I have recently learned that today marks the 190th anniversary of the dedication of the Altar and Sanctuary in our church. My family's church is the oldest in the State of Virginia. Let me paint a virtual picture for you of the aesthetically beautiful artwork found just above the Altar.
On the ceiling of my church there is painted a beautiful dove to represent the Holy Spirit. Behind the painting of the Holy Spirit and above the Altar is a stained glass window of the Paschal Lamb. Below the Paschal Lamb is a beautiful sunburst painting with IHS in the middle. Below the golden IHS painting is the crucified Jesus. Below the crucified Jesus is the tabernacle. In front of he tabernacle, is the Altar. At the Altar, the priest consecrates the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Jesus through transubstantiation. When the priest holds up the body and blood, one can see the Holy Spirit transcend into the beauty of the Holy Eucharist. It is appropriate that the body and blood are present below the artwork of the Holy Spirit, the Pascal Lamb the IHS painting, the crucified Jesus and the tabernacle. I'm sure that this was all very intentional in the design of the church.
When the priest raises the Holy Eucharist over the Chalice of Blood, it is an awe-inspiring and inspirational view to behold. The Eucharist comes full circle. The love that transcends from the Holy Spirit through the Paschal Lamb, into the crucified Jesus and into the Eucharist is nothing short of amazing and incredible. There are simply no words to describe the deep love and yearning that Christ has for all of us. He takes us as we are and inspires us to be more than "good Christian's," but instead to be "incredible Catholics."
Listen to the priest as he prays during the transubstantiation. The Spirit descends like the dewfall and the Eucharistic Banquet becomes a joint sacrifice. We offer ourselves completely to Him, and He offers Himself completely for us. Thus, the Holy Mass is a joint sacrifice. I oftentimes tear up at Mass because I begin to comprehend Christ's deep love. It is an overpowering love. When the Priest says "Lift up your hearts" our hearts do indeed become present in Heaven with the angels who, at that very moment, are engaged in the heavenly Mass.
Let's examine each part of my favorite view of the Holy Mass. The dove has been used for thousands of years to represent the Holy Spirit. In fact, it was a dove that descended upon Jesus when He was baptized in the Jordan River. See John 1:29-34. The dove has also been known to represent peace and purity.
The Paschal Lamb is used to represent Christ because He shed His blood in the Eucharistic banquet, which has become known as the New Passover. The Israelites were commanded by Moses to sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood over the doorpost so that the Angel of Death would pass them over. As such, the New Passover, or the Paschal Lamb, has allowed us to avoid a Spiritual death by taking part in the sacrifice of the Eucharistic banquet.
The Christogram of IHS is a Greek abbreviation of the powerful and Holy name of Jesus. It is appropriate that the IHS is contained within a sunburst painting. For Christ's love bursts out to all of us when we speak His name and meditate on His love and mercy. The Jesuits are especially known for their use of the IHS Christogram.
The Cross showing the crucified Jesus is truly a magnificent sight to behold. When we attend the Eucharistic Banquet contained within the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, we make reparations to Christ. The Mass is a joint sacrifice. It is a sacrifice of great love. Christ offers Himself to us out of pure, great love. In turn, we give Him our greatest love.
The tabernacle contains the consecrated host. It contains Jesus. We have a school chapel where I work. No matter what the age of the students is that I'm around, I always ask them, "who's in that chapel?" The students (sometimes) roll their eyes at me and say, "Jesus, of course!" I respond with, "so, what should we do when we walk by the chapel?" They respond, "We make the Sign of the Cross." I know that every student knows who is in the tabernacle of the school chapel. And I know that they know to make the Sign of the Cross when they walk by. I just don't want them to get complacent in their knowledge. Anybody, no matter their age, needs to know that Jesus Christ is contained within the tabernacle of all Catholic chapels and churches throughout the world. There can be no mistake or doubt. Doubt comes only from Satan. Full faith comes from God. Faith is when our soul is enlightened with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Eucharistic Banquet is the central, vital part of the Holy Mass. It is, in fact, what sets a "Mass" apart from a "Service." The term, "Mass" implies the Eucharist. A "Service" is absent of the true body and blood of Christ. The first part of the Mass is Liturgy of the Word. The second part of the Mass is called, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Catholic faith and doctrine is so deep and so detailed, that I have only barely scratched the surface of the Eucharistic Banquet. It is my very favorite part of Mass. What is your favorite part of Mass?