Blog # 464 The Eucharistic Sacrifice
Back ten years ago, in April of 2005, with the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope
Benedict XV1 we had a Pope whose background and reputation was that of a theological scholar.
Without being a scholar, I do have a deep interest in theology and have enjoyed reading a few of Joseph Ratzinger's many books.
Back at the time he was elected Pope I shared a concern he had with regard to an opinion that had grown up among current theological writers at that time that tended to strongly emphasize if not define the Last Supper and consequently the Mass as the experience of a holy meal for those whose sins had been forgiven by the act of reparation of Jesus on the Cross rather than the longstanding and original traditional identity of the act of Jesus on Calvary as an act of sacrifice in the strict sense of the word as an offering of a tangible gift in worship to God alone by an official representative of the people with the change or destruction of what is offered in order to recognize and express an unconditional trust and total love for God on the part of those who offered the sacrifice.
Several days ago an insight came to me out of the blue that fascinated me and threw light on the question at hand of correctly seeing the Crucifixion, the Last Supper, and the Mass as a single act of Sacrifice expressed in three different modes. In response to the insight and in my desire to understand and apply it, I reviewed our faith in the identity of Jesus, Emmanuel, God Among Us, truly God and truly one of us, as the personal fulfillment of the promise of a savior of God's people made to our first parents in the garden of Eden so many years before he was born.
Jesus always did the will of the Father. Normally that would mean he would think speak and act as fully limited and human as the rest of us. As one of us, for almost thirty years Jesus would normally have to walk from Jerusalem to Jericho in fulfillment of the will of the Father for him. He would grow hungry and tired, rejoice with his neighbors and friends, pray with his fellow believers in the local synagogue in Nazareth, and experience compassion and sympathy for those living around him who were poor and suffering in some way.
At times however, when he perceived this as the will of the Father, Jesus would act and
speak as only God could do. At these times He would raise a dead person to life, heal lepers, cure the blind and the deaf, miraculously walk on water, and forgive sins.
The insight that came to me several days ago had reference to the action and words of Jesus at the Last Supper. As far as I can tell this was the first time in my sixty years as an ordained priest, offering the Sacrifice of the Mass daily through all those years, that I consciously identified and appreciated a particular element involved in his consecration of the bread and wine at the Last Supper. The insight was this: In the experience of Jesus at the Last Supper, as one of us, and in accordance with the Father's will, Jesus had to believe in his real Eucharistic Presence in what appeared to be bread and wine, just as it appears to be to us in the telling of it in the Gospel of Matthew ( 26:26) and as we believe it in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
To understand and justify the words of Jesus over the bread and the wine offered at the Last Supper we rely upon our faith in the incarnation of the Word of God in the flesh of Jesus , known from the instant of the incarnation of the Word as Jesus, human as any of us with the exception of remaining always without sin, yet ever retaining his divine identity in the Trinity as the Word of God. In the transformation of the bread into his body "given" and the wine transformed into his blood "poured out" at the Last Supper both the human elements of his identity as one of us and his divine identity as the Word are active and essential.
It is an occasion similar to those in which according to the Father's will Jesus performed the human act of touching a leper together with his divine power over nature as the Word of God. On the occasion of the Last Supper Jesus performed the human act of taking the bread and wine into his hands and making the human sounds of the words of transformation with the absolutely necessary divine power of the Word effecting the transformation. (1Cor. 11: 23-27).
In coming to a more complete realization of what occurred at the Last Supper and then occurs daily in the celebration of the Mass, several references are useful. First there is a very significant prayer that is given to be prayed "quietly" by the priest as he places a few drops of water into the wine that is offered: "By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity." We share with Jesus in a common humanity by the fact each of us with no exception came to exist by the creative love of the Trinity. In our common humanity we are like him and he is like us in all but sin. (Heb. 4: 15). The question of sharing in his divinity must also be addressed in order to realize how we qualify to share in the sacrificial obedient love of Jesus in the sacrifice of the Mass. .
The drops of water that were mixed with the wine we brought to the altar to be transformed into his "blood poured out" in the sacrifice of the Mass symbolizes for us, by their complete giving of themselves to the wine, our desire to be so united with Jesus in his worship of the Father in the sacrificial offering of his blood on Calvary. How we justify our sharing in his divinity and so qualify to fulfill his command to do what He had done in regard to the bread and wine at the Last supper and we continue to do in offering Mass is an important question.
At the conclusion of the long discourse of Jesus during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays that all who will believe in Him will be united as he and the Father are one- "I living in them, you living in me - that their unity may be complete. So shall the world know that you sent me, and that you loved them AS you loved me." How could this prayer of Jesus be answered positively by the Father? Only in such a way that the gifts Jesus received in his humanity were also accompanied with the supernatural gifts that were his from time to time as the Father willed it.
This is clearly done for us in the Sacrament of Baptism. Anyone being Baptized is the same physically ten minutes after his or her Baptism as before ,but by way of the supernatural gift that Baptism brings he or she is a "new creation", a living branch grafted to a living vine, a member of the Body of Christ with Christ as its Head.
In summary and applying all of this to the Sacrifice of the Mass I will try to conclude this longest and possibly the most complicated of all the blogs I have written.
First of all, Jesus alone died physically on the Cross. As the Word of God he might have had in mind all seven billion people living on earth today but only in Jesus was human death experienced personally as an act of his obedient love in sacrifice. At the Last Supper the same obedient sacrificial love with which Jesus offered his life was experienced again with bread and wine being substituted for the body and blood of Jesus.
In the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism there is no distinction made between male and female. Why is such a distinction made in the question of the administration of the Sacrament of Orders, with the Sacrament being administered to men only? As a matter of fact no distinction is made between men or women joining in the offering of Mass who qualify through Baptism and without a current awareness of serious sin. This refers to the priesthood of the laity and is not a new concept. Back in the second grade of our parochial school Sister Christina Marie had us memorize the prayer referred to as the 'morning offering' and we prayed that prayer together as a class, boys and girls, each morning before our lessons began. I still pray it daily. It includes these words : O my Jesus, I offer Thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world..."
After the gifts have been prepared the celebrant at Mass addresses the congregation, men and women, this way; "Pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable..." My reason for accepting the current practice with regard to the ordination of men alone to the ministerial priesthood is my obedience to the authority I recognize given by God to the Church. I would not be scandalized if some day in the future the practice would be changed, but for the time being I have no problem with it theologically.