The Sacrifice of the Mass – Part II

Last week I began writing about seeking union with God through the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This path begins at the offertory when, along with the bread and wine, we place our whole lives, all we are and all we have, in the hands of the priest, who represents Jesus Christ.

The priest, who, as we saw last week, has been ordained to present the offering of the people to God, then places the bread and wine on the altar with prayer.

St. Paul tells us that we should give thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. (Eph 5:20) And, Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The expression “to give thanks” could rendered more literally from the Greek as “To celebrate the Eucharist”. Our whole life should be ‘eucharistic’ and the eucharistic life is brought to perfection through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Eucharistic Prayer follows the offertory. It begins with the Preface in which the priest sings or says something like: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.” The prayer of the Preface then continues specifying some special theme of thanksgiving relating to the divine work of creation and salvation in Jesus Christ and concludes with the “Holy, Holy, Holy”.

Then the priest proceeds to offer to the Father Jesus Christ’s very own sacrifice, the sacrifice of his Body and Blood, offered once for all on the Cross, offering with it all that the faithful have brought forward.

The Second Vatican Council taught: “Through the ministry of the priests, the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ. He is the only mediator who in the name of the whole Church is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes. The ministry of priests is directed to this goal and is perfected in it.” (Presbyterium Ordinis [PO] 2)

And that the faithful “by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC] 8)

Pope Pius XII entered into this subject in much greater detail in his great Encyclical Letter, Mediator Dei.

First he wrote about the unique role of the priest:

“The unbloody immolation at the words of consecration, when Christ is made present upon the altar in the state of a victim, is performed by the priest and by him alone, as the representative of Christ and not as the representative of the faithful. But it is because the priest places the divine victim upon the altar that he offers it to God the Father as an oblation for the glory of the Blessed Trinity and for the good of the whole Church.” (Mediator Dei 92)

Then he introduced the way the faithful participate in the offering:

“Now the faithful participate in the oblation, understood in this limited sense, after their own fashion and in a twofold manner, namely, because they not only offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest, but also, to a certain extent, in union with him. It is by reason of this participation that the offering made by the people is also included in liturgical worship.” (Ibid)

Then he elaborates on how this takes place at Mass:

“Now it is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice by the hands of the priest from the fact that the minister at the altar, in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, represents Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. Hence the whole Church can rightly be said to offer up the victim through Christ. But the conclusion that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest himself is not based on the fact that, being members of the Church no less than the priest himself, they perform a visible liturgical rite; for this is the privilege only of the minister who has been divinely appointed to this office: rather it is based on the fact that the people unite their hearts in praise, impetration, expiation and thanksgiving with prayers or intention of the priest, even of the High Priest himself, so that in the one and same offering of the victim and according to a visible sacerdotal rite, they may be presented to God the Father.” (Mediator Dei 93)

There is then the further step of the faithful offering themselves in union with the divine and saving victim:

“In order that the oblation by which the faithful offer the divine Victim in this sacrifice to the heavenly Father may have its full effect, it is necessary that the people add something else, namely, the offering of themselves as a victim.” (Mediator Dei 98)

At the moment of the consecration at the Mass the people can offer themselves as victim by slaying their own egoism, as it were, and placing it on the altar with the Lamb of God. (To be continued)

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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.

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