Skip to comments.The Mass: Its Sacrificial Meaning
Posted on 05/23/2005 9:09:48 AM PDT by NYer
At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages... Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, #47
At about the half-way point through the year of the Eucharist, proclaimed by our Holy Father John Paul II last October, perhaps it is a good time to pause and reflect on the meaning of the event, the ritual, the sacrament which plays such an enormous role in our lives and the life of the world. We believe, no doubt, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, just as the Church teaches, and most of us have probably been more keenly aware of the Eucharist and focused more upon it during this year. Perhaps we are aware of blessings, even great ones, having come into our lives through this blessed sacrament during this period of its study, appreciation, and adoration.
Perhaps too, though, we have been aware of a general weakness among Catholics in their estimation of the Eucharist as well as deficiencies and abusessometimes even serious onesin the celebration of the Holy Mass. These are no secrets, sadly enough; the problems are so widespread that the Holy Father addresses them in both of his recent letters on the Eucharist. Pope John Paul is not one to be overly negative and does mention many encouraging signs of Eucharistic faith and love present in the universal Church. Yet in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the encyclical teaching on the Eucharist and the Church, he notes, with profound grief, shadows alongside the lights. The Holy Father speaks of abuses of the liturgy leading to confusion, the abandonment of Eucharistic adoration, of a distorted notion of priesthood and what we might spend a few moments examining ourselves, an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. The Mass, the Pope says, is sometimes stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet. Simply put, some Catholics have forgotten that the Mass is a sacrifice.
We, however, must not forget. We must not forget that the Eucharistas the Pope John Paul says in Mane Nobiscum Domine (the encyclical on the Year of the Eucharist)has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha.
Well, what will be the antidote to this widespread forgetfulness? How about some intense catechesis? That is what the Congregation for Divine Worship recommends in their recent Suggestions and Proposals for the Year of the Eucharist. This catechesis could have a number of points of focus; one that the CDW recommends is mystagogy.
Now what may be at first glance simply a long, foreign word, is really something very much familiar, if somewhat underappreciated: the words of the Mass itself! Mystagogy here is simply letting the form of the mysteries (the sacraments) speak to us. It makes very good sense, really, that the words that the Church chooses for the celebration of the Eucharist should give us a pretty clear idea of what she believes it to be. So, is the Mass a sacrifice, as the Holy Father so strongly asserts? Here are a few selections from the Maronite Mass:
May the Lord accept your offering , I will go to the altar of God I will enter your house, O Lord, and worship in your holy temple., The priest bears me [Christ, the Bread of Life] aloft to the altar , This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed and handed over for you and for many , Each time you fulfill these mysteries you realize my death and remember my resurrection until I come again., O Lord, we remember your death, we witness to your resurrection , Through this sacrifice, offered to you by our sinful hands, grant, O Lord, a good memorial to our parents, brothers , We have believed, and we have offered, and now we seal and break this oblation, the heavenly bread and living body of the Word of the living God., You, O Lord, are the pleasing victim, who was offered for us; you are the forgiving sacrifice, who offered yourself for us to the Father. You are the Lamb of sacrifice, and yet also the priest who offered himself for us , This is the cup which our Lord prepared on the cross.
Now, even without all the italics and color highlighting, it is pretty obvious from these passages that the Mass is being spoken of as a sacrifice. No mere poetic imagery, this language reflects the earliest Christian understandings of the Eucharist. It is true, as Cardinal Ratzinger points out in his Spirit of the Liturgy that the new reality of Christian worshipthe Eucharistwas born, so to speak, in the context of a Passover meal and still retains something of the structure of a meal. Nevertheless, meal does not suffice as a description of the Mass because it was the new reality which Our Lord commanded us to repeat, not the meal as such. And the new reality involved real sacrifice. So the Mass developed in the early Christian community and very soon, as the Cardinal points out, found its proper and suitable form, a form already predetermined by the fact that the Eucharist refers back to the Cross and thus to the transformation of Temple sacrifice into worship of God...
But is this an outdated theory or an opinion of a few? No. Pope Paul VI in 1968 taught in the Credo of the People of God: We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the sacrament of Order, and offered by him in the name of Christ and of the members of His Mystical Body, is indeed the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars. And the Holy Father was here echoing the solemn definitions of the Council of Trent, four hundred years earlier: If anyone says that in the Mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God, or that the offering is nothing else than Christ being given to us to eat: let him be anathema. Very strong and very clear; the Mass is a sacrifice, and not just a meal.
Well, what of it? How does knowing that the Eucharist is truly and primarily a sacrifice help us in this Year of the Eucharist? The answer will, perhaps, be clear if we turn to the words of the Second Vatican Council. The council fathers, speaking of Christians wrote: Taking part in the eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it. So when we assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are not mere spectators but rather are true participants in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, not simply by receiving the sacrament, but by joining ourselves to Christ our High Priest, and offering up with Him all that we have, all that we do and all that we are. How awesome! It is precisely this that we must not forget.
Throughout the 20th century, the Popes constantly and forcefully preached on the sacred liturgy and the need for all of Christs Faithful to participate in it fully, consciously, actively (phrases the 2nd Vatican Council borrowed from the allocutions of Pope Pius X, given sixty years earlier). What we need to keep in mind in this present century is what, exactly, we are participating in. In order to do that we probably all need, as the CDW suggested, some intense catechesis. Well, maybe this be some sort of small start.
As a conclusion, why not meditate briefly on the words of Pope Pius XII, from his encyclical Mediator Dei? The Holy Father here presents us with a forthright call not to miss the enormous opportunity we have in each celebration of the Holy Sacrifice. Let us never miss that opportunity!
