Good Friday Meditation: the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass
Alexandra Clark | The Daily Knight
This meditation for Good Friday on Christ's Sacrifice in the Holy Mass, is taken from Fr. Martin Von Cochem, and was written in 1704 and will be very helpful to devout souls wanting to enter deeply in to the Sacred Mystery of Christ's Passion. Fr. Cochem teaches what the "Holy Church declares expressly that the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same. Hence we see clearly that we can do as much to please Our Lord, and acquire as much merit for ourselves when we hear Mass as we should have done had we been present on Calvary, if we are no less devout and recollected than we should have been standing beneath the Cross."
In the Holy Mass Christ Renews His Passion: Chapter 9 form the Incredible Catholic Mass:
AMONG all the mysteries of the life of Christ, there is not one which can be meditated upon with greater profit or which has a greater claim on our adoration than His bitter Passion and Death, by means of which our Redemption was effected. The Fathers of the Church tell us that those who meditate upon and venerate Our Lord’s Passion will obtain a rich reward. There are many different methods of doing this, each profitable in its way, but none can be better than that of hearing Mass attentively; for then the bitter Passion is in reality suffered anew, reiterated for our benefit, and consequently we can meditate upon it more easily and represent it to ourselves more forcibly. That the Passion of Christ is renewed in Holy Mass must be clearly apparent to everyone. Everything recalls it and points to it, and pre-eminently the Sign of the Cross, which meets our eye continually.
In the altar-stone five crosses are engraved, and in consecrating it the bishop made the Sign of the Cross more than a hundred times. The sacred vessels and the sacerdotal vestments are all marked with the cross. During the celebration of Mass, the priest crosses himself sixteen times and blesses the oblation with the same sign twenty-nine times. What is this constant reiteration of the Sign of the Cross intended to signify, if not that the Sacrifice of Blood offered by Christ upon the Cross—that is, His bitter Passion and Death—is represented, repeated, renewed upon the altar? Although Our Lord at the Last Supper expressly said: “Do this for a commemoration of Me,” yet the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not simply a commemoration, but a renewal, of the Passion of Christ. In the Council of Trent, Holy Church teaches: “Whosoever shall say that the Sacrifice of the Mass is only a remembrance of the Sacrifice of the Cross, let him be anathema.” And in the same session of that Council (xxii, Ch. 2), she states: “In this Divine Sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross.” Had we no other authority than this, it ought to content us and remove all doubt from our minds. For what the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit teaches and sets before us for our acceptance, that we are bound to believe firmly and never in any wise to dispute.
Now the Church definitely declares that the same Christ, who in times past made the sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross in a painful manner with shedding of blood, is now truly present in Holy Mass and is immolated afresh, but after a bloodless and painless manner. In proof and corroboration of this, the Church further asserts: “For the victim is one and the same; the same now offering by the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the Cross, the manner alone of offering being different.” That is to say, in both these sacrifices—that of the Cross and that of the Mass—the same victim is offered, and He who offers the sacrifices, both the one and the other, is the same, even Christ; but the manner in which He offers Himself in the one place and in the other is different. On the Cross He offered Himself, a sacrifice of blood, although He was put to death by the hands of the executioners; on the altar He likewise offers Himself, this time by the hands and the ministry of priests, by whom He is immolated, but in a bloodless manner. The word immolate, from the Latin immolare, “to slay,” is frequently employed by the Church in the Ordinary of the Mass.
St. Augustine also makes use of it when he says: “Christ was indeed only once immolated in person, yet He is immolated every day for the people in the Sacrament or in Holy Mass.” The word is a peculiar one; it is constantly employed in the Scriptures in reference to the slaughter and sacrifice of the victims that were offered upon the altar. Now, by employing the same word in speaking the Mass, the Church intends to indicate that Christ is offered up in Holy Mass, not merely by the word of the priest, nor by the elevation of the Adorable Sacrament, but that, as the Sacrificial Lamb, He is mystically made to suffer, is immolated and slain, as we shall proceed to show more explicitly. St. Cyprian tells us: “The sacrifice we offer is the Passion of Christ.” By this he evidently meant to say: When we say Mass, we reiterate what was enacted in Christ’s Passion. St. Gregory enunciates this truth still more plainly: “Although Christ dies not again, yet He suffers again for us in the Sacrifice of the Mass after a mysterious, mystical manner.”
