Mass as sacrifice Second sunday of Easter May 4, 2014 First Communion Sunday
Have you ever felt that your heart was on fire after you received the holy Eucharist? Have you ever felt excited because you were in the presence of God?
The disciples on the way to Emmaus said that their hearts were burning within them while Jesus spoke to them and opened the scriptures to them. The disciples were talking about their reaction to watching the risen Jesus offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
The Mass consists of the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist. On the way to Emmaus Jesus began the Mass with the liturgy of the word. He says to his disciples: “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Then starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.
In proclaiming the scriptures Jesus was speaking the liturgy of the word. The liturgy of the Eucharist followed the liturgy of the word. St. Luke describes it this way: “Now while he was with them at table, he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them.’”. That’s the liturgy of the Eucharist? The disciples felt their hearts burning as they witnessed the risen Jesus offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass on the way to Emmaus.
Someone might ask the question: are you exaggerating a little when you say that the sacrifice of the Mass is the most perfect form of worship the world has ever known? After all the world is very old and there were many cultures in history that worshiped God. How can you say that the sacrifice of the Mass is the most perfect form of worship the world has ever known?
If we ask the question: “who is offering the sacrifice of the Mass? We must answer that only a priest can offer sacrifice. The book of hebrews calls Jesus the only high priest so it must be Christ who is offering the sacrifice of the Mass. When we ask who Christ is? We must answer: he is the son of. The sacrifice of the Mass is offered by Jesus Christ, the son of God. He is then the most perfect priest in the history of the world.
The people who offered worship to God in all the cultures of history were human beings. Only in the Mass do you find the son of God offering worship to the father in heaven. Since the son of God is perfect, his worship is perfect. His sacrifice to the father is the most perfect form of worship the world has ever known. There is no greater.
If a born-again-Christian ever says to you: “the Mass didn’t originate with Jesus and the apostles.the Mass was invented in the middle ages.” Ask that person if he ever read the acts of the apostles chapter 2 verse 42 where st luke describes the early Mass of the first century.
In that passage st. Luke describes the liturgy of the word when he writes: “These remained faithful to the teachings of the apostles”. He describes the liturgy of the Eucharist when he writes: “these remained faithful to the breaking of the bread”.
The acts of the apostles gave a description of the early Christian community offering the Mass together—the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the Eucharist were already offered in the first century.
So the Mass is not an invention of the church in the middle ages. In fact 40 years after Jesus ascends into heaven we read in a book written in 70 a.d. called the Didache an early description of what catholics were doing in the year 70 a.d.
Here’s what we read in the Didache: “Assemble on the lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. [matt. 5:23–24]. (Didache 14 [a.d. 70]). Notice that the Didache refers to the Eucharist as a sacrifice in 70 ad.
Just think of it. A people who lived 40 years after Jesus recognized the Mass that we have today as the greatest form of worship because it is offered by Jesus himself.
The Mass is not a prayer service. It is not just a commemorative meal as “bible Christians” call it. The first Christians knew that the Mass was a sacrifice and proclaimed this in their writings. They recognized the sacrificial character of Jesus instruction, “do this in remembrance of me (luke. 22:19).
A protestant historian of the early church, j.n.d. kelly, writes that in the early church “the Eucharist was regarded as the distinctively Christian sacrifice.” He says: “malachi’s prediction (1:10-11) that the lord would reject Jewish sacrifices and instead would have a ‘pure offering’ made to him by the gentiles in every place, was looked upon by Christians as a prophecy of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term sacrifice to the Eucharist.”
It is important for catholics to know that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of the cross as well as the commemorative meal of the last supper. This is important because worship by sacrifice is rooted in more than 2000 years of old testament history where people offered sacrifices to worship God.
Even the indian leader Ghandi said that worship without sacrifice is absurd.
Whenever you read about the sacrifices of the old testament you are reading about a type and a forshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
This is the way a sacrifice works. A priest, not a minister, or a preacher, offers a victim to God alone. The priest then destroys the victim on an altar to acknowledge that God is the creator of all things and lord over all creation.
In the sacrifices of the old testament a lamb was usually the victim. The lamb was killed by a priest who was ordained especially to offer sacrifice. The priest killed a lamb twice a day in the magnificent temple in jerusalem. The blood of the lamb ran over the altar the place of sacrifice.
Hundreds of gallons of animal blood were poured out in the temple of solomon alone. For over 2000 years God the father accepted the blood of animals for the remission of sin.
In the first Jewish passover a lamb was sacrificed as a substitute for the first born son. If the people of the household sacrificed and ate the lamb the first born son of the household was spared. If they did not sacrifice and eat the lamb the first born son died. That was the covenant with God and the jews.
But we know that the blood of lambs or sheep or oxen can not take away sin. Only Jesus, the Christ, the son of God could take away the sins of the world. He chose to save the world by shedding his blood. The book of hebrews says: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” Jesus was the new passover lamb.
On the cross Jesus is the victim of sacrifice. He is the high priest who offers the victim of sacrifice. He sheds his own blood on the altar of the cross in sacrifice for the sins of the world.
We don’t sacrifice animals anymore. Animal sacrifice is over. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross put an end to the sacrifice of animals.
At Mass, when the priest invites the people to communion he says: behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the lamb of God.
There is no longer a temple in jerusalem. There is a mosque now on the site of the temple. Sacrifices are no longer offered in jerusalem because they have no temple and no priesthood. When the veil of the temple was rent in two at the death of Jesus it was a sign that the old sacrifices were over. They are no longer needed.
The sacrifice of the Mass now replaces the long history of animal sacrifice.
Since many protestants, in the 16th century denied that Mass is a sacrifice here is what the ecumenical council of trent said about the sacrifice of the Mass: “in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.”
Do you understand now why we say that the holy sacrifice of the Mass is the most perfect form of worship the world has ever known? It is not our Mass. It is Christ’s Mass. It is not just a prayer service that we have constructed. It is the eternal sacrifice that Jesus our savior offered on the cross.
I have chosen to speak about the Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass this week for three reasons:
1.Next Saturday May 10th, at the cathedral, Bishop Cunningham will ordain several men to the Deaconate. The Deacon, in holy orders is tied into the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the holy Eucharist. The Deacon may give out holy communion, purify the sacred vessels, proclaim the gospel, and assist the priest at Mass.
2.On Sunday June 3rd a young man from our diocese will be ordained to the holy priesthood. A priest in holy orders offers the sacrifice of the Mass and changes bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Without the priest we do not have the Mass or the Eucharist.
3.This is first communion sunday in our parish. As our boys and girls receive Jesus in holy communion for the first time, I wanted to reflect with you on our faith in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Our banner over the altar says: friends all gather round the table of the lord. We rejoice that another generation is about to join us at the Eucharistic table. We welcome them as we renew our own faith in the real presence of Jesus in the holy Eucharist.
It is up to us to introduce our children to the holy sacrifice of the Mass. It is up to us by our example to set their hearts on fire as they experience the most perfect form of worship the world has ever known.
Continue to pray for our children and their families.