Basics of the Sacrifice of the
by Father William G. Most
The Council of Trent taught that the Mass
is the same as Calvary,
"only the manner of offering being changed"
from bloody to unbloody. Similarly Vatican II
(On the Liturgy #10) said that the Mass is the renewal of the
A sacrifice as Catholics
understand it (in contrast to some pagan
concepts) has two elements: the outward
sign and the interior dispositions. The outward sign
is there to express and perhaps promote the interior. Without the interior it would be worthless. Hence God
once complained through Isaiah 29:13: "This
people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." We
need to take care that we too do not descend into mere externalism,
thinking it enough to just make the responses and sing etc.
At the Last Supper, the outward sign was the seeming
separation of body and blood, with the two species. This was a dramatized way of saying
to the Father: "I
know the command You have given Me, I am to die tomorrow. Very good, I turn myself over to
death - expressed by the seeming separation - I accept, I obey." On the
next day He did as
He pledged, but
then the outward sign was the physical
separation of body and blood, while the interior
remained the same. In the Mass, by the
agency of a human priest who acts "in the person of Christ" (Vatican II,
# 10) Christ continues
and repeats His offering.
The external sign is multiplied as many times as there are Masses. But the interior disposition
of Christ is not
multiplied, it is continued from that with which He died.
For death makes permanent the attitude of
will with which one leaves this world.
Since the Mass has the same external
sign, and the same interior dispositions on the part of Christ, we rightly call
it a sacrifice, the continuation
of Calvary. It does not need to earn redemption
all over - that was done once-for-all (Hebrews
9:28) by His death.
But since the Holiness of God loves
everything that is good, and in good order, it pleases Him
to have titles or reasons in place for what He will give (cf. Summa I. 19. 5.
c). So it pleases Him to have the Mass provide the title for the distribution
of what was once-for-all earned on Calvary.
Catechists often like to use a memory word ACTS to
express the dispositions: adoration, contrition,
thanksgiving, and supplication. This
is not wrong, but it leaves out the essential disposition, obedience to
the Father (Cf. Romans 5:19
and Lumen Gentium
At the Last Supper He ordered,
"Do this in memory of Me". Since we were
not there, He wants us to join our
dispositions to His. The great Liturgy
Encyclical of Pius XII, Mediator
Dei, explains well that the people can be said to exercise their royal
priesthood, to offer the Mass
with the priest: first,
"from the fact that the priest at the altar in offering a
sacrifice in the name of all His members, does so in the person of Christ,"
whose members they are. (Since only the ordained priest acts "in
the person of Christ" Vatican II says [Lumen Gentium
#10] that the ordained priesthood differs from
that of the laity in essence, and not only in degree).
Secondly the people can be said to offer
since: "The people join their hearts in praise, petition,
expiation and thanksgiving with the prayers or intention of the priest, in fact, of the
High Priest Himself, so that in the one and same of offering of the Victim... they may be
presented to God the Father "(Acta Apostolicae Sedis,
39:556). Vatican II explains (Lumen Gentium #
10) that this is what it means for them to "offer spiritual
These spiritual sacrifices consist of
their obedience to the will
of the Father,
already carried out, and planned for the future (Cf. Lumen Gentium
#34). This includes their works, their bearing the troubles of
life, their prayers, their apostolic efforts,
their living out the duties of their state in life,
even their relaxation of body and mind if all these things are done as part of the Father's plan, to enable them to serve
Him better. Jesus Himself spent about 30
out of 33 years in family life, to show how greatly the Father values this if done precisely because it is
part of His plan. No wonder Paul VI,
on February 12, 1966, told the 13th
National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center that "marriage is a long road towards sanctification", that
is, if one takes everything in it as part of the Father's
We can call this a royal priesthood, since to live this way is to
reign, instead of being a slave to vices
(2Peter 2:19). Saint Augustine explains this well in his
exegesis of Revelation/Apocalypse 20:5-6 (City of God
20:7-9) which tells how the holy ones rise
from sin - which is the first
resurrection, and reign, by being their own masters, by not consenting
to the works of the Beast,
the Antichrist and his
minions, "but they will be priests of God
and of Christ, and will reign with Him for that thousand years", i.e.,
all the time from His ascension to
His return at the end.
It would be good to take a moment before each Mass to see what one has to join with the obedience of Christ, soon to be offered on the altar.
Then Mass cannot be without meaning; rather,
it dominates all of life, for we should bring our past obediences,
and look ahead to the obedience of the near
We can see easily how Vatican II could call the Mass
the renewal of the new covenant: in the making of
that new covenant, the essential condition which gave it all its value
was obedience, the obedience
of Jesus, which is
to be represented again on the altar, so we may join with it.
It is good to recall too that His Mother shared in this sacrifice
by her obedience
(cf. our comments on the Third Article of the Creed) on Calvary,
and now, as John Paul II taught (Angelus Homily of
February 12, 1984) she "is at every altar" because "she was present at the original sacrifice", sharing
in it, and now from heaven,
she still joins her
will to His, as He
offers the flesh and blood He received from her.
The graces of the Mass
are communicated in accord with how often the Mass
is offered for a certain intention, the dispositions of the priest, the
dispositions of the faithful who join with him, the dispositions of those
for whom it is offered, and God's Providence.
We say we offer the Mass in
honor of Our Lady, the angels,
particular Saints. In
it we thank God for what He has done for them, and for us through them. But
we offer the Mass to
The chief liturgical divisions of the Mass
are: the penitential rite, the liturgy of the word, the liturgy of the eucharist, the communion rite, and the concluding
rite. For the sacrifice as
such, only the double consecration is
essential. Hence Pius XII taught, "When
the consecration of the bread and wine is validly brought about, the whole action of
Christ is actually accomplished. Even if all that remains could not be completed, still,
nothing essential would be lacking to the Lord's offering" (Vous nous
avez, To the Liturgical Conference of Assisi September 22,
1956). Hence the Great Amen
is not the offering, it is a sort of extension, to give us further opportunity to join
with Christ. The Communion
follows up, giving us a share in the Divine Victim
as He has commanded.
The Mass brings forgiveness
for venial sins for which there is sorrow, and for temporal
punishment commonly left over after forgiveness
Mass may be offered for the living
or the dead.
Its general benefits go to the whole Church,
living and dead. Special
benefits are for the priest who offers, and those for whom a Mass
is specially offered, and for those who actively participate at the Mass.
In it we recall not only His death,
but also His Resurrection, as the Eucharistic Prayer I reminds us.
Even with the changes in the laws, Mass on Sundays
and Holydays of Obligation remains
an obligation binding under grave sin each time.