Unite your heart in the sacrifice of the Mass | Catholic National Register
COMMENT: We are called to worship God and to unite all our works, joys and sufferings with the perfect act of love of Christ’s self-giving. And we do it most fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
During the church closings in 2020, many Catholics spoke about how much they missed receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. But few said they missed the sacrifice of mass. And it is very revealing.
Of course, Holy Communion is the culminating part of the liturgy. Our God comes to dwell in us as we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus! But many Catholics do not realize how important it is to participate in the sacrifice Mass too.
The worship of God is not only to receive. It’s about giving – give back to God our thanks, our praise and our love; giving Him our hearts, our entire lives. And while there is a growing therapeutic trend in some circles of popular Catholicism – a tendency to focus on what God does for me, solve my problems, fulfill my dreams and make me feel good about myself – the Church always lift up the cross and teach that we are called to worship God and to unite all our works, our joys and our sufferings with the perfect act of love of the gift of self of Christ. And we do it most fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
How is Mass a sacrifice?
One may wonder, however, in what sense is Mass a sacrifice? It is certainly not easy to see. After all, Catholics don’t go to Mass like the ancient Jews went to the Temple, bringing animals to the sanctuary to be killed, butchered, burned and offered to God by a priest. The sacrifice that takes place in Mass is clearly not that of cattle, sheep or goats. However, this involves a real sacrifice – the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who in his death on the cross offered his life as a total gift to the Father and redeemed the world.
This is crucial to understand – and absolutely amazing to achieve! Mass is not content to simply remember or symbolize the death of Jesus on the cross. He makes Christ’s redemptive sacrifice sacramentally present so that his saving power may be more fully applied to our lives. In other words, Mass is not just reverently remembering Christ’s death on Calvary. He makes this saving event present to us so that we can enter into it.
When we go to Mass, we go very concretely to Calvary, because the mystery of Calvary is made sacramentally present to us. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, âIn the divine sacrifice which is celebrated in Mass, the same Christ who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in such a manner. not bloody â(1367; see also 1362-1372).
How can this be? How can the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday be made present to us today? Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ words at the Last Supper.
The last supper
Imagine being one of the apostles – say, Peter, James, or John – present at the Last Supper. Imagine looking at Jesus, in the context of the Jewish holiday of Passover, picking up bread and wine and saying, âThis is my body. â¦ This is my Blood. Imagine him saying that his Body is âforsakenâ¦â and that his Blood is âshed for the forgiveness of sinsâ. And then he commands you and your fellow apostles to continue to celebrate this meal. He said, âDo this in remembrance of me.
What would that have meant for you? What would a first-century Jew think when he heard these words put together for the very first time?
First, in the first century Jewish world, the language Jesus used when speaking of his Body and Blood had strong sacrificial connotations. He said his body would be Free and his blood widespread. This language was reminiscent of the Jewish sacrificial rites of the Temple, in which the body of an animal was Free and his blood widespread in sacrifice. By taking this sacrificial language and applying it to his own Body and Blood, Jesus at the Last Supper was already anticipating his sacrifice on the cross. He spoke of his Body and his Blood as being offered in sacrifice like that of a paschal lamb.
Second, we must understand the Jewish notion of Memorial. In scripture, a memorial is not just a reminder of a past event. He makes this event present. Therefore, when Jesus said, âDo this in remembrance of me,â he was commanding the apostles to present as a biblical memorial the sacrificial offering of his Body and Blood at the Last Supper. In fact, the Body and the Blood that Jesus spoke of at the Last Supper is his Body and his Blood which were sacrificed at Calvary, and this is what is made present to us in the Mass. As Saint John Paul II explains, this is exactly what was done at this first Eucharist: âJesus did not simply declare that what he gave them to eat and to drink was his Body and his Blood ; he also expressed his sacrificial meaning and made sacramentally present his sacrifice which would soon be offered on the Cross for the salvation of all â(Ecclesia of Eucharistia, 12, original emphasis).
Through the Eucharist, the power of the cross is unleashed in our lives in a unique way. While the sacrifice of Christ is made ever present at every Mass, Jesus invites us to be taken in his perfect and selfless love – his total gift of himself to the Father – his sacrifice of love. And he wants to live his sacrificial love more and more through us. He wants to transform us. He wants to heal our weak and selfish hearts and make our hearts more like his. And he does it in the most profound way through our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass. Indeed, “the bloody sacrifice which he was to make once and for all on the cross would be represented, his memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and his saving power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins that we commit daily” ( Catechism, 1366).
Do you have areas in your life where you need to grow in sacrificial love – in your marriage, your family, your friendships, and most importantly, in your relationship with God? If so, then go to mass. Go there often, even during the week. For it is in the Mass that we meet sacrificial Love itself. In fact, Jesus writes more deeply in our hearts his own love which gives itself for the cross each time we unite ourselves fully to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This is the last part of this series. Read the first two parts here and here.
Edward Sri is a well-known theologian and author. This article is based on his recently revised book and a small group study A biblical walk through mass (Ascension Press).