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Living the Mass

(Biography: Father Gerald Fitzgerald)

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Given his exalted understanding of the priesthood, whose central purpose is to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, it was inevitable that Father Gerald would urge priests to live the Mass which they celebrated.

The priest, he insisted, "has to be the image of Jesus Christ." But, then, who or what is Jesus Christ? He is two things. He is priest and victim. He is the one who offers and the one who is offered.

What, therefore, Christ is mystically, the earthly priest is to be correspondingly in the Mass. Like his Master, he is not "content alone to be a priest at the altar, but he wants to be also the Host at the altar. He wants not only to be Christ's priest bright in the beautiful vestments of the Mass – &#shy;the formal vestments of the liturgical service – but he also wants beneath to be crucified. He wants to be one with the crucified. He wants to be a Host." (C-104).

Not Only Priest But Victim

Among the rubrics to be observed by the priest at the altar, none is more demanding than the "inmost rubric," the spiritual rubric of sacrifice. "I must, as a priest, not only be a sarcerdos but I must be a hostia." Strange as the term may sound, "we have to be hosted with Christ."

For all priests, and not only for religious, this sacrifice is to be modeled on the sacrifice that Christ reveals in the Mass.

It is first of all a sacrifice of obedience. "We lift Christ to the Father every morning and His sacrifice is complete. His immolation in the little white Host and in the unique species of the wine is a complete immolation. Is He not completely in our hands, obeying us His creatures? Do we obey the God, our God," who is so obedient to us? (C-105).

It is, moreover, a sacrifice of poverty. "Could anything be poorer than the little white Host?" No wonder the Savior in the species "moves with ease." He is "detached from everything." No wonder, "without an effort, indeed lovingly," Christ in the Host "leaves the ciborium to go into the heart of the poorest little man or woman, priest or religious who comes to Him, who leaves the golden ciborium with zeal, with anxious love to hide in the heart of some dying sinner." (C-105). The embarrassing question for priests is, "Are we in that way to Christ in all things?" In other words, are priests thus poor in spirit? "Be detached," they are told, "even from such little comforts as men easily get attached to. Our poor little hearts are like little bits of ivy that are putting out tendrils and clinging even to stones: men become attached to almost anything and this attachment is terribly delaying to the soul in its movements towards God. Men can get attached even to poverty -to a broken picture or a broken bed. Be attached to nothing except God." (C-105). Only by cultivating total detachment from creatures will a priest become another Christ to the people he is meant to serve.

The final sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, which the priest is called upon to imitate, is the purity of selfless love. It was out of love, and love alone, that Christ died on the Cross. And it is in the Mass that He continues to manifest this love. That is why "Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the very source of our purity, the source of our strength." He is this source twice over: once by the example of chastity as selfless charity, which Christ gives us in the Holy Sacrifice; and once again by the graces He confers through the Eucharistic Liturgy to make possible the practice of chastity.

We are offered in exchange for the renunciation of human love and human consolation, we are offered not angelic love, we are offered Divine Love. We are offered the ultimate love of the human entity. Any human rational relation that is to attain to happiness, is going to attain to happiness in God. In God and in God alone. Now all these things are ours in the Mass. (C- 106).

Revelation of Love

Father Gerald saw the Mass as a sacrifice and a sacrament. It is a sacrifice because it re-enacts now what the Savior did when He died on Calvary, only the manner of offering, on Christ's part, is no longer bloody. He is now glorified and can no longer die. But we are still mortal, beginning with the priest at the altar and extending to all the members of Christ's Mystical Body on earth. We are therefore able to shed blood, as we are expected to, either in body if that be God's will, or at least in spirit, which is always His will: to surrender ourselves to His demands and die to ourselves in doing what He wants.

Furthermore, the Mass is a sacrament because it obtains for all believers, and especially for the priest, the graces needed to live up to the Savior's expectations of His followers. Indeed, the Mass is the principal source of power we have to remain faithful to the Gospel.

But this is not all. Besides being a sacrifice and sacrament, the Mass is a revelation of love. Father Gerald proposed this idea somewhat cautiously, fearful that he might be saying more than he should. But he need not have been afraid. His insight is fully in agreement with the Church's teaching, and it offers the priest a deeper understanding of his dignity.

"What is the essential story of the Mass," he asks. It is bound up with the mystery of the Trinity. When, at the Last Supper Christ ordained the Apostles and told them, "Do this in memory of Me," was He referring only to Himself "the man of sorrows, the Son of God Who is entering into His Passion"? If so, then "the Holy Sacrifice is thought of correctly and exactly, as the Memorial of the Passion of Our Lord. As St. Paul says in his treatment of it: you shall show forth the death of the Lord until He comes."