Theodoret speaks no less plainly: “We offer no other sacrifice but that which was offered upon the Cross.” It would be easy to quote many other authorities in proof of this, but for the sake of brevity, we will pass them by and content ourselves with the infallible testimony of the Church, which dictates to us the following prayer among the secreta* for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost: “Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, worthily to frequent these mysteries, since as often as the remembrance of the victim is celebrated, so often is the work of our Redemption carried on.” Here the question arises: What may the work of our Redemption be? This every child can answer, for if you ask him, “By what are we redeemed?” he will answer, “through the sufferings of Christ.”
Thus, if the Church declares that this work is carried on in every Mass, it follows that the Passion of Christ is renewed in every Mass. We find the same truth expressed in the Secret prayer for the festival of some martyrs (November 8): “May Thy plentiful blessing descend, O Lord, upon us and both render our gifts agreeable to Thee and be to us a Sacrament of Redemption.” These words must not be understood to mean that we are redeemed over again in Holy Mass, but that in the Mass the fruits of our Redemption may be communicated to us, as the Church says elsewhere: “May the effect of our Redemption be applied to us through this Sacrament.” Another writer says: “What else is Holy Mass than a renewal of our Redemption?”
The Saracen and the Miracle of the Precious Body of Christ in the Sacrament
Again, Molina beautifully formulates the same truth: “Holy Mass is infinitely superior to any other oblation that is offered, for it is not merely an image of our Redemption: it is the very work itself, wrapped in mystery, but truly carried on.” The testimony which has been adduced will amply suffice to convince everyone that Holy Mass is a renewal of Christ’s Passion and that the gentle Lamb of God is mystically slain anew in every Mass which is celebrated. The following instance will illustrate this truth: A Saracen prince named Amerumnes had occasion to send his nephew to the town of Amplona in Syria, where a splendid church had been erected and dedicated to St. George. As soon as the Saracen caught sight of this church from afar, he told his servants to stable the camels there and put their provender upon the altar. On arriving, they prepared to execute these orders, but the priests interposed, warning the prince against such a desecration of the house of God. No heed was paid to their remonstrance; the camels were driven into the church. As soon, however, as they crossed the threshold, they fell down dead. This alarmed the Saracen, and he commanded his followers to remove the bodies of the camels from the church. The day on which this occurred happened to be a festival, and a large congregation had assembled to hear Mass. The priest was almost afraid to begin, for he dreaded some act of profanation on the part of the Saracen, who stationed himself near the altar, that he might observe the ceremonies of the Mass. He watched them attentively, and when the celebrant, according to the Greek rite, divided the Consecrated Host into four parts with a knife, it appeared to the interested onlooker as if he were cutting the flesh of a beauteous child, whose blood flowed into the chalice. Roused to indignation at this sight, he would have run the priest through with his sword on the spot had not curiosity as to what would ensue restrained him. When at the time of Communion the priest consumed the Sacred Elements, to the eyes of the Saracen they bore not the semblance of bread and wine, but of real flesh and blood, in every Host which was administered to the communicants, he observed the same appearance. “What barbarians these Christians must be!” he said to himself. “At their idolatrous rites they slay a child, whose flesh they eat. 1 will surely avenge the cruel murder of this innocent babe and put these savage monsters to a miserable end.” At the conclusion of the Mass, the priest distributed the eulogia, or blessed bread, to the people and gave a piece to the stranger. “What is this?” he angrily asked. The priest answered: “It is blessed bread.” Then the unbeliever exclaimed aloud: “Is this what you offer upon the altar, inhuman wretch? Have 1 not myself seen you slay a sweet child with your own hands, eat His flesh and drink His blood? And did you not afterwards give it to others?” The priest, amazed beyond expression, replied humbly: “My lord, 1 am a sinner, unworthy to look upon mysteries so sublime! Since you have been privileged to behold them, you must enjoy great favor with God.” The Saracen then asked whether it had not been as he had seen. The priest replied that so indeed it was, but to the eyes of sinful man it was not given to penetrate this deep mystery, and he saw nothing more than bread and wine, which by the words of Consecration were changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. So deeply was the Saracen impressed by what he had seen and heard that he expressed the wish to become a Christian and begged to be baptized. But the priest, fearing the anger of the prince’s uncle, refused to comply with his request, bidding him, if he were really in earnest, to betake himself to the bishop on Mount Sinai and relate to him what he had witnessed. The bishop would then instruct him in the Christian faith and admit him to holy Baptism. Thereupon the Saracen returned to his followers, without, however, telling them a word of what had passed. Under cover of night, disguised in a pilgrim’s garments, he secretly took his departure and made his way to Mount Sinai, where he acquainted the bishop with the cause of his conversion. He was duly instructed and baptized, the name of Pachomius being given to him. Later on, he became a monk. After three years spent in austere penance, he returned, with his superior’s permission, to his home, in the hope of converting his father. He was, however put to cruel torture and finally stoned to death.
