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The Holy Eucharist as Sacrifice Sacrament
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion, body blood soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Sacrament of confession, these are but a few of the words and phrases once on the tongue of every professed Catholic. Now ignored in far too many pulpits, and at times even ridiculed. But not to worry. In this presentation on The Eucharist as Sacrifice Sacrament, centuries old tried and true words and phrases will not only be used but also clearly explained. Listen attentively, quote frequently. They will help you be a channel of grace to bring wayward souls back to the faith. Fr. Hardon:
Good evening. Suppose we start with a prayer. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our present conference is on the Sacrifice Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. The language may seem a bit strange. It was, however, our present Holy Father who distinguished the Holy Eucharist as a sacrament three times over. The Holy Eucharist is a present sacrament, a communion sacrament, and a sacrifice sacrament. One reason for this conference is to clarify what Im afraid in many Catholics minds is obscured. The Sacrifice of the Mass is a sacrament and, indeed, the principle channel of grace that we have in this world. I would like to first quote at some length from the defined teaching of the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century. As we know, what is popularly known but mistakenly called the Protestant Reformation was really the Protestant Revolution. Just about every fundamental truth of the Catholic faith was either openly denied or deeply obscured by the so-called reformers. As a result the Council of Trent, meeting from 1546 to 1563 issued literally a book full of definitions on the Catholic Faith. I would like to quote the principle definitions of the Council of Trent relative to the Mass. Each definition begins with an if. If anyone holds this or if anyone says that, let him be anathema. In other words, that person is not teaching the truth.
Council of Trent Definitions Relative to the Mass
First definition: If anyone says that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God or that the sacrificial offering consists merely in the fact that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema. First definition. If anyone says that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God or that the sacrificial offering consists merely in the fact that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema.
Second definition: If anyone says that by the words, Do this in commemoration of Me, Christ did not make the apostles priests or he did not command that they and the priests who follow them should offer Christs Body and Blood once more, let him be anathema. What are we being told? We are being told that Christ ordained the Apostles priests, enabling them to offer Mass. Every priest in the world derives his priestly power of offering Mass back over the centuries to Holy Thursday night at the Last Supper.
We continue: If anyone says that the Sacrifice of the Mass is merely an offering of prayers and a thanksgiving, or that it is a simple memorial of the sacrifice which Christ offered on the cross and does not teach that the Mass is propitiatory, anyone who claims that the Mass should not be offered for the living and the dead, anyone who claims that the Mass should not be offered to obtain remission of sins, to obtain satisfaction from God, once more, let him be anathema.
Unfortunately, these defined statements of infallible doctrine are not being, what a safe statement, are not being circulated or published or taught widely in nominally Catholic circles today. And, if you look at the weekly parish bulletins in one diocese after another, you will notice that very few refer to the Eucharist as the Mass. It is given many titles, like the liturgy, like the Eucharist, but to be a Catholic means to believe that Christ instituted the sacrifice of the Mass. So what is the Council of Trent solemnly teaching us? We are being told that the sacrifice of the Mass is a true sacrifice in which Jesus really, truly, offers himself to his heavenly Father, no less than he did on the cross. What are we saying? We are affirming with the infallible Church that the Mass is a true sacrifice. Why? Because the same Jesus really present on the altar through the words of the priests consecration is in the Mass. It is the same identical priest who died on Calvary, who now offers the same victim, namely himself. Christ offers himself no less now than he offered himself at the Last Supper. Christ ordained his Apostles priests when he told them as we said before, Do this in remembrance of me. At the Last Supper, Jesus did more than merely change bread and wine into his own living, human self. At the Last Supper he began the Mass, the first one, which was completed on Good Friday the moment Christ expired. In the Mass is the same identical Jesus, as weve said before and reemphasize now, Christ can no longer die. Christ can no longer shed his own blood, but the heart of sacrifice is in the will. When God became man, the main reason he became man was to assume a human will so that on the cross he could offer himself in sacrifice, offer himself as a man who faith tells us, was the living God.
Very well. It is the same Jesus now present on the altar and he has, therefore, not just a human body and human blood, he has a human will. If he could die, he would, in every Mass that is offered. We know what a sacrament is. A sacrament is something that Christ instituted that externally, visibly, signifies what is effected internally, what is done externally. There are two consecrations. First of the bread and then of the wine. Why the double consecration? To signify that just as on the cross on Calvary, Christ drained his blood from his living body and thus died. So the double consecration is a sign, the index if you wish, the manifestation, of Christs willingness to die again if he could. But the willingness to die is there. Why? Because it is a real man who is true God who offers himself every time that Mass is offered to his heavenly Father.