But can this ME of the Last Supper refer to something more, and not only (though also) to the Passion of Christ in time? Yes, reasons Father Gerald. It can likewise refer to the divine life of love shared by the Three Persons in the Godhead.

If you turn to the actual naked text, Our Lord said: Do this in memory of ME, and the ME is first of all the Eternal Word. From this I argue that the Mass should be, and is, not only a drama of the suffering life of Our Lord but a drama of the Eternal Life of the Word. The life that the Word lives in the bosom of the Father from eternity to eternity. And so I ask myself: What is that life? Insofar as humbly we are permitted to look upon the life of the Adorable Trinity of God, how is that life revealed to men? St. Augustine represents God the Father as being Eternal Love: it is a love that gives -- a loving love. LOVE LOVING equals God the Father. LOVE LOVED equals God the Son. The LOVE of the LOVING LOVE is God the Holy Ghost. So the life of the Blessed Trinity within the Trinity is a life of mutual love. (C-108).

What, then, does the priest do at Mass? By his words of consecration, he makes present on the altar the Second Person of the Trinity become man. When he elevates the Host and Chalice, he is elevating the Son of God "and offers Him back to the Father."

As a little child might lift something precious that has been given to him, and then as the parent reached to take it, draws it back to himself: so in a very beautiful movement we offer -- indeed the prayer that follows the consecration indicates that -- that our gift be taken by the hands of angels and borne to the Father. But no angel takes the Host away from the paten, no angel draws up the Precious Blood, tubes it up out of our chalice. We offer it to God but we retain it, we bring it back, we hold it. We are like the spouse in the words of the Canticle of Canticles: we hold the Divine Lover and we will not let Him go. We need Him. He is always with the Father making intercession for us. And we need Him here on earth. And where does He terminate? Where do the Father and the Son terminate and consummate their love in the Eucharist? In the souls of the priest and the communicants who are the Mystical Body of Christ, the Temples of the Holy Ghost. (C-110).

In the light of these insights, how are we to finally describe the Mass? It is a continuous revelation of God's love; not only His love for sinful mankind, but His love within Himself, as the Triune God. In the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ's ordained priests "bring forth the Eternal Word. We give Him to the Father and we terminate His union with the Father in our souls and in the souls of the communicants who are the Temples of the Holy Ghost."

Implied in this view of the Mass is a view of the Incarnation that specially appealed to Father Gerald. He knew, of course, that God became man to restore a fallen mankind to divine friendship. But he also believed that God would have become man even though man had never sinned, just to show how much He loves us. Taught by such eminent saints as Francis de Sales, this opinion lends itself to many attractive conclusions.

We may, therefore, look upon the Mass as a daily invitation to imitate the selfless love of the Trinity, made manifest in the Eucharistic Liturgy. "Every Christian must live that but especially a priest who is under the urgent necessity of living the life of Christ." And, "what is the life of Christ? The Eternal Word. He receives all from the Father and He gives back to the Father within the encompassing of the Holy Spirit."

Once a priest realizes this awesome fact, however dimly, he is moved to pray and ask the Lord whom he brings down on the altar at Mass to inspire him with some semblance of the same charity.

Lord Jesus, give us the grace so to live to take all with Thee and in Thee from the Father. To take all; to take the successes and the failures: the sunshiny days and the cold raw days: the contradictions, the limitations, the frailties of life: to take them all as so many little grains of wheat and to crush them in the Mill of Your Divine Love, with the pressure of the Divine Love, to make of it beautiful little Hosts. To take all and give all within the encompassing wings of the Holy Ghost.
Lord Jesus, make us Thy priests, all priests, a mystical heart for Thyself, a healthy heart that takes your beautiful throbbing warm and pure blood and takes it into our own being; and then our hearts throbbing with your love and your love throbbing in our hearts send that blood forth through the arteries and veins of the Mystical Body until the whole world -- the children of men -- shall all be living members of the One and Eternal Word, the Word made flesh, the High Priest Who has honored us with an absorption into His priesthood.
And do thou O Blessed Mother Queen of the clergy, pray for us that we may humbly and in some little way begin to comprehend the greatness of the love with which we are comprehended. (C-111, C-112).

Since God is love, as St. John tells us, and God became man; then love became incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ. And this Jesus Christ becomes present daily in the Mass through the power of His priests. More than anyone else, they are obligated to pattern their lives on the Savior Who ordained them.

