any other good; for, as St. Bernard says, “One merits more by devoutly assisting at a Holy Mass than by distributing all of his goods to the poor and traveling all over the world on pilgrimage.” And it cannot be otherwise, because nothing in the world can have the infinite value of one Holy Mass.
We ought to prefer Holy Mass all the more to mere amusements that waste our time and bring no profit to our soul. St. Louis IX, King of France, attended several Masses every day. A minister of the government complained, remarking that he could devote that time to the affairs of the kingdom. The saintly king remarked, “If I spent twice the time in amusements, like hunting, no one would have any objection.”
Let us be generous and willingly make sacrifices so as not to lose so great a good. St. Augustine said to his Christians, “All the steps that one takes as he travels to hear Holy Mass are counted by an angel; and then one will be given a high reward by God in this life and in eternity.” The Curé of Ars adds, “How happy is that guardian angel who accompanies a soul to Holy Mass!”
Daily Holy Mass
Once one realizes that Holy Mass has infinite worth, he is not surprised at the Saints' eagerness and care to attend it every day, and even more often insofar as possible.
St. Augustine has left us this praise of his mother, St. Monica, “She did not let a day pass without being present at the divine Sacrifice before Your altar, O Lord.”
St. Francis of Assisi usually attended two Masses each day; and when he was sick he asked a friar who was a priest to celebrate Holy Mass for him in his cell so that he would not be without Holy Mass.
Every morning after celebrating Holy Mass, St. Thomas Aquinas served another Mass in thanksgiving.
The shepherd boy, St. Paschal Baylon, could not go to church to attend all the Masses he would have liked because he had to take the sheep to the pasture. So, every time he heard the church bells give the signal for Mass, he knelt on the grass among the sheep before a wooden cross that he had made, and in this way he would, from afar, follow the priest as he offered the divine Sacrifice. What a lovable Saint, a true seraphim of love towards the Eucharist. On his death bed he heard the bell for Mass and had the strength to whisper to his brethren, “I am happy to unite to the Sacrifice of Jesus the sacrifice of my poor life.” And he died at the Consecration of Holy Mass.
St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland and mother of eight children, went to Mass every day and brought her children with her, and with motherly care she taught them to treasure the little missal which she chose to adorn with precious stones.
Let us manage our affairs so well that we will not lack time for Holy Mass. Let us not say that we are too busy with chores, for which Jesus could remind us, “Martha, Martha, thou art troubled about many things, but one thing alone is necessary.” (Luke 10:41-42).
When one really wants to, one finds time to go to Mass without failing in one's duties. St. Joseph Cottolengo recommended daily Mass for everybody — for teachers, nurses, laborers, doctors, parents — and to those who objected that they did not have time to go he replied firmly, “Bad management! Bad economy of time!” He spoke the truth. If we but appreciated the infinite value of the Holy Mass, we would be very desirous of assisting and would try in every way to find the necessary time.
When St. Charles of Sezze was going about Rome seeking alms for his community, he would take time out to make visits to a church to attend additional Masses. It was at the moment of the elevation of the Host during one of these Masses that he received the dart of love into his heart.
Every morning St. Francis of Paula went to church and he remained therein to attend all the daily Masses which were celebrated. St. John Berchmans, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez and St. Gerard Majella used to serve at as many Masses as they could. (They did this with such devotion and edification that they attracted many of the faithful into church.)
Venerable Francis of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite, served at ten Masses every day. If it happened that he had a few less to serve, he would say, “Today I have not had my full breakfast.” And what can we say of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina? Padre Pio heard many Masses every day, and participated at them by reciting many Rosaries! The Holy Curé of Ars was not mistaken when he said, “The Mass is the devotion of the Saints.”
The same must be said of the love that holy priests have had for celebrating Mass. It was for them a terrible suffering to be unable to celebrate Mass. “When you hear that I cannot celebrate Mass any more, count me as dead,” St. Francis Xavier Bianchi said to a brother religious.
St. John of the Cross made it clear that the greatest suffering he had during his ordeal of imprisonment was that of not being able to celebrate Mass nor receive Holy Communion for nine continuous months.
Obstacles and difficulties did not count for the Saints when they were arranging their affairs with a view to not losing so excellent a good. For example, one day in the streets of Naples, St. Alphonsus Liguori suffered violent pains in the abdomen. The religious who accompanied him urged him to stop and take a sedative. But the Saint had not yet celebrated Mass and his prompt response was, “My dear brother, I would walk ten miles in this condition in order not to miss saying Holy Mass.” And his sufferings would not move him to break the Eucharistic fast which at that time was obligatory from midnight. He waited until the pain subsided a little and then continued his walk to church.
The Capuchin, St. Laurence of Brindisi, found himself in a town of heretics. Since this town had no Catholic church, he journeyed forty miles on foot to reach a chapel cared for by Catholics in which he was able to celebrate Holy Mass.
