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Sacrifice not Supper - Christ and Our Participation in His Sacrifice at Mass

Four Ends of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme act. There is no greater prayer or action we could offer on earth, than this that Christ Himself has and continues to offer daily on the altar. Our whole being is lifted up to the Lord and we are no longer in our particular pew, or Church, but at Calvary. “Each Mass,” as Charles Cardinal Journet defends, “is a true and sacrificial act, because it multiplies in time the real efficient operative presence of the one redemptive sacrifice.”[1] Indeed, our entire being is given – heart and mind – and all our senses combined, unlike any other act. Our minds are raised to a higher level of contemplation; our hearts lifted up into the bosom of Divine Love. Sursum corda!

Every aspect of the Mass has such deep meaning and purpose and we are invited into its mystery and redemptive graces with each prayer and gesture. All of our five senses are involved, both in what is seen and unseen, our eyes behold True Beauty in this August Sacrifice. The presence of the Sacred is announced by the smell of incense. Our ears resound with the Scriptures in chanting voices, the proclamation of the Gospel and the Epistle. Our touch is drawn by the movements of the Liturgical ceremony, such as in kneeling, but most especially in receiving Christ Himself into our very mouths! Truly, there is no greater act than to partake in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

To elaborate on the ignorance of the Holy Mass as Sacrifice, one could look further at what has become common among the laity, particularly in saying that one has attended the Mass, rather than having offered the Mass. When understood as a mere “supper” it would certainly be fitting to say that one has “attended,” as one would attend a dinner party. Therefore, the Mass is said to have been attended only for not being properly understood as a sacrifice of which we offer. This offering is our active participation in the Holy Mass.

As Mediator Dei states: “It is an error, consequently, and a mistake to think of the Sacred Liturgy as merely the outward or visible part of Divine Worship or as an ornamental ceremonial. No less erroneous is the notion that it consists solely in a list of laws and prescriptions according to which the ecclesiastical hierarchy orders the sacred rites to be performed.”[2]

Hence it is from this great deviation that reverence for the sacrificial act and acknowledgement of the True Presence of Christ is obscured and denied altogether. Of those gestures that neglect the sacrificial act of the Holy Mass is the Versus Populum – literally meaning, “towards the people,” – whereas Ad Orientem – literally meaning, “towards the East” – the priest, in facing the altar of God, orients our participation in the sacrifice upward towards God in Heaven. Our prayers are not only for ourselves, but rather for the honor of God and His Glory. Ad Orientem prayer, as a “sacred direction,” reaches into the eschatology of primitive Christian communities. Old Testament prophecies in Ezek 11:23 and Zech 14:4 were interpreted by early Christians to expect “the Second Coming of the Lord to be on the Mount of Olives, which was revered as the place of [His] Ascension.” [3] Indeed, “prayer facing east was also known to the Jewish tradition (cf. Wis 16:28), both among the Essenes and in the rabbinical Judaism of the first centuries A.D.” [4]

All the Truths of the Faith are found in every liturgical act. In the Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of Christ is lived again in an unbloody manner; the Love of the Most Holy Trinity is seen and expressed. The Faith is lived and learned. We are invited into that immense mystery of the Trinity, that Triune Love, which our hearts long for and seek.

[1] Charles Journet, The Mass: The Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross, (Indiana: St. Augustine

Press, 2008), 58.

[2] Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 25.

[3] Lang, Uwe Michael. Turning towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 37.

[4] Lang, Turning towards the Lord, 38.

As Cardinal Ottaviani says: “The immanent purpose of the Mass is fundamentally that of sacrifice.”[1] This Sacrifice in the “Infinite Mass,” says St. John Vianney, “causes the whole heavenly court to rejoice. It alleviates the pain of the souls in purgatory. It draws down all types of blessings upon earth, and gives more glory to God than all the sufferings of all the martyrs together, more glory than the penances of all the saints, than all the tears shed by them since the beginning of the world and all that they may do till the end of time.” [2] As Pope Leo XIII writes in Mirae Caritatis: “Now if anyone seriously considers the benefits which flow from the Eucharist he will understand that conspicuous and the chief among them all is that which the rest, without exception, are included; in a word, it is for men the source of life.”[3] Therefore, it is in and by the Sacrifice of the Mass that the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus is offered up for the salvation and life of mankind.

This aspect and meaning of the Mass as our redemption and life cannot be overstressed. “In this is charity,” declares St. John, “not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” [4] This Love is seen daily in the Holy Mass as Christ continues His redemptive work. Pope Pius XII recalls how “Christ is present at the august sacrifice of the altar both in the person of His minister and above all under the Eucharistic species. He is present in the Sacraments, infusing into them the power which makes them ready instruments of sanctification.” [5] By washing oneself in Christ’s Blood, which is poured out in the Sacrifice, the person is moved towards a more complete perfection.

For, “The august sacrifice of the altar, then,” says Pope Pius XII, “is no mere empty commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby the High Priest by an unbloody immolation offers Himself a most acceptable victim to the Eternal Father, as He did upon the cross.” [6] Therefore, “It is an unquestionable fact that the work of our redemption is continued, and that its fruits are imparted to us, during the celebration of the liturgy.” [7] In this Holy Sacrifice of Christ then, must we actively participate by a worthy offering of our entire being into His one Redemptive Sacrifice of the Cross that He makes present again on our altars for our salvation and sanctification.

Deo gratias! Alleluia! Amen!

[1] Card.Ottaviani and Card. Bacci,The Ottaviani Intervention, (Rockford, IL.: Tan Books, 1969),

Ch. III.

[2] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God: Ordinary Time: Weeks 13-23, (Madrid:

Fundacion Internactional, 1989), 43.

[3] Pope Leo XIII, Mirae Caritatis 1902, 4.

[4] 1 John 4:10.

[5] Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei, 1947, 20.

[6] IBID, 68.

[7] IBID. 29.

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