The Four Ends of the Mass
Fr Gavan Jennings
Our ability to pray the Mass can be greatly increased by knowing “the four ends of the Mass” (as they are traditionally called): adoration, thanksgiving, atonement and petition. Sometimes we are only aware of one or two of the ends (or goals) of the Mass — adoration and petition, for instance.
The four ends of the Mass are a helpful way to pray the entire Mass, from beginning to end. Different elements of the Mass should point us to different ends; for example, the Confiteor will likely point us toward atonement, and the consecration may point us to adoration. While these movements may happen naturally, knowing that these are the actual goals of the Mass should help us “tune in” that bit more.
The four ends are also particularly helpful to call to mind after Mass, when we want to direct our prayer to God in an appropriate way. Making small, internal acts of adoration, thanksgiving, atonement and petition can be a powerful way to unite our hearts to God’s, particularly in those special few minutes after receiving Him in the Eucharist.
Another way the four ends of the Mass can be used is even as a structure for our daily prayer. The order doesn’t matter, but take a few moments sit with, pray, and reflect on each end.
So, that’s how the four ends of the Mass can be used. Now let’s look at each of them, one at a time.
The first and most important end of the Mass is adoration. To adore is to worship, praise and glorify God. Sometimes the Mass is actually called the “sacrifice of praise” primarily because through the Mass we join in Jesus’ own praise of his Father. This is the most important end because to adore God is the greatest action we can ever do — it is what we shall do for all eternity in heaven.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Mass as “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), meaning that everything we do in our lives as Christians is directed to the Mass (summit), and everything receives its impetus (source) from the Mass. And of course we also worship the Eucharist itself in the Mass (and also after the Mass before Jesus in the Tabernacle) “by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord” (CCC 1378).
The very word Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks”, and so it is no surprise that thanksgiving is one of the four ends of the Mass. Nobody is better able to thank the Father for all the gifts of creation than Jesus.
At certain points during the Mass, such as during the Preface, we explicitly give thanks to Father, through Christ, for creation and also for our redemption. Again during the Offertory “we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the ‘work of human hands,’ but above all as ‘fruit of the earth’ and ‘of the vine’ — gifts of the Creator” (CCC 1333).
As he underwent the passion, and especially during the crucifixion, Jesus was praying for all sinners. He prays to his Father to forgive them “for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He forgives the Good Thief for his sins and promises him he will see heaven that very day (see Lk 23:43). On the Cross, and so in the Mass, Jesus pours out his blood for us (see Lk 22:20) so that our sins may be made up for, or “atoned” for.
We should be very conscious that Christ’s body is “given up for us,” and his blood “shed for the many for the forgiveness of sins” as we pray during the Mass itself.
Because in the Mass we pray to the Father, through his beloved Son, it is a most powerful means “to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God” (CCC 1414). In the Prayers of the Faithful we explicitly make our petitions “in communion with the whole Church in heaven and on earth” (CCC1354); such prayer must be very powerful before God. But we should remember that, while it is good to ask God for many things through the Mass, at the same time we are actually receiving something infinitely superior: Christ Himself.
Receiving Christ in the Eucharist is the closest thing to entering heaven that we can experience in this life: “There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth ‘in which righteousness dwells,’ than the Eucharist” (CCC1405)