Sunday, August 19, 2012
The Holy Sacrifice: Fr. Eric Andersen Homily
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart in Gervais, for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 19th, 2012
A couple of weeks ago I preached that the Holy Mass is a sacrifice but not a re-sacrifice of Christ. Christ offered Himself once on the cross for us. It cannot be repeated. The Mass does not repeat the sacrifice and it does not multiply the one sacrifice, but it does multiply the presences of the one sacrifice. The one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross is present here on this altar. It is also present in every Catholic Church and every Orthodox Church where Mass is celebrated. But although it seems like there are many sacrifices in all these churches every day, they are all one sacrifice. This one sacrifice is the very same sacrifice which Christ offered once on the Cross. St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Mass “an image representing Christ’s Passion” (ST III-q.83.a1 reply OBJ 2). We gaze upon this image, present to us today.
What is the image that we gaze upon? It is the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. “The altar,” as St. Thomas tells us, “is representative of the Cross itself upon which Christ was sacrificed” (ibid.) His Crucifixion is sacramentally represented by the offering of the Host. The word host, from the Latin Hostiam means victim. The victim is the Body of Christ which is offered to God on the altar which is the Cross. The image of the Crucifixion may be seen when the priest attaches his arms to the altar at the words, “This is My Body.”
Then the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is represented by the separation of His Precious Blood offered separately from His Body in the chalice. Again, the priest attaches his arms to the altar–crucified–when he says, “This is the chalice of my Blood.” The separation of the Precious Blood from the sacred Body is called the immolation of the victim and is the image of His death on the Cross. Finally the Resurrection of our Lord is represented by the mingling of a small piece of the Host into the Chalice when the Body takes the Blood back into itself.
When we understand that the Mass is an image and representation of Christ’s passion, then we can begin to study the Mass as one would study a great masterpiece of art. It is said that a picture paints a thousand words. When we look at a painting that is a great work of art, we initially see the main subject of the painting. But a true work of art has many details that one might only see after one gazes at the painting for some time–studying it, contemplating it, meditating upon it. The Mass is one of God’s greatest artistic masterpieces. It is the work of God Himself. We did not craft it nor create it. It is God’s work.
He announced the work to us in various ways throughout the Old Testament. In our first reading today from the book of Proverbs, we hear that Wisdom has dressed her meat, mixed her wine and spread her table. The Vulgate, which is the official Catholic Bible for the whole world, says that she has immolated her victims, mingled wine and set forth her mensa. Immolating a victim is very different from just dressing meat. Proverbs specifically defines this victim saying: come eat my bread and drink my wine which I have mingled for you. Wisdom has immolated her victims upon the mensa of the altar. The Immolation is the separation of the blood from the body of the victim which brings about the death of the victim. But the victim mentioned in Proverbs is identified as bread and wine which have been immolated and then mingled again to be consumed. Such an immolation was not part of the Temple sacrifice practiced by the Jews at the time the Proverbs were written. Such an immolation, such a sacrifice, was prefigured by Melchizadek who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine in the Book of Genesis. Such an immolation, such a sacrifice was then fulfilled once on the Cross by Jesus Christ and then sacramentally it continues forever on the altars of His Church.
So as we gaze upon this image, this masterpiece of art which God has crafted and given to us, we see through these sacramental signs the reality of the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection. But that is not all. I have told our acolytes that they stand in the place of the angels. The priest stands in the person of Jesus Christ. The acolytes stand in the place of the angels. This Mass is an image of Calvary, but it is also an image of heaven. This threshold of the sanctuary is to be marked off from the rest of the building. It is set apart. It is the Holy of Holies. That is what is meant by the word sanctus from which sanctuary comes. This step is the threshold of heaven and earth. These boys serving in the sanctuary as acolytes represent the angels who surround Christ the Eternal High Priest. The acolytes wield fire as the seraphim wield fire. The fire of the candles and the fire of the charcoal on which incense is burned. Incense is not offered at every Mass. It is not essential to the rite of Mass, but it is essential to the image because in the book of Revelation, St. John tells us that the angels offer up incense to God before His holy throne in heaven, and the incense is the prayers of the saints.
Therefore, we pray to the angels and to the saints in this Mass, and they intercede for us. One of the prayers during the Eucharistic canon is that God would deign to send His holy angel to carry this sacrifice to his altar on high in the sight of His divine Majesty, so that all of us who assist at the sacrifice upon the altar and who receive the holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion may be filled with every grace and blessing. It is through the intercession of the angel that this happens. The acolytes wield the fire of the holy seraphim, but the angel carries up the prayers. The angel is visible as the smoke of the incense rising up to the throne of God in heaven. And it is beautiful to behold.
God has given us this beautiful masterpiece of art to communicate something beyond what we can express with mere words. The Mystery of Faith is supernatural. It can only be communicated in a supernatural way which is what God has given us in this Mass. We should not to try to make the Mass common or relevant in an earthly way. Rather, we should always strive to communicate heaven through the celebration of Mass. If Jesus commands that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life within us, then He is going to give us a means of doing so that is pleasurable. The Mass should be pleasurable but not in an earthly way. It should not appeal to us in the way that earthly things appeal to us. It needs to speak to our very souls in a supernatural way. If we are too attached to earthly entertainments and diversions, or too immersed in popular culture we may not find anything beautiful about the Mass. If we find nothing beautiful in the Mass, then we will find nothing beautiful about heaven. We may even find heaven offensive to our senses. If our tastes have been cultivated exclusively by marketers and the mass media, we may not find anything in heaven which pleases us. We must cultivate heavenly tastes. We must gaze upon this image of Christ’s passion in the Mass, studying it, contemplating it, meditating upon it as we would the Holy Scriptures themselves. It is an image of our salvation and it is an image of heaven. Let us purify our tastes from worldly things and cultivate a taste for heaven. Let us experience heaven more and more in this life and on this earth every time we come to this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.