Column by Jonathan Nagy
Astonishingly, food is mentioned 1,207 times in the Bible. Everything from manna in the desert to the Bread of Life is discussed and mentioned. Food is one of the essentials for existence and holds a rightful place of importance to everyone. I remember growing up thinking it was odd that at breakfast, my grandparents would discuss what lunch would be, and then at lunch, they would discuss what dinner would be. I recall pondering how strange it was that so much discussion focused on food. This always puzzled me until I started making my own meals. The planning, timing, and execution of a meal can be quite an undertaking, especially if a large number of people are expected. Some, like my grandmother, made it look easy, through her flawless execution of a meal, even an unplanned one for surprise guests.
Jesus was very much aware of the importance of food for people, even surprise meals, as was illustrated by one of the most famous stories from the Bible, with the miraculous multiplication of fishes and loaves to feed the 5,000. In fact, this story is one of only about ten events in Jesus’ life that appears in all four Gospels. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Apostles were getting antsy and encouraged Jesus to send the people away so they could get food in the nearby village. Jesus calmly stated in Matthew 14:16, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” I’m sure the Apostles all looked around at each other in disbelief, contemplating how in the world they were going to pull this off. When they explained to him that they only had five loaves and two fish, he more or less said that that would be enough. Translation: HE is enough. The people all ate and were satisfied and there were leftovers. Just as He does in every situation of our lives, Jesus provided to those in attendance that day.
Did you hear what happened when Jesus and the Apostles arrived for the Last Supper? He said to the waiter, “Table for 26 please.” The waiter responded, “But sir, there are only 13 of you.” Jesus answered, “Yes, but we are all going to sit on the same side.”
While that is an obvious joke, it pokes fun at how The Last Supper is depicted by Leonardo da Vinci and other artists. The artist’s creations make it look like a “TV Table,” where one can see everyone there. In da Vinci’s painting, we can clearly see Jesus and all 12 apostles, but there is one person missing.
Different art experts have provided their opinion on what every single aspect of the da Vinci painting represents. The have analyzed every color, shape, and object in view. What I am focusing on is the large space on the left center between Saint John and Jesus. While the experts will tell you what they think da Vinci meant with this space, I believe that it is reserved for each one of us, and we are invited to The Last Supper.
As a history teacher, I would love nothing more than to visit the past and witness for my own eyes so many events. I know, time travel to the past is not possible. So how can we possibly participate in The Last Supper? Simple! Go to Mass!
People plan so much of their lives around food, including grocery shopping for the week, deciding where to go eat, or even planning meals months in advance for banquets and weddings. The preparations are so great that no one thinks about skipping a meal. So, if that is the case with earthly food, why is Mass, the most important meal, often skipped by many?
The excuses for not going to Mass are as numerous as the multiplied fishes and loaves, including “I’m too busy,” “I get nothing out of it,” “I don’t like my priest,” or, a new ‘favorite,’ “I can just watch it from my recliner with a cup of coffee and that counts.” The time for excuses has ended! There is no substitute for actual attendance at Mass. Mass should be the excuse for missing everything else! There are 168 hours in a week, and one of them can’t be devoted to God? An American spends, on average, seven hours a day on screentime daily, and yet an hour for God seems like an impossible chore? Mass should be about God, but even if individuals want to look inwardly only about themselves, the hour in Mass benefits them personally! Mass is a meal that everyone should look forward to attending, not seeking reasons why not to go.
The Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen once said, “If we have a correct understanding of the Mass, it will become more meaningful for us.” Many Catholics do not take the time to educate themselves on the significance of every prayer at Mass, every item in the sanctuary, and every action performed by the priest. Recently, in one of my classes at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, I showed my students a homily on YouTube from the late Father Mark Beard. Father Mark took the time to explain many details of the Mass, including why things are done a certain way and what the meaning of the words were. The students came away from the experience grateful and enlightened, several thirsty to have more of their questions answered. Understanding the mystery does not diminish the awe, it increases it!
The Catholic Education Resource Center published on their website eight Reasons to Go to Mass. They include:
1. The Command of God. It is the third commandment after all!
2. The Command of Christ. We did just discuss The Last Supper, where Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me!”
3. The Command of the Church. Sunday Mass attendance is one of the most important teachings of The Catechism.
4. The Church speaks with the authority of Jesus. Jesus passed the keys to the kingdom on to Peter, and he has passed them on to others, who through the centuries have passed them on to us.
5. What we do at Mass. It is called the Sacrifice of the Mass. While Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice, we sacrifice our time by attending, and give our gifts and treasures to God. As I mentioned earlier, this is also a meal, where the bread and wine truly transform into the Body and Blood of Christ, which is the Bread of Life.
6. We worship with others. God made us social beings, and in Matthew 18:20, Jesus stated, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.”
7. There are consequences for not attending. Not only is one’s own soul at risk, but so is the risk of passing on complacency to yet another generation. It is our responsibility to demonstrate the importance of the Mass to the youth.
8. There are many benefits to being at Mass! Catholic author James Stenson once wrote, “Be patient. Bring an attitude of prayer and thanksgiving to Mass, and you will reap great spiritual riches: consolation, confidence, peace, deep happiness, and spiritual strength for the challenges of life.”
This is a compelling list of reasons that make complete sense! I know for myself that each one of those reasons is applicable, especially number 8. I can enter Mass in a terrible mood, but by the end, I feel a total transformation and peace. Give everything to Jesus, for He can handle everything given to Him! His outstretched arms on the cross can bear quite the weight.
Blessed Carlo Acutis once said, “The more Eucharist we receive, the more we will become like Jesus, so that on earth we will have a foretaste of heaven.” He also commented that, “The Eucharist is the highway to heaven.” It is really quite simple. Attending Mass on Sundays and receiving the Eucharist is a pretty simple request from God, and it should be of the utmost importance in the life of every Catholic.
If you have been away from the Church for a while, let me catch you up on some things. The doors are still open, everyone is still welcome, God is still present, and the message is still the same. With that being said, even though the Church is consistent in the Sacrifice of the Mass, each Mass is different in its own right and feeds our souls with the eternal Bread of Life. The message of the readings, music, and homily enhance our celebration.
Every Mass one attends not only helps in their eternal salvation, but also can aid in carrying deceased loved ones into God’s loving arms in Heaven. The camaraderie and friendships I have developed with people through Mass and church activities are some of the most valuable aspects of my life. Also, it is one great meal! Every time one receives communion, it should be a life-altering experience. Never overlook the importance of what it means to receive the true Bread from Heaven, as Jesus Himself comes to dwell in us.
Yes, we cannot go back in time and visit The Last Supper. However, we do not need to do so! We are invited, weekly and daily, to attend the timeless continued celebration of His Sacrifice. With the exception of Good Fridays, Mass has been celebrated every day for 2,000 years. With Catholics spread across the globe today, Mass is celebrated every hour, every day. The opportunities are plentiful, and God and His Church make it easy for us to attend and invite us in daily.
Remember, Mass should be the excuse for everything else!
Jonathan Nagy, M.Ed., is the Dean of Students and Social Studies teacher at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Ebensburg. He is also the Music Director at the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel in Loretto.