DAILY CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY June 24, 1998 vol. 9, no. 122
THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH
To print out entire text of Today's issue, go to SECTION ONE and SECTION TWO
The Meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
The only difference between the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass is that on the former Jesus physically shed His Blood, while in the latter there is no physical shedding of blood nor physical death because Christ has already been immolated once. By His death He gained for us the merit and, through the Mass, applies to us that merit and reward of His Bloody Death through the unbloody oblation of His Body and Blood during Mass.
It is very similar to what one would see on video tape. What was taped happened at the moment it was being filmed. When it is being played over and over, no matter how many times, it is a enactment of the event. It is and cannot be happening again. But we are reliving it. So also the Mass for Jesus continues to offer Himself as a Sacrifice in order to unite us with Him, to give us a gift worthy to be offered to God (cf. Mal 1:11), "a clean oblation" and allow us the opportunity to share in the merits of the His eternal sacrifice on the Cross.
Father O'Sullivan states that "The Mass is the birth of Jesus Christ. He is really born on the Altar each time that Mass is said, as He was born in Bethlehem." Saint John Damascene is attributed with saying: If anyone wishes to know how the bread is changed into the Body of Jesus Christ, I will tell him. The Holy Ghost overshadows the priest and acts on him as He acted on the Blessed Virgin Mary" while Saint Bonaventure assures us that "God, when He descends upon the altar, does no less than He did when He became man the first time in the womb of the Virgin Mary." Saint Alphonsus states: "Even God Himself could do nothing holier, better, or greater than the Mass." Saint Timothy gives one of the greatest accolades when he says: "The World would have been destroyed long ago because of the sins of men, had it not been for the Mass. There is nothing that obtains for us so many blessings as the Mass."
Those are powerful words from great saints who understood the real purpose of the Mass. The four main purposes for which the Mass is offered are Adoration, Thanksgiving, Petition, and Atonement. We adore God as our Creator and this is the worthiest gift from Him and to Him. We thank God for His graces and favors to us for this greatest of gifts. We ask God to hear our prayers through petition and various parts of the liturgy. Through the most perfect vehicle of the Mass our petitions have a clear channel to Heaven. Finally, through the Mass we atone for the justice of God for the sins committed against Him and reconcile ourselves with Him as Christ said that His Blood is being shed "for many unto the forgiveness of sin"(Matthew 26:28). Through the priest Christ's sacrifice is renewed and continued until the end of the world and therefore, in itself, becomes His very Sacrifice every time Mass is said. For united with Him in this Sacrifice we continue to be members of His Mystical Body which we entered into at Baptism. The fruits are many from Our Lord's heavenly vineyard.
The fruit of the vine becomes the fruits of Redemption, made possible by Christ's death, a death which totally made it possible for every one of God's children to be redeemed. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we live in continuous and intimate communion with Jesus, as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit. The fruits obtained from the Mass is a cornucopia of graces through the Sacrifice on the Altar and prayers. We specifically obtain the grace of Forgiveness for venial sins for all those who are not in mortal sin; and we receive Remission of sin regarding the temporal penalty due to sin. All we need do is remember the Good Thief whose sins Christ forgave instantly on the Cross. He does the same for us.
The proof that our prayers are heard in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass comes from the very fact that Jesus Himself prays for us. The fruits of attending Mass worthily and in the state of grace are that He not only answers our heartfelt prayers, but we gain even more of the merits of Christ for our souls as well as gaining temporal blessings. All who participate in the Mass, both here on earth and in Purgatory, reap the general fruits since the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for everyone. This not only includes all who are present, or assist, especially the priest who represents Christ, but also the person for whom it is being offered as well as the souls in Purgatory -The Church Suffering.
The value of the Mass is infinite because it is the renewal of Christ's death. Therefore to attend Mass devoutly is the greatest prayer we can offer. There is no more holy and divine act that can be performed here on earth than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Fr. O'Sullivan points out the importance of sharing and offering each Mass for he says, "we should have the intention of hearing and offering all the Masses being said at the same time all over the world. In this way we receive a share in these innumerable Masses!"
Our Lady is constantly reminding us of that, always drawing us closer to her Divine Son who is ever present in the Tabernacle but never closer to us than during Mass for the Eucharist is a sacrament that Fr. Loret describes as drawing us "into the mystery of His broken body, His blood poured out..."
This sacrifice is accomplished at the Communion, when the species of bread and wine, now Our Lord's Body and Blood, are consumed just as His Sacrifice was accomplished when He cried out "It is consummated" and then expired on the cross. Again, it is vital to repeat that the Mass is not a remembrance or memorial of His death, but an actual renewal, in the separate consecration of the bread and wine, the death of Jesus, the separation of His Body and Blood.
Christ had instituted the essence of the Mass, now He left it to His Church to build a lasting ritual around the New Sacrifice and liturgically give the Mass form and expression for those who would participate down through the ages.
The Apostles were the "first priests", ordained by Christ, and after the Holy Spirit had descended upon them on Pentecost Sunday, they went out fearlessly into the world to preach the good news and celebrate the New Sacrifice.
The passages in 1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:27-29 confirm that the Apostles understood that Christ's words were not to be taken figuratively, but literally! Saint Augustine reaffirmed this continuous belief of Christians when he wrote, "Our Lord held Himself in His Own hands, when He gave His Body to the disciples." Bishop Morrow states that "It was only in the sixteenth century that Protestants, breaking away from the True Church, denied it and introduced a different doctrine." We wonder how, then, can they explain the powerful meaning of Christ's own words in John 6:54-59?
That is also the principle of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The word "sacrament" signifies a means unto holiness. "A Sacrament," the Catechism tells us, "is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace." Of all the Sacraments, the Holy Eucharist is the most outward sign instituted by Jesus and which we can receive daily. It is the greatest Sacrament. That is why the Holy Eucharist is called the Blessed Sacrament
Just as we are nourished in the Bread of Life today, so also the early Christians, amidst fierce persecution, took their strength from the Eucharist.
In the next installment tomorrow we will delve into how the Mass evolved in the first centuries as well as the how and why Christ's disciples made a total break from Jewish Law while maintaining some of their traditions. We'll also see how the disciples' greatest persecutor Saul became God's greatest traveling evangelist Paul.
THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH