(Drama in Three Acts)
Peace be to you.
Sacrifice of the Mass
A great American patriarch once said that he regretted he had only one life to give for his country. He meant that his love was greater than his sacrifice, that his life could be given only once in time and therefore could not be repeated. It is very different with the life of our Lord. Though the life is given once, it is eternally given, and it is eternally given and repeated in the sacrifice of the Mass.
In this lesson we are going to describe the Mass in terms of three of its principal parts:
The Offertory, the Consecration, the Communion.
First, the Offertory.
This takes place when the priest offers bread and wine to God. Our Blessed Lord, at that moment, if we may draw an image, is looking out from heaven saying,
- “I cannot die again in the human nature that I took from Mary. That human nature is now glorified at the right hand of the Father, the pledge and the promise of what your human nature is to be. But I can die in you and you can die in me. Will you therefore offer yourselves to me? I can add nothing to the sacrifice of My love except by and through you.”
Now we begin to offer ourselves to Him under the species of bread and wine.
Let me tell you how this was done in the early church. If you would have come to Mass in the early Church, you would have brought some bread and wine. You also might have brought some linen, fruits, wheat, oil, wool and other things that were needed by the religious community, that is, by the Church.
The priest would have taken all of these gifts, piled them up at the side of the communion rail to distribute them to the poor after Mass.
But the bread and wine that was brought, he would take some of that and use that for the offertory of the Mass. Now we no longer bring either bread and wine, nor do we bring these other things. Simply because today we live in a modern world where money is the medium of exchange. Instead of bringing bread and wine, we bring that which equivalently buys bread and wine.
- The important thing is that when we offer ourselves to God, we do so under the appearances of bread and wine.
Why did our Blessed Lord use bread and wine as the symbols of our offertory?
I can immediately think of three reasons.
1st) First in order to signify our unity with one another and in Him, in the Mystical Body of Christ. Just as a unity of grains of wheat make bread, and just as wine is made up from many grapes, so too, we who are many, are One in Christ. That is the first reason.
2nd) Another reason is perhaps no two substances in nature traditionally have so much nourished man as bread and wine.
- Bread is the marrow of the earth, wine its very Blood.
In bringing bread and wine, therefore, we are bringing those substances which have most nourished ourselves, given us life. Therefore, we are equivalently offering our lives or ourselves on the altar.
3rd) The third reason: wheat and grapes have to suffer a great deal in order to become bread and wine.
Wheat has to pass through a winter and then it has to be subjected to a mill and to fire before the wheat can ever become bread.
Grapes, in their turn, have to pass through the Gethsemane of a wine press before they can become wine.
- So, too, we who offer ourselves to Christ are destined to sacrifice. Therefore, let us take those substances from nature which have given us life, but which indicate in their very being the need of sacrifices and suffering in order to be united with Christ Himself.
- We, therefore, at the moment of the offertory of the Mass are not passive spectators as we might be in the theatre. We are going to be actors in a great drama. We are standing, as it were, on the paten that the priest is offering. We are in that chalice, we are participants, we are co-offerers to Christ, through Him to the Heavenly Father.
If ever we understand the offertory, we realize now that we have offered ourselves.
That bring us to the question, what happens to us?
The answer to that is given in the Consecration. The priest, it will be recalled, is only the instrument of Christ Himself at the altar.
Christ is the Priest, Christ is the Victim.
When, therefore, the priest pronounces the words of Consecration, he is only giving, loaning, to our Blessed Lord his voice and his hands. At the moment of Consecration, the priest says over the bread, “This is My Body”, and over the chalice of wine, “This is My Blood.”
- At that moment, there takes place what is known as the Mystery of Transubstantiation.
“Trans” means across,
“Substantiation” refers to substance.
- This Mystery means that the whole substance of the bread becomes the whole substance of the Body of Christ.
- The whole substance of the wine becomes the whole substance of the Blood of Christ.