St. Francis de Sales one time was staying in a Protestant town, and to celebrate Holy Mass he had to go every morning before dawn to a Catholic parish church which was on the other side of a broad stream. During the autumn rains the stream rose more than usual and washed away the little bridge on which the Saint had been crossing. But St. Francis was not disheartened. He threw a large beam in the place where the bridge had been and continued to cross over. In winter, however, because of the ice and snow, there was serious danger of his slipping and falling into the water. The Saint then devised a procedure whereby he put himself astride the beam and then maneuvered across on all fours, so that he might not miss his celebration of Holy Mass.
We will never succeed in sufficiently pondering that mystery beyond description, the Holy Mass, which reproduces on our altars the Sacrifice of Calvary. Nor can we ever have too much devotion for this supreme marvel of Divine Love.
“Holy Mass,” wrote St. Bonaventure, “is an achievement of God wherein He places before our view all the love He has borne us; in a sense it is the synthesis, the sum of all benefits bestowed upon us.”
Active and Fruitful Participation
The infinite greatness of the Holy Mass should enable us to understand the need of attentively and devoutly taking part in the Sacrifice of Jesus. Adoration, love and sorrow ought to have undisputed predominance among our sentiments.
In a very moving reflection, quoted forcefully by Vatican II, Pope Pius XII portrayed the dispositions with which one should take part in the Holy Mass; that is, it should be with “the dispositions that the Divine Redeemer had when He sacrificed Himself — the same humble spirit of submission — that is, of adoration, love, praise and thanksgiving to the great majesty of God ... so that we reproduce in ourselves the condition of victimhood, the self-denial that follows the Gospel's teaching, whereby of our own accord we make the willing sacrifice of penance, sorrow and expiation for our sins.”
True, active participation at Holy Mass is what makes us into slain victims like Jesus and succeeds in “reproducing in us the pain-marked features, the suffering likeness of Jesus” (Pius XII), allowing us “the fellowship of His sufferings” as we are “made conformable to His death” (Philippians 3:10). All the rest is simply liturgical ceremony, simply clothing. St. Gregory the Great taught: “The Sacrifice of the altar will be on our behalf truly acceptable as our offering to God when we present ourselves as victims.” As a reflection of this doctrine, in early Christian communities the faithful used to advance in penitential garb, chanting the litany of the Saints, in a procession to the altar for the celebration of Holy Mass, with the Pope presiding. If we would go to Mass in this spirit, we should want to make our own the sentiment St. Thomas the Apostle expressed when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16).
When St. Margaret Mary Alacoque attended Holy Mass, as she gazed at the altar, she would never fail to take a glance at the Crucifix and the lighted candles. Why? It was to impress into her mind and heart two things: the Crucifix reminded her of what Jesus had done for her; the lighted candles recalled what she must do for Jesus; that is, sacrifice herself and consume herself for Him and for souls.
The best example of participation at the Holy Sacrifice is given us at the foot of the Cross by the most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalen with the pious women (John 19:25). To assist at Mass is very much like being at Calvary.
St. Andrew Avellino used to be moved to tears as he said, “One cannot separate the most Holy Eucharist from the Passion of Jesus.”
One day a spiritual son asked Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, “Father, how should we take part at Holy Mass?”
Padre Pio replied, “As Our Lady, St. John and the pious women did on Calvary, loving Him and showing Him pity.”
In a missal of one of his spiritual children Padre Pio wrote: “In assisting at Holy Mass, concentrate intently on the tremendous mystery which is taking place before your eyes, and that is the Redemption and reconciliation of your soul with God.” At another time he was asked, “Father, why is it that you cry so much during Mass?” “My daughter,” replied Padre Pio, “what are those few tears compared to what takes place at the altar? There should be torrents of tears!” And still another time it was said to him, “Father, how much you must suffer by standing on the bleeding wounds of your feet for the entire time of Mass!” Padre Pio replied, “During Mass I am not standing, I am hanging.” What a reply! The few words, “I am hanging,” very strongly express what it is to be “crucified with Christ” of which St. Paul speaks (Gal. 2:19), and which distinguishes the true and full participation at Mass from the vain, academic, even to the point of only noisy external verbal participation. St. Bernadette Soubirous spoke well when she said to a new priest, “Remember that the priest at the altar is always Jesus Christ on the cross.” St. Peter of Alcantara vested for Holy Mass as though he were about to go up on Calvary, because all the priestly vestments have a referral to the Passion and Death of Jesus; the alb recalls the white tunic which Herod made Jesus wear in order to mock Him as crazy; the cord recalls the scourging of Jesus; the stole recalls the rope which tied Jesus; the tonsure recalls the crowning with thorns; the chasuble, signed with the sign of the cross, recalls the cross on the shoulders of Jesus.
Those who have assisted at the Mass of Padre Pio recall those burning tears of his; they recall his forceful request that those present follow Holy Mass on their knees; they recall the impressive silence in which the sacred rite unfolded; they recall the distressing suffering which showed itself spontaneously on Padre Pio's face when he pronounced with great effort the words of Consecration; they remember the fervor of the silent prayer of the faithful which filled the church while Padre Pio, silently, prayed several Rosaries for over one hour.
