Just as many Catholics know, the Second Vatican Council referred to the liturgy as the “source and summit of the Christian life.”
During the first half of the 20th Century, following the prompts of the great figures of the liturgical movement, the Council Fathers called out for a fuller, more conscious, and more active participation in the liturgy on the part of Catholics.
In the years which follows the Council, the attendance of Mass in Europe, North America, and Australia has drastically dropped. The numbers of Catholics who attend Mass regularly in those parts of the world ranges between 10 and 25 percent.
However, it is not a surprise thing that an extraordinary number of those who identify themselves as Catholics in the West have very little idea of what the Mass actually is.
So what is the Mass?
What actually happens during this paradigmatic prayer?
First and foremost, the Mass is just a privileged encounter with the living Christ. As Christianity is not a philosophy, ideology, or religious program; rather, it is a friendship with the Son of God, who was risen from the dead.
Infact, there is no more intense union with Jesus than the Holy Mass.
Imagine for a moment the two major divisions of the Mass which are: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. Take for instance, in a formal setting, when we meet with another person we typically do two things. We stay together and talk, and then we eat.
Take the first part of the Mass (liturgy of the Word) as an exchange, a conversation, between the Son of God and the members of his mystical Body. During the prayers and interventions of the priest, and especially in the words of the Scriptures, Jesus (through the Priest) speaks to his people, and in the songs, responses, and psalms, the people respond back.
During the course of this spirited conversation, the union between head and members is deepened, strengthened, confirmed. After talking, we then sit down to eat, not just an ordinary meal, but the banquet of the Body and Blood of our Lord, hosted by Jesus himself. The communion that started with the call and response during the first part of Mass is now brought to a time of unsurpassed intensity (at least this side of heaven), as the faithful draw close to eat the body and drink the lifeblood of Jesus.
The Holy Mass, as an act of union with the highest good.
But why is the Mass so important? Why is it called the “source and summit” of the Christian life?
In this case, I could say many more things in answer to these questions, but suffice it to say for the moment that it is the most awesome and wonderful encounter between friends and that it is an anticipation of the moment that will be our permanent preoccupation in heaven.