Notice, we use the word “substance”. Now just as a subject has predicate, and just as your personality wears clothes, which are purely accidental to your personality because you can change clothes, so too bread and wine have what are known as accidents, or appearances, or predicates or species. Now after the moment of Consecration, the bread looks the same as it did before. The wine looks the same. That is to say, the sensible appearances do not change but the substance of the bread changes, the substance of the wine changes into the Body and Blood of Christ.
How do we know they change?
Because our Lord said so. Is there any better reason in the world? Our Blessed Lord said, “This is My Body, this is My Blood.” (Mt 26:26) We believe!
The next question is, “Very well, we have offered ourselves with Christ and the Consecration is a repeating, a bringing up to date, a localizing, a re-presentation of the death of Christ.
How is the death of Christ re-presented in the Consecration?”
Well, notice that the priest does not consecrate the bread and wine together. He does not say, “This is the Body and Blood of Christ.” First, he consecrates the bread, then he separately consecrates the wine.
First, “This is My Body”, then, “This is My Blood.”
Now notice that that separate Consecration is a kind of cleavage, a tearing asunder, a kind of a Mystical sword that divides the Blood from the Body of Christ, and
that is how He died on Calvary.
- That is why the Mass is called the unbloody Sacrifice of Calvary, while Calvary itself was a real separation of Blood from Body. Not that this is any less real, but that it is not as sensibly presented as it was on the Cross.
Story of the Consecration
But this is not the whole story of the Consecration. Remember, we offered ourselves under bread and wine? See what has happened to the bread and wine? It is the Body and Blood of Christ, that Christ is not alone in the Mass, we are with Him.
What, therefore, happened to us?
We died with Christ. The words of Consecration, therefore, have a secondary meaning.
The primary meaning is very clear, that we have given:
- this is the Body and Blood of Christ. Mystically divided by that separate Consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord renews the sacrifice of Calvary.
- The vine sacrificed Himself on the Cross.
- The Vine and branches, which we are, now sacrifice themselves in the Mass.
So the secondary meaning of the Consecration is about the branches united to the Vine. So, we say to our Lord, really,
“This is my body, this is my blood. All that I am, My Body, My Blood, My intellect, My will, all of My desires, intentions and motivations, all that I am substantially are now Thine. I die with Thee! Divinize them! Transubstantiate them! Change them so that I am no longer mine but Thine! Oh, the species of My life, the mere accidents, what I do in life, My peculiar duties, let them remain. They are only the appearances. But what I am in My essential relationships to Thee, that make divine! I die with Thee, oh Christ, on Calvary!” That is the Consecration.
Now we come to the Communion.
Remember that in the Offertory, we were like lambs that were being led on to Jerusalem and in the Consecration, we are those lambs who are offered in sacrifice. Now in communion we find that actually we did not lose anything at all. We did not die. We recovered life. We died to the lower part of ourselves in the Consecration of the Mass and we get back our Souls ennobled and enriched. We begin to be free, and exalted. We find that our death was no more permanent in the Consecration than was the death of Christ on Calvary.
In Holy Communion, we surrender our humanity, we get back His divinity.
- We give up time, He gives us His eternity.
- We give up our sin, we die to it, He gives us His Grace.
- We surrender our self-will and receive the Divine Will.
- We give up petty loves, He gives us the very flame of Love
That is Communion.
Now because communion is so very important, we want to dwell on three particular aspects of Communion.
1). First, Holy Communion incorporates us to the Life of Christ.
2). Holy Communion incorporates us to the Death of Christ.
3). Holy Communion incorporates us to the members of the Mystical Body in their joys and sorrows.
- First, in Communion we have unity with the life of Christ,
that is to say, the whole Christ, Christ born in Bethlehem, the Christ who lived in Galilee, who taught, who suffered, died, rose from the dead, is at the right hand of the Father and is infusing His life into His Mystical Body. We receive that Divine Life in communion. Our Blessed Lord said, “He that eateth Me, the same shall live by Me.” (Jn 6:58) Actually, we do not so much receive Him as, strictly speaking, He receives us. We become incorporated to Him. There is a kind of a transfusion, just in the physical order as there is transfusion of Blood or life, so too, here, there is a tremendous transfusion of divine life into our Souls in Communion. And that is why at Communion we always have such a deep sense of unworthiness. And the communion prayer is, “Domine non sum dignus.” “Oh Lord, I am not worthy.”
