The Nature of the Mass and the need for Sacrifice

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The natural law requires sacrifice

In the first place it is to be seen that the Natural Law requires us to sacrifice. Saint Thomas states in the first place that there are three main types of laws. There is first and foremost human laws (positive laws), there is the Natural Law, and lastly there is the Divine and Eternal laws. It is precisely the Natural Law that we will focus in for this specific article. The natural law is basically the “structure which God creates in man so that he inclines man to specific types of actions. He designs man to perform specific types of acts. He designs him in a specific way”1

The Church states with Saint Thomas Aquinas that we are bound to follow the Natural Law. One of the aspects of the natural law is precisely that it commands all of the virtues. One of these virtues is precisely that of sacrifice. Saint Thomas further states that sacrifice is itself the highest act of religion. “Sacrifice is defined as an offering of some good thing back to God. This can include a merit or some sort of good work which we perform and offer back to God”2

The need for Divine Revelation

Once we realize that sacrifice is necessary and that God obliges us to do it, the question that should come up is, how and what does God want us to sacrifice? It is after all only through Divine Revelation that we can know what sacrifices are pleasing to God. Fr. Chad Ripperger gives a very good analogy regarding the problems we would have regarding performing sacrifices, without the help of Divine Revelation. Without Divine Revelation we would not know what the nature of God is, and thus we would not be able to know what sort of sacrifices please him, as well as which sacrifices displease him. Fr Chad Ripperger states that without the help of Divine Revelation “this is tantamount to going to someone’s house for the first time and they don’t know you, but when you arrive, they presume to make all sorts of assumptions about you; for dinner we are going to have brain and squid intestines because they think that is what you like.”3 With these types of assumptions about God, we will surely offend God by offering false sacrifices, which he never liked or willed.

In the Old Testament God gave very precise and strict instructions on how sacrifices were to be done. This is true in regards to Exodus all the way through Deuteronomy. In the New Testament Jesus himself states “do this in commemoration of me”. (Lk 22:19)

A short history of sacrifice: The reality of the necessity of Divine Revelation

Cardinal Gibbons states “We find sacrifices existing not only among the Jews, who worshiped the true God, but also among pagan and idolatrous nations. No matter how confused, imperfect or erroneous was their knowledge of the Deity, the pagan nations retained sufficient vestiges of primitive tradition to admonish them of their obligation of appeasing the anger and involving the blessings of the Divinity by victims and sacrifices.”4

Throughout history man usually tends to have a desire to offer sacrifice to God. This is true of the Pagan world such as the Aztecs, the civilization of Carthage, and various tribes in the Middle East, yet they were not precisely what God wanted. God did not reveal himself to them. So many of these cultures for example practiced things such as human sacrifice, and various other types of sacrifice that failed in some way from what God really wanted. These sacrifices were displeasing to God. An example of such abominable practices of sacrifices is found in Jeremias:

Because they have forsaken me, and have profaned this place: and have sacrificed therein to strange gods, whom neither they nor their fathers knew, nor the kings of Juda: and they have filled this place with the blood of innocents. And they have built the high places of Baal, to burn their children with fire for a holocaust to Baal: which I did not command, nor speak of, neither did it once come into my mind. (Jeremiah 19:5)

Sacrifices in Biblical Judaism

Throughout the Old Testament the chosen people of God are always offering sacrifice to Him. This is true as early as Cain and able. Able offered to the Lord the firstlings of his flock, while Cain offered of the fruits of the earth. Later “when Noe and his family are rescued from the deluge which had spread over the face of the earth, his first act on issuing from the ark, when the waters disappeared, is to offer holocausts to the Lord, in thanksgiving for his preservation (Gen 8). Abraham the great father of the Jewish himself offered victims to the Almighty at His request (Gen 15). We even read that Job was accustomed to offer holocaust and sacrifice to the Lord to propitiate His favor. God is very concrete and explicit in how he wants the Jewish to offer sacrifices in the book of Exodus.

The sacrifice at Calvary and the Mass

It is precisely the Holy Sacrifice at Calvary which constitutes the perfect and eternal sacrifice which could ever be offered up. It is in this specific moment in which our redemption is brought about, and which the submit of Salvation History reaches its climax. It is this precise sacrifice that fulfilled all the Old Testament Sacrifices.

Many Protestants thus while acknowledging both the reality regarding the perfection of the Sacrifice at Calvary, and also acknowledging the reality that Christ abolished the Old Testament sacrifices of the Jews, end up at a false conclusion. They conclude that because the Sacrifice of Calvary is perfect and because it is thus the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, that Christ himself abolished the need for any more sacrifices. This is clearly not true. We should thus ask ourselves, did God in rejecting the Jewish oblations (sacrifices) or even in fulfilling them, deem or intend to abolish all sacrifices altogether?  Rather Christ rejected and even fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices, namely because they were simply types or prefigurements for the perfect sacrifice of God Himself, which we commemorate in a real way in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

This then leads us to one of the main aspects of the Mass, namely that it is the same sacrifice as that of Calvary.

