Fra Angelico, Institution of the Eucharist (1442)

Scripture tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) since prayer is one of the fundamental elements of the spiritual life. But St Paul says, “We do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26). Prayer is difficult and does not come easily for most of us.

Our first parents enjoyed unbroken communion with God, speaking with him freely, and he with them. But original sin changed everything. Through our sin and shame we usually hide from God. There is a gulf between us and God. This seemingly insurmountable distance was overcome when “the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Since Jesus Christ became one of us, we now have something in common with God. Jesus shares our joys and sorrows, our temptations and sufferings. Jesus teaches us how to pray and enter into spiritual union with God the Father.

God taught the Israelites in the Old Testament how to pray. This included the establishment of two sanctuaries: the Sabbath as the ‘sanctuary of time,’ and the Temple as the ‘sanctuary of space.’ On the Sabbath day the Israelites were to put aside their temporal concerns and labours, and enter into the rest and recreation of worship. At the Temple the Israelites gathered to offer sacrifice, repent of their sins, and receive God’s mercy. This teaches us to set aside time and space for union with God. Jesus modelled this when he withdrew to a lonely place for moments of silent prayer to his Father, and offered sacrifice and worship to God in the Temple.

It is in Christ that the ‘sanctuary of time’ and the ‘sanctuary of space’ come together. Christ’s resurrection brought about a new creation – a new way of existing in a new time. When we are baptised into Christ we enter into this way of existing. While Jews celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, Christians celebrate it on Sunday because they celebrate the new creation of Christ’s resurrection. Hence it is the mark of Catholic-Christians to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday. Catholics go to Mass every Sunday to enter into the time of the new creation: “This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). Likewise, they enter into the space of the new creation by entering into the Christian people gathered in church to celebrate the Eucharist.

Is it any wonder that the Church teaches Catholics that they must go to Mass on Sundays? The Church wants her children to have the fullness of communion with God that God intends. This occurs when the Christian people gather to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. It is the time and place in which, moved by the Holy Spirit, we pray as we ought and encounter the living God.

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