For hundreds, if not thousands of years, human beings believed that the sun rotated around the earth because this was the way things appeared to be as people looked up into the sky. Until the invention of the telescope, they had no way of knowing that their vision was being distorted. With the invention of the telescope, human beings discovered that the earth actually rotated around the sun.
Isaiah the prophet tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Is 55:8-9).
How is it that God’s ways are higher than ours? It is because God’s vision of creation is not distorted by sin. One of the great ways in which the Mass is a remedy for sins is that it helps us live in reality. Each part of the Mass in some way shows us that each of the seven deadly sins is a distortion of reality and that, by dispelling these illusions, we are able to live in the Truth of Jesus Christ.
Pride distorts our view of the world. When we are filled with pride, we — instead of God — become the center of the world and of our existence.
The Mass helps correct our vision by reminding us of our dependence upon God. For example, we begin our celebration of the Mass by calling upon the very name of God when we make the Sign of the Cross. This gesture reminds us that what we are about to do, we cannot do alone. We need God to once again enter into time and be with us. Therefore we are not afraid to call upon God’s name, for we know with Him all things are possible.
Envy warps our vision of others. Instead of seeing them as brothers and sisters in Christ, we see them as competition for God’s love or blessings. Instead of rejoicing when good things happen to others, we often look for ways to tear them down so that we might look better in comparison.
The Mass helps correct this distortion of reality in two ways. The first is in the fact that the Mass is open to everyone, no matter what their race, ethnicity, social status or economic status maybe.
The second way in which the Mass helps correct our vision in regard to the sin of envy is the Sign of Peace. At the Sign of Peace, we ask the person next to us to become a living symbol of the person we hate most in the world, and we offer them peace and forgiveness, reminding ourselves that we are all sons and daughters of the same Divine Father.
Anger (or I prefer the word “Wrath”) tries to blind us to reality by teaching us that the best way to handle the hurt we receive in life is through responding with violence instead of forgiveness. In addition to the Sign of Peace being a good remedy for the deadly sin of anger, so is the Penitential Rite at Mass because at the Penitential Rite we remind ourselves of how God has forgiven us, and thus we obligate ourselves to forgive others (Mt 18:21-35).
Sloth is the fourth of the seven deadly sins, and it disfigures reality by making us think that we have plenty of time to repent. In addition to the exhortations we receive during the Liturgy of the Word to “repent and believe in the Gospel,” the Mass ends with a sense of urgency reminding us that we do not have all the time in the world. As soon as we receive Jesus we are sent forth to “announce the Gospel of the Lord” and “to glorify the Lord with our lives.” We are sent forth with a command to be active in the world.
Avarice or greed, the fifth of the seven deadly sins, bends and warps reality by encouraging us to make the gathering and building up of material things more important than spiritual things.
The most obvious part of the Mass that speaks out against avarice and greed is the Offertory (preparation of the gifts). It is at this time that the bread and wine (and often the collection) are brought forward and given to God. One of the reasons why money is such a controversial thing is that money, more than anything else in today’s world, represents our dreams and hopes. If you want to go to college, you need money; if you desire to retire, you need money; if you want to assist a loved one, most of the time you need money, etc. In a very real way, when we go to Mass we are offering God our hopes and dreams, and we are trusting that God is never outdone in generosity. We give God bread and wine, and He in returns gives us the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son.
Gluttony is the next of the seven deadly sins. Growing up, I used to think of gluttony as simply eating too much food. Now I believe that gluttony has much more to do with avoiding personal issues of woundedness by over indulging in food and other material goods. One way in which the Mass helps us overcome gluttony and assists us in our desire to live in the real world is through the Penitential Rite where we admit to God that we are messed up, and at the same time realize that God is not going to abandon us because of our messed-up-ness. In fact, God will give us the grace necessary to overcome these issues if we are willing to work with Him.
The second part of the Mass that addresses this issue is the Prayers of the Faithful where we declare to God our need for Him and our desire for Him to help us face the issues that hold us down so that, with his grace, we can live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
Finally, the last of the seven deadly sins is lust. If love is wanting what is best of the other person, even if it requires a sacrifice on our part, then the opposite of that is not hate but rather objectification. This is where we use another person for our own selfishness.
Once again, there are many parts of the Mass that teach us about what true love is, but perhaps the part of the Mass that instructs us most is the Lamb of God. It is at the Lamb of God that we are reminded of what true love is, for Jesus made himself to be the Priest, the altar and the Lamb of Sacrifice so that He could demonstrate to us God’s infinite and unconditional love. “Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world…” invokes in us the reality of how God made the ultimate sacrifice to reconcile humanity to Him.
I am sure that there are other ways in which the Mass helps us overcome the seven deadly sins and live in reality, and that there are other ways in which the Mass can help us grow closer to God and cooperate with His healing grace. For I hope that this reflection on the Mass and the seven deadly sins may help you look at yourself, at sin, at the world and at the Mass in a fresh and different way. May we all grow in the knowledge of the reality of God’s great love for us.
FATHER PASTORIUS, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is pastor of the Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis, Missouri.