The title of our present meditation is certainly strange. In fact, it is really two titles wrapped in one. Both parts of the title are contrasts. The first is between the Holy Mass and the innocents who were killed by King Herod. The second is a contrast between the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifices of human beings.
Our first task, therefore, is to explain what we are talking about. We are basically talking about two things. We are relating the Holy Eucharist as the Mass to the slaughter of the innocent boys whom King Herod ordered to be killed. Our second contrast is between the sacrifice which Jesus made of Himself on the cross and which is perpetuated in the Eucharistic Liturgy with the present-day paganism which imitates the pagan sacrifice of children in the religions of prechristian society.
Our best approach to this delicate and difficult subject is to restate the title in more prosaic terms. We wish to speak about the Sacrifice of the Mass as the source of the graces we need to live lives of sacrifice ourselves, and to obtain for others the corresponding grace to live sacrificial lives. All the while we keep in focus what is at the root of the culture of death that has penetrated once civilized societies.
Whatever else abortion is, it is the tragic result of self-idolatry even to the murder of unborn children who are considered an obstacle to self-gratification. There is no possibility of converting, or re-converting, what I have come to call the New Pagans. The old pagans, as we used to call them, had and have a plurality of gods whom they worship. The new pagans are strictly monotheistic. They believe in only one god. That one god is the Self.
To bring these new pagans to their senses and have them return to the worship of the one true God will require not just a miracle but a litany of miracles in countries like our own. It is not a question of how these miracles are to be obtained. It is rather a question of who will perform them. There is only one answer: it must be Jesus Christ whose death on the cross is re-enacted in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Just before He died on Calvary, Jesus worked the miracle of bringing the repentant thief back to the grace of God. The other thief did not receive this divine mercy. Why not? Because he did not repent. But the repentance of Dismas was the fruit of the grace which the dying Christ offered to a criminal who repented his life of crime.
As Catholics we all believe that the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament. We know that a sacrament is some visible or sensibly perceptible ritual which Christ instituted as a channel of grace which is signified by the ritual. Thus the sacrament of baptism, which involves the pouring or immersion in water, signifies the cleansing of the human soul from the guilt and consequences of original (and personal) sin. Thus again Confirmation, which is received by anointing with oil, shows the strengthening of the soul, which is signified by the oil that medically strengthens the body.
Certainly the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament. But it is a sacrament three times over. Pope John Paul II is especially clear in insisting on this triple way in which the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament. What is the fundamental grace which the Eucharist confers on human beings? It is the grace to practice Christian charity, as prescribed by Christ at the Last Supper. On Holy Thursday night Our Lord did two things. He told His disciples until the end of time they are to practice such charity towards others as He, who died for our sins, practiced by His death on the cross. Needless to say, He had to provide the means for His followers to love unlovable people. Consequently Our Lord went on to institute the Holy Eucharist, as a sacrament of love, to enable His followers to do the humanly impossible.
This sacrament of love provides the graces which the followers of Christ need to live up to Christ's expectations of them. Among these expectations is the need that a believing Christian has to surrender his will to the will of God which is the precondition for loving others selflessly. This is the first and most basic form of grace which the Holy Eucharist was instituted to give to the world. It is the sacramental grace of self-surrender which Christ merited by His sacrifice on the cross and which He now communicates especially through the Sacrifice of the Mass. In later conferences, we shall explain how the Holy Eucharist as the sacrament of love also confers the grace of seeing Christ in everyone who enters our life, and in sharing what we have with others as the fruit of Christ's sharing Himself with us in Holy Communion
We return to where we began: to see how the Sacrifice of the Mass is the Sacrament of the Mass. The Sacrifice of the Mass communicates, you might say radiates, the divine assistance that our wills need to surrender themselves to the mysterious and often demanding will of God. As one saintly apostle of the Eucharist declared, the world would have long ago been destroyed for its sins of selfishness except for the Sacrifice of the Mass which has been offered over the centuries.
The Holy Innocents who were killed shortly after Christ's birth were the beginning of so many murderers of unborn children since the time of Christ. As historians of early Christianity tell us, one striking quality of believing Christians was their acceptance of the children whom they believed God was giving them. Abortion in the Roman empire at the time of Christ was legal, universally accepted, and simply assumed as the culture of the age. Already in the first Christian century a formal document was issued, called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which condemned abortion as murder. No follower of Christ, it was declared, would dare kill an innocent human being in his mother's womb.
