The Holy Eucharist : Sacrament and Sacrifice

By: Fr. Manuel P. Duetao

Church doctrines are much clearer and more understandable when a more detailed and critical discussion is given it. Ironically, this sometimes happens when objections are presented by non-believers questioning Roman Catholic teaching, or when anti-Catholics are up against a particular doctrine. The Holy Holy Eucharist is a good example. This is one doctrine that has been greatly discussed all the way from the time of Jesus and the Jews (Jn 6:41, 52, 60, etc.) to the Protestants of the Reformation and the theologians of the counter-Reformation (as found in the Council of Trent) up to the present-day non-Catholics and anti-Catholics.

What is the Holy Eucharist? This is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, in order to offer Himself in the sacrifice of the Mass and to be received as spiritual food in Holy Communion. It is called Holy Eucharist or “thanksgiving” because during its institution at the Last Supper, Christ “gave thanks” and by this fact it is the supreme object and act of Christian gratitude to God.

What is a Sacrament? It is a sensible sign instituted by Christ, by which invisible grace and inward sanctification are communicated to the soul. Edward Schillebeekx, a Belgian Dominican theologian, defines Sacrament as “a crossroad where God and man meet in mutual availability.” It is a point of contact where God pours His grace upon man and man gratefully accepts.

What is Sacrifice? In its very essence, Sacrifice has “offering” as its partial synonym. Sacrifice or offering to deities is found in all cultures and religions. Cicero, the great Roman senator and orator, rightly said: “One may find cities without walls, but may not find a people without an altar to a god.”

In the history of religions, the most common or primary elements of sacrifice are: (a) a gift to the deity (b) homage to the deity (c) expiation for sins committed against the deity (d) communion with the deity (e) life transferred from the deity and then conferred upon the worshipper.

From this point of view, the Holy Eucharist is truly a sacrifice: (a) a gift to God (b) an act of adoration to God (c) an offering for sin to God (d) communion with God (e) divine life conferred to the worshippers by God.

Now, on the relationship between the Sacrifice of Calvary and the Sacrifice of the Mass, Anthony Pizzotta, a Salesian priest who left the priesthood and is now a Protestant minister argues against the doctrine on the Holy Eucharist saying: “How can He (Jesus) die again since He is already gloriously seated at the right hand of the Father?” (Truth Encounter, p. 104)

The Church does not teach that the Mass ‘repeats’ Christ’s death on the Cross. “Christ has offered for all times a single sacrifice for our sins and has taken His seat at the right hand of God...” (Heb. 10: 12) Take note of the words: “all times”, “a single sacrifice”, “for sins”.

The Sacrifice of Calvary is not repeated at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the altar. The Mass merely makes: * “really present”, * “operative in all generations”, and for * “as long that they sin” the fruits of Calvary. In the words of the Catechism for Filipino Catholics: “... the Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice because it: * represents, makes present the Sacrifice of the Cross; * is its memorial and * applies its fruit.” (cf CCC 1341, 1366; cf. Trent, ND 1546-48)

Herewith is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Malachi: “... for from the rising of the sun even to its setting my name is great among the nations and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name; for great is my name among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” (I: 11) Herewith likewise is the fulfillment of Christ’s own promise to be with His people for always until the end of time: “I shall be with you always till the end of the world.” (Mt. 28:20)

The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass does not involve Christ’s death anew. Rather it is a participation in the one sacrifice of Christ in Calvary, in an unbloody manner, the benefits of which continue into eternity. Jesus continually lives to make intercession for us, offering to the Father on our behalf, Himself given for us on the Cross.

‘[Christ] has an everlasting priesthood ... always living to make intercession for us.’ (Heb. 7: 24-25)

“Every ordained Catholic priest participates in the one priesthood of Christ, which alone can take away the sins of the world. When the priest pronounces the words of Holy Eucharistic consecration, he does it ‘in persona Christi’, i.e., in the person of Christ.” (LG Lovasik, SVD, The Apostolate’s Family Catechism, Vol. II, Q 239, p. 652)

On this subject, here are the words of the Council of Trent:

“ [Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper ‘on the night he was betrayed’ [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all in the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit [Trent (1562); DS 1740; cf. I Cor. 11:23; Heb. 7:24, 271]

“The sacrifice of Christ (at Calvary) and the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist are one single sacrifice:

‘The victim is one and the same: the same victim (who then offered Himself on the cross) now offers through the single ministry of priests, only the manner of offering is different’. ‘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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1367, 1994 Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

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