The Sacrifice of the Mass Confers Graces
We go on. I cannot stress too strongly or emphasize too clearly, that we are only as educated Catholics as we understand the Mass. We say the Mass is a sacrament sacrifice. What do we mean? By definition every sacrament confers the graces which it signifies. What is signified in every Mass? What is signified is Christs readiness to die, die over and over again, but we said a sacrament confers grace. What kind of grace does the Holy Eucharist as the sacrifice sacrament confer? It confers the grace we need and, dear Lord how desperately we need this grace, to live lives of constant readiness to do Gods will. What is the grace that we receive from the sacrifice of the Mass? It is the grace to imitate Christ not only in the practice of his virtues, but also and with emphasis, that we might imitate Christ in his death. We die bodily only once, but we are to die frequently, often, every time that Gods will places a demand on our will. We are to die to ourselves, die by sacrificing our wills to the will of God. And where do we obtain the strength to live lives of sacrifice. The principle source of these graces is the sacrifice of the Mass.
Let me be clearer because so much depends on our understanding the sacrifice sacrament of the Eucharist. Question. Did Jesus redeem the world when he died on the first Good Friday? The answer is an emphatic yes. Christ did redeem the world. What did he do by his death on Calvary? He won the graces that the world needs to be saved. He merited these graces. He gained these graces. But these graces have to be communicated and the principle channel for communicating the graces that Christ won for us on Calvary, I repeat, the principle channel of those graces, is the sacrifice of the Mass. How we need these graces! We need the grace of repenting down deep interiorly in our hearts. We need the grace of enlightenment so that our minds see that the only real tragedy on earth is human beings committing sin.
What other grace do we receive from the sacrifice of the Mass? The grace of strengthening our wills to do what God wants us to do and avoid what he does not want us to do. What grace do we receive from the sacrifice of the Mass? The grace of obtaining grace for others, especially the grace of conversion for hardened sinners, and the grace of conversion to the true faith of those millions who have never even heard the names of Jesus and Mary. What graces does the sacrament sacrifice of the Mass give us? The grace of inspiring and enabling us to sacrifice ourselves constantly out of love for God. Let me be clear. Through the sacrifice sacrament of the Mass, we not only obtain grace, grace to avoid sin, we obtain grace to go beyond the call of duty. In other words, the grace to not just obey Gods commandments, but to give God what we are not bound under sin to do. In other words, we need the grace of generosity. All of this is locked up in the sacrifice sacrament of the Mass as defined by the Council of Trent in the Sixteenth Century.
Our second reflection. This time on the teaching of Pope Pius XII about the sacrifice of the Mass. Remember we quoted at length from the Council of Trent. For the obvious reason that that council taught us so much about what we believe as Catholics, what the Mass really is. But now we turn to Pope Pius XII and what he teaches us about the sacrifice of the Mass. Not unlike what happened in the Sixteenth Century, in our century, many nominal Catholics either have abandoned their faith entirely, or are struggling to remain believing Catholics. Pius XII repeatedly declared that Catholics in this century must deepen their understanding of the Mass. In fact, said the Pontiff, Pius XII, the Catholic faith depends, especially in the Western world, on Catholics understanding the sacrifice of the Mass. Let me tell you, there is such massive confusion, such a deluge of errors, now circulating in nominally Catholic circles, that the future survival of one diocese after another in our country depends on, and I know exactly what Im saying, depends on Catholics understanding the Holy Eucharist. And, hear, understanding the Eucharist as the sacrifice sacrament of the Mass.
