I’ve been writing about the bishops’ national initiative to engage upon a Eucharistic Revival here in our beloved country. Our hope is to rekindle fidelity to Sunday Mass, and renew the clear teachings of Jesus and His Church on the mystery and meaning of the Mass and the Most Blessed Sacrament.
You may remember that I’ve recalled in these columns that the Holy Eucharist is a meal, a sacrifice, and a real presence. Today let me consider the Mass as a sacrifice.
In fact, we call the Eucharist the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
We learn from the Bible that God our Father welcomes sacrifices as a form of prayer. Unlike the pagan religions dominant in the centuries before Christ, the People of Israel, instructed by God’s word, did not offer sacrifices to appease a vindictive god, bribe Him, or curry favor with the multiple fake gods.
No, God’s people were encouraged to offer sacrifices to the one, true God as a sign of love, an act of faith, a prayer for mercy.
The best sacrifices, as God reminded His People, were a humble and contrite heart, love, compassion, fidelity, and justice.
But other offerings—first fruits, crops, livestock—were also pleasing to God, as long as they came from such a heart and such a life.
The crown of sacrifice was the Passover Lamb, offered annually in the Jerusalem Temple to recall the saving actions of the Lord at the Exodus.
And, of course, it was at the Passover when Jesus, whom, as St. John the Baptist had yelled out, was the Lamb of God, was crucified.
This offering of Jesus, the Lamb, on the cross was the most sublime and effective sacrifice possible. Why? Because it was the sacrifice not of a mere man to God, but of God the Son to God the Father! This sacrifice is always accepted!
And, because it was the act of the divine, it is eternal. That oblation of the Son of God on the Cross of Calvary is everlasting, of infinite duration and value.
So, every time we unite ourselves with Jesus on the cross at Mass, we are absorbed into it! Our prayers, joined to those of the Son of God, have infinite, eternal value.
The marble of the altar becomes the rock of Calvary; the wood of the altar becomes the wood of the cross; the bread and wine become His body and blood, given, broken, and shed for us, as He told us at the First Mass, on Holy Thursday, at His Last Supper.
Scott Hahn, the acclaimed theologian, tells of his conversion to the Catholic Faith. He had been a very committed Evangelical, suspicious of the Catholic Church, and especially critical of the Eucharist. He decided, in his research at graduate school, to study the Mass, and “debunk” it as non-biblical and superstitious. The more he researched, the more he attended Mass as a “critic,” the more he could not escape the conclusion that the Eucharist was indeed the Supper of the Lamb as described in Revelation, and the ongoing sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!
Over supper one evening with a cherished Rabbi friend, himself a scholar, I asked, “The offering of sacrifices was such an essential part of Jewish life. Does it still go on? Where could I go see that today?”
He replied, “After the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a faithful Jew could technically no longer offer sacrifice.” Then, smiling, he observed, “ I suppose if you want to see such sacrifices offered today...you could worship at Mass!”
Sunday before last, I visited the merged parish of SS. Monica, Stephen of Hungary, and Elizabeth of Hungary, a vibrant, humming parish. As I approached the altar, there inscribed on the front were the Latin words Verissimum Sacrificium...“The truest sacrifice”!