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What is Sacrifice?

Conference on Saints and Other Subjects

Series 129-048
8/3/1982 - 9/5/1982

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

In our present conference I thought we would address ourselves to the subject of the sacrifice of the Mass. There is no doubt that the most distinctive feature of the Catholic faith is our belief that although Christ died once on the Cross, He renews the sacrifice of Calvary every time that Mass is offered. It is only because we have the priesthood, that we have the Mass. But as by now we know why it requires a priest to change the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and no one else but a validly ordained priest can offer Mass.

The Mass is not only the Mass said by the priest, it is our Mass. And for the next half an hour I would like to suggest ways in which we can assist at Mass more profitably, benefit from all the Masses offered throughout the Catholic world more effectively, and in the process not only sanctify ourselves but help, which is the theme of today, the sanctification of priests.

Sometimes people wonder how it is possible for Christ Who is now immortal, glorified, Who can no longer suffer and die what possible meaning can the Mass as a sacrifice have? What do we mean when we say, in every Mass Jesus Christ offered Himself, body and blood, to His heavenly Father? Suppose we were to make a simple comparison.

My parents were born in present Slovakia; incidentally my mother was born a few miles from where the Holy Father’s mother was born. Mother and Dad never met until they both immigrated to America. I was born, just for the record, in the United States. Since 1948 the country in which my parents were born has been in the hands of the Communists. And of all countries in Europe where Communism is established, in Czechoslovakia the control is most absolute. And the freedom of the people is almost non-existent.

Suppose to bring out what I want to explain in this morning’s half hour conference. Suppose a teacher from a communist county like Slovakia were hailed to court and accused of not obeying the law by teaching Marxism. It is absolutely forbidden to teach Christianity. Suppose this young teacher admits, say to her guilt, “Yes, I broke the law. I taught the children about Jesus Christ.” And suppose the teacher were sentenced to death for disobeying the law. As you know the death penalty behind the Iron Curtain is very common.

Suppose, after having been condemned the night before the execution, the guilty teacher was acquitted, told to behave herself, and released. I’m going to ask you a question in a minute or so, so listen carefully. Suppose that teacher disobeyed the law seven successive times and finally after being hailed before the court for the seventh time for not teaching Marxism, but insisting on teaching Christianity, suppose this time having been condemned to death, the execution was carried out. My question, how many times did that teacher offer her life to God? Seven times. Are we clear?

I teach Theology, this is not Theology, for the sake of instruction. It’s to bring out the meaning of our faith. The essence of sacrifice is in the will. It is the willingness to lay down one’s life that constitutes the sacrifice of martyrdom. Now we come back to the Mass. We now reverse the process. Christ began by actually, physically, dying on Calvary shedding His Blood. And the Sisters on the premises to keep reminding them that they’re Handmaids of the Precious Blood wear, called a wine red or a blood red, habits. Wine, because it is wine that is consecrated at the Mass and the color of blood is red.

Christ tells us infallibly through His church, that every time Mass is offered like this morning, when that double consecration, that is a separate consecration of bread first then of wine, where that double consecration is performed, Christ tells us I am making an act of the will being willing and ready to sacrifice my life for you just as I did on Calvary. I can no longer die. But we said before, the essence of sacrifice is not in the death, are we clear? The essence of the sacrifice is in the will being ready to die. Suppose a priest consecrated only the bread? Would we have a Mass? Yes or No? Suppose he consecrated just the wine, would we have a Mass? No. (Hushed no’s from audience). In fact, if a priest did not even intend to consecrate first the bread and then the wine there would be no Mass.

The Mass is, therefore, a true sacrifice because there’s a real human being on the altar. You see God as God cannot offer a sacrifice. That’s why He became a human being. So He’d have a human will and with a human will to offer His human life to His Heavenly Father. On the altar we have a human being. That human being has a human will. With that human will He is offering himself now the sheep and us to his heavenly Father. He is now glorified. He can no longer die. He now has a body that can no longer suffer. We have a body in which we can suffer. His human soul, now glorified can no longer experience any disappointment, any sadness, any sorrow. We have a human soul. Can we experience sadness and sorrow and disappointment?

The difference between the Cross on Calvary and the Mass is not that there is a difference between the Christ who offers the sacrifice, same Jesus. The difference is that on the altar Christ is offering not just Himself, but also us. Remember about 45 minutes ago? Let’s make it an hour ago. After the Offertory I said to you what you hear at every Mass, “Pray brethren that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.” Could all of you say your response now? “Pray brethren that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.” Reply. “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His Name, for our good, and for the good of all of His Church.” OK, in other words the congregation joins in the sacrifice. Christ on Calvary has faith, as we said in the homily, gained for us all the graces that a thousand time’s a thousand words would need to be redeemed. But if you forget anything else I say, and I discover the longer I talk the less people remember. Try not to forget these. Christ on Calvary in offering His first Mass and you’re His Cross, and because He suffered willingly, He redeemed the world.

