The Prayer-Power of the Mass

jesus-precious-bloodYou probably know that every Mass is “offered” for some intention. Although unfortunately sometimes we devolve into the language of “praying especially” for that intention, the “offering-power” of the Mass is greater than that. Our petitions our united to our praise.

There’s an interesting insight in the history of the Eucharistic prayers. At first there were only the central parts of the prayers, directly focused on what we’re doing: the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the Institution Narrative, the “anamnesis,” or “remembering” prayer (“as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven . . .”), and the doxology (“all glory and honor is yours . . . .”)

But gradually over the centuries other prayers were interspersed with these most essential prayers, inserted right in the middle. It’s like bringing the sick to touch Jesus: the central insight is that just putting our prayers near the power of the Eucharist gives them new efficacy.

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Another version of this insight is in the Council of Trent’s teaching on the Sacrifice of the Mass (Session 22). One way Trent talks about the power of the Mass is simply to say that it has power even for the dead: “For the Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. . . . Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ . . . .”

Which is just to say: the power of the Mass is so great that it bears fruit not only for those who directly participate, but also for others.

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We can find some models for understanding this power of the Mass in the words used in the old Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayer One.

Early on, it says the people offer the Mass,

“for the redemption of their souls,

in hope of health and well-being,

and paying their homage to you . . . .”

Notice the movement: the first line is about our souls, the second about our bodies, the third about God. First see the connection between the first and third lines: to pay homage to God, to offer him perfect praise, is intrinsically tied to the redemption of our souls. Praise is the redemption of our souls: to be redeemed is to offer praise, to be restored to true homage.

But so too this radiates even into our physical life, our “hope of health and well-being.” Our health and well-being are ordered to paying homage to God; they are themselves a way of paying homage.

In other words, the praise of the Mass spills over even into our prayers for physical things, precisely because, and insofar as, those physical things are ordered to our perfect praise of God.

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Eucharistic Prayer I says the same thing more concisely a little later on, when it asks that we “may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” Now, this is ultimately about grace, about God restoring the soul to true love of him. But again, this seeps even into our earthly life, because to be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing includes our family, our home, our work, even our well-ordered leisure.

These things are not ends in themselves. But they are all made for praise, all directed to our heavenly union with God. And so, by bringing our petitions for them to the Mass, we let them, too, be filled with every heavenly blessing.

So too when the Roman Canon prays, “order our days in your peace.” Ah, a rich formula! Again, we don’t say, “buy me a Mercedes-Benz.” But we do say, the peace of God sinks into everything, orders everything, which can include even our temporal welfare.

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Finally, we have formulations about the life of the saints. We ask, “graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs,” and then later, “we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help.”

That fellowship is a spiritual thing. It is union in praise around the altar of God. But for our lives to be brought into this fellowship includes all the myriad things we may pray for.

In this month of the Precious Blood, let us bathe all our temporal needs in the Blood of Jesus, ask that all of them may rise up in prayer to him who alone gives them meaning.

Do we put too much distance between our praise and petitions, between “hallowed be thy name” and “give us this day”?

Click here for other posts in the “Precious Blood” series.

eric.m.johnston

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