Saturday, September 24, 2005

Eucharist as Sacrifice

1) “If you want a guiding metaphor for Opus Dei… think of it as the Guinness Extra Stout of the Catholic Church. It’s a strong brew, definitely an acquired taste, and clearly not for everyone…. In an era when the beer market is crowded with `diet’ this and `lite’ that, Guinness Extra Stout cuts the other way. It makes no apologies for either its many calories or its high alcohol content. It packs a frothy, bitter taste that has been compared by some wags to drinking motor oil with a head.”[1]

2) The ontological reality that this metaphor points to is the Mass as sacrifice. St. Josemaria Escriva – the founder – commented:

“When I was sixty five years old, I made a marvelous discovery. I love to celebrate Holy Mass, but yesterday it cost me a tremendous effort. What work! I saw the Mass is truly Opus Dei, work, as the first Mass, the Cross, was a work for Jesus Christ. I saw that the office of the priest, the celebration of Holy Mass, is a labor in confecting the Eucharist; that one experiences pain, and joy, and tiredness. If felt in my flesh the exhaustion of a divine work.”

3) Benedict XVI, at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, said the Mass was

“like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being… Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save” (underline mine).

4) The danger that we run is that this explosion provoked by nuclear fission be neutralized – particularly in this country – not by an outright negation of God (as in Nietzsche who “kills” God), but by trivializing God to a “hobby” that we attend to in our leisure time. [2]

5) The central core of the Mass is the “substantial” change that takes place in bread become Flesh, and the wine becoming Blood. The questions are: how is this sacrifice?; and how is it the very same sacrifice as Calvary?; and how is the sacrifice of the Person of Jesus Christ who is God, and who, they say, cannot suffer as God?

a) By substance, we mean “reality.” It is not the scientific term used in chemistry to denote a measurable “”quantum,” nor is it the technical philosophic term of Aristotle which is to be “in itself” as ontologically supporting the accidents. Benedict commented in sermons previous to being pope, “`Reality’ is not just what we can measure. It is not only `quantum,’ quantifiable entities, that are real; on the contrary, these are always only manifestations of the hidden mystery of true being. But here, where Christ meets us, we have to do with this true being. This is what was being expressed with the word `substance.’ This does not refer to quantums, but to the profound and fundamental basis being. Jesus is not there like a piece of meat, not I the realm of what can be measured and quantified….How should we relate to reality? What is `real?’ What should we be like, so as to correspond to what is true? Concerning the Eucharist it is said to us: The substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being. That is what is at stake, and not the superficial category, to which everything we can measure or touch belongs…
“Something genuinely happens in the Eucharist. There is something new there that was not there before. Knowing about a transformation is part of the most basic Eucharistic faith…. The transformation happens, which affects the gifts we bring by taking them up into a higher order and changes them, even if we cannot measure what happens….The Lord takes possession of the bread and wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.”

b) The “I Am” of Jesus Christ: The “substantial” reality that transcends the category substance is the “I” of Jesus Christ. This is a huge point because it is a transition from an epistemology of object to subject without relinquishing – rather it enhances and increases its ontological density – the realism of “being.” The “I Am” of Jesus Christ is not consciousness, but divine Being.

John 8, 24: “For if you do not believe that I am (εγω ειμί), you will die in your sin.” John 8, 28: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am (εγω ειμί);” John 8, 58: “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I am (εγω ειμί).”

(εγω ειμί) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Yahweh, the God who revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM.”

c) Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., preacher to the papal household of John Paul II, made the following remarks on these texts:

“One day I was saying mass in an enclosed monastery. The gospel passage for the day was that page in John where Jesus keeps repeating his `I Am:’ `You will die in your sins unless you believe that I Am…When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I Am… Before Abraham was, I Am’ (Jn. 8: 24, 28, 58). The fact that, contrary to all grammatical rule, I Am was written in the lectionary with two capital letters and evidently implied something more mysterious, struck a spark. The words `exploded’ inside me. Yes, I knew that in John’s gospel there were a number of examples ego eimi, `I Am,’ pronounced by Jesus and that this was an important feature of John’s Christology. But this was an inert, unproductive piece of knowledge. I had never found it in the least disturbing. That day however it was quite different. It happened at Easter time and it seemed to me as though the Risen One himself were proclaiming his divine name in the sight of heaven and earth. His `I Am!’ lit up and filled the universe. I felt myself to be infinitely small, like someone from the side-lines accidentally witnessing an unforeseen and extraordinary event or some great spectacle of nature. It was nothing more than an emotion of faith, but one of those experiences which, once over, leave a deep yearning in the heart.
"Anxious to know more about Christ’s `I Am,’ I consulted the modern commentaries on the Fourth Gospel and found them virtually unanimous in seeing an allusion in these words of Jesus to the divine name, as it appears for instance in Isaiah 43:10: `That you may know and believe me and understand that I Am.’ Centuries before this, St. Augustine had associated these words of Jesus with the revelation of the divine name in Exodus 3:14 and concluded, `It seems to me that, by saying, `Unless you believe that I Am,’ the Lord Jesus Christ had not meant to tell us anything other than this: `Yes, unless you believe that I am God, you will die in your sins.’”

