The Holy Mass and Divine Worship

"Godhead here in hiding,
whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows,
shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service
low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder
at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting
are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing?
that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me,
take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly
or there's nothing true."

A TRANSLATION BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS OF THE GREAT HYMN OF S. THOMAS AQUINAS TO THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

Divine worship is the central act of the Christian Church. It is what precedes everything else and is the centre of the sacramental economy (the channels of grace instituted by Christ for the Church) and certainly of the Holy Mass. This means that the vertical motion of the Church towards the heavens and God precedes the horizontal communion that the Mass achieves between the Christians of the local church community and the wider universal Church around the world and across time.

It is important to note that the liturgy as worship of God is not the work of the Church alone, of human beings, men and women, but a work of the whole body, of Christ the head together with the Church the body (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1187-1199). It is Christ who offered this Sacrifice of himself once and for all, at one point in history, and who makes the Sacrifice continually present on the altars of the Church Militant here below. Meanwhile, the heavenly liturgy continues for all eternity, offered by Christ the high-priest in the present of the Church Triumphant of Christians in the kingdom of heaven. Meanwhile, the benefits of the Holy Mass are extended to the suffering Church Penitent awaiting heaven.

In the Catholic understanding, the sacraments and the liturgy involve signs and symbols that provide a material and sensible reality (light, water, oil) to represent a human reality and an invisible grace (washing and cleansing, anointing). For it is primarily through the motion of grace, that Christ acts within his Church. Liturgy consists of a series of acts of memory, by which the historical working of God in his conversation with human beings and the counsels of Holy Scripture are recounted and enacted and otherwise remembered. Attached to this are devotional items that include music and sacred images or icons and the observance of calendars of festivities. In this way the Church observes a timeless liturgy within a framework of time that is more appropriate to our mortal existence.

Thus while the liturgy is offered by Christ as the high-priest in a sacrifice of himself upon the altar that is also himself, within the temple of his body the Church of all believers, in the understanding of finite human beings living within a material universe of created objects, Christian communities gather within visible buildings and before physical shrines, their eyes always heavenward in praise and thanksgiving towards the eternal beatitude they all wish for. In a typical Catholic Church, the pride of place is given to the altar of sacrifice (many churches have more than one altar, on each of which Mass is or was offered) and to a place of reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, and to various shrines to eminent Christian figures, Saints who have been deemed worthy to stand as spiritual models of the Christian life. Finally, every Catholic Church also has an honoured location for the baptismal font, where new Christians are baptised and become members of the body of Christ, and for the confessional boxes, where penitent Christians receive the sacrament of Reconciliation and forgiveness for their sins. It may be that heaven looks very similar to a Catholic Church, albeit without a font and a confession box, and where the statues are replaced with those they represent and many millions of others besides.