The Church founded by Christ has not only endured for 2000 years, but like the mustard seed in the Gospel (Mt. 13:31), has grown to cover the whole world with its branches; and like the leaven put in a measure of flour quickening the whole mass of the dough (Mt. 13:33), it has extended the kingdom of God with its life-giving message to all parts of the world. Yet, this has not happened without opposition of the Evil One who established his kingdom at the fall of our first parents, and whose aim is our eternal damnation.
While both Satan and his kingdom were conquered by Christ through His passion and death and their ultimate defeat certain, yet, in the providence of God, he will be allowed to test the souls of men until the end of time. For this reason, today, as with the first Christians 2000 years ago, growth in the divine life of grace won for us by our divine Savior will not be attained without a price. It is by sacrifice that we share in the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice. It is by obedience to His word handed down by the Church He established, and by the fervent use of the means of grace He gave us, that we share in the life-giving fruits of His painful obedience to the Father. Such has been the history of the followers of Christ for twenty centuries.
For the second time since the birth of Christ, the Church is celebrating the completion of a millennium of the Christianization of the world. Yet, while this past century has seen outstanding progress in the fields of scientific research and technology, it seems that the Church has not been equally successful as to the spread of the message Christ brought to the world. The forces of evil have made better use of modern advances of technology than have the forces for good; that is, they have been more effectively used to spread the spirit of the world, than the spirit and message of Christ. Perhaps it has always been so, for our blessed Lord declared 2000 years ago that “the children of this world are more clever in their own sphere than are the children of light” (Lk. 16:8).
For this reason Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of this “great jubilee,” has issued a special call for the evangelization of those who have not received the good tidings of the Gospel, and for the re-evangelization of those who have received it, but because of compromise with the world, have not accepted it wholly, or have abandoned it completely. This has caused the Holy Father to declare that “the more the West is becoming estranged from its Christian roots, the more it is becoming mission territory” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente).
Having passed through three years of immediate preparation for the third millennium, one dedicated to each of the divine Persons of the Trinity, the focus of the celebration of the year 2000 will be on rendering glory to the supreme Godhead of this great mystery.
From this source everything comes, and to it every thing returns. But as the Holy Father explains, “since Christ is the only way to the Father, in order to highlight His living and saving presence in the Church and in the world, the International Eucharistic Congress will take place in Rome, on the occasion of the Great Jubilee. The year 2000 will be intensely Eucharistic: in the Sacracment of the Eucharist the Savior, who took flesh in Mary’s womb twenty centuries ago, continues to offer Himself to humanity as the source of divine life” (ibid.).
Since, during the celebration of the Great Jubilee, the Church is asking us to focus our attention on the divine source of all things and the ultimate end to which all must return, and since, as the Holy Father points out, Christ is the only way to the Father as well as the perfect image of the Father (Jn. 14:9), a special emphasis will be placed on honoring the Father through the Eucharistic presence of His only-begotten Son. There are many ways in which we can render glory to God by the fulfillment of His will, but our concentration will be on seeking a better appreciation and use of Christ’s divine gift of Himself in the sacrament and sacrifice of the Eucharist.
True love is a unitive force, and this is especially true of God’s love for us. In His infinite wisdom and love He has established, through the Eucharist, a means of union between the human soul and Himself so intimate even in this life, that we can never fully understand or appreciate it. It Is a union as close as that between truth and the mind conceiving it, between goodness and the will desiring it, for by means of this divine food of the Eucharist, Christ transforms the soul into the likeness of Himself who is infinite Truth and infinite Love. As the Council of Trent explains: “Christ willed that this sacrament be received as the spiritual food of souls, whereby may be fed and strengthened those who live by His life, who said, 'He that eats Me, shall also live by Me'” (Jn. 6:36).
