Have you ever been on vacation and tried to find information for Sunday Mass? Usually the Mass times are listed somewhere in the hotel literature along with all of the other “religious services” in the area. But is the Mass just one “religious service” among so many others? Far from it!
The Mass is no mere “religious service”. At the Mass earth reaches up to Heaven and Heaven comes down to earth. The Mass is the one place on earth where Heaven and earth meet. That brief one hour or so is literally Heaven on earth! Now trust me, when there are kids screaming, microphone and light problems, and heating or cooling problems, I realize that it doesn’t always “feel” like Heaven on earth but it truly is.
If we were to close our eyes and imagine what the throne room of Heaven might look like, what would we see? Scripture and tradition tell us that we would see holy men and women, saints. We would see angels, we would see martyrs. There would be hymns and songs, incense, lampstands, and an altar. There would books or scrolls, elders, musical instruments, and the Lamb. Now open your eyes!
Throughout the centuries the Church has given us a way to see that at Mass we are in Heaven while standing on earth. As we look around at Mass we see holy men and women, not only the ones in the pews, but through the stained glass windows and statues. As St. Paul says, “..we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1). We also see the angels.
The saints and martyrs are also present to us in a unique way in the fact that there are relics embedded into the altar. “…I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.” (Revelation 6:9)
On earth as it is in Heaven, we have the hymns and songs. “…and day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Revelation 4:8)
Incense, though not used at every Mass, is often present. – “…and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.” (Revelation 8:4)
Lampstands or candles are present on or around the altar. – “…I saw seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 1:12) The Altar of sacrifice is there as well as the “…Lamb standing as though it had been slain.”– (Revelation 6:9, 5:6)
As you may have noticed by now, the majority of these items, these bells and smells, can be found in the book of Revelation. John’s book of Revelation does exactly that, it “reveals” the hidden mysteries of the Mass. The early Church Fathers have held this interpretation since the very beginning but it has become lost over the past few centuries.
The book of Revelation is an unveiling, a revealing of the Heavenly Liturgy. Although there are other elements involved, a great majority of the book concerns Heavenly worship. We get to pull back the curtain to see how those in Heaven worship the Lord and the Church models the Mass on that. Furthermore, at Mass we are not merely peeking through a curtain, we are invited in. We are invited to “lift up our hearts to the Lord” and sing with the angels. We are invited to take part in the Heavenly Liturgy, the “feast” of Heaven and earth.
In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus gives a parable explaining Heaven as a marriage feast. The servants are told to call those who are invited, basically everyone. The responses? I’m too busy. It doesn’t make sense. It’s outdated and silly. What is our response to the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb?
Today, being faithful to God and to the Church takes heroic virtue. So, I’d like to offer a few simple steps to help you more fully enter into the Heavenly liturgy while you are standing in your pew. First, read the readings of the Mass at least once before coming to Mass or arrive early and read them there. This simple act will help you to focus on the words of Scripture when they are read. Second, participate in Eucharistic adoration when it is available. This time spent with our Lord outside of the Mass helps you to more easily recognize Him in the Mass. Finally, take time to feed your hunger for God by reading good books. To get more out of the Mass I would highly recommend The Lamb’s Supper by Dr. Scott Hahn and A Biblical Walk Through the Mass by Dr. Edward Sri. Both books are easy to read and easy to understand.
As you can see, the Mass is not simply one more religious service among so many others. The Mass is the place where we can experience Heaven with our feet still on earth. How blessed are we to be Catholic! How “blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb!!” (Revelation 19:9)