...[A]ll the faithful should be aware that to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice is their chief duty and supreme dignity, and that not in an inert and negligent fashion, giving way to distractions and daydreaming, but with such earnestness and concentration that they may be united as closely as possible with the High Priest, according to the Apostle: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. And together with him and through Him let them make their oblation, and in union with Him let them offer up themselves.
"The monastery is the prophetic place where creation becomes praise of God and the precept of concretely lived charity becomes the ideal of human coexistence; it is where the human being seeks God without limitation or impediment. . . ." (Pope John Paul II: "The Light of the East", no.9)
The Maronite Monks of Most Holy Trinity Monastery are a Catholic community of contemplative monks dedicated to a life of prayer and Eucharistic Adorationa life of religious reparation and penance for soulsthat is, for our brothers and sisters in the world, especially those in most need of our prayers.
26For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with the masses said throughout the world today for all the holy souls in purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal church, those in my own home, and within my family. Amen
Most Holy Trinity - Father, Son, Holy Spirit - I adore You profoundly and offer You the most precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the earth, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifference by which He Himself is offended. And by the infinite merits of His Most Sacred Heart and those of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of You the conversion of poor sinners. Amen
Where does it say He is offering His blood all the time?
"who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself"
Many people forget that a sacrifice consists of two things:
1. The destruction of the offering. Jesus was "destroyed" once.
2. The offering by the priest to God. Jesus is the High Priest. Considering that He is eternal, He is able to continue the sacrificial nature of His offering for all time. This is why Catholics say the Mass is a sacrifice. The victim has been killed, but the High Priest continues to offer it to God for all time.
This continual offering allows us, 2000 years removed, to partake of the benefits of Jesus' sacrifice.
I offer all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered throughout the world this day, in reparation for my sins and the sins of the whole world.
I offer them for the perseverance of the just; for the gift of final repentance and salvation of the dying, particularly those who have no one to pray for them; for the relief and release of the Holy Souls in Purgatory, especially those most forlorn; for an end to contraception and abortion, and all other abuses against the gift of life; for our Holy Father's General and Mission intentions, and his well-being; and for those who have asked for or are in need of prayer; for the conversion of sinners, the world, and Russia.
I humbly ask for the grace to live in Your love and according to Your Most Holy will, and for the grace to take the next step toward sainthood that you so desire for me. Amen.
Verbum supernum prodiens,
Nec Patris linquens dexteram,
Ad opus suum exiens,
Venit advitae vesperam.
In mortem a discipulo
Suis tradendus aemulis,
Prius in vitae ferculo
Se tradidit discipulis.
Quibus sub bina specie
Carnem dedit et sanguinem:
Ut duplicis substantiae
Totum cibaret hominem.
Se nascens dedit socium,
Convescens in edulium,
Se moriens in pretium,
Se regnans dat in praemium.
O Salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium:
Bella premunt hostilia,
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria,
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
THE heavenly Word proceeding forth,
yet not leaving the Father's side,
went forth upon His work on earth
and reached at length life's eventide.
By false disciple to be given
to foemen for His Blood athirst,
Himself, the living Bread from heaven,
He gave to His disciples first.
To them He gave, in twofold kind,
His very Flesh, His very Blood:
of twofold substance man is made,
and He of man would be the Food.
By birth our fellowman was He,
our Food while seated at the board;
He died, our ransomer to be;
He ever reigns, our great reward.
O saving Victim, opening wide
the gate of heaven to all below:
our foes press on from every side;
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.
To Thy great Name be endless praise,
immortal Godhead, One in Three!
O grant us endless length of days
in our true native land with Thee. Amen.
Hebrews 9:23 Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us
It's a reference to the Yom Kippur temple liturgy (see Leviticus 16) in which the bull is slaughtered, and the High Priest then takes its blood into the Holy of Holies and offers it to God. That is an intrinsic part of the sacrifice.
Hebrews 9 applies this image to Christ, and makes it clear that his offering in the Holy of Holies is eternal (obviously, because it's in heaven, which is outside of time).
You err greatly if you think that the death of the victim ends the sacrifice. There is no sacrifice under the Law (or even before it) that was concluded by killing the victim; in every case, the victim has to be offered to God by the priest. Christ is both High Priest and Victim, thus his offering takes place in heaven, which makes it eternal.
"Since that Sacrifice, Mass has been offered, by the apostles, and later the successors"
As long as we recognize that the priest is offering the Mass in the person of Christ, not the priest himself. The Church Fathers quickly see the Mass as a sacrifice.
I don't think that it is theologically correct to say that Jesus offers the sacrifice of Calvary to Himself. He offers it to God the Father, technically. We call this appropriation of the distinct persons of the Trinity.
"You err greatly if you think that the death of the victim ends the sacrifice. There is no sacrifice under the Law (or even before it) that was concluded by killing the victim; in every case, the victim has to be offered to God by the priest"
Yep. See post 10!
Thanks and regards
Anticipating all the sacrifices we offer through his namethe sacrifices Jesus Christ enjoined us to offer in the Eucharist of the bread and cup the sacrifices now offered by Christians everywhere throughout the world God bears witness that they are well-pleasing to him. --St. Justin Martyr, ca. 155
Awesome ... thanks for all those posts.
The offering Jesus did was "once for all". The previous offerings were only temporary until the real one was to be done. The bible says He remains a priest continually, but does it ever say that He remains an offering continually?
So Jesus has to be this eternal offering in Heaven rather than High priest seated at the Majesty on High and Mary gets to be the distributrix of all graces. It seems like Mary's job is more fun.
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