Do we come to Mass to worship God and offer sacrifice? Or do we come to Mass to be part of a community and share a meal? The answer is both. The liturgy contains within it both a vertical and a horizontal dimension, and these are related to each other.
The vertical dimension of the liturgy refers to each person’s individual relationship with God. Each of us comes to the liturgy as a unique person. We come to offer these individual lives to God the Father, through Jesus the Son. I offer my life, contrite for my sin, to the Father in heaven. Jesus mediates this offering for me. Uniting my offering to that of Jesus enables my offering to be accepted by God the Father. The Father accepts my offering and returns my life to me full of grace, united with Jesus in Holy Communion.
The horizontal dimension of the liturgy refers to each person’s relationship to those with whom they are worshipping. This should be considered in the broadest of terms, that is, not only those present, but to all of humanity, and all the angels and saints, as well. In the liturgy, bread and wine are offered and shared, and in the sharing of the elements, a unity results. The shared elements, by virtue of the sacrificial offering, are the Body and Blood of Christ.
The unity, then, is not a result of the act of sharing, but rather of the fact that each individual is united to Jesus Christ, both in the offering of themselves to the Father with Christ, and in the reception of Holy Communion. We are not united by common interests or similar tastes, or simply because we happen to belong to the same parish community. We are united in Christ, the strongest of bonds.
Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Online Theology Programs for Saint Joseph’s College.