Summary: The one sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented daily in the Holy Eucharist--for our sanctification and the salvation of every human.
Monday of 3rd Week in Course
January 28, 2013
The sacrifice which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, was a single historical event. But we must also acknowledge that from the beginning, the Church has recognized that we make that sacrifice present every time we celebrate Eucharist. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that when we gather to share the Eucharistic meal, we participate in the death of Christ, just as we do once in baptism. The Eucharistic banquet is a sacrificial meal, not bread and wine but the true body and blood of the Lord Jesus, His risen and immortal body.
Moreover, the sharing of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ is the daily means by which we celebrate and effect the forgiveness of our venial sins, the ones we commit each day by negligence, laziness, or ignorance. That is why we begin the sacrifice by acknowledging to God, the saints, and each other that “I have greatly sinned. . .through my fault.” And, as in the Latin mea culpa, we say it three times, ending with “my grievous fault.” The Latin says maxima culpa, which is pretty big. A great fault demands a great reparation–and only the one-time sacrifice of Jesus, represented daily here can effect that reparation.
The Council Fathers went beyond this beginning: “at the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.”
The Mass, then, is also a presentation in the present, on the earth, of the eternal wedding feast of the kingdom of heaven. In this world of hatred, in this culture of death, the Mass stands out as a gift of pure love, a bringing together of people with so many different personalities and life-goals, and a sign of eternal life. The Mass is a gift of God for the whole people of God, and a gift in which all should participate according to their roles in the Church.
That is why the Fathers of the Council wrote: “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.”
Our participation is actuosa, which has been mistranslated “active” by people who probably didn’t understand how narrow our American understanding can be. The word actuosa doesn’t mean we are always running around doing things. It really means “engaged,” always present to the liturgical action, focused on listening to the Word of God, joining our prayers together, priest, deacon, people, and coming forward willingly to say “Amen” to God’s call to be like Christ in our world. It’s a world that needs Jesus Christ more than anything else.
Remember that the word “sacrifice” means “making holy.” The idea of religion is to bind ourselves to God. In Catholic theology, since we can do nothing good of ourselves, it means letting Christ bind ourselves to God by His grace and love. When we are bound to God, through our reception of Holy Communion and our listening to the Word of God throughout the Mass, we are also bound to each other. When we allow Jesus Christ, through the sacraments, to make us holy, we acquire the power to bring others to Him, so that He may make them holy. Remember that when we arrive at the gates of heaven, the saints tell us, Christ will ask us, “where are the others?” Let’s have an answer ready for the one who loved us so much that he died on the cross for each of us.