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The Sacrifice Sacrament of the Mass

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

The Credo of the People of God was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI at the close of the Year of Faith on June 29, 1968. Its purpose was to give us a profession of the principal articles of the Catholic faith especially for our day. Among the articles is the following:

“We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of his Mystical Body, is in true reality the Sacrifice of Calvary, rendered sacramentally present on our altars.”

What, then, do we believe is the Sacrifice of the Mass? It is the Sacrifice of the Cross which Christ is now offering to his heavenly Father, through the hands of his ordained priests.

But we ask: How is the Mass the same as the Sacrifice of Calvary and how does it differ?

The Mass is the Same Sacrifice as Calvary

The Church teaches that the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross are one and the same sacrifice. Why? Because on Calvary and in the Mass is one and the same Priest and Victim; namely Jesus Christ. He offered Himself on Calvary and He offers Himself in the Mass. On Calvary, He offered Himself once only in the bloody sacrifice which caused his bodily death. In the Mass, He offers Himself in an unbloody manner, since He can no longer die. However, in the Mass it is the same Jesus, now in his glorified humanity, who surrenders Himself with his human will to the heavenly Father.

Moreover, the purpose of Calvary and the Mass is the same:

  • To adore the Holy Trinity

  • To thank God for his goodness to the human family

  • To obtain mercy from God for the sins committed against the Divine Majesty

  • To receive the graces and blessings we need to reach our heavenly destiny.

How the Mass Differs from Calvary

Having seen how the Mass and Calvary are the same, we now ask how they differ. And we answer with the Church that they differ in four ways:

  1. In the manner of offering. As we have already explained, on the cross, Christ was still in his mortal body. He could suffer in his humanity and actually bled to death on Calvary. But after his Resurrection, He can no longer experience pain in his own person or endure the agony He underwent on Good Friday. In the Mass, therefore, He offers Himself without the shedding of blood.

  2. By reason of the one offering. On the cross, Christ offered Himself alone and directly. No doubt his Mother, who stood under the cross, united her sufferings with his. But it was Jesus alone who pronounced the words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” It was his sacrifice as the Incarnate Word of God which reconciled a sinful world and satisfied the justice of God.

    In the Mass, however, Christ offers Himself along with us, and through the ministry of his priests. Only a validly ordained priest can offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. But all the faithful who belong to the Church are offered by Christ on the altar. They, in turn, unite their hearts in adoration and gratitude, in expiation and petition with the prayers of the priest who says the Mass. In fact, they unite themselves with Christ Himself as members of his Mystical Body which is the Church.

Our Self-Offering Through the Mass

What deserves to be repeated is that Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body, can no longer either suffer or die. But we, his living members, can experience both pain and death in this valley of tears. Through the Mass, we offer our sufferings and trials and unite them with the passion and death of Jesus Christ Our Lord.

  1. By reason of the victim. On the cross, the humanity of Jesus Christ was visible to everyone who watched the crucifixion. It was also audible to those who heard Him cry out with a loud voice when He expired. In the Mass, the true and full humanity of Christ is completely hidden. Yet it is our faith in this humanity, present on the altar, which is so pleasing to God.

    St. Thomas Aquinas was speaking for all of us at Mass when he wrote the hymn Adoro Te, in which he said, speaking to Our Lord: “Only the Godhead was hidden on the cross, but here the humanity is hidden as well. Yet I believe and acknowledge them both, and make the same request as the repentant thief.”

The Merits of the Cross Applied

  1. By reason of the effects. On the cross, Christ merited once and for all the price of redemption for a fallen mankind. On the altar nothing new is merited, but now the satisfaction and merits of the cross are applied to us.

There are two sets of verbs that should be placed side by side to see how the Mass is related to Calvary:

  • On Calvary, the Savior merited the salvation of mankind. He won for us the graces we need to be saved. He obtained the blessings of our redemption. He earned heaven for us by his bloody Sacrifice of the Cross.

  • In the Mass, the Savior communicates the blessings of Calvary. He distributes the graces won far us by the cross. He makes available the supernatural life, and light and strength which He merited by his crucifixion. And He now channels the gifts of salvation to those for whom He died in Jerusalem two thousand years ago.

Clear Church Teaching

The teaching of the Church in this matter could not be more clear. It was explained by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei, which is the doctrinal foundation for the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

On Calvary, Christ built a font of purification and salvation which is filled with the blood He shed. But if people do not bathe in it and wash away the stains of their sins, they can never be purified and saved.

The august Sacrifice of the Altar is the supreme instrument whereby the merits won by the Divine Redeemer on the cross are distributed to the faithful.

Calvary Continues

We may therefore say that the Mass is Calvary continued until the end of time. It is the sacrifice-sacrament of the Eucharist. It is the principal means instituted by Christ by which the treasures of his Passion are daily conferred on us poor children of Eve.

World Apostolate of Fatima
Copyright © 1990 by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima U.S.A. Inc.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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