3rd Sunday of Advent 2015:
Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Lent. Also known as Pink Sunday. Today get’s its name from the entrance antiphon which begins: Rejoice. Truly we do rejoice, because our God comes to save us. Also, during this season of Advent we have been reflecting on the Mass. Today we will reflect a bit on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is the second major section of the Mass. This part of the mass culminates with our reception of Holy Communion, where we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. But, before we get to communion we have the Eucharistic prayer.
The Eucharistic prayer tells us everything there is know about the Liturgy of the Eucharist. If we pay special attention to the words used in the prayer we will see that the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a sacrifice. There are currently 4 major Eucharistic prayers, and there are several others that can be used in special circumstance. All of them contain the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: this is my body, this is my blood. And, all of them are filled with sacrificial language.
Take, for example, Eucharistic prayer III which is the one that I commonly use at the Sunday Mass. Just listen to some of these phrases: you never cease to gather a people to yourself so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name. After the consecration we hear: We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice. Look upon the oblation of your church, recognize the sacrificial victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself. May He make of us an eternal offering to you. May this sacrifice of our reconciliation advance the peace and salvation of the whole world.
So, the mass is a sacrifice. It’s important to know whose sacrifice it is. First and foremost, it is the sacrifice of Christ. I explain it like this: at every Mass the sacrifice of Christ is offered anew for the salvation of the world. Jesus is not killed at every Mass, but the one death of Christ is offered again, throughout history until Christ comes in glory. So every Mass is a new sacrifice, a new offering of the Cross of Jesus. So, the mass is the sacrifice of Christ. But, it’s also our sacrifice. We are the ones who get to offer the sacrifice of Christ at each Mass. I can tell you that offering this sacrifice with and for you is the greatest honor I have as being a priest.
The Mass is a sacrifice. Why is that so important? I would like to recommend to all of you a book by Scott Hahn called The Lamb’s Supper. In this book, Scott Hahn takes a look at the book of Revelation and examines it in light of the sacrifice of the Mass. It’s a great book for understanding Revelation, but the first 4 chapters are all about the Mass and sacrifice. I can’t tell you how good those chapters are. I read this book this week and it helped me to see things new.
Scott calls sacrifice one of the most primal forms of worship. Throughout history, people have been offering sacrifices to God as a way of giving him worship and praise. The first sacrifice in the Bible takes place with the story of Cain and Abel. Cain brought an offering from his harvest, and Abel sacrificed an animal from his flock. Both did so as an act of worship. The people of Israel would offer sacrifice for a number of different reasons.
First, sacrifice was a recognition of God’s sovereignty over creation. By offering sacrifice of material things, people recognize that all these things belong to God, and we are giving them back to him. Sacrifice praises God from Whom all blessings flow.
Second, sacrifice was a way of giving thanks. By giving back to God, we not only recognize his rule of all creation, but we also give him our thanks for the creation he has bestowed upon us.
Third, sacrifice was offered as a way of sealing oaths or pacts. When God made covenants with humanity, sacrifice is offered. We see that especially in the sacrifice of Christ, who inaugurates the new and eternal covenant with humanity.
Fourth, sacrifice was offered as reparation for sin. The people of Israel knew that because of their sins, they deserved death. But, the sacrifice would stand in their place. It was an offering to God imploring mercy and forgiveness.
These four examples of sacrifice from the Old Testament tell us a lot about why we are here offering this sacrifice. When we come to Mass and participate in this sacrifice, we do so for the same four reasons. By offering this sacrifice, we recognize God’s power and majesty, we recognize all that he has done for us. We offer this sacrifice as an offering of thanksgiving. God has given us life, breath, everything; he has given us new life in Christ. Every time we offer this sacrifice we agree and enter into the New Covenant of Christ again. The covenant is renewed in us at each Mass. We offer this Mass as reparation for our sinfulness, and we beg the Lord’s pardon and mercy at every Mass.
I’m sure that all of us, myself included, can sometimes go through the motions while we are here at Mass. But, by renewing our appreciation for the importance of sacrifice, I think we can gain a new appreciation for the important place Mass plays in our spiritual life. Sacrifice is the most primal form of worship. Today at this Mass, we lift our hearts to the Lord, we give him thanks and praise because it is right and just.