The value of at least being present at the sacrifice of the Mass

The Mass as ‘eucharist’ or ‘thanksgiving’ all revolves around what Jesus Christ has accomplished for our salvation and made actual here and now through the sacrifice of the Mass.

Actually, there are three main kinds of sacrifice in the Old Testament, all of which find their fulfillment in the Mass. There are the whole burnt offerings (holocausts) in which the entire animal is consumed; sin offerings (of which only the priests may eat); and thanks offerings (of which the one who offers the animal in thanksgiving also eats). Eating of the sacrifice is a kind of communion and the sacrifice of thanksgiving was always an occasion for a festive banquet.

In the Mass the supreme holocaust is offered to God because Jesus is offered whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity; he is offered “for the forgiveness of sins”; he is also offered in thanks for the very salvation that he has wrought on our behalf, and through that salvation for all the other gifts of God.

The celebration of the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist because it always has the outward form of a thanksgiving sacrifice, a sacrifice followed by eating of the sacrifice in communion.

In the Eucharistic prayer the sacrifice is symbolically immolated in the double consecration of the Body and Blood and truly offered. In the communion rite that follows (beginning with the Lord’s Prayer), we take part in the sacrificial banquet and eat of the Lord’s Table, partaking of his Body and Blood.

Nevertheless, the sacrifice of the Mass, as holocaust and sin offering, provide important ways of participation for those who cannot receive communion. It is simply speaking good to be present at the sacrifice and to assent to it in faith. Even the person who is living in mortal sin can desire that the Body and Blood of Christ be offered to the Father as a holocaust in his honor; so also he can assent to the sacrifice for sin, begging for the grace of conversion that will free him from the chains he has fashioned for himself.

When the Mass is reduced to being nothing more than a banquet then it has little point for those who cannot partake of the banquet; then being excluded from the banquet is made to be harsher than need be.

One ‘law’ we could say, one ‘rule of life’, that is valid always and everywhere and for everyone is that whatever our present condition, we should always do what we can to draw nearer to God. Those who are far advanced on the path of holiness should try to advance farther still; those who have overcome the big sins, but still have a lot to learn when it comes to the practice of virtue and the works of mercy, need to grow in strength, maturity, and especially humility; those who find themselves falling into sin and starting always anew must not give up hope but must keep trying to go forward, even if it seems that no progress is being made; those who find themselves bound by strong chains of sin need to keep pleading to God for his mercy, pleading that God will break their chains, while not failing to do what is in their power; those who find themselves in a situation from which there seems to be no exit (such as a remarriage after divorce and the bonds of a new family) must not despair but beg God to show them the way forward; even those who are in open rebellion against the teaching of Christ and his Church by their way of thinking and their way of life should, at least in the secret sanctuary of their heart, acknowledge the truth of their situation.

All of these people, as baptized Catholics (and even as non-Catholic Christians) are welcome at Mass; even those who belong to another religion or have no faith at all are welcome, so long as the conduct themselves in a respectful manner. All are welcome, but only Catholics who have no mortal sin on their conscience are allowed to receive holy communion. All are welcome and, even if they can’t receive communion, those who have at least some faith can pray interiorly, “Here I am at the Lord’s sacrifice, may he have mercy on me a sinner.” Those who have no faith can ask, “What makes this place and this action special? Why do people do this?”

Now, let us think about this a moment, if all are welcome, but only some are allowed to receive communion, which position of the priest at the altar is more truly ‘welcoming’.

Will it be the priest as MC, facing the people, dominating the action by his personality? That certainly will not make things very easy for those who do not actually get along with the priest or with whom the priest does not actually get along – who gets along with everyone?

Or will it be the priest with his back to the people, but his face to God, to whom all are trying to draw near? When the priest has his back to the people and his face towards God, the importance of his own personality is diminished. He is seen as just a minister, a servant, not a lord. What is important is the sacrifice he places on the altar and the Lord in whose person he acts.

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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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