Is it not true that in human love, the beloved is always on the pedestal, the lover always on his knees? And so in Divine Love, we protest our unworthiness as we go to the Communion rail to receive the Divine Life because we died to our lower life in the Consecration. The divine lover invites us to His banquet, we poor destitute creatures. He holds us in His embrace. **** Really, if our faith were strong we would crawl on our hands and knees to the communion rail.****
And apropros of that life, our Lord said,
*****“He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood Lives continually in Me and I Live continually in Him.” (Jn 6:56) *****
- Secondly, communion is not only incorporation to the Life of Christ, it is also incorporation to the Death of Christ.
Here is something that we very seldom think of. We always think of communion as a relationship of life, but it is a relationship of death. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “It is the Lord’s death that you are heralding whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup.” (1 Co 11:26 )
Why is there a death involved?
Simply because we have not yet passed into glory. We have our old Adam with us, all of our sins, all of our concupiscence, our prides, and covetousness and avarice, and we have to die to all of these. As the Consecration itself suggested, when the farmer plows corn, he is very interested in life, but he is uprooting weeds, is he not? In other words, the condition of having the life of the corn is to bring death to the weeds. And the condition of having the life of Christ is to bring death to the old Adam.
Does not the gardener, when he nourishes the flower and cares for it, battle against insects? And in order to protect this Divine Life, we too have to bring some kind of penance and self-denial to that which is lower. Furthermore, if our Lord died for us, then we have to die to ourselves.
- Notice that after His Resurrection, it was the relics of His Passion and His death that He showed men.
Mary Magdalene wanted to achieve that glory of the Resurrection and our Lord said, “Do not touch Me.” (Jn 20:17) But He said to Thomas, “Touch My hands, put thy finger into My hand, put thy hand into My side.” (Jn 20:27) In other words, “Thomas, you may commune with My death to see that I am the Risen Life.”
I believe that is the reason the Church ordains fasting before Communion, in order to be sure that at least we will be incorporated in some tiny little way to the death of Christ before we receive His life.
- The third point concerning communion is that communion is not only incorporation to the life of Christ, incorporation to his death, but it is also communion with all of the other members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
This is what we forget, that when we receive communion we are being united with every other member of the Church throughout the world.
Your Body, for example, is made up of millions and millions of cells. These cells are nourished by Blood plasma or lymph.
It courses through all the gates and alleys of your Body to nourish and repair. It knocks at the door of each individual cell. It offers its treasure.
Now what that Blood plasma does to your human Body is a faint, far-off echo of what our Lord does for His Mystical Body. The Mystical Body is made up of persons, not cells.
Instead of human nourishment, there is the Divine Life of the Eucharist and this Eucharist is the Divine Lymph, as it were, of all of the cells or persons of the Mystical Body of Christ. And, as St. Paul says, “The one bread makes us One Body. Though we be many in number, the same bread is shared by all.” (1 Co 10:17 )
The lymph makes the Body One, the Eucharist makes the Church one. The
communion rail is, therefore, the most democratic institution in the face of all history. We are communing, therefore, at the rail, not only with every member of the Church but with the joys of the Church wherever they are in any part of the world, and also with the sorrows of the Church, the trials and persecutions, for example, in mission lands.
Therefore, every communion will make us more and more conscious of helping the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in order that this Body of Christ may grow and in order that we may be more conscious of our communion one with another in the Body of Christ.
That is the Mass.
And thanks to it, we have the Real Presence.
Our Lord is on the altar.
Think of what our churches would be if we did not have that red tabernacle lamp telling us that our Blessed Lord was there in His Eucharistic Presence. We would just be meeting houses, prayer halls, that’s all. We would almost feel that we were standing alongside of the empty tomb of Easter morn and an angel were there, saying, “He is not here.”
