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The Sacrifice of the Mass

In the articles I have written during the Coronavirus crisis, my discussion about the Eucharist has so far focused on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is his Body and Blood that give us spiritual nourishment.

Now, I would like to talk about the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The notion of the Mass celebrating a sacrifice has often been misunderstood.

The Law of the Old Testament called for sacrifices to be offered (the Book of Leviticus is a central place to find these). The sacrifices entailed the sacrifice of animals officiated by a priest. The people were imperfect. The animals were an earthly sacrifice. The sacrifices were not perfect. Thus, they had to be offered over and over.

Jesus came to offer a new sacrifice once and for all. Once Jesus offers this sacrifice, there is no need of further sacrifices. The sacrifice we are talking about is Jesus sacrificing his life on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect because He is perfect. He is the unblemished lamb. We thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus. It reveals how absolute God’s love for us. Jesus is willing to lay down his life for us.

The sacrifice of the Crucifixion on Good Friday. The Institution of the Eucharist happened on Holy Thursday. How do the two relate?

For the answer, we turn to Luke 22:19-20, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.

When Jesus says, “which will be given for you…which will be shed for you,” He is speaking of his body given up for us on the Cross. He is speaking of his blood shed for us on the Cross. Thus, Jesus unites the Eucharist to his sacrifice on the Cross. When we celebrate Mass, we are celebrating the Sacrifice of the Cross. Since it is a sacrifice, a priest is the one who presides, offering the sacrifice.

Two thousand years later we continue to celebrate the Eucharist at Mass. Why? Because Jesus said “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).

Does that mean we are celebrating a new sacrifice each time we celebrate Mass? No, as I already said, Jesus died once for all, no further sacrifice is needed.

God chose the night of the Passover for the Institution of the Eucharist. This was no coincidence. For the Jews, the Passover was celebrated as a “memorial feast“, a “perpetual institution” (See Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, first reading for Holy Thursday). It was not a just a historical recalling of the Passover event. It made present the original Passover event.

In the same way, in our celebration of the Eucharist, we do not celebrate a new sacrifice. Rather, God makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross present on our altar. It is difficult to express in human words how this happens. As earthly human beings, we are bound by time. God is not. The Sacrifice of the Cross is not bound to a single day, a historical event and nothing more. It transcends time and place. It is made present for us on every altar in every place and every time the Eucharist is celebrated.

Jesus loves us. He gives his life for us as we celebrate the Eucharist. We place a Crucifix near the altar to remind us of the bond Jesus placed between the Eucharist and the Crucifixion.

This understanding of the Mass as a Sacrifice is why priests continue to celebrate Mass privately even though we cannot gather for public Masses. It is to offer this wonderful Sacrifice not just for the priest but for all God’s people.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

3 Comments

  1. Linda House says:

    Thank you for another “gift” as each blog posting is a gift. This is a perspective in the Mass I never clearly understood.

  2. Thomas House says:

    Fr Jeff, This again reminds us how meaningful and important the eucharist is for us, and how we miss the opportunity to partake of Christ sacrifice for us.

  3. Fr. Jeff says:

    I wrote on Sunday (http://blog.renewaloffaith.org/blog/?p=3347) about Spiritual Communion. I believe that when we are prevented from attending Mass in person, God can still give us his grace, including uniting us to Jesus’ Sacrifice that we celebrate in the Eucharist. Jesus died for you and for all.

    Peace,

    Fr. Jeff

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