The Cosmic Mass: matter matters

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By Ella Johnson

This series of columns has discussed the Eucharist as a mystery to be celebrated, believed, and lived, as spelled out in retired Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” (“Sacra­ment of Charity”). As we continue to reflect on the Eu­char­ist in this threefold way, theologian Msgr. Kevin Irwin’s book “Models of the Eucharist” presents valuable insight. His book explores what happens when the Eucharist is celebrated at Mass and what this central act of worship means for Catholic belief and living a Christian life.

Irwin offers 11 models of the Eucharist, derived from the Eucharistic liturgy we celebrate. The models are not exclusive, and they overlap with one another. They simply provide a window to focus on the Eucharist’s many different dimensions: Cosmic Mass; the Church’s Eucharist; the Effective Word of God; Memorial of the Paschal Mystery; Covenant Renewal; The Lord’s Supper; Food for the Journey; Sacramental Sacrifice; Active Presence; Work of the Holy Spirit; and Liturgical Spirituality of the Eucharist. This column is a reflection on the first model: Eucharist as Cosmic Mass.

First, one might ask: What does “cosmic” mean? In Irwin’s use, the term helps to break down distinctions between the ordinary and extraordinary and the sacred and secular. “Cosmic” refers to everything God has created and the history of salvation God has enacted through all that God has created. Put simply, it recognizes that God is revealed in our earth and all of the creatures that inhabit it. We may discover God here and now on earth — not just in heaven!

The celebration of our Eucharist acknowledges this. As Irwin points out, it raises up “daily and domestic things” — planting, harvesting, fermenting wine, baking bread and dining. We see this in the following prayer at Mass:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.
R/. Blessed be God for ever.
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received
the wine we offer you:
fruit of the vine and work of human hands,
it will become our spiritual drink.
R/. Blessed be God for ever.

These prayers both state what the gifts are now (i.e., “work of human hands”) and what they will become (i.e., the body and blood of our Lord). The bread and wine that we present at Mass, therefore, remind us of the paschal mystery on two levels: 1) they are the result of the cycle of planting, harvesting, baking and fermenting; and 2) by taking, blessing, breaking and eating, we share in Christ’s dying and rising (Irwin, 2020, p. 42).

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When we raise up in the liturgy gifts from God’s creation, we are making important theological statements about the sacramentality of daily life. The liturgy challenges us not to see the sacraments as exclusive doors to the sacred, but to experience the sacred in and through human life.

Johnson

The idea here is that God is discoverable here and now, even as we yearn for the fullness of God in eternity. The earth is called “good” in Genesis 1:4, even though, now marred by sin, it yearns for complete redemption (Romans 8:22). When we look at the world as bearing the mark of God’s love, we understand that matter matters!

In Irwin’s words, this model of the Eucharist “emphasizes the ‘earthiness’ of every act of liturgy because in all liturgy we raise up all of the works of creation in our common home (Irwin, 2020, p. 23). We lift up bread and wine in gratitude for the water, wind, soil and sun and human hands that have made it.

The Cosmic Mass model offers a helpful reminder of how every act of liturgy affects the whole history of salvation and every individual who participates in it or is remembered through it. This means that what we do at Mass matters. As part of creation, each of us is united to all that God has ever created. Being reminded of this interconnectedness may lead us to act differently — to treat the earth and all of its fellow inhabitants with greater care.

The model challenges us to acknowledge that humans are not the masters of creation, but as part of creation, are to care for it. The Cosmic Mass model prompts us to reflect on the world, to care for it and those who inhabit it, and to share the goods of the earth with those in need. In addition, the model helps us to see the importance and meaning of the “stuff” of our daily lives and to view it through a paschal lens. What we might see as defeats — sicknesses, setbacks, hardships and even death itself — when raised up to God, like the bread and wine, may participate deeply in the redemptive work of Christ.

(Ella Johnson, PhD, is an associate professor in the theology department of St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)


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