O sacred Banquet!
In which Christ is received,
the memory of his Passion is renewed,
the mind is filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory to us is given.
The words of this antiphon, written by St. Thomas Aquinas, came to life at Armor of God’s spiritual workshop on Jan. 28 at the St. Vincent de Paul Life Center in Fort Wayne. The event, tilted Arming Men to Understand the Mass, gave a comprehensive look at the history and mystery of the highest form of prayer in the Catholic Church. A series of guest speakers — including several priests — also provided a walk-through of the Mass, explaining why we do what we do and offering meditations on Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Rob Gregory’s opening remarks set the tone for the session. “If we take the words of Jesus seriously, we must take the Mass seriously,” Gregory implored the men in attendance. “It’s no longer about checking a box when you’re desperately seeking your Lord and Savior.” Gregory contrasted the Mass to a sporting event with open seating, stating that if men would arrive early to grab the front seats in a stadium and come prepared to take photos of their favorite athletes, they should be even more willing and eager to come to Mass early, sit in the front of the church, and prepare ahead of time by reading the scriptures.
The first speaker of the workshop was Justin Aquila, Pastoral Associate at St. Vincent de Paul. Aquila focused on the history of the Mass, tracing its roots back to the Old Testament and the Passover meal that the Israelites celebrated while enslaved in Egypt. The first Passover involved the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb and the recollection of God’s saving events, followed by the eating of the sacrificial lamb. Aquila described the Last Supper as an inversion of this original Passover ritual, as Jesus offers His body and blood at the meal before sacrificing Himself on the cross as the new Passover lamb. “At Mass, we remember what Jesus did, saving us from the slavery of sin,” said Aquila. “We eat and drink the flesh and blood of the lamb who saves us; it completes and consummates the sacrifice.”
Next, Father Mark Hellinger joined the group virtually from Rome to address the mystery of the Mass. Leading those gathered through the aforementioned antiphon by St. Thomas Aquinas, Father Hellinger offered reflections on each individual line. He explained that not only do we receive Jesus at Mass — through the Gospel, the priest, the fellow Catholics gathered with us, and the Eucharist — but we are also received by Christ. For that reason, Father Hellinger said, “You are never more fully alive or fully yourself than when you are at Mass.” In fact, he referred to Mass as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits those who live in Christ.
Father Brian Isenbarger, Parochial Vicar at St. Vincent de Paul, followed this presentation with a Dry Mass, or a walk-through of the entire Mass. Father Isenbarger took great care in naming every priestly garment and sacred vessel, explaining each priestly movement or pause, and even sharing priestly prayers that are often recited in silence. He reminded the men in attendance of their role in the Mass, not just as bystanders but as participants who are making
an offering of themselves as well. While reenacting the consecration, Father Isenbarger remarked on the wonder that he still feels in his vocation. “Let me tell you, the most surreal moment as a human is holding Christ like this,” he said.
After lunch, Father Daniel Koehl spoke on the “why” behind several aspects of the Mass. He began by stating that what we pray must also be what we believe and live, highlighting the importance of active participation. “If we go to church to be involved in the community and make a difference in the world but don’t pray, our work is foundationless and won’t bear the fruit it was meant to bear,” said Father Koehl. He then walked through three ritual actions of the Mass: the Confiteor (or the “I confess” prayer during the Penitential Act), the Liturgy of the Word, and the words of consecration. These actions, Father Koehl explained, must all be sacramental in nature: outward signs of inward realities.
The final presenter of the workshop was Father Daniel Scheidt, Pastor of St. Vincent de Paul. Father Scheidt brought visual aids to help the men gathered contemplate a series of meditations on the Mass. For example, just as a seed possesses the organic power and memory to do what God created it to do, the Eucharist holds the memory of Christ’s objective gift of self. Another meditation focused on the interconnectedness of the Eucharist. “We come to Mass to allow ourselves to see what God sees: our lives as mysteriously connected,” Father Scheidt explained. “The people we meet through the Eucharist, the people whose lives we bless through the Eucharist — the Lord is taking what we celebrate together, taking it away to connect peoples’ lives in various, eternal ways.”
Indeed, many of the men who attended the Armor of God event left feeling more connected to the Mass and to each other.
“It made you realize that there’s an infinite number of things in the Mass that you don’t realize,” said Ed Ort, a parishioner at St. Vincent de Paul. “It helped to show why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe.”
For Rick Jennings, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Hope, St. Thomas Aquinas’ antiphon stood out as a tool for his own spiritual growth. “It’s a short prayer, but [Father Hellinger] put a lot of flesh to it,” said Jennings. “It puts you in a better frame of mind and openness as you enter into Mass.”
Armor of God’s next event is titled Arming Men on the Power of the Holy Spirit. Sister Maria Gemma Salyer will present the spiritual briefing on Feb. 16 at 6:45 p.m. at the St. Vincent de Paul Life Center.
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