This miracle proves to us not only that the Body and Blood of Our Lord are really present in the Adorable Sacrament, but also that He is truly immolated upon the altar—mystically, although not in a bloody manner. To the Saracen it was given to see the priest in the Mass dividing the flesh of a child, in order that he who was a complete unbeliever might, by his astonishment at what he beheld, be led to inquire about and to embrace the Christian religion. Moreover, God willed that this occurrence should be recorded and handed down to posterity, to increase our knowledge and confirm our faith in this Transcendent Mystery.
For although in Holy Mass Christ does not suffer physical pain or death, yet He displays Himself in reality to His heavenly Father under the same pitiable appearance which He presented when scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified, and this as distinctly as if He were again actually enduring these tortures for the sins of the world. On this subject Lancicius says: “Holy Mass is a representation of the sufferings and death of Christ, not only in words, as anything may be reproduced upon the stage, but in deed and reality; hence, the Fathers of the Church call the Mass a repetition of Christ’s Passion and allege that in it, after a mystical manner, He again suffers and is crucified.” These are the words of a spiritual writer, the author of learned works on the mysteries of the Mass.
The Hermit of Unbelief and the Miracle of the Christ Child on the Altar
We will give another instance in corroboration of what has been said. In the lives of the Fathers we read of an old, unlettered hermit who could not grasp the truth of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He used to say: “In the Holy Sacrament of the Altar we have not the Body of Christ, but His image.” Two other aged hermits, hearing this, went to him and endeavored to show him his error, expounding to him the teaching of the Catholic Church and supporting their arguments by passages from the Holy Scriptures. But he would not be convinced: nothing short of a miracle, he said, could make him believe it. The hermits spent the week in prayer; when Sunday came and they were all three present in the chapel at Mass, they saw, after the Consecration, a child of great beauty on the altar in the place of the Host. This sight filled them with holy joy. But their joy was changed to horror when, just at the breaking of the Host, they saw an Angel pierce the child with a knife and collect in the chalice the blood which flowed from the wound. And when the man who refused to believe the doctrine of Transubstantiation approached the altar to receive Communion, as the priest was about to administer to him the Adorable Sacrament, he saw that it was blood-stained and bore the appearance of flesh. Thereupon he cried aloud: “O Lord Jesus, I acknowledge my unbelief and deplore my obstinate continuance in it. I steadfastly believe the Consecrated Bread to be Thy Sacred Body, the chalice Thy Sacred Blood. I beseech Thee again to conceal Thyself under the form of the Host, that I may receive Thee to my soul’s profit.” His prayer was heard; he devoutly received Communion, returned thanks to God and to the two fathers who had shown him his error, and proclaimed to all around what he had been privileged to behold in Holy Mass.
Here we have additional evidence that Jesus Christ is not merely present in person and in reality in the Sacred Host, but that in Holy Mass He renews His bitter Passion. “Just as He once took upon Himself the sins of the whole world, that He might wash them away with His Blood, so are our sins now laid upon Him, the same Lamb who is to be immolated upon the altar to atone for our transgressions.” These words give the reason why Christ renews His Passion and Death in every Mass that is said; we will, however, proceed to elucidate the subject somewhat more fully. The Reason Why Christ Renews His Passion in Holy Mass The cause for which Christ suffered His bitter Passion cannot be better expressed than in the following words of Father Segneri, S.J.: “When Christ was upon earth, by His divine omniscience He foresaw that, in spite of His bitter Passion, many millions of mankind would not participate in the Redemption He purchased for them and consequently would be doomed to eternal perdition. In the infinite love which He, as our Elder Brother, bore to us and in His desire for our salvation. He offered Himself to His heavenly Father, declaring Himself willing to hang upon the Cross, not three hours only, but until the End of Time, in order that the tears He shed, the Blood that flowed from His veins, His fervent prayers and sighs, might assuage the severity of divine justice and move the divine compassion and loving-kindness to ordain some means whereby the loss of so vast a number of souls might be prevented.”