d) Robert Sokolowski gives an account of the disclosure of the divine “I” of Christ in the Mass by showing the transition from the intracosmic “we” of the text of the Eucharistic Prayer to the transcendent “I” of Christ at the moment of the Institution.[5]

“Most of the prayers said by the priest during the Mass are stated in the first person plural. The priest says that `we’ come before God and pray, and he asks for blessings and forgiveness for `us.’ He prays in the name of the congregation and the whole Church. In particular, all the prayers in the Eucharistic prayer are expressed in the first person plural. From the prayer of thanksgiving in the Preface, through the invocation of the Holy Spirit, through the memorial and offering that follow the institutional narrative, through the intercessions and final doxology, the priest addresses God the Father by expressing `our’ thanks, praise, and petition. At the central point of the Canon, however, within the context set by the prayers spoken by `us,’ and within the narrative describing the Last Supper, which is also stated by `us,’ the celebrant begins to quote the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and, within this quotation, he speaks in the first person singular: `This is my body…This is the cup of my blood.’ Correlated with this quotational use of the first person singular is a citational use of the second person plural, referring to those whom Christ addressed: `Take this, all of you, and eat it… Take this, all of you, and drink from it.’ The same form is used when the priest, speaking in the voice of Christ, says that his body `will be given up for you,’ and that his blood `will be shed for you and for all.’
“This change of person, even within a quotation, is dramatic and profound. It is not merely a grammatical change. The words express a change of perspective, a difference in intentionality and disclosure. We as a group of Christians at worship, we as addressing the Father, living in our own present time and place, scattered into countless celebrations of the Eucharist all over the earth, `we’ are now all brought together to the single time, place, and perspective from which Jesus, at the Passover he celebrated with his disciples, anticipates his own sacrificial death. The one event on Calvary that we commemorate and reenact was first anticipated, before it occurred, by Jesus. It awash anticipated and accepted by him as the will of the Father. In our Eucharistic liturgy, through our quotation, we join in the perspective he had on the event that was to take place, that has taken place.
“St. Thomas observes that the use of the first person singular in the Eucharistic consecration is different from its usage in the other sacraments. In the cases of baptism and penance, for example, when the minister of the sacrament says, `I baptize you,’ or `I absolve you from your sins,’ he speaks in his own voice. Aquinas says that eh `form’ or verbal expression of such sacraments is stated `by the minister speaking in his own person.’ The minister, speaking as a minister of the Church, expresses himself as the one doing the baptizing and the one forgiving the sins. In the Eucharist, however, the `my’ stated in the words of consecration is the first person singular uttered by Christ and only quoted by the priest. St. Thomas says that the words expressed in this sacrament are now spoken as though spoken by Christ himself: `The minister who accomplishes this sacrament does nothing except to state the words of Christ.’”

What is of grave import here is to understand that the “I” of Jesus Christ pertains to a totally transcendent order and that although His self-gift took place in time and space, the “I” of Christ cannot be “circumscribed” by time and space and limited to it. This is the point of the “Christian Distinction” that Sokolowski labors in his “The God of Faith and Reason."[7] It is the presence of this “I” in the time and space of the ubiquitous and ever-recurring transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the "I” that is the nuclear fission, the explosion that transformed and continues to transform the world.
This Distinction is perhaps best clarified by saying that the Christian God is neither more Being because He has created nor would be less had He not. And this because the Being of God is of a totally distinct order than that of creation. To be specific, there is nothing in the Christian God that is not personal. God has revealed Self to be Three Persons who are pure relations as self-gift, such that the Father is the act of engendering the Son; the Son is the act of glorifying the Father; and the Spirit is the personification of the self-giving of the Two. Hence, there cannot be one without the other. Their “to be” is to-be-in-relation. Hence, God as totally personal is one as a triple act of self-giving. Yet they are irreducible to each other as opposing relations. Hence, God is a plurality of Persons. Such a state of affairs can only take place when to be = to-be-in-relation. And such a way of being is not given in creation save in the human person who is created in the image and likeness of the Son. Therefore, only where there is “I” can there be such being-in-relation. Hence, the “intrusion” of the “I Am” of the Son into time and space is an explosion, nuclear fission dynamizing a new way of being in the created cosmos.
6) The Sacrifice of Calvary is the Sacrifice of the Mass: In what does this sacrifice consist? It consists in the relational “I” of the Logos to the Father, taking the human will of the man Jesus of Nazareth (there is no human person) as His own, and subduing the sin that imbues it (“For our sakes he made him to be sin,” 2 Cor. 5, 21). The human will of Christ, laden with sin, will be turned toward self, while the “I” of Christ is pure relation to the Father. The contradiction of these radical tendencies produces the internal disruption that we could not possibly fathom but which appears in the form of bleeding from within in Gethsemane.

