The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
“The Necessity of a Sacrifice Worthy of God”
By Rev. J. Fuhlrott
"A sacrifice to God is an
afflicted spirit" Ps. 1. 19."
The holy season of Lent which has just begun, should be an occasion for us to think more often and more seriously than ordinarily of the salvation of our soul. For this reason, Holy Church offers us more frequent opportunities than at any other time of the year, impressive services and sermons. to think of the great truths, which should in particular impel and move us to care for the salvation of our soul. There is, however, no other means of salvation, which exerts such power in the Christian life, and which is more adapted, if properly understood and brought into daily life, to unite man and his heart with God, to take him away from every-day worldly life, and lead him to God, than the doctrine of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The Blessed Sacrament is not only the source from which all the graces of salvation flow to us, but it is the center of our whole spiritual life, from the cradle to the grave, and it is the center of the whole Catholic worship of God.
We know that to honor and to love Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar should be our joy and happiness: the worship of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist gives us blessing and happiness for body and soul, consolation and strength in life and death.
With the help of God we will take for our Lenten consideration this year the doctrine of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar; namely. the Catholic teaching of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
So, as to properly understand and comprehend the teaching of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we must know beforehand first of all what we are to understand by a sacrifice, and we must learn than man is required to offer to God and agreeable sacrifice. Let this therefore be the object of our contemplation to-day, and we will consider; (1) What is understood by sacrifice, and (2) the necessity of a sacrifice worthy of God.
1. The word "sacrifice," from "sacer," sacred, and "facere" to make, means to offer to Heaven, that is to say: to present, to offer, to give. Sacrifice is therefore a gift presented by man to God. Certainly God is the Lord and ruler of every creature; and we might ask the question: What has man that he can offer to God? God has, however, given man a certain authority to govern himself, and power over all creatures. When, then, man offers a gift to God, he acknowledges thereby the supremacy of God over man and over all creatures. This is the very essence and nature of worship. Sacrifice forms, therefore, naturally the center of divine service in every religion. It is a necessity for man to express his religious sentiments; to give outward and actual expression to the consciousness of his allegiance to God. Therefore, sacrifice is as ancient as the history of man. Already in paradise before sin, it was man's solemn duty to show his absolute submission to God, by voluntary and perfect obedience. By an absolute submission of his will God man would have remained united with God.
We know that man in paradise refused this sacrifice of submitting his will to God; he sinned. Even in the sate of sin it still remained his duty, as we shall see, to offer sacrifice, as it was still the duty of man to acknowledge and to worship he supreme lord-ship of God. With this duty was combined from now on that other important task of appeasing an offended God, of calming His wrath; and henceforth every sacrifice assumed the character of an expiatory sacrifice. Man by sinning had deserved death, sinful man deserved death. A respite was, however, granted to him in the meantime, in expectation of the coming Redeemer, but man had to acknowledge and admit that death was the deserved punishment. It was easy for man to see that he must make atonement, and offer an expiation to a degree which he was unable to accomplish himself. He therefore looked about for an object of sacrifice, for a sacrificial gift, to which he might transmit his guilt, and then offer atonement by having it slain, or, as the case may be, destroyed. In this way we arrive at the idea of atonement y proxy, and in this way we also arrive at the right understanding as regards the object of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the offering up of a material, visible gift, offered to God alone by a lawfully appointed minister, to acknowledge God as the Supreme Lord, and to propitiate His wrath, and offered by means of sacred rites., We must observe five parts as belonging essentially to the nature of sacrifice:
(a) First of all, the object of sacrifice must be owned by the one offering the sacrifice; for how could the offer of a gift gain favor from another, when the gift does not in any way belong to me?
(b) The object of sacrifice must be something material, something visible. Man consists of body and soul; in all pursuits of the soul the body takes part, therefore it is just and reasonable that the gift, with which man seeks to propitiate an offended God, should be taken from amongst visible things, so that the body might partake therein.
(c) After what we have said about sacrifice, it is clear to us that man must offer sacrifice to God alone, the Almighty Lord of all things; of course we can offer to a man, to an earthly lord or king, presents and gifts, but a sacrifice in the right sense of the word can only be offered to the Almighty, to God alone.
(d) In such offering we must have the intention of acknowledging the supremacy of God over us, and of striving to appease His outraged majesty.
