Cardinal Dolan: Mass is not a movie or 'Passion play,' but actual renewal of paschal mystery

"I wonder if I did the right thing,” she asked me after Mass. A mother of a teenage daughter, she went on to explain her dilemma.

“My daughter was asked over to some friends to watch a movie on the passion and death of Christ. The friends are not Catholic, but they are wonderfully believing Christians. They had invited a group over to read the gospel story of the Passion, watch the movie, and then have common prayer and discussion.”

“I was thrilled to let my daughter go,” the mom went on, “until she told me this would take the place of her Sunday Mass. If she went to that, she reasoned, she would not need to go to Mass.”

“Well, what did you decide?” I asked the mother.

“I told my daughter that the movie and the group would be all about how the Passion happened, while the Sunday Liturgy was about the passion happening. So a movie could never take the place of Mass.”

Mom was right: the Liturgy is not just about what happened way back then; it’s about what is happening now. The paschal mystery — the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus — is renewed at every sacred liturgy. Yes, we remember, but we also relive.

The Mass is not, then, a movie or a “Passion play,” but the actual renewal of those pivotal redemptive moments, for we believe that the dying and rising of Jesus is of infinite, eternal value, and that we are absorbed into it every time we come together for the Sacred Liturgy.

Doers of the Word
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This is especially clear during Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, as the opening invitation bids us, we accompany Christ right now, with lively devotion and faith, as He enters Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, the Last Supper is renewed, not just recalled, as we are at the table with the Master the evening before He died. On Good Friday, we are “there as they crucify my Lord,” not just in a nostalgic way, but reliving it again in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. On Holy Saturday, at the Easter Vigil, we behold the Resurrection, as Christ conquers sin, Satan, and death now in the Easter sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

The Liturgy is not just a compelling story of earth-shaking events that happened long ago. It is where these saving events continue, are renewed and happen in the here and now for us today!

Cardinal Dolan is the archbishop of New York.

This is an excerpt from "Doers of the Word: Putting Your Faith Into Practice." Cardinal Dolan offers a unique combination of simplicity, practicality and guidance to give faith a daily dose of meaning and application.