THINGS CATHOLICS ARE ASKED ABOUT
One of the first things the Reformation assailed was the Mass. The so-called Reformers proclaimed that the Mass was idolatry. They destroyed altars, abolished the priesthood, and forbade the celebration of the Mass. The Mass is the distinctive act of worship of the Catholic Church. It is the central service of the religion established by Jesus Christ. The altar is erected for the sacrifice of the Mass, the Church is built as a sacred dwelling for the altar and for the celebration of Mass, the priest is consecrated for the service of the Mass, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dwells in person in the tabernacle of the altar, as a consequence of the Mass. If the Mass is not the most sacred act of worship on earth it is the most idolatrous and abominable. For the Mass claims to bring down on our altars the Son of God, and to offer Him in sacrifice to the Godhead. Unless the Mass is just that, it is mockery. Being that, it is the holiest act of worship that can be rendered to Almighty God. Having said this much by way of introduction, let us now consider the nature of the Mass, and some of its important aspects.
The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. Calvary was the bloody sacrifice of Christ. The Mass is essentially the same sacrifice as that of the cross. This is no figure of speech, no metaphor, or exaggeration. The sacrifice of the altar and the Crucifixion are the very same sacrifice in all the essentials. They differ merely with regard to the manner of the offering. The Crucifixion was the offering of Himself by Jesus Christ in a bloody manner, His Body being delivered to suffering, and His Blood poured out unto death. In the Mass Jesus Christ sacrifices Himself in an unbloody manner, offering His Body under the form of the host, and His Blood under the form of the sacred species of the chalice. Christ instituted the Mass at the Last Supper. It was then that He Himself said the first Mass, gave the first holy communion, and ordained the first priests.
It was the eve of Calvary. He was taking leave of the Apostles who had been His companions during the years of His public ministry. Before His departure He made His last will and testament, leaving to them not gold nor possessions nor fame, but Himself. In what follows we must bear in mind that Jesus Christ was God. He knew all things, He could do all things. He read the secrets of hearts, foretold the future, healed the incurable, gave sight to the blind, multiplied the loaves and fishes, changed water into wine, walked on the sea, raised the dead. At the Last Supper He worked His greatest miracle. First He took bread into His sacred and venerable hands, and by the power of which, in the beginning, He made all things out of nothing, He changed the bread into His own Body. How He did this we do not know, any more than we know how He changed water into wine at the wedding-feast of Cana. But this was a greater miracle, because the change actually took place without anything outward to indicate it. The Apostles had only the word of Christ for it. But that is more than sufficient. He declared that the bread which He held in His hands was His Body. There was no outward change whatever. The shape, form, and color were the same, yet on Christ's word there was a substantial change. What He held in His hands was now His Body. It may seem strange that there was nothing exterior to indicate the interior change. But that is why it is called the mystery of faith. If we saw the bread transformed into actual flesh before our eyes there would be no mystery of faith. It would be evidence. There is no credit in yielding belief to evidence. Evidence compels belief. But Christ instituted the Mass as a mystery of faith. He wanted us to believe on His word, even though there was no evidence to support it. That is why faith is meritorious. It sacrifices our noblest faculty, our intellect, on the altar of God's word. We believe because God speaks, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. It may help us somewhat to understand that this change was effected internally, although there was no outward indication of change, by considering an electric rail before and after the current is turned on. The third rail is said to be dead when the current is off, but live when it is on. To outward appearances there is no change perceptible when the rail is dead or live. Yet when live the rail has the power of a thousand giants, when dead it has not the power of a fly. People can see no difference in the live and dead rail, but when they see a sign reading "Live rail, danger, keep off," they believe in the sign and act accordingly. This does not explain the change which Christ effected at the institution of the Eucharist, since there was a substantial change in the bread, while in the rail there is no substantial but merely an accidental change. However, this illustration helps us to realize that when Christ said that the bread was His Body, it was really so, even though there was no evidence of change. We have only God's word for it, therefore, that this change was effected. But God's word is enough. Heaven and earth may pass away, but God's word will never fail.
Therefore, Jesus having changed the bread into His Body, offered it in sacrifice to the Father, saying, "This is My Body, which is given for you." By these words Christ there and then offered His Body in sacrifice for us. He was not referring to the sacrifice of His Body on the cross, which was to be offered in a bloody manner the next day. His Body was indeed given for us on Calvary, but here He is speaking of an actual, present offering; "This is My Body, which is given for you." It was given there and then, in an unbloody manner, under the outward form of bread. Our Lord, therefore, offered His Body in sacrifice for us at the Last Supper. Immediately afterwards, in like manner, "Taking the chalice He gave thanks and gave to them saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is My Blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins."
He says distinctly, "This is My Blood," not that it will be, but that it is His Blood. It is the very Blood which on the morrow will be shed on Calvary for remission of sins. Here and now it is offered in an unbloody manner, tomorrow it will be flowing from His bruised Body on the cross.
