By: Father Aaron Johanneck
(From a series found in The Prairie Catholic)
Last month we began to unpack the following statement from the Second Vatican Council’s, Sacrosanctum Concilium, on participation in the Sacred Liturgy, especially in the Holy Mass:
“[Christ’s faithful] should be instructed by God’s Word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all” (SC 48).
We discussed what it means for the faithful to be “instructed by God’s Word,” “nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body,” and to “give thanks to God.” Now we will move to the next statement: “by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, [the faithful] should learn to offer themselves.”
At the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest invites the people to prayer saying, “Pray brethren (brothers and sisters) that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”
We have discussed how the Mass is a sacrifice because it is the sacramental (and real) re-presentation (making present) and offering of the one-time sacrifice that Christ offered to the Father on the Cross for us. The Mass is the sacrifice of the priest (my sacrifice…) since through his ordination he acts in persona Christi capitis, or in the person of Christ, Head of the Church. The power given to him at his ordination makes the celebration of the Mass possible. Through this power Christ’s sacrifice is made present and the bread and wine are transubstantiated into His Sacred Body and Blood.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is also the sacrifice of the entire Church. Therefore, it is offered also by the faithful (…and yours) in the manner proper to them by virtue of the union with Christ and membership in His Mystical Body (the Church) brought about by Baptism. They offer the sacrifice of Christ along with the priest, albeit in a different manner.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. The Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With Him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to His intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of His Body” (CCC 1368).
The Catechism continues, “The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with His total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with His offering” (1368).
Through our union with Christ and with His Paschal Mystery brought about by Baptism, we are united to the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Mass. We are able to enter in by uniting ourselves to His perfect offering of love to the Father and by offering every aspect of our lives, and our very selves, to the Father through Christ and in the Holy Spirit. For this reason the priest can invite us into “my sacrifice and yours.”
Now we have come to the heart of the true, conscious, and active participation of the faithful in the Church’s liturgy: when you come to Holy Mass, offer yourself with Jesus!