But thanks to the Real Presence of our Lord in our churches, the Eucharist is the window between heaven and earth.
Thanks to the Real Presence, we look out to heaven and heaven looks down to us.
That is why we can pray better there. We are praying before our Lord.
Our Lord is just as really and truly present in the Blessed Sacrament as I am present before this microphone as I speak to you, although the manner of presence is different. But it is the Christ, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Love.
God love you.
1. In today’s lesson on – The MASS – what stood out the most to you?
2. Why do you think Bishop Sheen gave the subtitle “Drama in Three Acts” to this lesson?
3. How would you explain to someone seeking a deeper understanding of The Mass ?
4. Now that you have learned more about – The Mass
– what changes do you think this will have in your daily life?
1135. “The catechesis of the liturgy entails first of all an understanding of the sacramental economy (Chapter One). In this light, the innovation of its celebration is revealed. This chapter will therefore treat of the celebration of the sacraments of the Church. It will consider that which, through the diversity of liturgical traditions, is common to the celebration of the seven sacraments. What is proper to each will be treated later. This fundamental catechesis on the sacramental celebrations responds to the first questions posed by the faithful regarding this subject:
– Who celebrates the liturgy?
– How is the liturgy celebrated?
– When is the liturgy celebrated?
– Where is the liturgy celebrated? ”
1187. “The liturgy is the work of the whole Christ, head and Body. Our high priest celebrates it unceasingly in the heavenly liturgy, with the holy Mother of God, the apostles, all the saints, and the multitude of those who have already entered the kingdom. ”
1188. “In a liturgical celebration, the whole assembly is leitourgos, each member according to his own function. The baptismal priesthood is that of the whole Body of Christ. But some of the faithful are ordained through the sacrament of Holy Orders to represent Christ as head of the Body. ”
1189. “The liturgical celebration involves signs and symbols relating to creation (candles, water, fire), human life (washing, anointing, breaking bread) and the history of salvation (the rites of the Passover). Integrated into the world of faith and taken up by the power of the Holy Spirit, these cosmic elements, human rituals, and gestures of remembrance of God become bearers of the saving and sanctifying action of Christ. ”
1190. “The Liturgy of the Word is an integral part of the celebration. The meaning of the celebration is expressed by the Word of God which is proclaimed and by the response of faith to it. ”
1191. “Song and music are closely connected with the liturgical action. The criteria for their proper use are the beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly, and the sacred character of the celebration. ”
1192. “Sacred images in our churches and homes are intended to awaken and nourish our faith in the Mystery of Christ. Through the icon of Christ and his works of salvation, it is he whom we adore. Through sacred images of the holy Mother of God, of the angels and of the saints, we venerate the persons represented. ”
1193. “Sunday, the ‘Lord’s Day,’ is the principal day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. It is the pre-eminent day of the liturgical assembly, the day of the Christian family, and the day of joy and rest from work. Sunday is ‘the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year’ (SC 106).”
1194. “The Church, ‘in the course of the year, . . . unfolds the whole Mystery of Christ from his Incarnation and Nativity through his Ascension, to Pentecost and the expectation of the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord’ (SC 102 # 2).”
1195. “By keeping the memorials of the saints – first of all the holy Mother of God, then the apostles, the martyrs, and other saints – on fixed days of the liturgical year, the Church on earth shows that she is united with the liturgy of heaven. She gives glory to Christ for having accomplished his salvation in his glorified members; their example encourages her on her way to the Father.”
1196. “The faithful who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours are united to Christ our high priest, by the prayer of the Psalms, meditation on the Word of God, and canticles and blessings, in order to be joined with his unceasing and universal prayer that gives glory to the Father and implores the gift of the Holy Spirit on the whole world. ”
1197. “Christ is the true temple of God, ‘the place where his glory dwells’; by the grace of God, Christians also become temples of the Holy Spirit, living stones out of which the Church is built.”
1198. “In its earthly state the Church needs places where the community can gather together. Our visible churches, holy places, are images of the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, toward which we are making our way on pilgrimage.”
