When I attended a workshop about the new translation of the Missal, the priest running it said: ‘We are never more ourselves than when we are at Mass.’ He meant that Catholics feel that the Mass is there at the core of their identity. It is an inseparable part of who they are. Notice, straight away, that this not only makes us who we are but takes us out of ourselves. It joins us to many other people not only in many other lands but in many previous centuries. They, and we, come to the same altar. Here we are on an equal footing: the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, the young and the old. We belong together. And not only that, but the Mass takes us into Christ, risen and ascended: in a way that we cannot fully explain, it links us to heaven itself, to the eternal love of God. What a wonderful gift.
Previous generations had a great sense of awe about the Mass. Communion was infrequent and always preceded by confession. The celebration of the Mass was surrounded by mystique. It was in a sacred language. All this helped to create a profound respect for the Mass. We make a mistake if we think that our elders did not understand what was going on at the altar. They did understand. But there was a distance between the sacrament and the people. The very respect that they brought to the Mass also could have the effect of making it inaccessible. Communion was more for the great and the good.
At the Second Vatican Council the fathers of the Church set out to bring a new understanding of the Eucharist. They wanted to bring it closer to the people, so that it could help each and every one of us in our Christian conversion. We are already Christian, of course, but each of us seeks a deeper conversion in the sense of following Jesus Christ ever more closely. By their reforms they wanted us to see the Mass more clearly as Christ’s invitation to share his work, to carry his presence out from church into the world of work, family, and community. Each time we stretch out our hands to the bread of life or the cup of salvation, we are doing more than commemorating a past event called the Last Supper: we are also affirming our belief that Christ lives among us, that the Spirit breathes into our souls, that we are called to be his people. All this is summed up in that little word Amen. It means Yes, Indeed. It means, I am in complete agreement. So when the priest or minister says, ‘The Body of Christ’, you reply Amen because of your belief in the resurrection. You reply Amen because of your faith in the real presence. You say Amen because you believe in the reality of Jesus drawing close to us in this way in this moment. It is God’s generous, gracious, gift of himself to us. But ….
To my great distress, too people now say ‘Thank you’ instead of Amen. I admire their politeness. But more than politeness is called for here. We need, instead, a deep affirmation of faith. Only Amen will do. After all, in this moment, earth is joined to heaven, time touches eternity, and we are present at the Table of the Lord. So please: say it loud. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.