The diocesan Eucharistic Congress, "Hearts Aflame," will be held Sept. 22 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. Learn more at www.rcda.org/HeartsAflame and read Bishop Scharfenberger's previous columns on the event at www.evangelist.org.
The diocesan Eucharistic Congress, "Hearts Aflame," will be held Sept. 22 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. Learn more at www.rcda.org/HeartsAflame and read Bishop Scharfenberger's previous columns on the event at www.evangelist.org.

Happy Birthday! Last Sunday, we observed the solemnity of Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit affirmed the apostolic foundation and the apostolic mission of the Church, which is to go out to world and make disciples of all.

In this sense, it might well be called the “birthday” of the Church, for on that day we celebrate our family roots, our conception as the mystical Body of Christ.

Just as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so also the Holy Spirit completes and embodies in us the full paschal mystery of Christ, which is given birth in the Church and its works in the world for all time.

As with all birthdays, we not only remember beginnings, but also celebrate the life of the ones we honor and what they may still become. “Make a wish” is part of a ritual that many observe before blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, expressing a hope for good things to come in the life of whomever we are celebrating.

Jesus himself said that, when the Holy Spirit comes, the Spirit flowing from the Father and the Son, which is the eternal love in which God lives, his disciples would not only do the works that he did, but far greater still (cf. Jn 14:12). He promises this even as he speaks of his own glorification, the completion of the paschal mystery, at which time he will ask the Father “and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17).

This Advocate is the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us, the baptized, and in the sacramental life of the Church, which is his mystical Body. Nowhere is this living presence of God on earth more manifest than in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is not only a celebration of the whole paschal mystery which unfolded in time during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, but a true re-presentation in sacrament of that mystery in such a way that it becomes effective throughout time and into eternity.

In fact, as Pope St. John Paul II and other popes have reflected on many occasions, the Mass is heaven on Earth. We are never closer to the living God, who is heaven itself, than at the Mass.

Since God is our future, it is entirely fitting for us to celebrate the Mass as more than a commemoration of something in the past. It is our future, sacramentally present today. Read the book of Revelation again sometime with the benefit of a good commentary. It contains a description of an apocalyptic liturgy, a heavenly banquet, with words and images we are all familiar with from our eucharistic celebrations.

Author Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian, has reflected extensively on his experience of discovery of the Scriptural roots of and references to the Mass, particularly the apocalypse, and how influential they were, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally, in his conversion to Catholicism.

The Mass lifts us up, all of us together, and the world along with us, in the redemptive sacrifice of the Lamb of God. It helps our understanding of the Mass if we are at least aware of some of its many Jewish roots. The specific elements of bread and wine, its significance as the new Passover, and even the presence of candles have deep roots in the Exodus experience, in which God delivers his chosen people.

In preparation for our Eucharistic Congress (“Hearts Aflame”) Sept. 22 at Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, I would invite you to read the encyclical letter of His Holiness Pope St. John Paul II, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” (2003), available on the Vatican website. He illustrates in great depth how the Mass is the re-presentation of the entire paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, including his life, death and resurrection.

For a deeper look into the Jewish roots of the Mass, I can think of no better introduction than Brant Pitre’s “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper” (2016). You will see how the Mass is not only about what Jesus instituted at the Last Supper, but what he was about to do on Good Friday, and how his Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost — the whole Paschal Mystery — are made present to us in the Mass.

Let me take it one step further. Like all sacramental actions, which contain an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Mass is transformational: It helps us actually become what we celebrate and, in this case, what (or, better, whom) we consume.

Think about that. Every time we participate worthily in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, we are changed. That’s right. Every Mass changes not only bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, it changes us, too! We become more formed to the living Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.

In communion with him, we are united more fully to one another by the power of the presence, the paschal mystery in our ecclesial life. We are being formed into our future, heavenly reality, which the Church is already giving birth to in our journey through time to eternity.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)