St. Bonaventure, in his Meditations, also says that Christ was ready to remain upon the Cross until the End of the World, and other theologians concur in this opinion. Furthermore, Our Lord Himself has revealed to many Saints that for the sake of one sinner He would suffer over again all that He suffered for the whole world. The Eternal Father did not accept the offer made by the Saviour to prolong His Passion upon the Cross until the Last Day; the three hours of His crucifixion were amply sufficient; and in His omniscience He knew that whosoever failed to share in the merits of the Sacred Passion would have only himself to blame for the loss of his soul. Far from quenching the ardor of Christ’s love for man, this sentence only kindled it the more and strengthened His desire to rescue us unhappy sinners from eternal damnation. Therefore, in His divine wisdom. He devised a means whereby He could remain on earth after His death, continue His saving Passion, unceasingly plead with God for man, as He did when nailed upon the Cross.
What was this wondrous means? None other than the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, wherein He daily, continually, suffers mystically upon the Cross; suffers for us, pleads for us, calls upon God for grace and mercy on our behalf with irresistible urgency. In the Bollandists’ life of St. Colette (March 6), who was remarkable for her great devotion to Holy Mass, it is said: On one occasion, when she was assisting at the Mass said by her confessor, she was heard at the Consecration to exclaim: “O my God, my Jesus! O Angels and Saints, O men and sinners, what marvels are these that we see and hear!” After Mass her confessor asked what had made her cry aloud in this manner. She replied: “When your reverence elevated the Sacred Host, I beheld Christ upon the Cross, the Blood flowing from His precious wounds; at the same time I heard Him thus address the Eternal Father: ‘Look upon this Body of flesh, in which I hung upon the Cross, in which I suffered for mankind. Look upon My wounds, look upon the Blood that I shed, consider My sufferings, consider My death. All this I endured to save sinners. Now, if Thou dost consign them to perdition on account of their iniquities and deliver them over to the devil, what compensation shall I have for My bitter Passion, for My cruel death? The reprobate sinners will render Me no thanks; on the contrary, they will curse Me for all eternity. But if they were saved, they would praise and magnify Me forever in gratitude for My sufferings. For My sake, therefore, spare these sinners, O My Father, and preserve them from eternal damnation.’ ” By this we may understand how earnestly Our Lord intercedes for us in Holy Mass and implores His heavenly Father to have mercy upon us. For—since the Mass is a renewal of His Passion—while it is celebrated, that which was carried on upon the Cross must be enacted over again. On the Cross, Jesus cried with a loud voice: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
In like manner, in Holy Mass He cries from the altar, asking forgiveness for all sinners indeed, but yet more especially for those who are present at Mass. The voice with which He cries is so powerful, so persuasive, that it pierces the clouds and reaches the heart of the Eternal Father. Thus, Christ fulfills His office of mediator; as St. John says, “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just; and He is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2). And St. Paul writes: “Christ Jesus that died, yea, that is risen also again; who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. 8:34). He intercedes for us in Heaven, but more especially He intercedes for us at the altar, because there He exercises His sacerdotal functions, and as St. Paul says, it appertains to the priest to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people. (Heb. 5:1). St. Laurence Justinian bears the same testimony when he says: “When Christ is immolated upon the altar, He speaks to His Father, He shows Him the marks of the wounds on His Sacred Body, that by His intercession we may be saved from eternal torment.” How much is done for our welfare by Christ’s prayers from the altar!
How often would calamities have befallen us had they not been averted by His prayers! How many thousands of the Blessed, now happy in Heaven, would be in Hell, had not Christ by His intercession saved them from that place of torment! Let us, therefore, go frequently and gladly to Mass, in the hope that we may have a share in His intercession, be preserved from evil, and through that omnipotent Mediator, obtain from God that which of ourselves we cannot obtain. We have now seen the principal reason why Christ renews His Passion in Holy Mass; it is in order to be able to intercede for us with as much efficacy as when He hung upon the Cross and to move His heavenly Father to compassion by the sight of His sufferings. Another reason for the renewal of Christ’s Passion in the Mass is this: in order to apply to us the fruits of His sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross. We shall understand this better if we bear in mind that, throughout the whole course of His life, and pre-eminently on the Cross, He earned an infinite store of merits, of which only a few pious persons, who were found worthy to receive them, were then made partakers. He now communicates these treasures daily, on many occasions, but chiefly during Holy Mass.
