The Word Among Us

Easter 2008 Issue

Bread for 
the Journey

The Mass as a Celebration—and a Statement—of Hope

Bread for 
the Journey: The Mass as a Celebration—and a Statement—of Hope

Forced to run away from Queen Jezebel’s murderous plots, the prophet Elijah was completely discouraged. “This is enough, O Lord,” he prayed. “Take my life.” But rather than comply with this request, God answered by feeding Elijah and empowering him to take a long journey to safety in the desert (1 Kings 19:1-13).

Have you ever noticed how much God likes using food to reveal himself? It seems that whenever he shares a meal with someone, that person comes away encouraged, inspired, and refreshed. What a wonderful image this is for the Mass! Here, in the greatest of meals, Jesus invites us to his table so that he can refresh us, give us new hope, and feed us with nothing less than the bread of angels.

Just as he ministered to Elijah, God wants to minister to us. He wants to lift our spirits, fill us with inspiration, and send us out into the world as his ambassadors. But we all know that there are times when we just can’t see any hope. We all have times when we go to Mass expecting nothing to happen, either because we feel so unworthy or because we wonder whether God hasn’t abandoned us to a painful, difficult situation.

Get Up and Eat! This is why it is so important to imitate Elijah. He had prayed for death, but the angel told him, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” 
(1 Kings 19:7). Hoping against all hope, defying every instinct of frustration and despair, Elijah did get up and eat. And that one meal strengthened him and filled him with new courage. It empowered him to make a dangerous journey—a journey that ended in an intensely intimate encounter with God (19:9-13).

It is this disposition of faith, persistence, and even defiance that can support us in our darker moments. It is this decision—to stand up in the face of all that opposes us and threatens to undo us—that will ultimately unleash a flood tide of God’s blessing, mercy, and power.

What does this have to do with the Mass? It is during Mass that we can hold this disposition and receive all the “bread” that we need for our own journey. Let’s take a look at a few different parts of the Mass to see how we can rediscover hope as we stand in faith, just as Elijah did.

Lord, Have Mercy! From the very start of the Mass, Jesus gives us the opportunity to put aside despair and embrace his heavenly perspective. It may not seem so at first, but the Penitential Rite can be a great source of hope and comfort. Praying, “Lord, have mercy,” is not meant to be a time for guilt and condemnation. Rather, it’s a time for freedom and release.

In truth, the very act of repentance is itself a bold statement of confidence in God in the face of thoughts that would rob us of hope. It is an affirmation that our lives have value and that we want to keep growing in holiness. It is also an affirmation that we really are capable of holiness—despite our darkest sins! After all, would you really confess your sins if you thought there was no hope of forgiveness and a fresh start?

But there is more to repentance than taking a stand of hope. There is also God’s action of forgiving us. There is his power to cleanse our consciences and silence every voice of guilt, shame, or despair. There is his power to lift us to heaven so that we can hear his voice—a voice that tells us how beloved we are, a voice that tells us we have a special role to play in fulfilling God’s plans.

The Word of the Lord. If the Penitential Rite is our opportunity to turn away from anxiety and despair, the Liturgy of the Word is God’s opportunity to confirm that decision and speak words of hope and encouragement. There is power in the word of God—especially when it is proclaimed in the midst of a congregation of believers—to reveal heavenly truths, unveil the purpose of life, and show us the Father’s love. There is power to inspire us to keep following the Lord, even when we feel we have lost our hope.

In their document on the liturgy, the Fathers of Vatican II said: “In the liturgy God speaks to his people and Christ is still proclaiming his gospel” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 33). Something unique happens when Scripture is read at Mass: It is no longer just a present-day lector reading ancient words. God himself is speaking through that person’s voice. He is speaking a word for each of the people in the congregation, just as Jesus’ parables and sermons in first-century Galilee touched everyone who heard them.

What could be more moving than hearing Almighty God urging us not to give up? What could be more moving than to experience him giving us words of wisdom and direction—words to convince us that he is walking with us and wants to help us? Think about how Job was transformed after he heard God speak (Job 42). Think about how the disciples on the road to Emmaus were energized after hearing the word of God (Luke 24:32). Think about how simply hearing Jesus speak her name was enough for Mary Magdalene to be delivered from despair (John 20:14-18). It can happen to you as well!

We Believe. . . After having heard Jesus speak to us and lift up our hearts, it is our turn once again. We now rise up and proclaim our belief in him, our surrender to him, and our love for him. By reciting the creed, we are affirming that our faith is real and that we want to persist in faith, no matter what difficulties we are facing. We are stating to the Lord, to each other, and even to ourselves that we will continue to fight the good fight of faith.

When you are at Mass on Sunday, take up the creed as a rallying cry and a statement of your vision for your life: “I believe! I will face the future with confidence and trust! I will not give in to despair or let my problems overwhelm me! Jesus is my Lord. He has brought me into his kingdom. I am a child of God. I have nothing to fear at all.”

This is not just a matt er of positive thinking or trying to convince ourselves of something that we really don’t believe. Rather, praying the creed reminds us of all that God has done for us. It gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to show us once again that our lives are in God’s hands, and that he can help us face any problem that life can throw at us.

Take and Eat. Everything that we have said so far about the Mass—the repentance, the readings, the creed—is meant to lead up to the moment when we are united with Jesus, both physically and spiritually.

It is here, during the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion, that Jesus comes and ministers to us. Just as he washed his disciples’ feet, he comes to wash away our anxieties and help us find hope once more. He comes to tell us that he has a perfect plan for us, and to urge us to persist in faith and trust.

But Communion is not only about Jesus coming to us. It’s about our coming to him. It’s an opportunity for us to lay our burdens at his feet—and keep them there. It’s an opportunity for us to pour out our hearts and tell him all that’s troubling us. Just as John leaned against Jesus’ breast at the Last Supper, we can do the same. Jesus loves to comfort us, especially when we are anxious or frustrated. All we have to do is come to him, and he will minister to us.

Lift Up Your Eyes. Brothers and sisters, Jesus loves to take care of us. He knows where we may be hurting. He knows where we may have lost hope. And just as he did for Elijah, for Peter, and for the Emmaus disciples, he wants to lift up our hearts as well. The entire Easter season can be a time when we reaffirm our hope in the Lord. The joyful shouts of “Alleluia” that ring out in our Masses this time of year can be shouts of faith and surrender as well. We don’t have to feel joyful to proclaim that Jesus is risen. We only have to believe—even though every other voice may be telling us to give up—and his Holy Spirit will come to us and help us out.

Every Mass that we celebrate this season can be a time to say “no” to despair and reaffirm our faith in Jesus’ promises. If we do, we will be fulfilling—and experiencing—the great promise contained in the psalm:

The eyes of all look hopefully to you; you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing. (Psalm 145:15-16)

May all of your hopes and desires be fulfilled this Easter season!