Sacrificium… (ii)

A.M.D.G.
Quarta die infra Octavam S. Laurentii
Commemoratio: Ss. Hippoliti et Cassiani Martyrum

Carissimi,

Yesterday’s reflection ended with the conclusion that the ministerial priesthood of the New Covenant replaces that of the Old Covenant, not to offer ritualistic sacrifices but to offer “the” ultimate atoning Sacrifice of Calvary through the high priesthood of Christ to receive here in our contemporary time, the fruits of His redeeming sacrifice, the Eucharist. It is important to emphasise and remember here that the Church has never suggested that the Mass is a repetition of Calvary – it is not, it is a witnessing again, irrespective of time and place of that same, single, “once only once and once for all” Sacrifice of Calvary. It is a re-presentation, a renewal of the effects, the benefits, the merits, the fruit, of that “one and the same” historical event i.e. the atonement for sin, the restoration of creation and the confection of the Eucharist, the means of eternal life.

The difference between Calvary and the Mass are the external accidentals, i.e. the manner of the oblation of the one and the other “sola offerendi ratione diversa” [Council of Trent]. On the Cross, Christ offered His incarnated physical self, there His blood flowed from His crucified body; on the Altar He offers His death already suffered, but now in an unbloody manner, Christ does not die again on the Altar. Thus the Mass represents this past event i.e. Calvary: but it is one with the sacrifice of the Cross as the victim and the priest are the same i.e Christ, but it is not literally the Crucifixion. The late Bishop Michael Evans wrote, “The word “memorial” is very important in Eucharistic theology, and means far more than simply a recalling or remembering. For the Jews, celebrating a memorial involves evoking the past and reliving it in such a way that a past event is made effective and fruitful here and now.” [Is Jesus really present in the Eucharist?] We needs must be careful with such notions however, to make clear that the efficacy of the Mass itself is not diminished by our concept of “memorial”. The Mass itself is a sacrifice, by which the infinite merits of Christ’s death, gained on the Cross, are applied to souls here-and-now.

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The Mass is a literal visible sacrifice, which represents and ‘applies the merits’ of the literal, once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross. In other words, the Mass is itself a sacrificial offering of worship i.e. of adoration, thanksgiving, prayer and expiation by the created to the Creator in fulfilment of the Law “to love God” [Deut. 6:4-5; Levit. 19:18; Matt 22:35–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25-28], joined to the commemoration or “showing forth” [1 Cor. 11:26] of the Sacrifice of Christ upon Calvary – the purest offering of adoration, thanksgiving, prayer and atonement by and at the behest of the great high priest who instituted and commanded His Apostles so to do “in mei memóriam faciétis” [Luke 22: 19].  The twofold consecration of the bread and then the wine, “show forth” the physical death of Christ by the separation of His body from His blood shed upon the Cross. Uniting the worship of God to the commemoration of the Cross, manifests the ultimate act of offering to God by humanity [Heb 2:17] as God made-man [Matt. 1:22-23], by God made-man in Christ’s voluntary offering and outpouring of love toward God [Heb 9:12] and neighbour [John 15:13 ditto references to the Greatest Commandment above]. In this way it may be said that the “fulfilment of the Law and of the Prophets” [Matt 5:17] is fulfilled in Christ, by His saving sacrificial act of love (kenosis – self-emptying) on the Cross.

As the Council of Trent defined in its 22nd Session, Canon III: “If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.” 

As noted above, the “ends of the Mass” i.e. the purposes for which it is offered, are to adore God – adoration, to give Him thanks – thanksgiving, to make satisfaction for sin – atonement and to ask for new graces – petition, the ends for which Christ died upon the Cross. Worship, or adoration of course, is a sign of our dependence upon our Creator and His absolute dominion over us, His creatures. It was the effect of Original Sin that repudiated this reliance and subjection of humanity to God; all this has been restored by Christ on the Cross in His ultimate act of adoration and thanksgiving. We experience this restoration of humanity with God through our Baptism and actualise it through our individual receipt of the Eucharist. But of these four purposes of the Mass only two are directly beneficial to the whole Church; the satisfaction for sin and the petition of new graces; it is these that are usually meant as “the fruit” of the Mass.

As an old Manual of Devotion says; Without God’s holy grace we cannot perform one supernatural act, nor conceive one good thought, nor advance one step on the road that leads to life everlasting. “Without me,” says Christ, “you can do nothing.” [John 15:5] And St. Paul adds: “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” [2 Cor 3:5]

Our wants, temporal and eternal, are countless: graces to repent of our many sins; graces to sin no more; graces to live to love and die in His friendship; the grace for final perseverance. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus obtains all for us. On our Altars, where His death and passion are represented and renewed, Jesus obtains of His father all graces and blessings we need for soul and body. Jesus is the “beloved Son, in whom the Father is well pleased” [Matt 3:17] and “is heard on account of his own reverence.” [Heb. 5:7] In the Holy Mass, Jesus Himself is our advocate as well as our high priest. He presents our wants and petitions to His Father, and with the petitions His Precious Blood as a price to obtain them. The Church ends every prayer, and asks everything, “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” because of Jesus we have everything. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” [Rom. 8:32] St. Jerome says: “Assuredly the Lord grants all the favours for which we petition Him in the Mass, provided they be suitable to us; and, what is far more admirable, He very often grants us that for which we do not petition Him, provided we place no obstacle to His holy designs.”

So these graces are called the fruit of the Mass and are applied generally in a threefold division:

The General Fruit – that is the benefit for the whole Church – Militant (on earth), Expectant (waiting judgement) and even Triumphant (the blessed saints). This fruit is in union with Our Lord’s self-oblation for all mankind and the celebrant obviously cannot alter or direct it.

The Special Fruit – also called the “ministerial fruit”, that the benefit to those who in any way cooperate in offering the particular Mass; this it is which, in the application of the priest’s intention, is primarily and mainly operative (i.e. for another person).

The Most Special Fruit – that is the personal share of the celebrating priest as being Christ the offerer of the Sacrifice. Though this fruit, being personal to the celebrant, cannot be alienated and applied to others he may apply it for the acquisition of some grace of which he himself stands in need.

Oremus pro invicem!

‡Jerome OSJV

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