Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

Lamb of God on the altar in the apparition of Knock in 1879;
St Joseph,  Our Lady and St John in a bishop's attire (lest we forget)

Joe writes:    The recent effort by the Church in South Africa to re-catechise Catholics through ecclesia has achieved some positive and in some cases eye opening results. Among other things, it has shown the extent to which Catholics have drifted away from the teaching of the Church.

Many years of watered down preaching from the pulpit devoid of doctrinal content has altogether altered in the believer’s mind what it means to be Catholic. We have sung a new church into being which unfortunately is a glaring rapture from the Church founded by Christ and watered by the blood of the martyrs. The answer to ‘what is Church?’ in ecclesia was given as, ‘we are Church’. While this is not completely wrong, it falls far short of the definition of the bride of Christ. A series of these half-truths and in some cases the total evasion of truth have wrecked havoc in the law of faith. The Latin maxim lex orandi, lex cridendi, lex vivendi translated to mean the law of worship is the law of belief, is the law of life.

How we worship, determines how we believe and how we live. The greatest public worship of the Catholic Church is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In short, this is the everlasting and perfect sacrifice (of Christ the lamb without blemish) offered by Our Lord Jesus Christ, (the High Priest of the New Testament) to the Eternal Father for the expiation of the sins of men. On the first Maundy Thursday, Christ at supper with the twelve apostles said in Luke 22:15 “...With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you, before I suffer”. Now, the Passover, which was the seal of the Lord's covenant in the blood of 'lambs' was a perpetual event (held once every year) as instructed by Almighty God in Exodus 12:25-27. Recall also the words of John the Baptist in John 1:29 where he says of Jesus “...behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This was a prophecy and teaching by the greatest among the prophets as confirmed by Jesus Himself (Luke 7:28).

That Jesus Christ came into the world to be the sacrificial lamb for the expiation of the sins of men is foretold in the Old Testament, mostly in Isaiah 53. In the Old Testament, Almighty God had always demanded a fitting sacrifice; a male lamb without blemish, even a young male goat. These were all types of the one perfect and everlasting sacrifice, who was to be Christ Himself immolated on the altar of the cross. This sacrifice could only be offered by Christ as He says in John 10:18 “… No man takes it [my life] away from me: but I lay it down of myself. And I have power to lay it down: and I have power to take it up again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” This is why the Catholic Church teaches that the priest stands in persona Christi at the point of consecration, and he is the visible presence of the invisible Christ. The priest leads the faithful into the Heavenly worship; he is the privileged gatekeeper who opens Heaven’s door for the faithful. This is why we recite with the Heavenly hosts the Angelic Trisagion: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3 and Rev 4:8), to the thrice holy God.

St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews teaches the Theology of the Mass from chapter 6 to 9. In chapter 9:22, he says “there can be no remission of sins without the shedding of blood”. In the Mass, we meet Our Lord Jesus Christ both as the victim sacrificed and as the high priest of the New Testament. As the high priest, He has no need of a sin offering for Himself (Heb. 7:26) for He is holy and sinless. One question that has always been a stumbling block for a number of people can be summed up by the following verses:

1 Peter 3:18: Because Christ also died once for our sins, the just for the unjust: that he might offer us to God, being put to death indeed in the flesh, but enlivened in the spirit.

Hebrews 10:11: Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.

John 19:30:It is finished.

These verses do not contradict the Theology of the Mass in the least. Catholics believe as attested by St Peter at the court of the princes and high priest of the Sanhedrin, “… there is no other name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There is one and only saving death and only one name by which we must be saved. Let us remember that Almighty God, the creator of time and space is not bound by the laws of time and space, He lives always in the present, with Him one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4). The sacrifice of Christ on the cross remains present to Almighty God, and stands as an everlasting offering and to us the Lord thus says “… do this in remembrance of me”. (1 Cor 11:24; Luke 22:19)

The twelve and the early Christians understood this as described in Acts 2:42 & 46 as they “… persevere[d] in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread [daily] and in the prayers”. In 1 Cor. 11:20, St Paul emphasises remembering the Lord’s death until he returns. In the writings of the early Christians and converts to the ‘new way’ such as Justin Martyr wrote about the centrality of the breaking of the bread. This is an everlasting sacrifice as is reflected in the Eucharistic prayers “From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name” which is a citation from Psalm 113. It is of this sacrifice that the Spirit of the Lord would say through Malachi 1:10-11:

I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts: and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For 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, says the Lord of hosts.

What is offered in the Catholic Churches daily from the rising of the sun to its setting is the pure and perfect oblation of the perfect redeemer of mankind. We do not repeat the sacrifice but rather enter into that same sacrifice mystically whereupon we are transported in spirit to Calvary, the hill of the saints. As the consecrated and broken body of Christ is elevated at the altar, so we remember the elevation of the perfect redeemer. It is here that He, the greater lover of His creation shouts to His Eternal Father amidst the gathered souls “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

This is the greatest love story ever told, the King of kings who offers His life to save His helpless subjects. With Christ, we witness a reversal of the rules of chess, where the king rushes into battle to save the pony, the queen and other less valuable pieces than himself. We also witness one of the greatest calling to faith. Here He says, “this is my flesh, and this is my blood”, the apostles could see that even after He said so these things remained bread and wine but they believed Him. The same Word who once uttered, “Let there be light”, now here says, “this is my flesh”. It took a great act of faith then to believe and still does to this day. In John 6:53 when this declaration was made, a number of His followers left Him (Jn 6:60) and He never altered the meaning and implication.

A number of clergy and lay alike have moved away from believing the real presence and favouring rather a symbolic meaning. This has led to serious abuses and sacrilegious acts of denial of a decreed teaching. We live in a time where all the heresies of yesteryear have all converged with the greatest attack aimed at the Holy Eucharist, the Bible and the Catholic Church. Recall, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi; how you believe is how you worship and how you live. Is it any wonder people come to Mass adorning the most outrageous outfits, the very utmost of immodesty much against the teaching of Our Lady of Fatima? The Mass is indeed the banquet of the lamb to which we are invited, however, the banquet follows the sacrifice. This is the greatest act of worship where it has been said of the Mass:

It is easier for the earth to exist without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” ~ Padre Pio

It is, the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven. It came forth out of the grand mind of the Church and lifted us out of the earth and out of self, and wrapped us round in a cloud of mystical sweetness and the sublimities of a more than angelic liturgy, and purified us almost without ourselves, and charmed us with celestial charming so that our very senses seemed to find vision, hearing, fragrance, taste and touch more than ear can give.” ~ Fr Frederick Faber

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