This was the first Mass, of which Christ was the first priest and He Himself was also the victim, in unbloody form, the same victim as He was to be in bloody form on the cross a few hours later. Having instituted the Eucharist, by changing bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and having said the first Mass by offering Himself in this unbloody form as a sacrificial victim to the Father, He proceeded to give holy communion to the Apostles: "Take ye and eat, this is My Body; drink ye all of this, for this is My Blood." That was the first holy communion. But this was not all. Having said Mass, He commissioned His Apostles to say Mass also. "Do this in commemoration of Me." By these words He ordained them priests to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. Equivalently He said: "Do what I have just done. I have offered My Flesh and Blood under the form of bread and wine to My heavenly Father. I ordain you to do the same." Hence it is that at Mass the priest does precisely what Christ did at the first Mass in the Cenacle of Jerusalem. The priest at the Consecration of the Mass does not say "This is the Body of Christ," but "This is My Body," using the very words of Christ, and speaking them as the representative of Christ. At Mass it is Christ Himself who offers the sacrifice, the priest acting in His stead.
Christ is a priest forever, as Scripture declares, and it is at Mass day after day that He offers the victim of the altar. That is why the Mass is so sacred. It does not depend on the holiness of the priest, since Christ Himself it is that offers the victim, which is none other than Himself.
The Mass, although a real and true sacrifice, is not the actual slaying of the victim, as was the slaying of Christ on the cross. Christ is now in glory. He can die no more. In what way, therefore, is the Mass a sacrifice just as real as the Crucifixion? The sacrifice of the Mass is the continual renewal, the unbloody representation of the sacrifice of the cross. Consequently the Mass must put before us in some way what took place on the cross. On the cross Christ offered Himself by dying, His death being the result of the separation of His Blood from His Body. To represent the death of Christ this separation of Body and Blood must be reproduced. Since the resurrection the humanity of Christ has been glorified, so that His Body and Blood are no longer capable of being separated. In the Mass, in order to represent the separation of Christ's Blood from His Body, which took place on Calvary, the two forms of bread and wine, one solid, the other liquid, are necessary, and by the separate consecration of the host and the chalice there is typified the separation of Christ's Body and Blood. If the host alone were consecrated Christ would indeed be on the altar. This would be the Blessed Eucharist. But in order to be the Mass there must be represented the slaying of the victim, Christ. By the separate consecration of the chalice the separation of Christ's Blood from His Body is represented, thus constituting the sacrifice of the altar, which, as regards the victim and the one who offers it, is the same as the sacrifice of the cross, differing only in the manner, the Crucifixion being a bloody sacrifice, the Mass an unbloody sacrifice.
Consecration of the bread alone would be the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament. But the Eucharist is not the Mass. The Mass requires a mystical slaying of the victim, and this is done only by the separate consecration of the chalice, following the presence of the victim, Jesus Christ, on the altar, as a consequence of the consecration of the host. The separate consecration of the chalice is the mystical separation of Body and Blood which represents the death of the victim. If a priest should, for any reason, be interrupted after the consecration of the host, and before the consecration of the chalice, there would be, indeed, the Blessed Eucharist on the altar, but no Mass. It requires, I repeat, the separate consecration of the chalice after the consecration of the host, in order to constitute the sacrifice of the Mass, which is none other than that of Calvary, but in an unbloody manner.
To put briefly what has been stated, let it be said that the Mass is essentially the same sacrifice as the cross. On the cross Christ offered His Body and Blood as a sacrifice to the heavenly Father. This was a bloody sacrifice. At Mass Christ becomes really present on the altar by the consecration of the host. "This is My Body." Where Christ's Body is there He is. He offers Himself to the heavenly Father as a sacrifice, not by shedding His Blood, since He is now in glory, but by the separate consecration of the chalice, which represents the separation of Blood from the Body, constituting a real sacrifice, but in an unbloody manner.
At the Mass, therefore, the altar is the cross, the priest is Christ, the victim of sacrifice is Christ, and the slaying of the victim is represented by the separate consecration of the chalice, which shows the separation of Blood from the Body, the cause of Christ's death on the cross. Hence St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, speaks as follows: "The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye, and eat: this is My Body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the New Testament in My Blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of Me. For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come." The Mass therefore shows the death of the Lord. It represents in an unbloody manner the bloody death of Christ on the cross. The Mass was instituted before the Crucifixion. It was a sacrifice by itself. In the first Mass the dying Christ offered Himself to the heavenly Father. In every Mass it is the glorious, living Christ, who, by the priest, offers Himself to the heavenly Father. In every Mass the death of Christ on the cross is commemorated, as He ordained, by the consecration separately of His Body and His Blood. This is the mystical slaying of the victim which constitutes the Mass the holy sacrifice of the altar, and makes it to be essentially the same sacrifice as that of the cross. St. Paul brings this graphically before us when he says: "Whosoever shall eat this bread or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the Body and the Blood of the Lord." On the altar, after the consecration, Christ is truly present. He is there to be our spiritual food in holy communion, to be worshipped by us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, to be our friend and consoler in the tabernacle, and to be offered up in Holy Mass as a sacrifice to His heavenly Father for the remission of sins. It is by the Mass that we have the Blessed Eucharist for holy communion, for viaticum, for adoration. And it is by the Mass that Christ is offered up, in an unbloody manner, for the salvation of sinners, and in thanksgiving, praise, and petition for mankind.
