The Mass

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Some things in life are too beautiful to be forgotten. These things may be what men do in the world; they may even be their manner of passing from it. For example, almost every country has instituted a memorial day to recall the supreme sacrifice its patriots have made in defense of country and civilization. Because life was the most precious thing they could give, the living cannot forget their gift. They themselves could not ask for any such memorial, nor could they institute it; that was left to their survivors.

If it is fitting that we have memorial days for those who died to preserve freedom from the oppression of men, it is fitting, too, that there be a memorial for the supreme sacrifice of Christ Who died to give us freedom from the tyranny of sin. There are many differences, however, between those patriots and Christ. No one of them was born to die; each was born to live and death was for each a brutal interruption. But Our Lord came to die; it was the goal of His life, it was the goal He was seeking. For no other purpose came He into the world than to redeem sinful humanity.

Furthermore, unlike the men who could not make their own memorial, He instituted the precise way in which His death was to be recalled. Since He came to die, this death was the chief thing He wished us to remember. He did not say that men should write a history of it, or even that they should be kind to the poor in memory of Him; He gave them the exact manner in which He wished this sacrifice to be commemorated. The memorial He gave us is called the Mass.

It was instituted the night before He died at what has since then been called the Last Supper. Taking bread into His hands He said: “This is my body, which is to be given for you,” that is, the next day on the cross. Then over the chalice of wine, He said: “This is my blood, of the new testament, which is to be shed for many to the remission of sins.” He was a priest offering Himself as a victim so that men might never forget that “greater love than this no man hath than that he lay down his life for his friends.” And after prefiguring and foreshadowing the way in which He would die the next day for the redemption of the world, He gave the Divine command to His Apostles and to His Church: “Do this for a commemoration of Me.” In that Last Supper He looked forward to the Cross; in the Mass we look back to it.

The Redemption of Our Lord on the Cross was offered once for all, but its actualization has depended upon the unfolding of history. Potentially every human being in the world was redeemed on the cross; the actualization and application of that redemption depends upon the free cooperation of man in the course of history.

Calvary took up only a moment of time, but being the sacrifice of the Eternal God made man, it was capable of illumining the whole of time in all periods of history. The Mass is the projection in time of the eternal values of Calvary.

Similarly Calvary was only one small place on the earth at the crossroads of Jerusalem, Athens and Rome, but what took place there, the sacrifice of the Omnipotent, can affect man everywhere in all corners of the earth. The Mass plants the cross in a town, in a village, in a mission, in a great cathedral; it draws back the curtains on tie and space and makes what happened on Calvary happen there. The cross affected all past history by anticipation; all the sacrifices of bullocks, and goats, and sheep, and particularly the sacrifice of the paschal lamb, found their completion in the cross. The cross affected also the future, by flowing out through all time, like a mighty waterfall or cascade which makes channels through valleys and plains.

The very fact that all sacrifices practically ceased after the sacrifice of Calvary, meant that Calvary was the perfection and the fulfillment of all sacrifices. Even the Jews no longer sacrifice paschal lambs in their synagogues, for the True Paschal Lamb has already been sacrificed.

The sacrifice of the Cross, therefore, is not something that happened more than 1900 years ago, it is something that is still happening. It is not an heirloom or an antique which endures into the present; it is a drama as actual now as then, and so it will remain as long as time and eternity endure.

On the Cross Our Blessed Lord knew how every individual soul in the world would react to His supreme act of love, whether or not they would accept Him or reject Him. We ourselves do not know how we will react until we are confronted with Christ and His Cross, and we see it unrolled on the screen of time. From our point of view, it takes time to see the drama unfolded. But the Mass gives us an intimation; we were not conscious of being present on Calvary on Good Friday, but we are consciously present at the Mass. We can know something of the role we played at Calvary by the way we act at the Mass in the twentieth century, and by the way the Mass helps us to live.

The Mass is not a new sacrifice but another enactment of the one supreme sacrifice of Calvary. There are two moments in history, one when the sacrifice is expected and the other when the sacrifice is possessed and offered. The first moment is called B.C., the second moment is called A.D.

If the Blessed Mother and St. John at the foot of the Cross had closed their eyes when Our Lord was offering Himself for the sins of the world, the spiritual effects on them would have been no different from those which we may receive as we assist at the Sacrifice of the Mass. But if their eyes were open, there would have been this difference: they would have seen the sacrifice offered in bloodshed with blood pouring from gaping holes in hands and feet and side. In the Mass, we see it performed without bloodshed.

The Mass, therefore, is not a substitute for the Cross, but the merit we gain at the Mass is the same as the merit we would have gained if we had assisted at Calvary.

The reason there is only one sacrifice, is that the Priest and the Victim both on the Cross and in the Mass, are one and the same person. Up until the coming of the Son of God, there were many sacrifices offered for sins. Men felt that they were unfit to exist before the Divine Presence. By taking the life of an animal or by destroying a thing, they vicariously punished and purified themselves. Among all peoples, in addition to the Jews who had the great advantage of Divine revelation, there were therefore , priests who offered victims of sacrifice. Their task was to slay the goat or the sheep, or pour out the wine, or immolate the bull. But when Our Lord came He became at one the same time Priest and Victim, He became both the Offerer and the One Who was offered. No longer were the priest and victims separate as they had been before. n the Cross, therefore, He was upright as a Priest; He was prostrate as a Victim because He was offering Himself.

The Priest offers the Mass only as the representative of Christ, hence he does not say, at the moment of consecration, this is the Body and Blood of Christ but “This is My Body” an d”This is My Blood”; he is only an instrument of Christ in the same way that a pencil is an instrument of one who writes.

We said that one of the differences between the Cross and the Mass was that in the Mass the sacrifice is offered without bloodshed, whereas on the Cross there were the heart-rendering scenes of Crucifixion. A second difference is that on the Cross Our Lord was alone while in the Mass we are with Him. How we are with Him, will be made clear if we examine the Offertory, the Consecration and the Communion.

The Offertory