What did Pope Pius XII declare? I quote, Christ built on Calvary a purifying and saving reservoir which he filled with the blood he poured forth, but if people do not immerse themselves in the waves of His Blood, and do not, therefore, cleanse themselves of the stains of their sins, they cannot be saved. What are we being told? We are being told that the Mass is a sacrament. It means that we need the graces that Christ now confers, which Christ now gives, which Christ now channels, especially through the sacrifice of the Mass. Let us be very clear. We are not Protestants. We are Roman Catholics. Of course we believe that the world was redeemed by Christs death on Calvary. But as Catholics we further understand that Christs death on the cross, let me repeat the verb, gained, merited, the treasure of graces that we need to be saved. But these graces must be obtained and the principle source for obtaining these graces that Christ gained for us on the first Good Friday, the principle means by which these graces are received now by us, is the sacrifice of the Mass. How thrilled I am to tell you that not a few of my Jesuit brothers over the centuries have been martyred killed, while offering Mass. Why, because as those who murdered them were saying, these priests are blaspheming. They are in effect telling the people that Christs death on the Calvary did not redeem the world. Thats a lie. We do believe with our whole mind and heart that Christ redeemed us by his death on Calvary. But wed better understand what that means. Christs death on Calvary gained, earned the treasury of graces that we need, but Christ continues to offer himself now in an unbloody manner in order to do what? To confer, to communicate, to give us a share in those marvelous graces that cost Jesus his blood on the cross. These graces are especially those that have to do with sin. As we know, every sin always has two effects. Every sin deprives the sinner of more or less grace, which in theological language is guilt, which has nothing to do with the emotion of fearing. Guilt is the loss of grace. Secondly, every sin incurs a debt of suffering. The sacrifice of the Mass is the principle channel for both blessings, both the means of restoring the grace that has been lost by our sins, and secondly, the blessing of having the sufferings that others and we have incurred as debts to be paid to God for having sinned. The Mass, therefore, is the principle source of both obtaining a restoration of the graces lost by sin, and the principle way in which we can obtain a mitigation, a lessening, even the removal of the debt of pain weve incurred by offending God.
As we shall see much more clearly in future conferences, it is not enough to believe intellectually in the Mass. It is not enough to attend Mass or even participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. We will benefit only as much from the graces of the sacrament sacrifice of the Mass as we mirror the image of the life of Christ in our lives. His life was one long sacrifice in the total surrender of his human will to his father. What then, do we mainly look forward to obtaining from the Mass? Mainly the graces we so desperately need to follow in Christs footsteps and live lives of sacrifice.
How Should We Pray the Mass?
We have one more part to finish in this conference meditation. Answer the question, how should we pray the Mass. As we have said so far, the Mass is the single most effective source of grace that we have on earth. However, our dispositions in assisting at Mass, in hearing Mass, profoundly affect the measure of grace we receive, and no two people receive the same measure of grace from the Mass, which they either attend or participate in or have offered for their intentions. How, then, are we to pray the Mass in order to maximize the graces that Christ wants to confer on us through the Mass? First way: Understand the Mass. Whatever else the Mass is, it is what a safe statement, a vocal prayer. Every word of the Mass is vocalized. Most of the words are spoken out loud. During the Mass itself we cannot engage in a protracted meditation on the meaning of the Mass while assisting at Mass. That is why especially in teaching priests and priests to-be, Ive told them, meditate on the Mass. Read about the Mass. Ask our Lord to enlighten you so you more deeply and clearly understand what the Mass really is. Because then when we assist at Mass, the more deeply and clearly our minds understand the meaning of the Mass. The more grace we obtain from every Mass that we participate in or, indeed, the more grace we obtain from the tens of thousands of Masses that are being offered every day throughout the world. I cannot overemphasize the importance of understanding the Mass, but I must immediately add, be sure that the sources you read or the persons you listen to are authentically and unqualifyingly Catholic. I have no doubt about the figures carefully chiseled. It is estimated that in the United States since the close of the second Vatican Council, attendance at Mass in our country has dropped by 75%. Only one comment you can make. My God! That is one reason why I published the Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan identifying orthodox, authentically Catholic authors over the 2000 years of Christian history. I cannot tell you how important it is to know what books you cannot only safely read, but that by reading you more deeply understand your faith and the sacrifice of the Mass.
Second way of obtaining more grace from the sacrifice of the Mass that we participate in. You may be surprised by my recommendation. Plan the Mass. If the Mass is, as we believe it is, the important action that faith tells us it really is, we should plan for it. It is common knowledge and the fruit of experience that we plan for things according to how important we think they are. The more importance we attach to something, the more carefully we plan for that experience. There is nothing on earth, and this is a totally orthodox statement. There is nothing on earth that is more precious, more valuable, that should be more important in our lives than participating in the sacrifice of the Mass. That is why over the years Ive recommended to the lay people to have what we call an ordo. An ordo is an annual listing of all the days of the ecclesiastical year. For each day there is listed what readings are to be used at the Mass, what level of dignity is that particular day, what saints are commemorated, what mystery of the faith is to be specially recalled at Mass for that day. In other words, we should anticipate the Masses that we attend. We should have specific intentions for which we assist at Mass, and the more specific we are the more grace we obtain from the Masses that we participate in. Over the years, now my 50th year in the priesthood, over these years, by now I must have told several thousand people, to make a daily meditation which I call thinking in the presence of God. What better subject to meditate on than the scripture readings for that day? The more effort we expend in preparing for Mass the more grace we receive from both the Masses we attend, and from all the Masses that are being offered throughout the world. How many people, if they just realized, how precious is the Mass, how many people would assist at Mass, I dont just say more often, but even every day. Weve said this before, I repeat it now, in the early Church, which we call the Age of Martyrs, Catholics assisted at Mass and received Holy Communion every day. Let us have no doubt, if those first three centuries of Christian history were the Age of Martyrs, believe me, we are now living in THE age of Martyrs. The principal source of the grace we need, hear it, to live a martyrs life in todays paganized culture and among us Americans the most, shall I say it, the most homicidal nation in the world.