In the Mass we are to offer our Cross, our sufferings, our disappointments, our pain. I almost feel I’m boasting when I tell people when I had my heart surgery, today by the way is my first anniversary of my four way bypass in Chicago. Needless to say I’m happy to be here. It is my seventeenth hospitalization as a Jesuit. When I entered the Novitiate, in one month they put me in the hospital I thought they were gonna throw me out of the order. They want able body Jesuits. Well I managed to survive. There was great consolation in realizing that every trial the Lord sends us, every rejection, every favor, every cross is meant to be and I don’t use the adjective without deliberation, is meant to be a sweet gift from God. I sure hope I’m talking to people who understand this language.

In other words, we are not merely to attend Mass, which we do, or assist at Mass, which we’re supposed to or participate in the Mass, which again at least once a week is our Catholic duty. We are supposed to live the Mass. It is both that simple to express in words and my friends that hard to put into practice. Now we ask ourselves who are we to practice or live out this life of sacrifice which makes not only our assistance at Mass but our union with all the Masses and four hundred thousand a day offered throughout the Catholic world, fruitful, because remember, just because a Mass is offered and Christ becomes really present and really as far as He is concerned offers Himself willingly to His Heavenly Father. Hear this, the Mass is only as fruitful, it is only as effective as our lives, our lives of sacrifice. All right? That’s why I tell people without batting an eye; Christianity without the Cross is paganism. That’s what living our faith is all about. We are to live lives of sacrifice.

Now practically speaking, how do we do this? It’s really much more simple at least to express than it may seem. How does God give us the blessed opportunity to live the Mass all our lives? Two ways. God puts into our lives, things which we do not like. He sends us things, suffering, disappointment. That is one form of sacrifice. We naturally all like to be healthy, so leave it to God, He will send us sickness. And He’s positively ingenious in the types of pain He can send me. We all like to live a long life; none of us likes to die young. I’ve been giving the Sisters conferences on Jesuit saints. Our conference last night was on a saint who died at the age of 43. There are Saints; we’ve got 3 young Jesuit saints: age 18, 22 and 24. You don’t have to live long to become a Saint. I hate to say this, but I feel safe in saying one reason that God keeps some people longer on this earth than others, in order that they might have more chance to expiate their sins. All I know is it’s true in my case. Christ, therefore, will send us the opportunity for offering sacrifice. First of all by sending us ignoble eyes, things we don’t like. There are people who frankly we don’t appreciate. People who are gonna cause us all kinds of difficulty and trials in the same way God can and does put all kinds of pleasant things into our lives. Leave it to God. Mark my words. There is no creature in our lives, nothing that we like or enjoy or appreciate that God will not take away. All right? Leave it to God.

Those are the two kinds of sacrifice that He asks of us. Of sending us pain and of renewing pleasure. And between those two is the whole of human history. There is no other way that mankind have ever suffered. Now we come back. Everybody but everybody suffers. We enter the world crying, and unless we’re drugged in our last agony, we leave the world in a spasm of pain. Between birth and death, there is a certain amount of pleasure and enjoyment, but there is sure plenty of suffering. However, suffering in itself is not yet sacrifice. What makes suffering into sacrifice? It is our will. Am I making sense? We all have to suffer, that’s life. And whatever else I can beg you, do not run away from the Cross. First of all, that’s an illusion. We are not yet in heaven needless to say we are still in this valley of tears. I like that expression. Every once in a while we’d dry our tears, and then, another reason for the tears. The secret is to accept the suffering with our will. Our bodies may quiver our feelings may complain. Remember Christ in His agony in the garden, very human wasn’t it? But what did He say, that’s not my will but yours be done. To live this way is to live the sacrifice of the Mass.

We don’t have to go around looking for the Cross. I don’t think it’s wise even though some of the Saints specially inspired from on high may have done it. I don’t think it’s wise to ask God, “Lord, send me the Cross”. But they do pray and ask that God might give them the generosity out of love for Him and gratitude for all that He’s done for us and given to us. We ask all the strength like Our Lady to say “Be it done to me”, I like that prepositional phrase, “Be it done to me according to your word.” Keep saying, yes. Ask God for the strength never to say no and you will not only grow in union with God, obtain grace for yourselves and those whom you love.

But would you believe it, you will experience the only true joy on earth, the joy of enduring out of love, Jesus. Yet offer yourself thousands of times daily on our altars. Yet we something, of your total resignation to the will of God, in living the sacrifice of your Mass and mine. Until you call me to yourself for I will no longer have to suffer for you but enjoy you from all eternity. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Transcription of the Conference given on August 3 - Sept 5, 1982
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. to the Handmaids of the Precious Blood

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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