Pastor’s Corner – October 19, 2014
LITURGY CORNER 8
with Fr. James
THE MASS AS SACRIFICE
The Mass has many aspects to it. We think of it as commemoration of the Lord’s Last Supper. We rightly consider it to be a communal exercise of our human duty to give praise and worship to God. But its deepest and most enduring aspect is that of Paschal Sacrifice: we quite literally are offering to God the Father the sacrifice of Jesus Himself, our Passover Lamb, who willing gave up himself for our salvation.
Since the 16th Century many Christians have disputed this emphasis on sacrifice, claiming it to be a Medieval invention, and not part of the pristine original Christianity. Some claimed that holy communion is not a sacrifice and therefore we have a table, not an altar. Many also challenge the Catholic theology of Jesus’ presence in the transubstantiated bread and wine, that communion is the body and blood of Christ.
Last Friday we celebrated the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a highly important witness to the beliefs and practices of the early Catholic Church. He was quite explicit that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, and that it comprises the body and blood of Jesus. Here are a couple representative quotes.
In reference to a group that broke off fellowship with Catholics:
They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ who suffered for our sins, which the Father raised up by his goodness. (Ignatius to the Smyrneans VII.1)
St. Ignatius also said the bishop offered this sacrifice on the altar:
Be careful therefore to use one Eucharist, for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup for union with his blood, one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow servants, in order that whatever you do you may do it according unto God. (Ignatius to the Philadelphians IV.1)
By our participation in the Mass we are participants in Jesus’ own priestly and sacrificial offering of himself to the Father. And so the Vatican II documents are not exaggerating by calling the Eucharist the “source and summit” of our Christian worship.