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A living sacrifice

The Mass is the source for living and becoming the saints we are all called to be

By Bishop Richard F. Stika

“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  — Romans 12:1

Striving for holiness. Each November when the Church celebrates all the saints and prays for all souls, I am reminded of the words of the zealous Catholic apologist Léon Bloy (1846-1917): “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Lest we become discouraged, St. Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta) reminds us that “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.” And I would add, saints are those who strive to live their Mass every day.

The Mass we must live. Have you ever thought of your life as a lifelong Mass? It began on the day of your baptism when you became a “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16) and began a new life in Christ, sharing in His mission as priest, prophet, and king. Of the temple built of stone, God said to Solomon, “I have chosen this place for my house of sacrifice.” Of the temple of the baptized, St. Peter says, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Truly, then, are the words of Jesus addressed to each of us: “In your house I shall celebrate the Passover” (Matthew 26:18).

A living sacrifice. If we are “baptized into one body” and are “temples of God” (1 Corinthians 12:13; 3:16), and share in Christ’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), then the Mass is not just something we participate in once a week, but something that must be lived every day as a “living sacrifice in Christ” (from Eucharistic Prayer IV). And to be such, we must “live the offertory” and continue to invoke the Holy Spirit in all that we do so that His creative and renewing action can bring Christ into the world through us. This is why St. Paul urges us, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” (Colossians 3:23). This is how we live the Mass of our heart.

Living the offertory. Christ Jesus is both priest and victim—the One who “offers” and is “offered” in every Mass. But He does not want to do so without us. Very simply, “Christ died for our sins to make of us an offering to God” (from the Liturgy of the Hours). We, too, then must “offer” and be “offered” through [Christ], and with Him, and in Him as a sacrifice most pleasing and acceptable to God. Jesus wants to join our poor offering to His perfect offering—to His sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, atonement for our sins, and petition to the Father. Consider this offertory prayer of the Mass:

Accept, O Lord, the offerings we have brought…, so that the oblation of your faithful may be transformed into the sacrifice of Him who willed in His compassion to wash away the sins of the world… (Feast of the Baptism of the Lord).

Spiritual sacrifices. What God said to the Israelites regarding the offering they were to bring to the Temple applies also to our participation in the Mass: “No one shall appear before the Lord empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15). And these are the “spiritual sacrifices” representing our joys and disappointments, our crosses and sufferings, our vocations and labors, our prayers and desires. As expressed by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical on the Sacred Liturgy:

Let the souls of Christians be like altars on each one of which a different phase of the sacrifice, offered by the high priest, comes to life again, as it were: pains and tears which wipe away and expiate sin; supplication to God which pierces heaven; dedication and even immolation of oneself made promptly, generously, and earnestly; and, finally, that intimate union by which we commit ourselves and all we have to God, in whom we find our rest. “The perfection of religion is to imitate whom you adore” (Mediator Dei, 152).

Invoking the Holy Spirit. In the Mass of our heart there must also be an “epiclesis”—literally a “calling down” of the Holy Spirit. In the Mass, it is that central moment of invocation when the ordained priest asks the Father to send His Spirit upon the offerings on the altar “that they may become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.” But in the Mass we strive to live, we must continue to invoke the Holy Spirit in all we do. For as Father Jean Corbon points out, “It is in the epiclesis of the heart that all Christian holiness is determined.” How resolved we must be, then, to make a total offering of our self in every Mass, for “the Spirit will transform only what we offer to Him” (The Wellspring of Worship, 212).

The fire of the Spirit. As God warned the Israelites not to let the fire upon the altar go out, so, too, we must desire to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning continuously upon our heart’s altar (cf. Leviticus 6:5). We must always guard against the selfishness of sin and heed St. Paul’s warning: “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The “other” altars. St. John Chrysostom tells of a beautiful way that we can invoke the Holy Spirit upon the altar of our heart, as well as upon all the “other” altars about us that we should offer ourselves upon:

Just as the priest stands at the altar and calls down the Holy Spirit, you also may call down the divine Spirit, not indeed by words, but by works. For nothing so maintains and inflames the fire of the Spirit as does the oil of mercy, when it is plenteously poured out…. Therefore, when you behold a poor person, believe that you see an altar of sacrifice.”

Being a Christ-bearer to others. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “He who does not give God gives too little.” To truly live our Mass, we must strive to die to our self upon the altar of our heart so as to be transformed more and more by the Holy Spirit into the One we seek to give to others. We, then, who have received Christ in Holy Communion must go out into the world, and from the “pyx” of our heart, like that which contains the consecrated hosts, give Christ to others in all that we do. And from such do saints become.

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