It was not enough that He should become one of us by adopting our human nature, but He devised a most extraordinary means of union in which He becomes our food, doing for the soul what ordinary food does for the body. Unlike ordinary food that is transformed into our own flesh and blood, this food causes us to be transformed into Him, that is to say, to share more and more in His divine life, so that more and more we see as He sees, will as He wills, love as He loves. Such a one can exclaim with St. Paul: “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
He of whom St. John says: “All things were made through Him” (Jn. 1:13), the maker and fashioner of the entire universe, has deigned to conceal Himself under the appearance of bread and wine in order to become our spiritual food, filling an ongoing need of the soul with His light and strength and peace. He comes to us in this invisible way known only by the light of faith. While the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ is only temporary, remaining only until the properties of the bread and wine disappear through the natural process of digestion, there is a deeper and lasting union with Christ by means of grace through our incorporation into His Mystical Body of which He is the head and we the members. This incorporation into the Body of Christ through which we live by His life, should increase with each reception of Holy Communion.
St. Thomas explains that the Eucharist “is both a sacrament and a sacrifice; it has the nature of a SACRIFICE inasmuch as it is offered up; and it has the nature of a SACRAMENT inasmuch as it is received” (III, 79, 50). We come to Mass, therefore, not merely to receive from the Father the Word of God - both in the liturgy of the word, and as divine food in the liturgy of the Eucharist; but we come to offer to the Father: 1) the Divine Victim who is made present by the words of consecration, and who offers infinite adoration, thanksgiving and reparation to the Father through the renewal of the oblation of Himself made on Calvary. 2) We offer ourselves in the renewal of our resolve to surrender our will to God’s. In the measure that our resolve is sincere, in that measure we are united with the divine High Priest and Victim offering again to the Father along with His prayers - the sufferings, and wounds, and insults, and rejection, and hatred endured on our behalf. And we shall see that those two aspects of the Mass (offering and receiving) are intimately connected. The fruitfulness of the second depends on the completeness of the first; that is, on the extent of our union with Christ, and the completeness of our surrender to the Father.
We can never fully appreciate the greatness of the gift we receive in Holy Communion, for that divine food is our blessed Lord Himself truly and substantially present. Yet, from what we have just explained, it should be clear that the extent that this Eucharistic meal enriches the soul depends in no small measure on the extent that we are one with Christ in the renewal of His Sacrifice, for Holy Communion is the fruit of that sacrifice. For that reason it is important to understand the sacrificial aspect of the mass, and our participation in that sacrifice.
When Christ pronounced the words of consecration over the bread and wine at the Last Supper the night before He died, He endowed us with a two-fold wonder. He made it possible for each of the redeemed to share in a unique way in the fruits of his redemptive mission through this sacramental meal. And secondly, He provided the Church with a sacred rite whereby, in union with Him, the Church could continue to offer the Father the infinite adoration and praise rendered to Him during the Passion. It would be a rite which consists in the renewal of the offering Christ made of Himself on Calvary for the glory of the Father and the salvation of mankind.
We are dealing here with a great mystery. Yet, the love and wisdom and power of God has made possible this mystery of the Eucharist in which Christ is really and truly present, and whereby in the Church there is made possible a permanent sacrifice that is identical in substance with that of the Cross. It is a sacrifice that transcends the limits of time and space, so that the offering of Calvary can be repeated until the end of time in the midst of the Church for the salvation of souls. St. Thomas refers to this:
Various Protestant religions do not accept the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist, for they say that the sacrifice of Christ that took place on Calvary was all-sufficient; and it is by faith in that unique and perfect sacrifice that we shall be saved. To say that the Mass is a renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary, they claim, is to detract from the efficacy of the Lord’s Passion and death.
