Mass as Sacrifice (My title)
We have just celebrated the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. In this celebration we tend to focus on the sacramental Body of Christ which the faithful receive during the Mass. Yet the Church can only claim that the sacramental host is the Body of Christ because during the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, blessed, broke and shared it with his disciples saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Take and eat it in remembrance of me.” Unlike the Greeks who considered Flesh and spirit to be separate entities, the Jews consider them to be a unity. So in saying these words Jesus is saying, “This is me which is given for you.” It is the whole of Jesus, body and spirit, that we receive in the sacred host and precious blood. When he said these words, Jesus was foreshadowing his offering of himself as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world.
The offering of humans as a sacrifice to the gods has been part of the tradition of pagan cultures. Abram was asked to sacrifice Isaac as a test of his obedience to God, but as we know, he was forbidden to carry this out at the last minute and told to sacrifice an animal instead. This practice of substitutionary animal sacrifice continued in the life of God’s people at the time of Passover as an atonement for the sins of God’s people.
This offering of animals as a sacrifice was a pointer to the one, complete sacrifice in which Jesus the Son of God offered himself for the salvation of the whole world. In the Christian mass, the sacrifice of Christ’s incarnate body on the cross is remembered and brought into the present moment and we the faithful, who are the Body of Christ on earth, receive the benefits of that sacrifice to enable us to to continue the mission that Jesus shares with his Church.
So the incarnate body of Jesus, his Sacramental body in the sacred host, and his body the Church, are all connected. Jesus’ earthly body was blessed and broken on the Cross so that his love poured out there might draw people to himself. The eucharistic host is taken, blessed, broken and shared so that those who receive it, receive Jesus himself and the beneFits of salvation he won for us. We faithful of the Church, his body on earth, should respond to Jesus’ love and gifts by offering ourselves to be a living sacrifice, willing to be broken in his service in the world so that others may come to know and love him.
The sacrifice of Jesus is central to Christian worship, yet to many people the idea of sacrifice is repulsive. Even within the Church, some Catholics no longer see the mass as a sacrifice because they consider this to be barbaric and superstitious. Instead they see the mass as a fellowship meal, focussing on the sayings of Jesus during the Last Supper about the need for us to love one another. They sideline the truth that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life in the service of others either literally or metaphorically.
It is much easier for people’s understanding of the mass to be shifted from the sacrifice of Jesus to that of a shared fellowship meal if the priest celebrates facing the people standing behind a small ‘table like’ altar in a ‘fan-shaped’ building. When the music at mass centres on fellowship, togetherness, love and praise, the focus shifts from the worship of God to the unity of the worshipping community and how the world can be made a better place.
The adoption of these liturgical and theological emphases has caused a loosening of the idea of sacrifice in the mass. When the priest faces the people when speaking to them about God, and facing with them towards the crucifix when addressing God, the understanding of the mass as a sacrifice is easier to grasp. When communion is received kneeling on the tongue, it is easier to appreciate that we are receiving Jesus himself than when we receive the sacrament standing in a queue.
Sacrifice lies in the centre of the mystery of God. It is the total offering of ourselves and this reveals to us who God is. God sacrifice himself for us, and our response must be to sacrifice ourselves in his service. This is the love Jesus told us to practice during the Last Supper.
The Ordinariates have been given our own distinctive liturgy with its emphasis on the sacrifice of Jesus in its words and action. One of the gifts we can offer to the wider Western Rite Catholic community is to be a witness to the true meaning of sacrifice and show how this enables us to worship God and enter into his mystery. Only then will a spiritual renewal in the Church be possible.
It is a hard mission, but one we have been called to undertake.
Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. God alone
”Taizé chant based on St Teresa of Avila’s prayer