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THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS MAKES PRESENT THE UNREPEATABLE SACRIFICE OF JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS FOR OUR REDEMPTION
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, Holy Thursday of the Lord's Supper, April 18, 2019
Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14, Psalm 115, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-15


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after the supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).


Today is Holy Thursday, the day on which Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The institution of the Eucharist took place at a Passover supper (Mark 14:12, 16-17, 22) for which the Passover lamb was slain and its blood smeared on the doorposts of the Israelites' houses in Egypt so that when the Lord passed by to destroy the firstborn of the Egyptians, he would pass over the houses on which was smeared the blood of the Passover lamb. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you" (Exodus 12:13).


Jesus is the fulfillment of the Passover lamb, for he would be slain and his blood poured out unto death as a sacrifice for our sins, and he would save from eternal death for their grave sins all who put their faith in him. As the Passover lamb's blood saved the Israelites from death, so Jesus' blood shed on the cross for our sins will save us from the punishment of eternal death for our grave sins if we put our faith in him and genuinely repent of our sins.


Jesus' death on the cross was a propitiatory sacrifice that propitiates (or renders favorable or propitious) God's righteous wrath against us for our sins, because our sins were justly punished in his flesh (Romans 8:3) on the cross, for Christ took our sins upon himself and, acting as our substitute, suffered our punishment for them for us to save us from having to suffer this punishment. Therefore in Christ's death God's justice is satisfied concerning our serious sins, which required eternal punishment. Since Christ took our place and suffered our just and necessary punishment for our sins for us, his death propitiated God, that is, rendered him propitious or favorable toward us ungodly sinners who were previously alienated from him because of our sins, which had not yet been duly and properly punished. Christ death took care of this problem for us by suffering our punishment for our sins for us, thereby canceling our alienation from God and reconciling us with him, when we put our faith in Christ and genuinely repent of our sins. All this was done at the initiative of God the Father himself, who sent his own Son to do this for us (Romans 8:32).


The Eucharist is therefore a propitiatory sacrifice, because it is none other than the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins made present for us in a sacramental and unbloody way. Eucharist is not another sacrifice, nor is it a repetition of Christ's sacrifice; but rather it is the one and only unrepeatable sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary sacramentally made present for us so that we might offer it with him to the Father in the Holy Spirit for his honor and glory and for the salvation of the world. Christ's saving sacrifice on the cross is made present for us in the Eucharist so that we might enter into his saving, atoning death on the cross and benefit from it.


Jesus tells us, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). That is, in the Eucharist we remember and proclaim Christ's death, and not only do remember and proclaim it but we dramatically enter into it, and his death becomes present for us, and we become present to it on Calvary at the moment of his sacrifice that saved the world.


Christ's death is a sacrifice that makes reparation for our sins. Hence what Christ's death on the cross is, the Eucharist also is, since the Eucharist simply makes Christ's death present for us. Christ's death is a sin offering, so the Eucharist, which makes Christ's atoning death present for us, is a sin offering. The Eucharist from the very beginning became the sacrifice of the new covenant that replaced the Old Testament sacrifices offered in the temple. Hence the Eucharist became "the cult of the primitive community" from the very beginning of Christianity. "No other ritual cult is attested" (John L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, 1995).


St. Matthew's version makes it clear that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, commemorated and made present in the Eucharist, is a sin offering, a sacrifice offered for the forgiveness of sins, for "he [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26:27-28).


The Eucharist, in Corinth at least, was celebrated in the evening after a community banquet, but there was much misbehavior at these celebrations that was inappropriate and disrespectful of the Eucharist, and St. Paul reprimands the Corinthians for their misbehavior at these banquets, which they combined with the Eucharist. "What? Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?" (1 Corinthians 11:22). This combining of the Eucharist with a community banquet was soon abandoned, and the Eucharist was then celebrated in the morning, rather than in the evening. This is the form in which it has come down to us through history to our present day.


For the Jews the Passover is a ritual that reenacts and enables them to participate in the redemptive experience of the Exodus; and for Christians the Eucharist is a cultic celebration that enables us to participate in God's central saving act, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.


Originally both the Passover and the Eucharist were anticipations of a future saving act, not the memorial or remembrance of a past saving act, for the Passover meal was celebrated before the saving act of the Exodus, and the Eucharist was instituted and offered before Christ's saving death on the cross. So what was originally a celebration in anticipation of God's future saving act has now become a memorial and celebration of his past saving act.


So we see that the Eucharist transcends space and time and transports us to Calvary when Christ offered his life in sacrifice to the Father to atone for the sins of the world. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ's past saving act on the cross, but it is more than merely a memorial, for it is a re-presentation of his saving death, that is, it makes his saving death present to us, transcending space and time so that we might be present at it and participate in it, offering it together with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit for the honor and glory of God and the salvation of the world.


At the end of Mass, there is Holy Communion, just as in many Jewish sacrifices there was a communion banquet "achieved through the participation of the body and blood of the victim" (Mackenzie, Dictionary of the Bible). Holy Communion at Mass is also a participation in which we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the victim that was offered in sacrifice, namely Christ's body and blood.


Holy Communion is very important, because Christ's divine person with his divine nature was contained in his human body, which he sacramentalized for us in the form of bread and wine so that we might eat and drink his divine person with his divine nature as our daily nourishment for the life of our spirit.


To have eternal life within us we need both faith in Christ and sacramental union with him by eating and drinking his divinity-bearing flesh and blood, for Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:53-54).


The Eucharist is not just a symbol of Jesus' body and blood, or of Jesus, or of Jesus' presence; rather bread and wine actually become Jesus' body and blood by the words of consecration of the priest. That is why the Mass is a true sacrifice, because we are not just offering bread and wine that are symbols of Christ's body and blood, but rather it is Christ himself in the person of the priest who offers himself, his body and blood, to the Father for the remission of our sins. The Mass therefore is Christ's one and only, unrepeatable sacrifice on the cross made present for us. As such the Mass, from the very beginning, became the cultic act of worship of the Christian people.


The sacrifice of the Mass makes present the redeeming act of Christ offered on the cross and presented before his Father in the heavenly sanctuary, as today's reading for midafternoon prayer says: "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation, he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12). Christ's sacrifice on the cross, commemorated and made present for us in the sacrifice of the Mass, achieves our eternal redemption, for in this sacrifice Christ suffers our punishment for our sins for us so that the all-just God might justly declare us ungodly sinners righteous and holy.

 

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