Pentecost - Tenth Sunday After (18 Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"On the Fruits of Hearing Mass"
By Rev. H. G. Hudson
We have in to-day's Gospel, dear brethren in Jesus Christ, a lesson imparted by our blessed Lord Himself on the right dispositions in which we ought to go to Church. Now, for a Catholic, going to Church means first and foremost hearing Mass; for Holy Mass is the great and central act of worship of the church Catholic. So to-say I shall speak to you on the subject of the Holy Sacrifice. And I shall treat of the Holy Mass today, not so much as the means by which our Divine Lord's Sacramental presence is brought amongst us, or as the means by which we are enabled to give to God a perfect worship, and worthy praise and thanksgiving, but rather from the point of view of the immense blessings and benefits that it brings to our souls - that character of the Mass because of which it can be more truly said of a Catholic who has devoutly heard Mass than of any other: "This man went down to His House justified."
The Holy sacrifice of the Mass is not only a sacrifice of worship and thanksgiving; it is also what is called a Sacrifice of Propitiation. That means, it is a sacrifice offered for sin, to make satisfaction to God for our sins, and also to obtain from God all blessings, graces and benefits, spiritual blessings and graces, and, under certain circumstances, also earthly blessings and benefits.
Let us take first the idea of propitiary sacrifice, making satisfaction and atonement to God for our sins. It is a point of Catholic faith that the Holy Mass does this. The Council of Trent laid this down in the following words: "If anyone shall say that the sacrifice of the Mass is only one of praise and thanksgiving, or the bare commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the Cross, and not also propitiatory, or that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for punishments and satisfactions and other needs, let him be anathema."
Here the Protestant comes in and says: "This is wrong; Christ offered Himself for our sins, and to obtain for us all graces, blessings and benefits once for all upon the Cross; there is no other sacrifice needed." To this the Catholic replies: "That is true, but we Catholics do not say that the Holy Mass is a different sacrifice from that of the Cross. We say it is the same sacrifice, carried on, reproduced in a wonderful and miraculous manner, instituted by Jesus Christ Himself, when, at the Last Supper, taking bread, He said: "This is My Body, which is given for you,' and likewise taking the chalice, said, "This is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins,' and gave His Apostles the command, 'Do this, in remembrance of Me.'" It is the same sacrifice as that of the Cross; the Victim offered is the same, Christ Himself; and the Great High Priest who offers Himself is the same Christ Jesus who offered Himself on the Cross. Only the manner of the offering is different. And the manner of the offering is different in two ways: First, on the Cross Christ died and shed His Blood, and n the Mass Christ does not actually die, nor actually shed His Blood. Having died once, He dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him. But His death and His Blood-shedding are vividly and truly represented and set before God and before us in the Mass, and this is by the separate consecration of the Bread and Wine, by which Christ's own true Body and Blood, and Christ Himself are truly made present on the altar. The Sacred Host on the Altar, and the Precious Blood in the Chalice are a picture of the death and blood-shedding on Calvary; and not a mere picture, but a picture that contains the reality; we should rather call it a re-enacting, a reproduction, in mystic, wonderful fashion, of that blood-shedding and that death.
Secondly, on the Cross Christ won our salvation; in the Mass what He won is applied to each individual soul through the ages.
Thirdly, on the Cross Christ alone offered Himself; but in the Mass He associates with Himself in making that great offering His church, His priests, and the faithful individually.
But let us come to the question how, while it is perfectly true that the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross perfectly satisfied and made atonement for the sins of the whole world, yet it is also true that the Holy Mass is also a propitiatory sacrifice, making atonement for sin. I think I can best explain this by drawing out for you the Catholic and the Protestant view of the way in which all that Jesus did for us upon the Cross is conveyed to our souls.
When Christ died we did not exist; we were in the far-off future. Now a period of more than 1900 years separates us from the time of His Passion and Death. How is what He did then to be conveyed to my soul now? How are those precious drops of cleansing Blood which flowed down on the hill of Calvary to fall upon me? How are the graces, which He then won, to be brought into my soul, and the pardoning atoning power of the Cross to cover my evil deeds and thoughts and words, done and thought and spoken so many hundred years afterwards?
