By: Fr. Anthony Amato
We are quickly approaching the liturgical season of Lent. During this season, we prepare for the Resurrection of the Lord through penitential practices that draw us closer to union with the Cross of Christ. The liturgies throughout that season constantly remind us of our need for a Savior and what Our Lord has promised to do for us. And yet, we know, by faith, that the Lord has already risen! He lives and reigns in Heaven, always interceding for us! (cf. Hebrews 7:25) In fact, “in the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims…we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §8).
At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we truly worship God along with the saints and angels who already behold Him face-to-face! How can we possibly stay away from such an event as this? How is it possible that some become “bored” at Mass or that some feel they “just sit there” and wait for it to end? “If we only knew how God regards this Sacrifice,” St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) tells us, “we would risk our lives to be present at a single Mass.” In his Pastoral Letter commemorating the sesquicentennial of our Diocese, in which he declared a “Year of the Eucharist,” Bishop Matano reminds us of the purpose for which we offer the Mass: “Thus, we draw near to the Eucharist with the utmost reverence to render worship, adoration, thanksgiving and prayers of supplication to the One who alone is Lord!” (Pastoral Letter, page 2, emphasis added).
Adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and petition have traditionally been called “the four ends of Mass.” Simply put, they are the four types of prayer that we offer during the Mass and indeed, in our own personal prayer life.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is first and foremost an offering of our worship and adoration to our Heavenly Father. Think of the command of the priest after the altar has been prepared: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.” Each of us, lay or ordained, offer the Holy Sacrifice according to our state. We adore God by uniting ourselves to the offering that is made on the altar. This offering is nothing (or no one) less than the Son of God Himself. What a gift and a privilege it is that we can give our Father such honor and praise for what He has done for us by praying the Mass together! We honor Him as Creator of all things, we honor Him for His mercy, wisdom, and for His liberality towards us in giving us the means of salvation. The adoration we offer our Father at Mass has an equal value – an infinite value – with Christ’s own offering on the Cross.
Within this context of adoration and worship, we recognize that the Mass is a Sacrifice of thanksgiving as well. Everything we have, even our very life and existence, come from God, and so that is all that we have to offer back to Him. In the Roman Canon, as we offer the Immaculate Victim back to the Father we pray, “Therefore, O Lord…we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us….” All that we have is a gift, and so, out of our immense gratitude for the many graces Our Lord has bestowed on us – most importantly, the gift of eternal life – we give ourselves in union with Christ whom we offer on the altar.
Holy Mass is also a Sacrifice of propitiation or satisfaction and of petition or supplication. A single drop of Our Lord’s Blood would have been sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world, yet He gave all of His Blood in order to show us the abundance and depth of His love. There are two roads to Heaven: the way of innocence and the way of penance. The Mass is a Sacrifice of propitiation because Christ whom we offer on the altar in the form of bread and wine is the same Christ who atoned for our sins on the Cross. The effects are, therefore, the same: the remission of sins and the satisfaction of punishments due to us for our sins (or for the sins of the dead for whom we may offer the Mass). However, since we have most likely sinned since our baptism, and we no longer walk in complete innocence of life, the normal means of the remission of mortal sins is the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). Through the offering of the Mass, God grants us the remission of venial sins and the grace to move us to repent of any mortal sins and so to confess them worthily.
Finally, we offer the Holy Mass as a Sacrifice of supplication or petition, asking God to grant us the graces we need to live a holy life or for any need for which it is worthy to ask God. We only need to look at the words of the various Eucharistic Prayers, or listen to the Prayers of the Faithful at any Mass, to see the many needs which we bring to Our Lord. It is in the Mass that our hearts find a resting place in the midst of this world. It is at the altar, the threshold between Heaven and earth, that we meet Christ face-to-face and so ask Him for our greatest needs, confident of being heard by the God who comes to us whenever we call upon Him.
These four types of prayer (adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and petition) can be seen as the most basic aspects of communication with one another. They can be summarized in four simple phrases which we all know: “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “Please.” At the Mass, this is how we participate. These simple phrases are taken up in prayer and united to the offering of the Son of God on the Cross, in an act of worship of infinite value. How beautiful, glorious, sublime it is to participate at even one Mass! May we always avail ourselves of the graces Our Lord wishes to give us at the Mass, and prepare our minds and hearts to offer our lives in His service.
O Thou memorial of our Lord’s own dying!
O living bread, to mortals life supplying!
Make Thou my soul henceforth on Thee to live,
Ever a taste of heavenly sweetness give.
(Adoro te devote, St. Thomas Aquinas)
Fr. Anthony Amato is the Parochial Vicar of Blessed Trinity Parish and St. Patrick Parish in Tioga County. Raised in Greece, NY, he attended the Aquinas Institute for high school and then the University of Rochester (2009), where he earned his bachelor’s in Philosophy and in Religious Studies. He then earned a Master’s of Theological Studies in Systematic Theology from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry (2011). After a year of discernment at Becket Hall, he was sent to study at Theological College at the Catholic University America, where he earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology in Systematic Theology (2017). Fr. Amato was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Rochester on June 3, 2017.