What is the Mass? – Part II
Dear Friends in Christ,
In last week’s letter I began by commenting on the Letter to the Hebrews which has, as its main theme, the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus. Then, we briefly examined the nature of the Mass by first considering what the Mass is NOT. I ended with the question, “So what exactly is the Mass and what makes the Mass unique and special?” In this letter we turn our attention to what the Catholic Church actually believes the Mass to be. For when we more clearly know and understand what the Mass is, then we can more fully appreciate, participate, and benefit from the Mass. Again, for a fuller presentation, please see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1322- 1419.
“The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice” (CCC #1362). The Mass is the one, perfect, and eternal sacrifice offered by Christ on the cross made present for us in an unbloody manner. In the Mass we participate in Jesus’ one, single, perfect, and eternal offering of Himself in thanksgiving to God the Father. The important thing to note here is that this is primarily and uniquely a sacrifice of Jesus and by Jesus. Any understanding of the Mass that does not appreciate, include or give primacy to the sacrificial nature of the Mass is not only lacking but erroneous. There are indeed many good and noble aspects of the Mass (prayer, worship, instruction, communal affirmation, memorial, etc.) but one cannot truly understand the Mass without understanding that the Mass is a sacrifice. Likewise, a failure to understand, acknowledge and appreciate that the Mass is primarily the act of Christ will hinder us in our prayer at best, and at worse, lead us into error.
On the night before He died, our Lord gathered with his disciples and offered His body and blood in praise and thanksgiving to the Heavenly Father for the remission of sin. This is the one and the same sacrificial act as on the cross on Good Friday. Jesus’ offering at the Last Supper of his body and blood for the forgiveness of sin and the salvation of the world and the offering on the cross of His body and blood are not two separate sacrifices but one singular sacrifice. Jesus has only one body, one life to offer in thanksgiving to the Father. In obeying Jesus’ command, “Do this in memory of me”, we, His Church, are not making a different sacrifice or repeating the sacrificial action of Jesus. Rather, when we participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are participating in the one, perfect and eternal sacrifice of Jesus, who is at once, the priest offering the sacrifice and also the victim, the sacrifice that is offered. In the sacrificial memorial that is the Mass, the sacrifice of the Upper Room (Cenacle) and Calvary is made present. In the Mass, the ordained priest is not acting on his own nor is he making a new or separate sacrifice. Because the ordained priest is configured to Christ by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he acts In Persona Christi (In the person of Christ). The sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of Christ, the high priest and Christ, the Saving Victim.
Only Jesus, eternal Son of the Father and the Son of Mary, can make a singular, perfect, eternal, and atoning sacrifice for the redemption of the world and the forgiveness of sins. No mere human person can do this. No other sacrifice or act of worship can accomplish what Jesus accomplished as true God and true man. When we participate in the Mass we are joining in the eternal and perfect sacrifice of Jesus, priest and victim. Please note the difference between “attending” and “participating”. “Going to Church,” “attending Mass,” “fulfilling our Sunday obligation,” watching the Mass on TV or the computer, is not the same as participating in the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus did not instruct his disciples merely to watch, attend, or be in physical proximity to His sacrifice. Rather, he said “Do this.” That is why in the Offertory of the Mass the priest instructs (commands) the faithful, “Pray brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” When we “go to Mass,” the purpose and reason for our going is to sacrifice and to be part of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus invites us and allows us to join the sacrifices of our lives to His perfect Sacrifice. There is an old saying that “if we want something out of the Mass, we first have to put something into the Mass.” Coming to Mass only to “get something” is misdirected. Mass is ultimately not about getting but about giving. The Mass is the sacrificial memorial of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. In the Mass, we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life (CCC #1326). In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” (CCC #1327).
When we believe and appreciate the Mass for what it really and truly is, what could ever keep us away?
In pace Christi,