But the suffering participation of Padre Pio at Holy Mass is the same of all the Saints. The tears of Padre Pio were like those of St. Francis of Assisi (which at times became bloody), like those of St. Vincent Ferrer, of St. Ignatius, of St. Philip Neri, of St. Laurence of Brindisi (who at times soaked seven handkerchiefs with his tears), of St. Veronice Juliani, of St. Joseph of Cupertino, of St. Alphonsus, of St. Gemma Galgani ... But, after all, how is it possible to remain indifferent before the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus? We shall certainly not be like the Apostles who slept in Gethsemane and much less shall we be like the soldiers who, at the foot of the Cross, thought only of the game of dice, heedless of the atrocious spasms of Jesus dying! (And yet, this is the distressing impression that we get when seeing a so-called “rock” Mass, celebrated to the rhythm of guitars playing profane and cheap tunes with women in indecent clothes and youths in the most strange fashions ... “Lord, pardon them!”)
Let us watch the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. Let us imitate them. Only by following them are we on the right road, the road which “has pleased God” (1 Cor. 1:21).
“The best example of participation at the Holy Sacrifice is given
us at the foot of the Cross by the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St.
John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalen ... To assist at Mass is
very much like being at Calvary.” - Father Manelli
Holy Mass and the Souls in Purgatory
Once we have left this world, there is nothing we will desire more than the celebration of Holy Mass for our souls. The Holy Sacrifice of the Altar is the most powerful intercessory prayer, for it surpasses every prayer, every penance and every good work. Nor will it be difficult for us to understand that if we recall that the Sacrifice of the Mass is the same Sacrifice of Jesus which He offered on the Cross and which He now offers on the altar with its infinite expiatory value. Jesus, immolated, is the true Victim of “Propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2) and His Divine Blood is effused “unto remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Absolutely nothing can be equalled to Holy Mass, and the salutary fruits of the Sacrifice can be extended to an unlimited number of souls.
One time, during the celebration of Holy Mass in the Church of St. Paul at the Three Fountains in Rome, St. Bernard saw an unending stairway which went up to Heaven. Very many angels went up and down on it, carrying from Purgatory to Paradise the souls freed by the Sacrifice of Jesus, renewed by priests on the altars all over the world.
Thus, at the death of one of our relatives, let us take much more care about having celebrated, and assisted at, Holy Masses for him, rather than about the flowers, the dark clothes and the funeral procession ...
There are recounted many apparitions of souls being purified in Purgatory who came to ask Padre Pio to offer Holy Mass for their intentions so that they would be able to leave Purgatory. One day he celebrated Holy Mass for the father of one of his fellow Franciscan brothers. At the end of the Holy Sacrifice, Padre Pio said to his brother, “This morning the soul of your father has entered into Heaven.” The brother was very happy to hear that, yet he said to Padre Pio, “But, Father, my good father died thirty-two years ago.” “My son,” Padre Pio replied, “before God everything is paid for.” And it is Holy Mass which obtains for us a price of infinite value: The Body and the Blood of Jesus, the “Immaculate Lamb” (Apoc. 5:12)
During a sermon one day, the Holy Curé of Ars gave the example of a priest who, celebrating Mass for his deceased friend, after the Consecration prayed as follows, “Holy and Eternal Father, let us make an exchange. You possess the soul of my friend in Purgatory; I have the Body of Your Son in my hands. You liberate for me my friend, and I offer to You, Your Son, with all the merits of His Passion and Death.”
Let us remember: All prayers and good works offered for a soul are good and commendable, but when we can, let us above all have celebrated Holy Masses (especially the Thirty Gregorian Masses), for the souls of the deceased who are dear to us.
In the life of Blessed Henry Suso we read that as a young man he had made this agreement with a brother of his religious order, “Whichever one of us outlives the other, let him hasten the glory of the one who has passed into eternity with the celebration of one Holy Mass every week.” The companion of Blessed Henry died first in a mission territory. Blessed Henry remembered his promise for a little while; then, because he had been obliged to celebrate Masses for others, he substituted the weekly Mass which he had promised his friend with prayers and penances. But his friend appeared to him and scolded him, “Your prayers and your penances are not sufficient for me, I need the Blood of Jesus,” “because it is with the Blood of Jesus that we pay the debts of our sins” (Col. 1:14).
Also, the great St. Jerome has written that “for every Mass devoutly celebrated many souls leave Purgatory and they fly to Heaven.” The same must be said for Holy Masses devoutly heard. St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, the well-known Carmelite mystic, was in the habit of mentally offering the Blood of Jesus for the purpose of freeing the souls in Purgatory, and in an ecstasy Jesus showed her that truly many souls in Purgatory were liberated by the offering of the Precious Blood. Nor could it be otherwise because, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, that just one drop of the Blood of Jesus with Its infinite value, can save the whole universe from every offense.
Let us, therefore, pray for the souls in Purgatory, and free them from their pains by having celebrated and hearing many Holy Masses. “All good works taken together,” said the holy Curé of Ars, “cannot have the value of one Holy Mass, because they are the works of men, whereas the Holy Mass is the work of God.”
At their ordination, priests are told by their Bishop to imitate Our
Lord. This should be especially notable when the priest
celebrates Holy Mass.