A pious writer tells us: “That which on the Cross was a sacrifice of redemption is in Holy Mass a Sacrifice of appropriation, whereby the virtue and the power of the Sacrifice of the Cross is applied to each one individually.” These are joyful and reassuring words for the sinner. It has not been our privilege to stand beneath the Cross on Calvary and share in the fruits of that stupendous Sacrifice, but if we hear Mass with attention, the virtue and power of the Sacrifice of the Cross will be applied to our souls—not indeed in quite the same manner, yet to each one in particular according to the depth of his devotion. Now see what an immense benefit it is for us that Christ renews His Passion in Holy Mass for our sakes, bestowing upon and applying to us the merit of it! And why, do you think, does He do this? Principally that we may take for our own the merits of that Passion and offer them to Almighty God, to the great profit of our souls. St. Mechtilde tells us of what advantage this offering is to us. To her Christ once said: “Behold, I bestow all My bitter sufferings upon thee, that they may be thine own and thou give them back and offer them to Me.” And that we might know that this gift is made to us pre-eminently in Holy Mass, Our Lord added: “He who offers up to Me My Passion, which I have made his, shall receive twofold for all that he gives, as I have said: He shall receive a hundredfold and shall possess life everlasting.”
These words are indeed full of comfort. Happy above measure are we in possessing Holy Mass, since in it Christ bestows on us treasures of great price, which it is within our power to increase and augment. If we do but say to Our Lord, “I offer Thee, O Jesus, Thy bitter Passion,” He replies, “My child, I give it back to thee in twofold measure;” and if we offer Him His Precious Blood, the answer is the same, for whatever portion of His sufferings we present to Him, He returns us double for all we offer. This He will do as often as we offer to Him as our own any part of His Passion. Truly this is good usury, an easy method of acquiring spiritual riches! There is yet another reason for the renewal of Christ’s Passion in Holy Mass. He does this in order that the Faithful, for whom it is impossible to have assisted at the Sacrifice of the Cross, may, by assisting at Mass, earn the same graces and merits as if they had actually stood beneath the Cross, provided they do so with the same devotion.
This is saying a great deal, for it is tantamount to saying: “See how great a Sacrifice is ours!” It is not merely a memorial of the Sacrifice once offered upon the Cross: It is one and the same [with it] and will always be the same. Moreover, the fruits it produces are identical with those produced by the Sacrifice of the Cross. This assertion appears almost incredible. Can it possibly be that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the self-same sacrifice that was offered on Calvary? Can it possibly produce the same effects as Christ’s Passion?
That this is so proves how admirable and how efficacious a Sacrifice it is. Listen to the words of Molina on this point. “Christ has ordained that His Church should perpetually offer the same Sacrifice which He offered upon the Cross, the identical Sacrifice although it be offered not in a bloody, but an unbloody manner. I say the same Sacrifice, yet the Mass contains infinitely more graces and excellencies. As it is the same Sacrifice as that of the Cross, it must possess the same potency and the same merit and be equally acceptable to God. That it is really and essentially the same may be seen from the fact that the Victim is the same, the Priest is the same; it is offered to the same God, with the same object. The only difference consists in this, that the manner of offering is not the same, for then upon the Cross Christ was immolated with pain and shedding of blood; whereas now, in a painless and unbloody manner.” Ponder then, O Christian, these forcible words; consider the priceless value of the Sacrifice of the Mass, its great dignity, its immense potency.
Not only do we know this from the teaching of pious and learned men: Holy Church declares expressly that the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same. Hence we see clearly that we can do as much to please Our Lord, and acquire as much merit for ourselves when we hear Mass as we should have done had we been present on Calvary, if we are no less devout and recollected than we should have been standing beneath the Cross. Ought we not to consider ourselves supremely fortunate in being able daily to witness Christ’s Passion in Holy Mass and apply the fruits of it to our souls? Fortunate indeed, in that we can stand in spirit beneath the Cross of the dying Saviour, that we can behold Him with our eyes, speak to Him with our lips, tell Him our troubles, obtain from Him help and consolation, just as those did who were present in person at the Crucifixion. How highly we ought to prize the favors Christ thus daily places within our reach; how anxious we should be to claim a share in the graces He thus holds out to us!