24. Oct, 2019

“This sacrifice is truly propitiatory” (CCC 1367)

In an article “Eucharistic Wake-Up Call: What to Do When Catholics Don’t Recognize Jesus” the author laments the lack of Catechism regarding the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/eucharistic-wake-up-call-what-to-do-when-catholics-dont-recognize-jesus#article-join-discussion. That’s fine. But I was shocked by the lack of understanding about ‘what’ the Eucharistic celebration is, above all.

If one word can describe what the Mass is, it’s Sacrifice. And that Sacrifice is propitiatory. “This sacrifice is truly propitiatory” (CCC 1367).

Of course Christ is present Body, Blood, soul and divinity. And yes, we commune with the Lord. But above all the Eucharistic celebration is a Sacrifice – one single Sacrifice - where the Church offers itself with Christ in virtue of its communion with Him (“through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”), and that sacrificial offering is propitiatory.

Catholics clearly need to reflect on the following quote from Lumen Gentium:

“Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, which is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life, they offer the Divine Victim to God, and offer themselves along with It. Thus both by reason of the offering and through Holy Communion all take part in this liturgical service, not indeed, all in the same way but each in that way which is proper to himself. Strengthened in Holy Communion by the Body of Christ, they then manifest in a concrete way that unity of the people of God which is suitably signified and wondrously brought about by this most august sacrament” (Lumen Gentium 11).

Below is an excellent article from Kairos.

The sacrifice at the heart of Holy Week

Kairos: Volume 22, Issue 6

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and Resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us’

(Second Vatican Council, SC, 47.)

At the heart of Holy Week is the Sacrifice of the Cross. Everything in the Gospel story of Jesus’ Passion and everything in our liturgical commemoration of these events points toward the Cross and flows from it in the victory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

In offering himself as the Paschal sacrifice, Jesus was at one and the same time the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the High Priest who presents his own body and blood to atone for the debt of sin.

In a most particular way, this sacrifice is perpetuated throughout all time by the Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is not a different sacrifice from the Sacrifice of the Cross – it is the same Sacrifice offered by the same High Priest. The Body and Blood that is truly offered in the Mass is the same Body of Jesus that hung on the cross, and the same Blood that flowed from his wounds.

The priesthood is the same too. Though the sacrifice is offered at the human hands of the priest, the priest who celebrates the Mass shares in the very same priesthood that belongs to Jesus.

On the cross, Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice of ‘propitiation’ for sin. In Romans 3:25, St Paul tells us that “God set forth (Jesus) as a propitiation by his blood”. To propitiate means to atone for wrongdoing. Jesus did not have to propitiate for his own sin; it was for our sin that he died. But the good news is that through this propitiation, Jesus reconciled us to God. Sharing in this sacrifice means that our sins no longer stand between us and friendship with God.

Prepared by the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, we share in the sacrifice of Jesus through the sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Mass is a sacrifice of propitiation for the very reason I have outlined above: it is the same Sacrifice of the Cross offered by the same High Priest.

Fundamentally, it is only because the Mass makes the Sacrifice of the Cross present in a real way that it is also (as the Second Vatican Council taught) a “memorial of his death and resurrection”, “a sacrament of (his) love”, and “a Paschal banquet” in which we share.

In a very special way, this is all brought out for us in the ceremonies of Holy Week. Jesus gave us the sacrament of his Body and Blood “on the night he was betrayed”. In it, he showed his disciples the meaning of the events which were about to occur, and he told them: “Do this in memory of me.”

Of all the ways in which they would proclaim his death and resurrection to the world in their apostolic ministry, this was the most important, for in it they would not only tell the people about the sacrifice of Jesus, they would actually make it present to them and give them the full benefit of that sacrifice.

While most of the Holy Week liturgies take place in the local parish churches, the special ‘Mass of the Chrism’ takes place in the cathedral. Traditionally celebrated on the morning of Maundy Thursday, for practical reasons this Mass is now celebrated on the Tuesday in Holy Week (11am on 19 April this year). At this liturgy, all the priests of the Archdiocese gather as one with their bishop to renew their priestly vows, to receive the newly consecrated oils, and to offer together the sacrifice that will be repeated on the evening of Maundy Thursday and at the Easter Vigil.

This public celebration, to which all the people of the Archdiocese are invited, commemorates in a special way the commandment of Jesus to his Apostles: “Do this in remembrance of me.” By saying this, Jesus gave his Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church, a share in his own priesthood. The Catechism (§874) reminds us that “Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal.”

Priests, therefore, are not ‘employees’ of the Church, nor even (as a recent editorial in one Australian Catholic magazine suggested) ‘franchisees’. Their true identity comes from Jesus, the High Priest. The Second Vatican Council taught that priests “are invested with a sacred power, … dedicated to promoting the interests of their brethren, so that all who belong to the People of God … may attain to salvation” (Lumen Gentium 18).

Priests exercise the ‘sacred power’ of Jesus not only in the Eucharist, but also in the other sacraments, such as Baptism, Confirmation and the Anointing of the Sick. At the Chrism Mass, the oils for these three sacraments are blessed and consecrated and distributed to the priests for use in their pastoral ministry.

Following the renewal of priestly vows and the making of the new sacred oils, all the priests reaffirm their unity with Christ's priesthood by concelebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass with me, their Archbishop, and with the auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese. Thus we fulfil the faith of the Church as expressed in the Catechism (§1341):

“The command of Jesus to repeat his actions and words ‘until he comes’ does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did. It is directed at the liturgical celebration, by the Apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father.”

At the heart of the yearly commemoration of Holy Week and Easter is the Sacrifice of the Cross. Through this Paschal mystery, marked in a special way by the whole priesthood at the Chrism Mass, we proclaim that Christ’s Cross and Resurrection stand at the centre of the Good News. In the one redeeming Sacrifice of the Cross, which is always present in every celebration of the Mass, God’s saving plan has been accomplished “once for all” (Heb 9:26).