Giving to God and neighbor

To truly ‘live our Mass,’ it must be the fruit of our offering to God that we share with others

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

“How blessed the people who know your praise…, who find their joy every day in your name, who make your justice their joyful acclaim” — Psalm 89:16,17.

So many and diverse are the cries for justice today that one hardly knows what to make of all the upheaval and strife and the causes and politics that cry out for it. But true justice is not a movement or a program but a person — Jesus, the only Just One! And nowhere will you find justice in its fullest and truest measure other than in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Church defines justice as the giving of one’s due to both God and to neighbor (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1807). Justice, then, consists of two essential dimensions — the vertical dimension of giving to God what is due to Him (what is called the virtue of religion) and the horizontal dimension of giving our due to our neighbor. Beautifully, where these two dimensions intersect, we have Christ, our Eucharistic Lord and Savior.

Only Jesus, in His humanity, has fully satisfied the demands of justice in both dimensions, doing for us what we could not possibly do ourselves. He offered the Father the total gift of His life as a perfect sacrifice of adoration and thanksgiving. He offered a perfect sacrifice of atonement, bringing all our sins to the cross and satisfying divine justice and reconciling us to God. And because Jesus’ sacrifice was pleasing and acceptable to the Father, “He is always able to save those who approach God through Him, since He lives forever to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25).

This is the very purpose of the Mass — to adore God, to praise and thank Him, to make reparation for our sins, and to implore grace and mercy for ourselves, our loved ones, for the poor and needy, for the conversion of sinners, and for the holy souls in purgatory. But we cannot do this without Jesus, for He reminds us, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). And it is the fruit of our communion with Him that we are to share in the horizontal dimension in giving our neighbors their due.

Because Jesus did for us what we cannot not do for ourselves, the Mass is a participation in His self-giving. This is why He instituted the Eucharist and gave it to the Church — so that the sacrifice He offered through His Passion and cross might be ours to offer. And in doing so, we draw upon the treasure of Christ’s Passion and cross!

Here it is important to note that there is only ONE Mass that is celebrated. The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same sacrifice. Christ’s bloody sacrifice upon the cross occurred once in time. However, because Jesus is true God and true Man, His sacrifice is an eternal offering and is ever celebrated in the heavenly liturgy, of which our earthly liturgy is a participation. As Jesus is both the eternal Priest and the eternal Victim, it is He who offers and is offered upon the altar in every Mass, though in an unbloodied manner.

Christ does not offer Himself alone, though. Because, by virtue of our baptism, we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, the action of Christ in the liturgy is the action of the whole Christ—Head and Body! Ours is not a passive part in the Mass — there is something very specific we must do. For the Mass is the offering of Jesus through us, and He wants us to be His co-offerers.

We must come to every Mass with the intention of offering ourselves with Jesus, bringing all that we are, all of our life, our labors, joys, and sorrows — everything! When we do so, something incredible happens during the consecration. Christ takes what we offer, as poor and unworthy as it is in the sight of God, and sprinkles His Precious Blood upon it and joins it to His perfect sacrifice. And after the consecration, we hear those beautiful words of the Eucharistic Prayer, such as the following:

Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation. Be pleased to look upon these offerings … and to accept them … (from Eucharistic Prayer I).

We began by offering ourselves, and now we offer ourselves through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ! Christ invited us to offer ourselves with Him, and in receiving Him in holy Communion, we are sent to be His leaven in the world about us. For it is the fruit of communion with God in the vertical dimension that we must be bearers of to our neighbor.

More than ever, the world needs the justice of the Just One — Christ Jesus. One has only to look at secular society today to see how sadly true the words of Pope Benedict XVI are:

Wherever communion with God, which is communion with the Father, the Son, and with the Holy Spirit, is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another is destroyed (Sacrament of Charity, 76).

The Mass and the Eucharist have always been the source from which the saints have drawn in order to give not only of themselves, but of God. For as Pope Benedict XVI says, “He who does not give God gives too little — we always give too little when we give just material things.”

For the works of mercy, corporal and spiritual, must be paired if we are to truly give of God and ourselves. For there is a need for bread and the Bread of Life; for water and Living Water; for clothing and to be clothed in Christ; for shelter and the Father’s House; for comfort and for God’s mercy; for hope and Eternal Hope; and prayers for the living and for the souls in purgatory. We offer to God first, so that what we give to our neighbor may feed their many hungers.

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