by Fr. Aaron Johanneck
What do we mean when we refer to “the Holy Sacriﬁce of the Mass”? How is the Mass a sacriﬁce?
This month we continue our reﬂections on the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, focusing on this central aspect of the reality of the liturgy, and of the Mass in particular. As we have in the previous months, we turn to the Second Vatican Council’s “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” or “Sacrosanctum Concilium” as our guide.
In this document the Fathers of the Council state, “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacriﬁce of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacriﬁce of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection” (SC, no. 47).
Especially important here are the words, “to perpetuate the sacriﬁce of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again.” In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the sacriﬁce of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary, made out of love for us, is perpetuated.
Or we could say it is continued or extended throughout the ages from the original Holy Thursday and Good Friday, up to today, all the way to the coming of Christ again in glory at the end of time. This is an incredible reality! It is a truly amazing sign of the love that God has for us.
Because Jesus is not only a man but also God, the events of his life are not “trapped” in the past as they are for us; nor are they bound to a particular place.
While it is true that events of my past can and often do have an impact on my present and future, and in this sense can “follow” me wherever I go, the event itself happened at a particular time in
a particular place. It’s over and done. It happened there and then.
As God, Jesus is eternal. Therefore the events of his life are not limited by time and place. It is true that Jesus’ oﬀering of himself on the Cross happened over 2,000 years ago outside of the walls of Jerusalem at Golgotha.
However, through the liturgy instituted by Christ himself, this event is not limited to that speciﬁc time or place; it can be made present to all men and women no matter where and when they live.
In the celebration of the Holy Mass, we are made present to Christ’s sacriﬁce on Calvary, and it is made present to us. At Mass we do not repeat Christ’s sacriﬁce, nor do we “re-sacriﬁce” him.
His sacriﬁce made once and for all is mystically and sacramentally, really and truly made present and oﬀered again through the priest who celebrates in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head). By virtue of our Baptism and the union with Christ that it brings about in us, we are united to his sacriﬁce and made participants in it.
The same Christ who oﬀered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and oﬀered in an unbloody manner on the altars of our churches at Mass. At every Mass we go to Calvary; we are at the foot of the Cross where we behold and then receive the One who was pierced for our sins.
This is how the Holy Mass is a sacriﬁce. What a great and holy mystery!