The Two Transubstantiations

Father Gerald had no difficulty associating the miracle of the Incarnation with the miracle of Transubstantiation. Speaking of the words of consecration (in Latin, Hoc est enim corpus meum), he described them as "five Latin words that unite heaven and earth, God and man, and man and God, in an embrace of actual Oneness. The only words comparable are the words Our Blessed Mother spoke when she was invited to give her consent to the Incarnation: 'Be it done to me according to thy word.' "

Taking his cue from certain early Fathers of the Church when they wrote about the Mass, Father Gerald compares the alliance created when God first became man with the alliance He seeks to create through the Sacrifice of the Mass.

When the Son of God leapt as it were from the bosom of the Father into the bosom of the little Jewish maiden whom He had kept immaculate in her conception, there was an alliance being set up. God was undertaking directly and immediately in Person to correct the folly of mankind. And when God comes to us in Holy Communion and when as priests, God comes to our hands in the consecration, He is intent not only from the application of redemption, not only continuing the ineffable glory of His Father but He is also intent upon our immediate salvation. He comes with a very great personal intent to His priests. He comes to make Himself one with us and to make us one with Him: He comes to transubstantiate us. (D-204).

Carrying the comparison one step further, priests are reminded of Adam's statement when Eve was made from the side of Adam. When she was brought to him, Adam said: "This is flesh of my flesh; this is bone of my bone." A priest can apply these words to himself.

Equivalently he said: This is my body. And for this cause shall a man leave his mother and father and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh. And now of course we must have sublime minds and a priest ought to cultivate a sublime mind all the days of his life. But when we sublimate this which is the natural law, a marvelous application can be made to the relationship of Christ and His priests. For after all, it is for the sake of Christ, for our personal love for Christ and for the privilege of saying Mass and holding His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in our hands, of His belonging to us and our belonging to Him; that we have left mother and father and we cleave to our dear Divine Lord in a virginal union but in a union that is even more intimate than the consummation of marriage. The Son of God, the Infinite, All-holy, All-wise, Almighty God has willed to become one with us and has willed us to say what even the angels cannot say: This is My Body. This is My Blood.
How deeply, how tenderly a priest should whisper those words all the days of his life. His lips have become the lips of God, and Nature exercises its obediential faculty: it yields the silent elements of bread and wine, yields their substance at our command and lo we become like Mary, holding on Christmas Eve, her God as a tiny little helpless Babe. If a priest could once see the glory of the Incarnate Word, it would be with great difficulty that he would have the power to say those words: he would probably faint before the glory and the beauty of God, he would swoon with the tenderness, with the love light, in the eyes of Christ upon him: This is My Body. If he is living in fidelity to his priestly discipline, these words are recognized by Christ in the equivalent of an Amen.
The Pope at Rome, the Vicar of Christ, has no more sublime power, no more direct contact with Divinity than the simplest, newly-ordained priest who whispers those words. The important thing for a priest is that he will say these words with increasing love and devotion. They speak of a priest's "first fervor". I pray that the Spirit will give you all devotion, and pray to the Holy Ghost that your devotion to the Mass will increase, and increase, and increase until the last day of your life, and that your last Mass may be your most fervent Mass.
How blessed would be the priest who would make that his philosophy of life: to so live that his Mass each morning would be more completely an expression of, not only God's sublime love for him, but of his sublime immolation to God. When Our Lord speaks through our lips and changes the bread into His living flesh, He has accomplished both an object and a means: the means is the glory of God, first through the offering of Himself as an immolation to His Father, and then, by the communication of His Body and Blood, His Mystical Body the Church and especially His priests might progressively be transubstantiated into Him. He wants to be immolated, He wants to be offered in another way, He wants to be offered in us. He wants to be able to say over us, as we say over Him: This is My Body. (D-205, D-206).

Both transubstantiations are part of the Church's understanding of the priesthood. But they differ immensely in their efficacy. Christ never fails to become physically present in the Mass, whenever the priest pronounces the words of consecration. Jesus is always responsive to His priest. But the priest must want to cooperate with the graces he receives from the Eucharist, in order to be transformed supernaturally into Christ. Yet the first transubstantiation is a condition for the second. It is mainly through the power of the Mass and Holy Communion that the priest -- and then the faithful -- become partakers of Christ's divinity who for love of us became partaker of our humanity.

Handmaids of the Precious Blood
Cor Jesu Monastery
P.O. Box 90
Jemez Springs, NM 87025

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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