1199. “It is in these churches that the Church celebrates public worship to the glory of the Holy Trinity, hears the word of God and sings his praise, lifts up her prayer, and offers the sacrifice of Christ sacramentally present in the midst of the assembly. These churches are also places of recollection and personal prayer. ”
1200. “From the first community of Jerusalem until the parousia, it is the same Paschal Mystery that the Churches of God, faithful to the apostolic faith, celebrate in every place. The Mystery celebrated in the liturgy is one, but the forms of its celebration are diverse. ”
1201. “The Mystery of Christ is so unfathomably rich that it cannot be exhausted by its expression in any single liturgical tradition. The history of the blossoming and development of these rites witnesses to a remarkable complementarity. When the Churches lived their respective liturgical traditions in the communion of the faith and the sacraments of the faith, they enriched one another and grew in fidelity to Tradition and to the common mission of the whole Church.[Cf. Paul VI, EN 63-64.] ”
1202. “The diverse liturgical traditions have arisen by very reason of the Church’s mission. Churches of the same geographical and cultural area came to celebrate the Mystery of Christ through particular expressions characterized by the culture: in the tradition of the ‘deposit of faith,'[2 Tim 1:14 (Vulg).] in liturgical symbolism, in the organization of fraternal communion, in the theological understanding of the Mysteries, and in various forms of holiness. Through the liturgical life of a local church, Christ, the light and salvation of all peoples, is made manifest to the particular people and culture to which that Church is sent and in which she is rooted. The Church is catholic, capable of integrating into her unity, while purifying them, all the authentic riches of cultures.[Cf. LG 23; UR 4.]”
1203. “The liturgical traditions or rites presently in use in the Church are the Latin (principally the Roman rite, but also the rites of certain local churches, such as the Ambrosian rite, or those of certain religious orders) and the Byzantine, Alexandrian or Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite and Chaldean rites. In ‘faithful obedience to tradition, the sacred Council declares that Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully recognized rites to be of equal right and dignity, and that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.'[SC 4.]”
1204. “The celebration of the liturgy, therefore, should correspond to the genius and culture of the different peoples.[Cf. SC 37-40.] In order that the Mystery of Christ be ‘made known to all the nations . . . to bring about the obedience of faith,'[Rom 16:26 .] it must be proclaimed, celebrated, and lived in all cultures in such a way that they themselves are not abolished by it, but redeemed and fulfilled:[Cf. CT 53.] It is with and through their own human culture, assumed and transfigured by Christ, that the multitude of God’s children has access to the Father, in order to glorify him in the one Spirit.”
1205. “‘In the liturgy, above all that of the sacraments, there is an immutable part, a part that is divinely instituted and of which the Church is the guardian, and parts that can be changed, which the Church has the power and on occasion also the duty to adapt to the cultures of recently evangelized peoples.'[John Paul II, Vicesimus quintus annus, 16; cf. SC 21.]”
1206. “‘Liturgical diversity can be a source of enrichment, but it can also provoke tensions, mutual misunderstandings, and even schisms. In this matter it is clear that diversity must not damage unity. It must express only fidelity to the common faith, to the sacramental signs that the Church has received from Christ, and to hierarchical communion. Cultural adaptation also requires a conversion of heart and even, where necessary, a breaking with ancestral customs incompatible with the Catholic faith.'[John Paul 11, Vicesimus quintus annus, 16.]”
1207. “It is fitting that liturgical celebration tends to express itself in the culture of the people where the Church finds herself, though without being submissive to it. Moreover, the liturgy itself generates cultures and shapes them. ”
1208. “The diverse liturgical traditions or rites, legitimately recognized, manifest the catholicity of the Church, because they signify and communicate the same Mystery of Christ. ”
1209. “The criterion that assures unity amid the diversity of liturgical traditions is fidelity to apostolic Tradition, i e., the communion in the faith and the sacraments received from the apostles, a communion that is both signified and guaranteed by apostolic succession. “