The Eucharist as sacrifice

| Father Michael Van Sloun | May 14, 2019 | 0 Comments
Lamb of God

iStock/Jorisvo

The Eucharist, in addition to being a meal, is also a sacrifice. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29), and as the sacrificial lamb on the altar of the cross, he took upon himself the sins of us all (Is 53:6b). It was his supreme act of love because there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13), and he did this for us while we are still sinners (Rom 5:8). Jesus “loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering” (Eph 5:2).

At Mass during the consecration, when the priest says the Words of Institution, he uses the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” To “give up” meant that he would offer his body in sacrifice. Next, the priest says, “This is the chalice of my blood … which will be poured out for you.” The pouring out would be a blood sacrifice, and the purpose would be for the forgiveness of sins. “We are now justified by his blood” (Rom 5:9).

The celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass is not a reenactment of the sacrifice of the Cross, but rather “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The sacrifice cannot be repeated. Scripture says that Jesus “entered once for all into the sanctuary … with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). The key word is “once.” The sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross was perfect and complete, and there is nothing that can be done to add to it. The Mass is a memorial in which Christ is made present.

Eucharistic Prayer I connects three significant sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament with the sacrifice of Jesus, entreating the Father: “Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just; the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith; and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,” and then refers to his son Jesus as “a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.”

The blood sacrifice of Jesus is also connected to two other major Old Testament events. On the first Passover, the paschal lamb was sacrificed, its blood was smeared on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the blood saved the lives of the Hebrew people (Ex 12:21-23).
On Good Friday, Jesus, the innocent and unblemished lamb, was sacrificed, his blood was smeared on the wood of the cross, and his blood is life and salvation for all.

When Moses came down Mount Sinai and ratified the covenant, he ordered the sacrifice of young bulls, that the blood be collected in large bowls, and that half of the blood would be sprinkled on the altar, which represented God, and the other half sprinkled on the people. Moses explained: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you” (Ex 24:8). The blood that Jesus offered at the Last Supper and shed on the cross has sealed the new and eternal covenant.

The love of Jesus begs a response from us — love in response to love, sacrifice in response to sacrifice. St. Paul instructs us “to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).

When I was little, my mother taught me to make a morning offering, “O Lord, I offer to you all of my prayers, works, joys and sufferings.” I now add, “May all of my thoughts, words and deeds be pleasing to you.” The best sacrifice is to offer our lives to God, and to do so by loving and serving our neighbor, avoiding sin, offering prayers of praise and thanks, and, guided by the words of Jesus in the Gospel, living a good and virtuous life.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This column is part of an ongoing series on the Eucharist. Read more of his writing at CatholicHotdish.com.

Tags: , ,

Category: Faith Fundamentals