The Mass, Salvation and the Sacraments, first in a series

In the Beginning

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

(Updated again, May 22 2019, currently all links to the Una Voce Northern Alabama site appear to be broken. Updated: Aug 14 2017: Fixed broken image links. Updated links to the workshop audio as of Oct 19 2012.) The following is Part 1 in a continuing series which began as a write-up of a talk by Fr. Justin Nolan, FSSP, but instead took on a life of its own and has become some rather broad reflections on salvation history as it leads up to the founding of the Church by Christ, and the Church’s role in salvation. After we gain a broad overview, we’ll go deeper and into more detail.* Acknowledgments at the end of this post.

Sacraments: Rivers of Grace

Prayer and the sacraments (and the Eucharist, the Mass, among them) are the foundation of the serious Catholic disciple’s way of life. We don’t just go to church or go to Mass on Sunday or even daily. We pray the Mass. We study it, reflect on it, we try to live a life that pre-disposes us to receive Holy Communion worthily, which doesn’t mean that we consider ourselves worthy, far from it.** We learn about the faith to deepen our faith, to give God the worship He deserves to the best of our ability, so that, through our worship and active participation in the sacraments, God can give us, and we can receive, His sanctifying grace necessary for our salvation. As Fr. Nolan says, This is how we are saved. It all comes from God, from Christ Jesus, from whom all grace and graces flow as rivers of grace from His wounded side.

We need to go deeper now to discover the real meaning of the Mass, to explore and understand and develop this life of prayer and study and reception of Christ’s grace in the sacraments. This is the heart of Catholicism, of Christianity. Without this, the rest of it has no meaning whatsoever. So let’s go back to the beginning, to the creation story in Genesis.

Made in the Image and Likeness of God

God is love. How many times have we heard those words? So often we probably don’t even hear them any more. But what does it mean to say that God is love? Not that He loves, but that He is Love? When the Church pondered these words over the years, she realized that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God in Three Divine Persons. And these Three Persons—the Trinity (the word is not in Scripture; it’s another result of the Church’s prayerful meditations)—make up a Family. And they love each other with a love that is perfect and eternal.

26 And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. 27 And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. 29 And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: 30 And to all the beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done. 31 And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day. — Genesis 1:26-31***

In God’s plenitude of love He longed, as lovers do, for someone upon which to lavish His love. True, He had the other Persons of the Trinity there with Him, but I imagine that They also felt the same Holy Longing that He did. And so God decided to create a world. And so He did. He spoke His Divine Word—His Logos—and a universe sprang into being where nothing had ever been before.  God’s love overflowed into His creation and His love sustains creation even now.

If you’ll look at the image below, you’ll notice some funny looking Latin words. Deus at the top, that’s God, the Trinity. His love exiting heaven and flowing onto the world is the Exitus. The world He created, and which receives His love, is the Creatio. All that love pouring into creation calls forth a response from that creation—and especially from man, created, as he is, in the image and likeness of God. This response is the Reditus, the love that man offers God in return for all that love. Man worships, praises and thanks God. This path of love, exiting and returning, mirrors the inner life of the Trinity. God loves man, man loves God and all is well in the world.

Well, at the beginning, anyway. But it doesn’t take long for something to go wrong. Terribly wrong, as we are about to see.

Paradise Found

15 And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise for pleasure, to dress it, and keep it. 16 And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: 17 But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. for in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. — Genesis 2:15-16

Adam is truly blessed. He was created with grace and placed in a garden paradise containing everything he needed. All that pleasantness all around him, all that beauty and wonder.  One job, a thing to do—to watch over the garden—and one thing not to do—eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Pretty easy, huh? But, of course, things are rarely as easy as they look. As Adam would learn very soon.

Enter the serpent.

1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God made. And he said to the woman: Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise? 2 And the woman answered him, saying: Of the fruit of the trees that are in paradise we do eat: 3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God hath commanded us that we should not eat; and that we should not touch it, lest perhaps we die. 4 And the serpent said to the woman: No, you shall not die the death. 5 For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil. 6 And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat. 7 And the eyes of them both were opened… — Genesis 3:1-7.

Please note that the Bible does not say that an innocent-looking garden snake slithered up to our ancestral parents to pass the time away with some simple chatter. The word the Bible uses is nachash, which is the same word used elsewhere in speaking of Leviathan, the monstrous beast of the ocean depths. The same word is used in the Book of Revelation to denote the dragon who fought against the Archangel Michael and the heavenly host, and threatened the woman and her child.

The Biblical story of the temptation in the garden is rich in material for reflection and meditation, but we’ll save that for another time. For our purposes here we have only to consider that the serpent tempted Eve and her husband, whose job it was to protect the garden—and, one would surmise, his wife also—and that is exactly what he proceeds to refuse to do. Remember, the serpent is most likely not a snake but a life-threatening behemoth. And it’s apparent that he’s close by, right behind her, it would seem, because the text doesn’t imply that Eve had to go looking for him. He doesn’t say a word in her defense or lift a finger, either, to protect her.

And Paradise Lost

If you look at the diagram above, you’ll notice that something has changed. As a result of their sin of disobedience—and, more fundamentally, the refusal by Adam to risk his life defending his wife—our parents lost for humanity the ability to return God’s love. Half of the circle representing the flow of love into and out of creation has disappeared, leaving barely a trace behind. And I only left that trace to emphasize the absence of the return.

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

20 And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

22 And he said: Behold Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now, therefore, lest perhaps he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. 23 And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken. 24 And he cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubims, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

So much for Adam’s career as a guardian. Life has just become a whole lot less pleasant for the pair. As a result of their shared sin, they’ve lost the sanctifying grace with which they were endowed at creation and there is no way for them to get it back…


(To be continued.)

Thank you for reading. Comments, questions, discussion, what-have-you, are welcome. Please feel free to use the comment box below. And stay tuned for part 2 in the continuing series, The Mass, Salvation and the Sacraments: How does this stuff work?.


*This is a necessarily brief look but we will pick up this thread of thought again, developing it in the next post, tentatively titled, The Mass: Sailing to Heaven in the Barque of Peter; and also in another series, in which I will be drawing upon (and weaving together) the work of Jeff Cavins and Scott Hahn in Our Father’s Plan and Hahn’s Letter and Spirit, along with John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (see notes below).

**Saint Paul writes:

Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. — 1 Cor 11:27-29

***All Scripture quotes in this article are from the Douay-Rheims version available online at


All Scripture quotes in this article are from the Douay-Rheims Challoner version in The Word free Bible study software. (Note: this was written before I bought my first Mac; now I use Verbum for Mac to study Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.) You can read Genesis online in the DRC . I owe much of the following line of thought to many sources over the years, not the least of whom are Scott Hahn in his many and marvelous works; Pope John Paul II in his staggering work of genius, the Theology of the Body (I highly recommend Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, by Pope John Paul II, translation, introduction, and index by Michael Waldstein. His forensic work in the Introduction alone is well worth the price of the book. I have it in Paperback, Kindle and Verbum formats, and in the Verbum Theology of the Body Collection.) See also Fr. Richard Hogan’s The Theology of the Body in JPII: What it Means and Why it Matters: paperback and Kindle. And, of course, Pope Benedict’s Spirit of the Liturgy: Hardcover and the Special Commemorative Edition, in hardback, which includes Romano Guardini’s Spirit of the Liturgy, too.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the graphics I’m using for this series are by yours truly, your humble author, designer and writer wannabe, li’l ol’ me. Here’s the full set. It’s a work in progress, as is this entire site, a labor of love and an object of some obsession. And I mean that in a good way, a holy way, of course. :)

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