In assuming our nature, Christ became a sacrificial victim for the sins of the world. “God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” His every act was sacrificial through His perfect obedience to the will of the Father even unto the death of the Cross. But Christ’s self-oblation did not end with His death. “For that He continueth forever, hath an everlasting priesthood whereby He is able also to save forever them that come to God by Him; always living to make intercession for us,” (Heb. 7:24-25)
In the Old Law, not the slaying of the victim, but the offering of its blood was the sacrifice. Christ’s death — of which all the sacrifices of the Mosaic dispensation were but figures — was raised to a higher sphere by His ascension.
“Christ, having become a high priest of the good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, that is, not of this creation: neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by His own blood, entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of a heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, by the Holy Spirit, offered Himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God? And therefore, He is the mediator of the new testament: that, by means of His death, for the redemption of those transgressions, which were under the former testament, they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance,” (Heb. 9:11-15).
In Heaven, Christ exercises the fullness of His priesthood. To Heaven the Redeemer carried the accumulated sanctity of His earthly life of unprecedented self-denial, sealed with its perfection, His death. He has “entered once into the holies,” there to continue to offer Himself for us; to sustain and to perfect us children of the redeemed. Before His Father, Christ, decked with the diversified beauty of His glorified humanity, intercedes for us, and wills that we share in His propitiatory oblation, on which the earthly offering is grounded.
But the two oblations are really one, for the Priest and Victim are the same. To complete the Holy Sacrifice, the priest, not the people, must consume the Sacred Species. The one duty of the laity is union with the priest, that they may so offer the Mass as if it were their own offering, and thus share with him its grace and virtue.
Doing this, their faith will reveal to them every detail of Christ’s martyrdom. The love that brought Him down from Heaven will burn in their hearts. They will marvel at His obedience to the divine will in the weariness and toil of His mission among men. They will enter the judgment hall of Pilate with Him, and hear His unjust condemnation. The heartlessly cruel betrayal by one of the chosen Twelve will loom large before them. They will behold Him crimsoned with His blood as He contends with death beneath the olives. They will see Him mocked, and scourged, and spat upon.
They will observe how eagerly He embraces the Cross, and watch Him staggering and falling under its crushing weight. They will gaze with sorrow upon Him stretched on its hard wood, every bone numbered. They will listen to His prayer for His executioners in the very act of crucifixion. They will look on Him, the God-Man, suspended in midair between two outcasts, with burning thirst faintly reflecting His thirst of soul for the reclamation of the sinner.
They will behold all this, and then rise in spirit up to Heaven, where they will see the same divine humanity, eternally exalted and beyond the pale of pain, offered for us to the Eternal Father. Thus associated with the priest in the mystical sacrifice that unites Heaven and earth, man applies the grace of the Redemption, the efficacy of which depends on Christ’s daily oblation in the Mass and His perpetual intercession in Heaven.
It is the grace of the Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice that shows very clearly the distinction between it and the other sacraments.
Indeed, the other sacraments exhaust their power through the communication of grace. The Holy Eucharist does more. It gives the Author of grace and comprehends the whole divine economy of salvation. It is a second Incarnation, or rather, an extension of all the benefits of Christ’s taking on of our flesh. It is an act of infinite thanksgiving to God. It unites and is the pledge of the union of the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. It is the divine sanction for man’s salvation, because it daily renews, and applies to his soul, the merits of Christ’s Passion and death.
Again, the Holy Eucharist differs from the other sacraments because it is the reason for their efficacy, inasmuch as they depend upon the merits of Christ’s Death, which the Blessed Sacrament alone perpetuates. As regards its own end, the Holy Eucharist is all-embracing in its scope, influencing the entire sacramental system, since it continues the Sacrifice of the Cross, whence the other sacraments derive the effect of their manifold objects.
Once more, while the other sacraments benefit only the living, the Blessed Sacrament extends beyond time. Being the bloodless renewal of Christ’s death, and the constant manifestation of His intercession in Heaven, in its pleading to the saints in glory and for the souls in Purgatory, it is universal in its application.
Thus does it unify the whole kingdom of Christ’s redeeming love, uniting the children of the Church Militant with their brethren of the Church, both Triumphant and Suffering.
Like the love of Him who is daily offered in the Holy Sacrifice, the Holy Eucharist’s power of adoration, propitiation, and intercession is infinite. At the Mass, the prolific stream of grace ever flows from the heart of Christ into souls purchased by His blood.
What, then, in the words of Cardinal Newman, is “so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us?” The spirit of this greatest action that can be on earth must be ours, if we are to be conformed to our eucharistic God. Deep sorrow for sin should be ours as often as we assist at the Sacrifice that rejoices Heaven and earth, and receive Him who for us was “led as a sheep to the slaughter,” (Isa. 53:7).
What a contrast between our self-indulgence and Christ’s self-denial! The Savior immolated Himself, draining the chalice of suffering to its bitterest dregs, and He continually offers Himself on the altar and in Heaven for us who are so full of self. Only when we crucify self do we find Christ. “They that are Christ’s have crucified their flesh with the vices and concupiscences,” (Gal. 5:24). Self-renunciation in the anguish of earthly loss, in the most trying humiliations, and in the pain that nails us to the Cross with Christ, will prove that the Mass has transfigured our souls by conforming them to the sacramental God.
In imitation of the sacrificial Victim of Calvary and of the Mass, who in Heaven ever pleads for us, we must, with a constancy that knows “no change, nor shadow of alteration” strive after the perfection of sanctity: Crucifixion with Christ. By practicing lifelong self-denial, we can be assured of realizing this holy ideal.