By Jose Ma J Fernandez
Preparing this article on the Holy Mass was a learning experience. The more I read up on the subject, the more I realized how much more there was to learn about the Mass, which is both Sacrament and Sacrifice. In past class sessions of our Apologetics group, I would be asked to talk on various topics, among them, the Sacraments of the Church. However, the sacraments of Holy Orders and the Eucharist would usually be expounded on by a priest, for obvious reasons.
Fr Benedict Groeschel, CFR, in his introduction to Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper, mentions that the Holy Mass – also known as the Divine Liturgy – as “…so rich a reality that there are as many valid theological approaches to it as there are to the whole mystery of Christ Himself”. He also stresses that the Holy Mass is not a religious service, which can be more accurately used to describe aspects of Catholic worship such as Prayer Meetings, or Morning Prayer, or a communal recitation of the rosary.
The Mass is the supreme prayer and act of Worship by Man of his God. It is both Sacrament and Sacrifice. As a Sacrament, it is directed immediately to the sanctification of men. As a Sacrifice, it is directed immediately to the glorification of God.
Fr Groeschel’s mention of many valid approaches should put a rest to the myriad arguments that seek to determine the superior or more valid of the many liturgies prevalent in the Church today. This has become fashionable of late among so-called “traditionalists” who hew to the argument that the pre-Vatican II (Latin Mass) is better than the Novus Ordo.
Anyone who knows the least bit of his catechism also knows that once a Council supports or postulates a position – the bishops gathered as a whole in union with the Holy Father – then the Church’s stand is deemed valid and applicable to all Catholics. This is supported by the promise of Christ that He would remain with the Church till the end of time. Furthermore, we know that the Holy Spirit places His stamp of approval when such a conclave meets and comes to certain conclusions. To believe otherwise would be to belie the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to declare something as true and binding.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) lists down seven families of rites within the Western and Eastern branches of the Church: the Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean. Within these families of rites, we find many sub-sets. For example, the Latin rite has both the Ordinary Form of the Latin Mass (Novus Ordo) and the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass (Tridentine). However, since Vatican II allowed the use of the vernacular for the Ordinary Form, people mistakenly think that the Latin Mass refers only to the Tridentine Mass, whereas it includes the official version of the Novus Ordo.
We must also make note, therefore, of the recent acceptance of the Book of Common Prayer as a concession to Anglicans coming into the Church. There were other ancient rites in the Western Church that are still being used to this day, and the Pope is also the vicar or head of these churches, among which can be found the Bragan rite of Portugal, the Ambrosian in Milan, the Mozarabic in Spain, and the like. The Holy Father also exercises jurisprudence over the Eastern rites (Byzantine, Armenian, Syriac, Alexandrian, Maronite, Chaldean and Syro-Malabar) that are in communion with the Roman Catholic Church through the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
In the Old Testament, we find a prophecy from Malachi 1: “I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of Hosts; and I will not receive a gift of your hand. From the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles: and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation. For my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
God here, in the last book of the Old Testament, is already proclaiming the abolition of the old cult of sacrifice of the Jews, to be replaced by a new and clean sacrifice. It is obvious that He was referring to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that is now celebrated in all the lands of the Gentiles, from the rising to the setting of the sun.
In addition, the prophet Isaiah proclaims the rise of a new priesthood from among the Gentiles for the Messianic era: “And I will take of them to be priests and Levites saith the Lord." (Is 66: 21)
To understand why the cult of sacrifice came into being, one must first go back in history to the time of the Fall of Man. After Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden because of their great (Original) sin against God, there had to be some form of appeasement made to the offended party, God. Thus there evolved the practice of offering sacrifice to a God angered by sin and wrongdoing.
In such a sacrifice, there would have to be a victim whose blood would have to be shed, and in doing so expiated for the sins of the guilty. Usually, such sacrifice would have to be rendered by someone designated for the task (priest), and the part of the victim would be immolated on an altar, with the rest being partaken of in a sacred feast.
In the typology of the Holy Mass, one can see how the current Holy Sacrifice of the Mass evolved from these various elements in the past. The Old Testament is replete with types of Christ as Victim, among them Abel, Isaac, Joseph, and so forth. But one figure stands out in the history of the Divine Economy of Salvation: that of the High Priest and King, Melchisedech.
The Book of Genesis talks of the King of Salem, bringing forth bread and wine, because he was a priest of the Most High God. This figure of a special man, both High Priest and King, with seemingly no beginning, is seen to be a type of the Lord Jesus Himself, Who is also acknowledged to be both High Priest and King by all Christians. Notable, too, is that Melchisedech makes an offering of bread and wine after Abraham submits his tithes to the priest-king.
Again, this is seen to be a type of Christ’s offering of Bread and Wine at the Last Supper, an action that is repeated in all the altars throughout the world from the rising of the sun to its setting. Eight centuries later, St Paul refers to this eternal sacrifice performed by Jesus Christ, whose holy priesthood is said to be that of “…a priest forever in the order of Melchisedech”. St Paul refers to the great high-priest and king as a type of Christ no less than eight times.
The name Melchisedek, Prince of Peace, comes from the Hebrew, with melek (king) and tsaddiq (justice). In short, the name of the Pontiff-founder of the future Jerusalem is “My King is Just.”
What is the value of the Holy Mass? In the Enchiridon of Indulgences, one cannot find any statement giving the value of a single Holy Mass. How can anyone place a figure on an act of the Son of God that is meant to appease His Father? Consider that the Triune God exists in an eternal present, without any limitations of time.
Thus, when a priest acts in persona Christi and offers the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass on a daily basis, the Father sees His Son as He is being crucified (in an eternal present tense), even if the Masses we have today are in the form of a blood-less sacrifice. When a person goes to Holy Mass and receives the Eucharist, he receives a foretaste of heaven, which is why Pope John Paul II often referred to the Mass as “Heaven on Earth”.
During the Holy Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, the Offeror or Priest is Christ Himself. The priest merely acts in behalf of Christ as minister. The Unblemished Victim being offered up is Christ Himself, the perfect Victim, the Sacrificial Lamb foretold in the books of Isaiah and Revelation.
A single Holy Mass, therefore, is worth more than all the sacrifices and offerings of past, present, and future. It cannot be estimated. This is why even puny creatures like us can “ride” on the value of the Holy Mass by uniting with it each and every single day, making our own worthless offerings become immeasurable.
An even better way is to make this offering through Mother Mary, because her Son will never refuse anything given to her. She is after all, our Advocate and Mediatrix, the one who adores her own Son most perfectly. Uniting our intentions with the Mass through Mary will always melt the heart of her dear Jesus.
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