Sacrifice and Sacrament

The Mass is Christ’s perfect sacrifice of adoration, thanksgiving, atonement, and petition

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

Purpose is what gives personal meaning to any endeavor and helps to creatively form and direct our heart’s energy. Without it, things become confused, and we lose enthusiasm and commitment. So it is sad that more Catholics do not understand the purpose of the Mass. Too many, perhaps, are those who come to Mass with no other intention than to ask for God’s help and to receive Jesus in holy Communion.

But if the Eucharist is a sacrament that we receive, it is first a sacrifice that must be offered — Christ’s sacrifice that He longs for us to offer “through Him, with Him, and in Him” to the Father. This is the purpose of the Mass.

The Mass is a sacrifice — Christ’s perfect sacrifice of ado-ration, thanksgiving, atonement, and petition offered to the Father. Jesus is both the High Priest who offers and the Victim who is offered in every Mass. And because He accomplished for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves, He wants us to share in His priestly sacrifice. The reason is because, as Christ is “a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:17, 21), we share in His priesthood by virtue of our baptism as members of His Mystical Body. Great, then, is our dignity as a priestly people who are called to share in Christ’s sacrificial offering to the Father.

The purpose of the Mass is joyfully expressed in the verses of the “Gloria” that we recite or sing on Sundays (outside of the seasons of Advent and Lent) and solemnities. In this hymn of great joy, which the angels continue to lead us in proclaiming, we are reminded of the fourfold purpose for which Christ offered Himself upon the Cross.

Adoration

“Glory to God in the highest. … We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you …”

Adoration is the glory we give to God in response to the great gift of His love for us — it is our response to God who created us in His image, who calls us to communion and to know ourselves in Him. But because of our sinfulness, we are unable to offer God the praise and glory that is His due. Only Christ as true Man has offered God a perfect sacrifice of adoration pleasing and acceptable to Him. It is His perfect sacrifice that Jesus desires to unite our offering to. But we must come to Mass with the intention of offering our entire self, nothing less.

One additional thought. The prophet Daniel’s beautiful hymn of praise (Daniel 3:52-88) that the Church prays on Sun-days and solemnities in the Liturgy of the Hours reminds us that as a priestly people we should also give all of creation its voice of praise to God in our worship of Him.

Thanksgiving

“We give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.”

The very word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. And as Christ began the Last Supper by giving thanks to the Father, so, too, in the preface that precedes the Eucharistic Prayer we are invited to give thanks. A dialogue between the celebrant and the faithful and the preface that follows serve to prepare us for Christ’s perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving:

“Lift up your hearts! / We lift them up to the Lord / Let us give thanks to the Lord our God / It is right and just.”

The preface that the celebrant then prays generally begins with words such as:

“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, Holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord” (Preface I of the Sundays in Ordinary Time).

Because it is Christ who thanks God on our behalf, there is no greater act of thanksgiving we can offer than in the Mass. And to better live our Mass, we must strive to offer constant thanks to God throughout our day, for all our blessings, crosses, and sufferings, and in every sacrifice we are called to make.

Atonement

“Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

In every Mass, Jesus gives Himself to us in the most in-credible way — He wants to offer Himself to the Father through us! As the sacrificial Lamb of atonement for our sins, “Our Lord,” Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen says, “is the Priest and the Victim — between our sins and His glory, He interposes His eternal sacrifice.” But he further reminds us of what we must do:

“It is not Jesus alone who ought to love the Father and atone. It is ALL OF US. When Jesus died, it was to merit for us the strength to love with Him and to make reparation with Him. Now that is the very thing we forget! [We] leave Jesus to love and to make reparation all alone. Thus [we] render useless, inoperative, Christ’s reparation and love.”

Petition

“Lord Jesus Christ … receive our prayer.”

As our great High Priest, Christ “lives forever to make intercession for [us]” (Hebrews 7:25). The Mass, as a sacrifice of petition, is the prayer of Christ, who intercedes on our behalf by presenting to the Father all the merits of His most painful sacrifice upon the Cross for the love of us. Don’t be the person who comes to Mass and only asks God for help without the intention of first participating in Christ’s sacrifice of adoration, thanksgiving, and atonement.

The Mass is not simply a partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Most importantly, it is a sharing in His sacrificial offering to the Father. If we are invited to receive Jesus Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament, it is because He first invited us to participate in His sacrificial offering. By receiving Christ sacramentally, He nourishes and strengthens us with His life and merciful love so that we might better live our Mass in the week before us as a living sacrifice of love to God and to neighbor.

The most fitting conclusion we can end with is the beautiful prayer of Pope St. Pius X that I hope you will make a part of your preparation for every Mass and as a daily help in living your Mass every day:

Eternal Father, I unite myself with the intentions and affections of Our Lady of Sorrows on Mount Calvary, and I offer to You the sacrifice that your beloved Son Jesus made of Himself upon the cross, and now renews upon this holy Altar:

to adore You and give You the honor that is due to You, confessing Your supreme dominion over all things, and the absolute dependence of everything upon You, who are our sole and our last end;

to thank You for the countless benefits that I have received;

to appease your justice, aroused against us by so many sins, and to make satisfaction for them;

to implore grace and mercy for myself, for (Name), for all afflicted and sorrowing, for poor sinners, for all the world, and for the holy souls in purgatory. Amen.

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