Many people who witness the Holy Mass, but don’t fully understand it, will often come away thinking that it is a beautiful ritual – but nothing more than that. Then there are others who, in their misguided zeal, say that the Holy Mass is far from beautiful...in fact they claim that it is naught but an idolatrous religious affair filled with empty and pagan rituals. Fortunately, those who understand the depth of what is taking place in the Mass know better...When we celebrate Mass, time and space are transcended, and we in fact enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem where we celebrate the Heavenly Liturgy with the Angels and Saints of all ages (see Heb 12:22). This is one reason for the responsorial at different points in the Mass:
“Lift up your hearts”......“We lift them up to the Lord”.
To begin to understand the Mass, we first need to understand that it is not just some human ritual invented by the Apostles or Church Fathers. On the contrary, the Mass is the Divine Liturgy that has been instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for His Holy Church; and all the rituals contained within the Mass have as their Author the Holy Spirit. As such, they can never be empty or idolatrous. In fact, to even say that the Mass is simply “beautiful” would be a gross understatement. The Mass is not simply beautiful – it is so much more than that....it is Divine!To illustrate this, I’d like to take a look at just one very “small” ritual within the Mass – so small that it can easily go unnoticed...but if we miss it, we also miss something that has the deepest theological significance. I am speaking of the moment in the Mass when the priest adds the water to the wine before the Consecration.
To casual onlookers, this little act may seem a bit peculiar, and they may shrug it off without thinking much of it; but the truth is that this little act carries with it amazing relevance. For example, when the water is added to the wine, it is basically turned into wine – and this might remind us of the first sign performed by our Blessed Lord – when He miraculously turned the water into wine (see Jn 2:1-11). And if He can turn water into wine, then we have no reason to doubt that He can also turn the same wine into His Most Precious Blood.But wait...there's more...
The Catechism of the Council of Trent reminds us that this practice of adding water to the wine for Consecration is actually derived from Apostolic tradition. And the Catechism goes on to provides us with three principal reasons for this practice:Firstly, water must be added to the wine in imitation of Our Lord; who mingled water with wine at the Last Supper. This was attested to by St. Cyprian:
“[Solomon] declares the wine mingled [referring to Prov 9:1-2], that is, he foretells with prophetic voice the cup of the Lord mingled with water and wine, that it may appear that that was done in our Lord’s Passion which had been before predicted.” – Epistle 62, Chapter 5
Thirdly, water in Scripture often symbolises “the peoples, and multitudes, and nations” (e.g. Rev 17:15). It is the same “peoples, and multitudes, and nations” that Jesus Christ died for, and so the water mingled with wine signifies the union of the redeemed with Christ their head.
Without even going into any great detail in respect of the above points raised by the Catechism of the Council of Trent, one can begin to appreciate that there is a depth of Mystery in this simple little action in the Mass.
But wait...there's more...
The points raised by the Catechism are just a beginning. There is another point that I believe is worth adding, derived from the ritual itself.
When the priest (or deacon, if present) adds the water to the wine, he silently prays the following prayer:
“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”
But wait...there’s more...By this mingling of water and wine, we are not only being reminded of the Incarnation, but we are being reminded of the very reason for the Incarnation. But not only that...we are also being reminded of the very reason for the Mass!
St. Athanasius reminds us what the reason for the Incarnation was:
“God was made man, so that we might be made God” - On the Incarnation; Chapter 54:3
And as I have pointed out previously , this reality is brought about most especially in Most Blessed Sacrament when we receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. We bring our gifts of bread and wine, as symbols of all that we are and have; then the Lord Jesus Christ turns these gifts into His Own Precious Body and Blood, which He in turn offers to us in Holy Communion...and in this Holy Communion we become united with Him so that we can be drawn more and more into His Divine Nature and be conformed to His image.
Isn’t that amazing? Who would’ve thought that all this could be represented by the simple act of adding a few drops of water to a chalice filled with wine? Often it’s the little things that teach us the greatest lessons...