“Bread of Life” Reflection
Have you ever been to heaven….? Perhaps my question sounds absurd or uncouth. Alright, let me reframe it. Do you wish to know what heaven is like? Do you wish to experience it or know what happens there? You no longer need to do too much. Get yourself prepared in mind and heart and go to Mass. You will meet heaven...or you’re already there (here), right now.
An ancient Entrance Hymn for Mass taken from Isaiah and the Book of Revelation captures it: “Let us now go up to the mountain of the Lord, the city of the Living God and to the Heavenly Jerusalem. Citizens of heaven, children of the house of the Lord; we are going to the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit.” There or rather here in heaven, “Wisdom has built herself a house (Church), erected her seven pillars (7 Sacraments), slaughtered her beasts (host), prepared her wine (Eucharistic blood), dispatched her maidservants (priests), and proclaims from the city heights (altar): ‘Come and eat of my Bread, and drink of my Wine; come to the feast I prepared for you’” (Proverbs 9:6).
Today, we arrive at the climax of John 6, the Bread of Life discourse, with this declaration that forms the theme of today’s discussion: Mass is heaven on earth. Here in heaven, we receive the Living Word of God and the Living Bread. And Jesus tells us, “Whoever who eats this bread shall live forever” (John 6:59). We do not expect to live forever here on earth. Hence, because we eat this Living Bread at Mass, it follows that Mass is heaven. Ladies and gentlemen, angels and spirits, we make this declaration today: “This is heaven...Mass is heaven (on earth). Right now, we’re in heaven. Don’t you see we’re doing heavenly things?”
That Mass is heaven on earth isn’t an idea I spontaneously formulated. The Second Vatican Council teaches in the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, which I’ll quote extensively that, “In the earthly liturgy we share in the foretaste of that heavenly liturgy, which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the Sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them: we eagerly await the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory” (SC #8). Right here is heaven, right here is Mass.
Jesus made two vital statements that began with the preposition “unless.” In John 3:3, he told Nichodemus, “Unless you are born again of water and the Spirit you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You often hear your protestant friends say that. Yet, there is a similar statement by Jesus that is similarly worrying. In John 6:53, Jesus told those angry and frantic about his statement that they would need to eat his body, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.” G.K. Chesterton read that and converted to Catholicism. John Henry Newman read it and converted. Marcus Grodi and Scott Hahn confessed becoming extremely worried about their protestant faith after reading John 6 and are now sharing that with others through EWTN. About 98% of Protestants who converted to Catholicism did so after a lengthy struggle with the emphatic words of Jesus: “Unless you eat…” They eventually wanted to become part of Mass, of the heavenly liturgy. I worry that some Catholics do not appreciate the importance of Mass in their lives. Hence, they treat Mass as a distraction to their weekend activities. They do not think they would need to prepare for it, as we prepare for a wedding feast by dressing appropriately and putting up our best behavior. Next time you’re getting ready for Mass, think of it as heaven.