Finally, how to gain more grace from the Masses that we participate in. Be attentive during Mass. The degree of participation in the new liturgy is such that most people are almost necessarily kept alert during the offering of the Mass. In fact, this is one of the reasons for the vernacular and for the responses in which the people now as a community answer invocations by the priest who says the Mass. In other words, one reason why Pope Paul VI legislated the vernacular in the liturgy, especially the Eucharistic liturgy, was that people might be present at Mass not just physically, but might be present spiritually, and participate actively. You know and I know in how many places, sadly, there are such abuses of the Eucharistic liturgy, and I mark my words, as would make the angels weep. Dare I say this, we should be selective in what Masses we participate in so that we can, as we should be, spiritually alert during the Holy Sacrifice and participate with our minds and wills with Christs offering himself to his heavenly father.
There is one more important observation, an observation I should make regarding the Mass. The human race was redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. But unlike Calvary, the sacrifice of the Mass is not only Christ offering himself to his heavenly father, NO, the Mass is also our sacrifice. IN other words, this is one fundamental difference between the sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass. On Calvary it was Jesus, Jesus alone who offered himself to his heavenly father. But the moment Christ died on the cross, at that moment the Church that he founded came into existence. The church was born the moment Christ died. Consequently, since Calvary the sacrifice of the Mass is indeed Christs offering himself in an unbloody manner in the Mass, but unlike Calvary, the sacrifice of the Mass is both Christ offering himself and we offering ourselves in Union with Jesus Christ. What are we saying? We obtain the grace of self-surrender to the will of God. This is the principle grace that the sacrifice of the Mass confers, but we must put this grace to use. In other words, the sacrifices of the Mass that we have attended over the years that are now being offered throughout the world are giving us all the graces we need to surrender ourselves. But lets be honest. We must do our part. Thats the meaning of those mysterious words of St. Paul, that we are to make up what is wanting in the sacrifice of Christ. How dare St. Paul use that language? Did not Christ redeem the world by his death on the cross? YES, but hear it, he redeemed the world conditionally. Whats the condition? Our cooperating with the graces that Christ so painfully won for us by his death on Calvary. In other words, we must surrender our wills to the will of God. The measure of our self-surrender to the divine will is the measure of how much we profit from the Masses we attend and from the sacrifices of the Masses that are being offered throughout the world.
The official Latin of the liturgy, when a priest turns to the people to say, what we called in Latin, Orate fratres, the Latin says, remember the priest turns around to the people, or if he is saying the Mass facing the people, the Latin says, Pray brothers that my sacrifice and yours may be pleasing to God, the father almighty. I have to say this, our English translation, and thats not the only passage, is a mis-translation. The priest in the name of Christ brings Jesus down on the altar and he thus offers the sacrifice of the Mass, but we are to join Jesus Christ in offering ourselves with him and through him to the heavenly father. In other words, the sacrifice of the Mass will be only as fruitful for our souls only as beneficial for our spiritual lives as we put the graces gained from the Mass into practice. Which means what? By surrendering our wills I dont say every day, I will say all day. We live the Mass in the measure in which we join Jesus Christ. He offered himself completely to his heavenly father by his death on the cross. And he gives us the strength we need through the sacrifice of the Mass to surrender ourselves, like him, with him, for him, and even from him. In other words, we are to live the Mass by dying to ourselves out of love for Jesus Christ who died on Calvary out of love for us.
I have a closing prayer. Mary, Mother of our Redeemer, obtain for us something of the generous surrender of will which you made as you stood under the cross on Calvary. Help us to put into practice the words you spoke at Nazareth when you conceived your divine son. Let the motto of our lives be, be it done to me according to your word. Amen.
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