The Sacrifice of the Mass – Part I

Last week, after writing about participation in the Eucharistic in terms of instruction and healing, I began to write about participation in the Eucharist from the point of view of union with God. I wrote about how we begin to draw near to God with the practice of humility in the penitential rite and then how, through faith, we open ourselves to the truth given to us in the Liturgy of the Word.  This should lead us to seek to live as Jesus lived in the first place by uniting ourselves to his self-offering, his sacrifice, upon the Cross, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Jesus’ sacrifice is the supreme act of love: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (Jn 15:13) It is also an act of obedience and humility: He humbles himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Ph 2:8) Indeed, all of this inseparable: he expresses his love precisely through humble obedience to the will of his Father, and this loving, humble obedience, is the heart of his sacrifice, his self-offering.

In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: First he says, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.’ These are offered according to the law [of Moses]. Then he says, ‘Behold, I come to do your will.’ He takes away the first [kind of sacrifice] to establish the second. By this ‘will’, we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb. 10:8-10) The sacrifice of the Body of Christ, offered once in a bloody manner upon the Cross and offered now in an unbloody fashion in the Mass, is the supreme sacrifice that brings to fulfillment and replaces all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.

Jesus commanded his Apostles, saying, Do this in memory of me. In the Mass, the sacrifice offered once for all by Jesus upon the Cross, is given to his Church to offer in every time and place. We unite ourselves to his sacrifice when we submit our will to his, offering ourselves to him, as he offered himself to the Father. We unite ourselves to his sacrificial death, when we die to our self-will, to our egoistic will, and say through him, with him, and in him, Behold, I come to do your will.

So St. Paul writes, I urge you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rm 12:1-2)

This is the whole movement of the Liturgy of the Eucharist to which we should unite ourselves interiorly.

Starting with the offertory representatives of the congregation bring forward bread and wine and place them in the hands of the priest. Those who bring the bread and wine stand for the whole congregation, so also the bread and wine, fruit of the earth or vine and work of human hands, stands for the whole congregation. The priest represents Jesus Christ. The whole meaning of this procession, appropriated by each member of the congregation is: “I place myself, with the bread and wine, in the hands of Jesus; I place my whole life in his hands; I place all my joys in his hands; I place all of my sorrows in his hands; I place all my preoccupations in his hands; I even place all of my sins in his hands, asking for forgiveness.”

The priest then takes this offering of the people and places it on the altar with prayer.

On the day of his ordination the newly ordained priest receives from the Bishop a paten with bread and a chalice with wine and is told: “Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.” (Rite of Ordination of Priests)

He also has his hands anointed to “sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God.” (Rite of Ordination of Priests)

So after placing the offering of the people on the altar, he places himself wholly at the disposal of Jesus Christ, the High Priest, as he recites the Eucharistic Prayer. (To be continued)



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.

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