Involvement in the Sacrifice of Mass Pt. 1

Last week I showed that what Jesus, at the Last Supper, commanded us to do in memory of himself was not to re-enact the Last Supper, but to commemorate and offer anew, in unbloody fashion, his own self-offering on the Cross. At the Last Supper Jesus gave us his Body and Blood to be offered in sacrifice and the priesthood to offer the sacrifice.

We then receive his Body and Blood in communion as the fruit of the sacrifice, while through the permanence of the sacrament he abides in the tabernacles of our churches, making them to be true temple.

Somebody might then ask, “Okay, then, if the priest is up there offering a sacrifice on our behalf, how can I be involved at all? It sounds like I am just a spectator?” Good question.

Since the Mass is a sacrifice, it might help to consider how people participated in the sacrifices offered in the Temple in Jerusalem. We actually have a description of this at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.

The evangelist narrates how the priest Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, entered the temple building to offer the evening of incense before the veil that screens of the Holy of Holies. It was there by the altar of incense that the angel Gabriel appeared to him to announce the birth of St. John the Baptist. The evangelist remarks also that the whole assembly of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. (Lk 1:10)

Here the situation is extreme in comparison with just about any Catholic experience of the Mass: the priest is invisible inside the temple building; the people are unable to see or hear anything of what the priest is doing. Nevertheless, they are involved because they know the priest has gone in to make an offering to God, while they are present and support his offering or take part in his offering by way of their prayers.

In one place Jesus uses the example of a king getting ready to march into battle with 10,000 troops first calculating whether or not he will be able to successfully oppose the king marching against him with 20,000 troops. Jesus concludes, If not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. (Lk 14:31) While the delegation is doing its work we could well imagine the king and his 10,000 troops, feeling powerless and praying that the terms will be favorable.

Jesus’ example here actually speaks to one important aspect of the reality of sacrifice; it is like sending a delegation to God asking for peace terms. Why would we see God as an opposing king coming against us with a larger army? Because of sin. But hasn’t Jesus already reconciled us to God? Yes, but we keep sinning.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors of Christ, as if God were appealing through us, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:19-20)

Now Paul seems to be speaking of the ministry of the priest as a minister of the word, coming from Christ to the people, exhorting the people to penance and conversion, to be reconciled to God through Christ. That implies that although Christ’s work of reconciliation was, for his part, completed on the Cross, it has not achieved its full effect in us, because we are still in need of reconciliation. So after the liturgy of the word, the priest turns around and goes back to God on our behalf, sending to him once again, so to speak, the very “peace delegation” of Jesus Christ, the Blood of the Cross offered in sacrifice.

So elsewhere St. Paul writes that God reconciles all things through Christ making peace through the Blood of his cross. (Cf. Col 1:20) We can say that so long as men keep sinning the work of reconciliation is ongoing and we must continue to send the peace delegation of Christ, the sacrifice of the Mass, to the throne of God, for our sins and those of the whole world.

And what are the terms of peace? After the example of the peace delegation Jesus says, Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:33) The external possessions are less important here than our own power of will by which we use whatever we have internally and externally. The terms of peace then are that we must submit our will completely to God through Jesus Christ; the terms of peace are unconditional surrender to God. Then we receive the abundance of his mercy.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.