By the Mass Christ has put in our possession a gift of infinite value, which we may offer to God as worthy of God. By attendance at Mass we, with the priest, offer to God this supreme gift, the most acceptable thing that can ascend from earth to heaven. When we attend Mass with the right spirit we are standing with Mary at the foot of the cross. This is the meaning of that Scripture which says: "You shall show the death of the Lord until He come." The Mass shows the death of Christ. The Mass offers to God what Christ offered on Calvary. It is a privilege to assist at holy Mass. It is the holiest act of worship in which a Christian can participate. If the Mass were offered in one place only, and but once a year, Christians doubtless would flock to its celebration from all over the world. But because God has made it so easy, for us to assist at Mass we are apt to value it lightly or hold it cheaply, whereas in God's estimation it is the most precious thing in the world.
If the sun should rise but once a year what a wonderment would its rising cause among men. But because it rises every day we take it as a matter of course and pay little or no attention to it. Yet if the sun failed to rise even for a week what a dismal and dreadful place the earth would be! The Mass is that sacrifice which the prophet Malachias foresaw when he uttered the divine words: "I have no pleasure in you (the Israelites) saith the Lord of hosts, and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down My Name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My Name a clean oblation." This prophecy did not refer to the sacrifice of the cross, which was offered in one place only, once for all, and in a bloody manner, but to the Mass, the clean oblation, offered everywhere from the rising of the sun to its going down. For there is not an hour of the day in which the Mass is not celebrated somewhere in the world. Moreover, the prophet states that this sacrifice is to be offered, not among the Jews, but among the Gentiles, which means the nations other than the Jews. And it is among the Gentiles of the world over that this clean sacrifice is offered to God from the rising of the sun to its going down.
A Catholic church is not a mere meeting-house nor a platform or pulpit -- it is a temple in which there is the altar of sacrifice. Every Catholic church is a Calvary and every altar a cross. On this altar is shown the death of the Lord. On this altar, in the tabernacle, is Christ Himself, and from this altar He comes to us in holy communion, to be our strength and joy. It is the Mass that brings Christ among us and offers Him in our behalf to the heavenly Father. Christ is both Gift and Giver, the victim and the priest of the unbloody sacrifice of the altar. No greater boon has God bestowed on man than the Mass. No greater offering can man make to God than worthy participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. For in the Mass Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, offers Himself to the heavenly Father for mankind. The offering He made of Himself on Calvary is thus perpetuated in an unbloody manner. On the cross His sacred Blood flowed from His wounds. He was the victim slain for sins. On the altar the same Christ offers Himself for mankind, offering the same Body and Blood. But as He is now glorious in heaven and can die no more, He offers Himself in an unbloody manner, yet representing the sacrifice of the cross by the separate consecration of the chalice, which indicates the separation of the Blood from the Body, the slaying of the victim.
It is thus that the Mass brings constantly before us the passion and death of the Lord. It is a constant memorial of Calvary, and at the same time the sacrifice of the same victim as hung on the cross. The Mass differs in manner only from the Crucifixion. In both cases it is to God that the offering is made, it is Jesus Christ that is offered, and it is Jesus Christ who makes the offering. The nature of a sacrifice requires that it be offered to God alone, that there be a victim or gift offered entirely, and that there be a sacrificing priest. On Calvary, Christ as priest offered Himself as victim to the heavenly Father, shedding His own Blood, because He suffered of His own will. On the altar Christ, the great High Priest forever, offers Himself as He is now, to the heavenly Father, commemorating the sacrifice of the cross by a mystical shedding of Blood, by means of the separate consecration of the chalice. Christ, in ascending to His heavenly Father, did not leave us orphans. By instituting the Mass He devised a way of always being with us. He was called by the prophet, Emmanuel, which means: "God with us." He is with us as our perpetual High Priest, daily offering the sacrifice of the Mass. He is with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. He is with us in holy communion. There is no surer means of our being with Him forever in heaven, than by worthy participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass not only brings Christ down to us, it also raises us up to Him. The Mass glorifies God, by offering Him what is of infinite worth, and sanctifies man by putting before him the price of redemption. The Mass commemorates God's love for us, a love that proved itself by the supreme sacrifice. The Mass thus becomes a powerful incentive to serve and love God, no matter what sacrifice His service may entail.
Copyright © 1927 P.J. Kenedy & Sons
Online Digital Edition Copyright © 1999 by Michael A. Gallagher