Last November, Pope Francis began a remarkable cycle of catechesis on the Mass. These reflections, which have gone largely unnoticed, are strikingly traditional, undercutting the media image of Francis as a doctrinal revolutionary. In his addresses he has highlighted three essential points.

1) The Value and Meaning of the Mass. In his opening remarks, the Pope explained how the Mass brings us to “the ‘heart’ of the Church” – the Holy Eucharist – allowing us “to live ever more fully our relationship with God.”

He recalled “the great number of Christians” who have died in defence of the Eucharist, commenting: “In the year 304, during the persecution of Diocletian, a group of Christians in North Africa were caught celebrating Mass in a house, and were arrested. The Roman proconsul, in his interrogation, asked them why they had done it, knowing that it was entirely forbidden. And they answered, ‘Without Sunday, we cannot live.’ ”

The early Christians understood that if we cannot celebrate the Eucharist, we cannot spend eternity with God, for as Christ taught, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” In contrast, He said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54).

2) The Importance of Silence. In his catechesis on November 15, and again on January 10, Francis spoke about the importance of silence in the liturgy. “When we go to Mass,” he said in November, we often arrive a few minutes early, and “start to chitchat with those in front of us”. But preparing for Mass should not be wasted with idle chatter – rather, it should be elevated, with “a moment of silence,” a time for the heart to orient itself for “our encounter with Jesus”. In January, Francis highlighted the Collect, the point in the Mass where the priest invites his congregants to become aware of the presence of God, before saying “Let us pray,” allowing for their special intentions.

Francis said: “Perhaps we come from days of weariness, of joy, of pain, and we want to say to the Lord, to invoke his help, to ask him to be close to us; we have relatives or friends who are ill or are going through difficult times; we wish to entrust to God the fate of the Church and the world.”

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