By Virginia G. Manzo, MD
The Catholic Mass is the sacred action by which Jesus makes himself present under the appearance of bread and wine. The Mass is so much more than a necessary tool for providing Holy Communion – it is the central point of our faith. We must see the Mass as a greater whole. Our union with Christ in Holy Communion is just a wonderful part of it.
First of all, the Mass is a memorial of Our Lord. At the Last Supper, as he commissioned his apostles to be priests and gave them the power to do what he did, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” As human beings, we like to keep fresh the memory of persons we love and admire, keeping a faded picture of our parents in our wallet or a dried rose pressed between the pages of a book in memory of our first date. The world is full of remembrances and we like to remember some special people in so many ways.
Our Lord loves us so much and wants us to love him in return. He has left a memorial of himself in a manner only God could fashion. He left us a living presence of himself, coming down daily to us in every Mass. It is a perfect memorial which gives us a living and vivid consciousness of him. In the Mass, Jesus continues through all time that offering of himself on Calvary, applying to our souls the merits of his passion and death in Golgotha. It is not only his death which we memorialize in the Mass but his resurrection by which he conquered death, and his Ascension to the glory that he wishes to share with us.
Aside from being a memorial, the Catholic Mass is a Holy Banquet. At his banquet table, the Lord Jesus spreads his body and blood for us to partake for the nourishment of our souls and a sure guarantee for our salvation. By the miraculous process known as transubstantiation, Jesus changes the bread and wine on the altar into his real flesh and blood. Although the appearances of bread and wine remain visible to our human eyes, we see our Lord’s real flesh and blood with eyes of faith. The real presence of our Lord in the consecrated bread and wine is absolute truth because God himself said so and He can never deceive nor be deceived.
Aside from being a memorial and a banquet, the Catholic Mass is a sacrifice. Through the centuries, the word sacrifice has gathered different connotations. During the ancient times, the word “sacrifice” meant an offering to God – as a form of worship, praise and acknowledgement of God’s mighty power, an offering of gratitude, as reparation for wrongdoings and to petition for favors. Incidentally, these four ends are the same ones we have in our present-day Sacrifice of the Catholic Mass. In the Old Testament, we are aware of the offering of sacrifice of Cain and Abel, of Abraham offering his son Isaac, and many other incidents of sacrificial acts offered to God. Even among the pagans, it was a common practice to offer sacrifice to their many gods. Pagans offered not only animals but even human beings, thinking that their gods would be more pleased when human victims were slain for offering. In every sacrifice, there is always destruction (annihilation by fire or slaying), a victim (an unblemished animal like a lamb, bull or goat or in the case of pagans, a human being) and someone who performs the rites of offering (a priest, a leader of a tribe, or “president” of a community).
However, when Jesus Christ came into the world, he became the victim of the greatest sacrifice of all when he offered himself to God for the salvation of mankind. The destruction is his own passion and death, the victim and priest is himself at the same time. Since Jesus who is God is the victim of this great sacrifice, no other sacrifice is necessary or more worthy to be offered to God. That is why the practice in the olden times of offering a sacrifice no longer exists; the sacrifice on the Cross, relived every time Catholic Mass is celebrated, is more than sufficient. In lieu of the ancient sacrifices, the sacrifice we now offer to God is the Sacrifice of the Cross, a sacrifice most pleasing to God, more than any other sacrifice man could ever offer.
Jesus Christ, pure and sinless, made the ultimate sacrifice: he has taken unto himself the punishment for all our sins and bore God’s judgment of death in our behalf, as our substitute. Our Lord released us from the clutches of Satan and the curse of eternal death.
The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross in Calvary is the same sacrifice being offered every day at Catholic Mass in which we participate in the offering and receive its infinite merits. The Mass is the greatest treasure because in the Mass, under the appearances of bread and wine, Jesus is present, whole and entire, living, real and substantial, as He was born in Bethlehem, as He died on the Cross, as He reigns in Paradise. The Catholic Mass is the Sacrifice on the Cross. The Second Vatican Council teaches, “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus initiated the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood in order to continue the Sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until his return.”
To mention just a few of the many testimonies of some great saints who are doctors of the Church and scholarly theologians:
St. Thomas Aquinas: “The celebration of the Mass is as valuable as the death of Christ on the Cross.”
St. Francis of Assisi: “Man should tremble, the world should vibrate, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar at the hands of the priest.”
St. Teresa of Avila: “Without the Mass, what will become of us? All here below will perish because that alone can hold back the hand of God.”
St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina: “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do so without the Mass.”
St. Leonard of Port Maurice: "O you deluded people! What are you doing? Why do you not hasten to the churches to hear as many Masses as you can? Why do you not imitate the angels who, when a Mass is celebrated, come down in squadrons from Paradise and take their stations about the altar in adoration to intercede for us?”
What better proofs do we need than these testimonies from the mouths of the saints in order to realize the colossal importance of the Mass, and to understand the infinite value of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross? Let us hasten to the Mass as often as we can.
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