(e) From the foregoing points it appears that by offering up of a sacrifice the object is to reconcile two estranged parties. For this reason a mediator is necessary, who is acceptable to both parties, who intercedes for the one party and receives the gift from the other, he is the lawfully appointed minister, through whom the sacrifice is offered, and thus we come to the mediating priesthood, which is an essential condition in the service of sacrifice.
2. Now we may ask: Is such a sacrifice necessary? Is it necessary that man should offer to God, his almighty Lord, visible gifts, or cause them to be offered to Him, thereby to acknowledge Him as his Master, and to appease His outraged majesty? Without hesitation we must answer: A sacrifice is necessary; we must make a sacrifice to God, for we are His debtors, and we must wipe out our indebtedness if possible. We are guilty before God in a multitude of ways.
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth" - this is how we begin our profession of faith. God therefore is our Lord; from Him we have our being; without Him we should not be; therefore to Him is due our entire devotion, our absolute obedience, and we should disregard our position as created beings, by neglecting to acknowledge our dependence upon God, and give outward expression to our submission to Him.
We are debtors to God! O what precious goods have we received from our Lord! The life of the body, the life of the soul, the faculties and strength of the body as well as of the soul; are they not all gifts and presents from God? "What hast thou, O man," says therefore the apostle very truly, "which thou didst not receive?" Certainly, dear brethren, if we wished to enumerate all the benefits which we have received from God for soul and body, we should not know where to begin or where to leave off; with feelings of the most profound humility and gratitude we should say with the Psalmist: "What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that he hath rendered to me?" (Ps. cxv., 12). Ask yourselves, dear brethren, whether there would be a spark of gratitude in us if we did not feel a desire to offer to God, the Giver of all good gifts, frequently and willing a sacrifice of thanksgiving?
We are debtors to God. Let us suppose, if that were possible, that God would withdraw Himself from us for one hour, that He would refuse as His help, would take away from us His saving, protecting and blessing hand: what would become of us?
Yes, indeed, we are dependent upon God every moment of our lives; every moment brings with it fresh benefits from God for us; we could not exist if we did not continually receive God's assistance and blessing. Every day we come to God with different requests and prayers: what is more natural, what is more self-evident than that we should accompany our petitions with a gift pleasing to God!
We are debtors to God. O what have we done? We knew His will and we have not complied with it; we knew His commandments, and how have we behaved toward Him; we called Him our Master, and yet we did not serve Him; we received His benefits, and then we grieved and offended Him! We have sinned, and thereby merited His wrath and His chastisement. How can we make amends for all this? All nations acknowledge that man must offer sacrifice to the Highest Being, and they all have introduced sacrifice in the worship of God; even the heathen, though misguided in the choice of their sacrifice, and in the manner of offering it, yet they all introduced the practice of it. Man is a debtor to God, and we must strive as much as possible to pay this debt, and for this purpose sacrifice is necessary; a religion therefore without sacrifice is not conceivable. For this reason, God, who wished to ring up the people of Israel as His people, in whom He wished to preserve the true religion and the belief in the one true God, ordered them to offer a sacrifice to God: a sacrifice of thanksgiving, a sacrifice of prayer, and a sacrifice of praise, and He instructed this people carefully as to the season, and number, and manner of offering of sacrifices. We certainly must conclude that: If God did not allow the prescribed sacrifice of the old law to remain, but, on the contrary, abolished it, it does not mean that the new, perfect law, whose founder and center is the incarnate Son of God Himself, should be without sacrifice. No, on the contrary, we may, and we ought to, conclude from this, that God has enabled man to offer a more perfect and worthy sacrifice, under the new law.
The sacrifices of the old law were, as the Apostle St. Paul says justly, insignificant, imperfect in substance, and only of value by the intention offered with them. What does miserable man possess that he could offer as a commensurate sacrifice to Almighty God? The holiest and most perfect man, even the pure spirits in heaven were not precious enough nor worthy to be offered up to God as an efficient sacrifice. For this reason the Son of God Himself became our sacrifice. He willed to take the guilt and the obligations of mankind upon Himself, and placed His divine Person, through taking unto Himself our human nature, in a position to fulfill all our obligations toward God. God therefore Himself gave to man, who stood in such great need of it, a sacrifice worthy of God, of which St. John writes in his revelation: "This is the Lamb, which we slain from the beginning of the world" (Apoc. xiii. 8). Amen.