The Mass the same sacrifice as Calvary

In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross is made present, its memory is celebrated, and its saving power is applied. (De Fide)

The Catechism of the Council of Trent states the reality of the Mass being the same sacrifice as that of Calvary. It is only the form that is different, where one is a bloody sacrifice, the other is done in an unbloody way, but the sacrifice is still completely the same:

We therefore confess that the Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same Sacrifice as that of the Cross, for the victim is one and the same, namely, Christ Our Lord, who offered Himself, once only, a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. The bloody and unbloody victim are not two, but one victim only, whose sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of Our Lord; Do this for a commemoration of me5

The same Catechism further states that just as Christ was the one offering himself up at Calvary, the same Christ offers Himself up at each Mass through the priest who acts in persona Christi:

The Priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the minister who offers Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their person, but in that of Christ, as the words of Consecration itself show, for the priest does not say: This is the body of Christ, but, This is My Body, and thus acting in the Person of Christ the Lord, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the true substance of His Body and Blood6

For this reason it is completely false to believe as many Protestants do, that we somehow “re-sacrifice” Christ at each Mass. Rather we simply offer up the same sacrifice at Calvary, which is re-presented in a real and literal way during the Mass. The Sacrifice at Calvary was so perfect, that it is Eternal and with no end.

 The Mass as the perfect prayer

Another aspect of the Mass is that just as it is the perfect sacrifice (since it is the same sacrifice as that of Calvary, which is perfect), the Mass is also the perfect prayer of the Church. This is why Pope Saint Pius X stated so explicitly:

The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens on the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.”

“Don’t pray at Holy Mass, but pray the Holy Mass”

This is why it is very reasonable that the “active participation” in the liturgy which the Council Fathers of Vatican II had in mind, did not necessarily involve what has come to be “the clericalization of the laity” in which in order to actively participate in the liturgy, you are almost obliged to do some type of Church ministry. This includes being an Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a lecturer, and various other things. Rather an active participation is nothing other than following along and uniting your prayers with that of the Priest who is celebrating the Mass. It involves uniting your prayers with the priest at the scene of Calvary which is what is being literally and really being made present. The Mass should thus be one of constant meditation and of interior participation in the Mass and not so much exterior activity. There is a due reverent silence that is given at Mass.

 The Various Effects of Mass

Fr. Chad Ripperger states “Because Mass is itself the same sacrifice at Calvary which is made presented to us in the Mass, it is the font of all graces. Redemption and the obliteration of sin was the result of the Holy Sacrifice at Calvary. The same thing happens during each Mass that we attend, it is as if Christ’s blood was being shed again and being offered up, but this time in an un-bloody way, yet the same graces are granted.”7

It is precisely because the Mass is the same sacrifice as that of Calvary, that it has many effects that come whenever a Mass is celebrated and whenever we ourselves attend it.

The Mass itself gives us the opportunity for Holy Communion. “each sacrament according to the Church has specific effects that are proper to that sacrament. This is what is known as sacramental graces. Each sacrament gives us specific graces which allows us to achieve the finality in which that sacrament is directed towards”8 In the case of the Mass we receive Holy Communion. Just as we get nurtured and remain healthy when we receive natural food, Holy Communion we feed on the supernatural food that is Christ’s body, we are thus less vulnerable to fall into Mortal and Venial Sin.

When we go to Mass we receive the same effects as that of Calvary. That means that we receive redemption, but we also grow in virtue. When we are attending Mass, we have the freedom for praying and petitioning God for the various virtues which we lack in. The prayers of Mass also help cleanse us from all venial sin.

Mass itself also provides an orientation for the rest of the day. It helps organize the rest of the day, reminding us what saint Ignatius of Loyola would call “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” which is Latin for “For the Greater Glory of God”. The reason why the Mass helps orientate our day towards God Himself is precisely that the Mass is Christ/God centered (or at least it should be). For it is God who we are offering sacrifice to. This is why I love the action that is done in several parishes, such as those which offer the Tridentine Mass or “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass. They practice what is known as Ad Orientem worship. The priest faces the East. The priest faces the altar, the same direction as the congregation. This is a sign that the whole ecclesiastical community (The Church) is offering the same sacrifice to the same and Almighty God. It is one of syncretism and orientation towards the True God who is being offered sacrifice.

A Modern rejection of Sacrifice

One main reason why modern society rejects a notion of sacrifice is describe by the fact that the reality of suffering is almost forgotten.  “technology has made our lives so simple and easy, and thus hard to ignore the difficult things. Similarly people say “well if we are to offer a good thing back to God, then why should I offer something such as my suffering. The fact of the matter is that by offering it, it is a call to the virtue of sacrifice. It is not so much that the person suffers aimlessly. One of the virtues of Christ dying on the Holy Sacrifice at Calvary, is that it adds merits to our sufferings, which without it, our sufferings are vain.”8

 Sacrifice is itself as Saint Thomas Aquinas calls “the highest act of religion”. This is why the modern rejection of sacrifice is a sad reality. If we do not offer proper and due sacrifice to God, then we have nothing to show for ourselves. In our own particular judgement would priests be able to present God the various Masses they celebrated and offered up? Or  would laypersons be able to present to God the various means which we could have offered up as sacrifice? This could include the various Masses we attended, or it could simply be the daily struggles and sufferings we encountered. Whatever the case may be, the reality is that God Himself desires sacrifice, and the perfect of these is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is this sacrifice alone, that is perfect, just as the Crucifixion at Calvary was perfect.


notes:

1)Fr. Chad Ripperger “Talk given on Sacrifice in the Mass”
2) ibid
3)ibid
4)James Cardinal Gibbons “The Faith of Our Fathers, Tan Books 1876, pg. 266”
5)The Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent pg. 275
6)ibid
7)Fr. Chad Ripperger “Talk given on “Frequent Mass and Confession”
8)ibid
9)Ripperger “op cit. Sacrifice in the Mass”

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