In the Gospel, Jesus is asked to name which commandment of the law is the greatest. Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” In other words, the love of God and the love of others are intertwined.
We are reminded of this connection each time we participate at Mass. We pray for the needs of others, even people whom we have never met. This is particularly obvious during the general intercessions. The form of the prayer has the intentions begin at a general level (i.e. the world, the church) and gradually narrow to more particular (i.e. our parish community, local needs, specific names of people who are ill or deceased). We pray not because we are personally connected, but because it is our right, our privilege and our duty to do so. In the prayers following the consecration we again pray for the church, all living people and all who have died. Through prayer we spiritually care for those in need; our prayer is a means of love. At times we may be moved beyond petition to do something that helps alleviate others’ hardships through donations or personal involvement.
A third way of such love is through the Mass intention. We arrange for a Mass to be offered for someone we know, often someone who has died, a sick friend or relative, the poor souls or the intentions of someone on his/her birthday. Sometimes we offer a Mass to thank God for an anniversary or intervention. A specific Mass is offered for that intention. The priest and all who are present lift the intention in prayer to God. Although we pay a stipend when we arrange for the special intention we are not “buying” the Mass. In a way, we invite the body of Christ to pray with us. The Mass never belongs to a particular person. It belongs to the church. The stipend helps to financially support the priest saying the Mass. The tradition comes from a time when priests did not receive a regular salary.
We obey Christ’s commandment of love when we physically serve or help others in need. We also obey the commandment of love as we pray for the spiritual and physical needs of others, especially when that prayer is the Mass.
Johnston is the former director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.