Where did the Christians obtain the grace to live such lives of self-sacrifice? They obtained it from the Holy Eucharist. We have already said that the early Christians went to Mass and received Holy Communion every day. What we wish to stress in this meditation is that the Sacrifice of the Mass was instituted by Christ precisely to be the Sacrament of the Mass to enable the followers of Christ to live sacrificial lives.
There is more hidden here than appears at first sight. Left to himself, man is so selfish he will even destroy others to get what he wants. When God became man, He taught His followers to do the very opposite. They are to be willing to give up themselves, even their very lives, out of love for others. It is the Sacrifice of the Mass that offers us a share in Christ's generosity; and Christ offers us a share in the self-giving that He revealed by His death on the cross.
We know what the word "sacrifice" means. It means the surrender of something precious to the god in whom a person believes. Sacrifices have been part of world religions since the dawn of recorded history. Without exception, the deities of all the religions of the ancient world demanded sacrifices in their honor. The Egyptians and Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans, the deities of prechristian India and of the continent of Africa required that their inherents offer what we call sacrifices in their name.
What is less well known, however, is that these religions also required the sacrifice of children as an oblation and even as a condition, for obtaining blessings from the gods. We read in the Office of Readings for today's Divine Office that the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, charging the Jews of imitating the pagans in their practice of child homicide. Said the Lord, "They have built high places for Baal to immolate their sons in fire as holocausts to Baal: such a thing as I neither commanded nor spoke of, nor did it ever enter my mind."
As we read statements like the foregoing, we ask ourselves: how could human beings be so deluded as to seriously believe that their gods required human sacrifice as a condition for receiving divine favors? The key word is "deluded." Thirty years of teaching comparative religion has taught me that there is no limit to the irrational, indeed insane, practices that religious mythology will not put into practice as a mandate from the deities in whom they believed. Thus we read in the history of the Aztecs in South America before Columbus that they would kill up to ten thousand children on a major feast day in honor of one of their gods. Although seldom mentioned, infanticide as a religious ritual was practiced in India before its colonization by Great Britain.
We return to the thesis that should be explored far beyond the time we can give it in this conference. Abortion as the widespread practice that it has become today is incredibly a religious practice. It is inspired by the evil spirits who, in Christian terms, were and are the malignant deities of paganism. These deities, often goddesses, demanded the sacrifice of children to be propitiated. Unless children were killed and offered to these gods, they would avenge their anger against the people in the most devastating ways.
As believing Catholics, we know that behind the murder of unborn children is the superhuman mind and malevolent will of Satan and his minions. To know this is to also know that only divine power is a match for the demonic power behind abortion. This divine power is the power of the God who became man in order, as He told us, to conquer the devil as master of this world.
How did Christ provide for the conquest of Satan and his agents? He did so by dying on the cross. The one who died on Calvary was man, but this man was the living God. On these premises, Calvary is the divine sacrifice because it was God who assumed a human body and a human soul which could separate in a human death on Good Friday. Except for this divine sacrifice of Jesus Christ there would be no hope for the human race.
However, let us be clear. Christ did die for our salvation. He shed His blood on Calvary. In that sense, He completed the mission given to Him by His Father. But really that was only the beginning. By His sacrifice on Calvary, He won for us, the title to the graces we need to reach our eternal destiny. But this same Jesus Christ made sure that these graces would be communicated to mankind until the end of time. The principal channel of these graces is the Sacrifice of the Mass.
The graces which Christ pours out on a sinful world through the daily offering of Mass are the graces which a homicidal world needs to return to its worship of the one true God, and cease committing the crimes of abortion which are really acts of worship of the evil deities who we know are the evil spirits.
The Sacrifice of the Mass, therefore, provides us with the light and strength we need to live sacrificial lives. But we must use these graces and really live lives of sacrifice. If we do, and in the measure that we do, we shall obtain for the agents of death the miraculous graces they need to abandon their idolatry and return to the worship of the one true God.
Our faith tells us that the Sacrifice of the Mass is at once the sacrifice of Christ and our sacrifice, too. Christ has done all that He could by dying on the cross. We must do all that we can to follow in His footsteps and die to ourselves out of love for Him.
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