Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
FROM THE BEGINNING OF TIME MAN HAS WORSHIPPED GOD BY OFFERING SACRIFICE. The first sacrifices were very simple. Cain and Abel offered the first born of their flocks and the first produce of their fields as a sacrifice to God. When Noah came out of the ark, his first act was to build an altar and offer sacrifice in thanksgiving to God. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac when God sent an angel to stop him. He sacrificed an animal instead. Later on God commanded Moses to have the people offer the sacrifice of a lamb each year as a memorial of their deliverance from the slavery of Egypt.
These sacrifices reminded the people of God’s supremacy and kept alive the spirit of religion, but they could not bridge the gulf that separated them from their Creator, after the sin of Adam. “It was impossible for sins to be taken away by the blood of bulls or goats.” (Heb.10)
But God so loved the world that he sent his only son, and the son so loved us that He sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross. This is the perfect sacrifice. Being man, Jesus could offer sacrifice on behalf of man, and being God, his sacrifice would be infinite. The Mass is this sacrifice of Calvary, offered up now in an unbloody manner so that each succeeding generation might associate itself with Jesus in offering this perfect sacrifice to the Father and thereby apply its merits to themselves. THERE IS ONLY ONE SACRIFICE. The Mass simply renders present sacramentally the sacrifice of Calvary which has taken place once and for all.
In the 16th century the Reformers challenged the sacrificial value of the Eucharist which they feared would detract from the uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice. There is only one sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The Eucharistic sacrifice takes nothing away for the sacrifice accomplished once and for all in history for the one is entirely related to the other. The sacrifice of the Mass rather enhances the uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice than it detracts from it, for it PERPETUATES ITS MEMORY and APPLIES ITS POWER.
Jesus gave the Mass and the power to offer the Mass to the Church. And the Church communicates this priestly power to all of her members in varying degrees through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. In Baptism we receive an indelible character marking us as Christians and giving us a participation in the Common Priesthood of Jesus. In Confirmation we receive another sacramental character giving us a greater participation in the Common Priesthood of Jesus. In Holy Orders another sacramental character is received conferring participation in the Ministerial Priesthood of Jesus with the power to consecrate the Eucharist and forgive sins. Thus we see that the Mass is the sacrifice of the whole Church in which EACH MEMBER PARTICIPATES and BENEFITS.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is confected in three parts: the Offertory, the Consecration and the Communion. These are the three things Jesus did at the Last Supper. He took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave them to His disciples. And then He told them, “Do this in memory of me.”
The Mass is the sacrifice which the first Christians offered up in the catacombs of Rome, which St. Augustine offered up on the shores of Africa in the fourth century and St. Francis offered up in Japan in the 16th century. Today it is the perfect sacrifice that the prophet Malachi foretold would be offered up from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof. Because of the different time zones in the world several Masses are being celebrated somewhere in the world every minute of the day. In all of these Jesus is both the Victim and the Priest, offering himself to His heavenly Father through the instrumentality of a human priest. What praise and glory the Church is constantly giving to God through the Sacrifice of the Mass and what a joy and consolation for us to realize that we are a part of it.
The Sacrifice of the Mass proclaims and reminds us of the amazing paradox of Christianity: love fulfills itself by emptying itself. This is the kenosis of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. “Jesus Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself taking the form of a slave…becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross…Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus ever knee shall bend…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2: 6 - 11)
This paradox is the secret of Christianity, the secret of spirituality and of happiness. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” This is one of the few texts found in all four Gospels. (Mark 8:35; Matthew 10:39; Luke 9: 24; John 12:25)
This paradox of Christianity is the gist of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who also left all to follow Jesus. “Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; and it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." This paradox structures our lives, unifies our day to day decisions and brings with it a sense of fulfillment. It is not only expressive of the person I am, it is also creative of the person I will become.
foolishly think that we fulfill ourselves by self-gratification and self-indulgence,
by receiving and possessing. Like the rich fool in the Gospel we spend
our time and energy and our lives feathering this little nest here as
if it will go on forever heedless of our Lord’s warning,
“You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the
things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
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