The Protestant says that I am to lay hold on these fruits of Christ's Passion by faith; that I, individually and personally and alone, am to plead in prayer here on earth before God the death of my Savior, while He pleads it before the throne of God in heaven. Actually, I am separated by long centuries from what was done on Calvary; and by all the distance that lies between earth and heaven from the pleading of the human voice of God-made Man before the Throne.
God, my brethren, might have ordained that it should be so. But He has not. He has found and ordained a way more wonderful, more loving, more in accordance with human needs and with human nature. The Protestant view makes things more difficult, more far-off, and, let me say, less humane, less human, less in accord with the whole dispensation of the Incarnation and with the character of a Savior who is not only God, but also Man, our Brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.
So the Catholic view of the matter, the Catholic doctrine of the matter, which we know to be the true view and the true doctrine, is this: By a wonderful invention of Divine wisdom Christ Himself in Holy Mass, present on the Catholic Altar, pleads His death and the merits of that death, not only in heaven, but here in our midst; and He leaves is not alone, individually and personally only, to plead His death before God, but associates us with Himself in that pleading, our prayers, etc.; associates us with His holy Church, whom He purchased on the Cross to be His Bride. This pleading of the Holy Mass is a pleading in which indeed we can and do take an individual personal part, an intimately personal part by uniting our wills and intentions and prayers with the priest who bears Christ's Priesthood and acts in Christ's Name and Person when offering Mass - but it is a pleading, a representation, a setting before God of the Death of Calvary, a reproduction of the Sacrifice of Calvary by Christ in our midst, by Christ among us, by Emmanuel truly God WITH us. In that offering anew of the Death of Christ we are not separated from Him in His Humanity and Divinity by centuries of time nor by the distance that stretches between earth and heaven; but Christ, and Christ's death and what He did upon Calvary are brought down here in the midst of us, and done again, not in the same manner as they were first done, as I have shown you; yet truly done, truly enacted day by day, through the ages for each succeeding generation of God's people in the Church.
And in this way, by the Holy Mass, to say nothing now of the Sacraments, Christ's Blood and Merits, and all He did and won for us upon the Cross, are conveyed to and applied to our individual souls, bringing us into such nearness to God that, if the children of Israel could say, still more we can say of ourselves in the Church, "Truly, there is no nation so great, that hath its gods so nigh them, as our God is present to all our petitions" (Deut. iv, 7), and of every Catholic church as truly as of the great Temple of Solomon it can be said: "The Lord hath said, 'I have chosen this place to Myself for a house of sacrifice. . . . My eyes shall be open and My Ears attentive to the prayers of him that shall pray in this place; for I have chosen and have sanctified this place, that My Name may be there forever, and My Eyes and My Heart may remain there perpetually."
The Holy Mass, then, is truly a propitiatory, a sacrifice for sin, because it is the pleading by Christ here amongst us of the Sacrifice of the Cross; a pleading that consists in a real offering of Himself again and again; a pleading and an offering in which He associates us with Himself so that our offering and His go up before God as one.
And by that pleading all spiritual graces and benefits are given to us. By the offering of Holy Mass pardon is obtained for the greatest sins, since through the Mass the graces of contrition and a good confession are granted. By the Holy Mass, sinners are reclaimed and the just obtain perseverance! God's just anger is warded off, and His rightful chastisements averted; the temporal punishment of Purgatory is done away, light, refreshment and peace are given to the faithful departed.
Is it any wonder, I ask, that the Church demands are presence on Sunday and holydays when this great thing, this compendium of God's merciful works, is done in our midst?
One more word. since our blessed Lord has deigned to associate us personally and individually with Himself and with His Church, so that we can make His offering our own by joining our wills and intentions with His own and His Church's in the Holy Mass, it follows that, particularly in matters that affect ourselves personally, the amount of grace and blessing which we obtain individually depends to a certain and real extent upon our own devotion and attention in hearing Mass. What a strong reason for making the most of ever Mass we hear - trying more and more to understand what the Mass is; not being content with a mere perfunctory presence, or mere perfunctory prayers at Mass, uniting ourselves heart and soul with Jesus our High Priest in the four great objects of the Holy Sacrifice - the worship and praise of God; thanksgiving for all His benefits, especially the supreme benefit of Redemption; the obtaining of all we need; and the making of satisfaction and reparation to God through Christ for all our many sins and daily faults.