THE MASS IS THE SACRIFICE OF CALVARY, MADE PRESENT FOR OUR REDEMPTION
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), May 29, 2016
Genesis 14:18-20, Psalm 109, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 9:11-17
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"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' ... For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, 26).
Today is Corpus Christi, a feast honoring the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ. Jesus instituted the Eucharist at a Passover Supper on the night before he was betrayed. He gave his apostles bread and wine, telling them that it is his body and blood, given and poured out for them for the forgiveness of their sins. They are to continue to celebrate this cultic ritual in remembrance of him as a way of proclaiming his saving death. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). What Jesus did at the Last Supper we are to continue to do as a memorial of his death, whereby we participate in its saving effects and offer worship with him to the Father.
Jesus' death on the cross was a propitiatory sacrifice offered to the Father in reparation for our sins. Over the cup he said, "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). In other words, the cup of wine became his blood that he shed in propitiatory sacrifice in reparation for our sins that they might be forgiven. It was offered to the Father for many for the forgiveness of their sins.
Where does this offering take place? It will take place on the cross the next day, but this sacrifice is already made present at the Last Supper in an anticipatory way, just as it is made present for us in the celebration of the Eucharist.
This celebration is a memorial of his death that actually makes his death present for us in order that we might offer it with him to the Father as our act of worship. The Mass makes the one and only unrepeatable sacrifice of the cross present for us as our act of worship and for our redemption. It is a dramatic memorial in which we participate personally and in which we become present to Christ's offering of himself to his Father for our salvation. Not only is the Mass celebrated in remembrance of Christ and as a proclamation of his saving death, but it actually makes that saving death on Calvary present for us so that we might benefit from it as our act of worship with Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Blood being poured out for us, for the forgiveness of our sins, is clear sacrificial language, for Jesus' death on the cross was a sacrifice, and the Mass is that same sacrifice of Christ on the cross made present for us. Therefore the Mass also is a sacrifice. The Mass is the one and only unrepeatable sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our redemption, made present for us - not repeated, but made present. There is only one sacrifice on the cross. It is never repeated; rather his one unrepeatable sacrifice in reparation for our sins is made present for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Since Christ's death on the cross was a propitiatory sacrifice, and since the Mass makes that sacrifice present for us, the Mass also is a propitiatory sacrifice, the unrepeatable propitiatory sacrifice that Christ offered to his Father on the cross.
In what sense is Christ's death a sacrifice? It is a sacrifice in that it fulfills Israelite sacrifices for sins. The sinner put his hand on the head of an animal and then killed it before the Lord. The priest then pours out its blood at the base of the altar, burns its fat before the Lord, "and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven" (Leviticus 4:31). The animal is a gift offered to God to ask for forgiveness as well as a victim who bears the sinner's sin and vicariously suffers the sinner's punishment for his sin (death) in the sinner's place, instead of the sinner, and thus his sin is atoned for and forgiven by God.
What this ritual symbolizes actually takes place on Calvary. Our sins are placed on Jesus who is the victim who dies in vicarious punishment for them to make just reparation for them before God. Our sins are placed upon Christ, as the Israelites' sins were placed upon the scapegoat, and Christ's reparation-making death takes them way from us, as the scapegoat took the sins of the Israelites away from them into the desert (Leviticus 16:21-22).
The Israelite sacrifices and their scapegoat then gave rise to the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, whose vicarious suffering for our sins, which were placed upon him, reconciles us to God by making just reparation for them. "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).
This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus Christ who took our sins upon himself and vicariously suffered their punishment for us on the cross. "For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
So in this sense Christ's death on the cross is a sacrifice, and that sacrifice becomes present for us whenever we celebrate the Mass. About this sacrifice St. Thomas Aquinas says, "He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin" (Office of Readings).
The Eucharist was the cult of the primitive Christian community, and to this day it is the Christian cult, our worship service, the sacrificial worship service of the new covenant.
After the sacrifice of the Mass is offered, there is Holy Communion, in which we eat and drink the elements of the sacrifice, namely the body and blood of Christ, just as the Israelites ate the flesh of their peace offerings (Leviticus 7:15). But in the Eucharist, Holy Communion has tremendous significance, because it is none other than Christ himself, his true body and blood, that is eaten and drunk. This is how Christ fills us with his life and love, how we grow in his divine life within us. "So Jesus said to them, ‘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'" (John 6:53). "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me" (John 6:56-57).
Jesus comes to us daily in the Eucharist and abides within us. We thus grow in his love and live through him and because of him. He forgives our sins through the sacrament of reconciliation (John 20:22-23; Matthew 16:19, 18:18), because of the merits of his death on the cross, through our faith in him, and then he fills us with his life, light, and divine love when we receive Holy Communion. He knew we needed the Eucharist to be daily nourished spiritually and to grow in his love. That is why he instituted it and gave it to us.
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