It was in response to this that the Council of Trent went to great length to clarify and reaffirm the traditional doctrine of the Church, namely, that the sacrifice of the Mass is a renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary; for in each Mass there is the same High Priest, the same divine Victim, and the same oblation of Himself for the same purpose, the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls. The main difference between the two is that on Calvary Christ physically suffered in His mortal Body and shed His Blood; but after His resurrection in His glorified and immortal Body He can neither suffer nor die. As St. Paul insists: “Christ, having risen from the dead, dies now no more” (Rom. 6:19). Yet, in the Mass He renews the outpouring of His human soul in total surrender to His Father’s will on our behalf. Too, the Catholic Church teaches that the sacrifice of the Mass does not add anything to what Christ did on Calvary, but that it applies to souls the fruits of that sacrifice. And this it does in the measure that one is united with Christ - Priest and Victim - in the renewal of that immolation. Each Mass the world over bears fruit for every member of the Mystical Body in all parts of the world insofar as one is open to the action of the Holy Spirit. We commented on this in an earlier issue:
Christ in heaven with His glorified Body is the Christ present in the Eucharistic Host, the Christ who in the Mass renews the offering of Himself to the Father. We are dealing here with a supernatural reality made possible only by the power of God, and known only by the light of faith; consequently one must not try to visualize it in terms of a sacrifice in the natural order. Fr. M.M. Philipon, O.P. gives the common theological explanation as follows:
Since the Mass is essentially the renewal of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, living the Mass throughout the week means living that spirit of sacrifice. It requires a willingness to make the sacrifices required for the observance of God’s commandments, for the fulfillment of the duties of one’s state in life and for the patient bearing of the crosses that God allows in daily life; for as St. Paul reminds us: “We must suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8;17).
All this might be called the remote preparation for our participation in the sacrifice of the Mass, which requires that spirit of self-giving that makes one more united with Christ the Victim, who at Mass, renews His total self-oblation to the Father.
If one were negligent or half-hearted in his efforts to fulfill his Christian duties throughout the week, he cannot expect to be closely united with our blessed Lord renewing His oblation to the Father. In other words, the more willingly we make the sacrifices we are called to make to live our Christian faith in daily life, the more we are living the Mass, and the more fruitful will be our participation in the Mass. The prayers we offer at Mass to prepare ourselves to be more attentive to the great mystery at hand are important, but they will be rather shallow without the remote preparation we have just described. All this is another of way of saying that there must be an abiding interior spirit of sacrifice that corresponds to our exterior participation in the Mass, if that participation is to bring abundant fruit. In this respect St. Thomas states that “Christ’s Passion has not its effect in those who are not disposed toward it as they should be” (III, 79, 2, ad 2).
Since we are one with Christ as members of His Mystical Body, all that He did as Head of that Body is ours to offer to the Father. The angelic Doctor assures us of this: “The Head and members are one mystical person, and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as his members (III, 48, 2, ad l). . . . baptized person being a member of Christ shares in the satisfactory value of Christ’s passion as if he himself had undergone the penalty” (III, 69, 2). This means that we can offer to the Father not merely all that we suffer, all the sacrifices we make, all the hardships we endure, but also all that Christ suffered - as our own; and this we can do again and again. So when we approach God in prayer we never need to feel that we have little to offer.
Consequently our blessed Lord, through the sacrifice of the Eucharist, has placed in our hands the most adequate means of offering to the Father supreme adoration, thanksgiving, and reparation for our sins and the sins of others, that is, of filling up what is wanting in other members of the Mystical Body. And since Our Savior offers our prayers along with His own, our petitions offered up in the Mass have a special efficacy, provided what we ask is in keeping with the Father’s will.
As we begin the third millennium since the birth of Christ, the forces of evil mentioned above seem to be at work more than ever before - deceiving so many. The redeeming and strengthening power of Christ - at work through the Eucharist - is needed as never before. Let this “great jubilee” year become, as the Holy Father asked, an “intensely Eucharistic year,” to set the pace and direction for those years that follow. Ask the help of the Mother of Jesus who was at the foot of the Cross for that first Mass, offering herself and her dying Son for the same redemptive purpose as He. Ask her to assist with you at Mass, and help you to surrender your will to God as she did, no matter how difficult. For God gives Himself to us, especially in Holy Communion, in the measure that we give ourself to Him.
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