“He turns, and lo! There is blood upon His garment and in His footprints. Whence come these first-fruits of the passion of the Lamb? No soldier’s scourge has touched His shoulders, nor the hangman’s nails His hands and feet. My brethren, He has bled before His time; He has shed blood; yes, and it is His agonizing soul which has broken up His framework of flesh and poured it forth. His passion has begun from within. That tormented Heart, the seat of tenderness and love, began at length to labour and to beat with a vehemence beyond its nature; `the foundations of the great deep were broken up;’ the red streams rushed forth so copious and fierce as to overflow the veins, and bursting through the pores, they stood in a thick dew over His whole skin; then forming into drops, they rolled down full and heavy, and drenched the ground.”[8]

Ratzinger describes this intrinsic priesthood of self-mastery that is the essence of the suffering of the very “I” of the Son:

“Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of is own I: `For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills become one single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The `wondrous exchange,’ the `alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange, and only here, that that fundamental change takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world. Here community is born, here the Church comes into being. The act whereby we participate in the Son’s obedience, which involves man’s genuine transformation, is also the only really effective contribution toward renewing and transforming society and the world as a whole.”[9]
Christ’s New Mediation: Not Between Things and God, But Between Self and God: Christological Anthropology:

In this way, as God-man, Christ mediates between Himself and the Father. The anthropology speaks of subduing self as originally created earth that must be worked, mastered so as to become wholly one’s own. This is unique to an enfleshed person.[10] In this sense, the one comes to own one’s self, and to take possession of self and so be able to give or not give self. This is the pre-condition of the relationality and self-giftedness in the human person as revealed in the prototype of man who is Christ. This is the site of the real pain and the grounding of the ability to suffer in the body in a redemptive, free, fashion as gift. You can’t give what you don’t have. Only self-mastery gives self-possession.

Since priesthood means mediation, Christ inaugurates a new priesthood in his Person. The previous Jewish priesthood was levitical. But, as St. Paul says in Hebrews: “it is evident that our Lord has sprung out of Judah, and Moses spoke nothing at all about priests when referring to this tribe. And it is yet far more evident if there arise another priest, according to the likeness of Melchisedech, who has become so not according to the Law of carnal commandment but according to a life that cannot end” (Heb 7, 14-17). “But now he has obtained a superior ministry, in proportion as he is mediator of a superior covenant, enacted on the basis of superior promises… For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their mind, and upon their hearts I will write them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…(8, 10) But when Christ appeared as high priest of the good things to come, he entered once for all through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands (that is, not of this creation), nor again by virtue of blood of goats and calves, but by virtue of his own blood, into the Holies, have obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of a heifer sanctify the unclean unto the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered himself unblemished unto God, …And this is why he is mediator of a new covenant (9, 11-14) . For Jesus has not entered into a Holies made by hands, a mere copy of the true, but into heaven itself, to appear now before the face of God on our behalf; nor yet has he entered to offer himself often as the high priest enters into the Holies year after year with blood not his own; for in that case he must have suffered often since the beginning of the world. But as it is, once for all at the end of the ages, he has appeared for the destruction of sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed unto men to die once and after this comes the judgment, so also was Christ offered once to take away the sins of many.” (9, 24-28)

Jesus Christ is the Prototype, Not the Exception to Man

“In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, the first man, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself….”

The paradigm shift consists in experiencing man in terms of Jesus Christ instead of considering Him to be an “exception” to man. Until the Second Vatican Council, Jesus Christ was considered from above from the transcendent side of the Trinity, while man was considered from below in the observation of the animals with the specific difference of rationality. Christ was a transcendent relational Person; man was an immanent person as an in-itself substance distinguished from the animals only by rationality. Ratzinger says,

“The second great misunderstanding [in mediaeval Christology] is to see Christ as the simply unique ontological exception which must be treated as such. This exception is an object of highly interesting ontological speculation, but it must remain separate in its box as an exception to the rule and must not be permitted to mix with the rest of human thought…. Scripture expresses this point by calling Christ the last Adam or `the second Adam.’ It thereby characterizes him as the true fulfillment of the idea of the human person, in which the direction of meaning of this being comes fully to light for the first time. If it is true, however, that Christ is not the ontological exception, if from his exceptional position he is, on the contrary, the fulfillment of the entire human being, then the Christological concept of person is an indication for theology of how person is to be understood as such. In fact, this concept of person, or simply the dimension that has become visible here, has always acted as a spark in intellectual history and it has propelled development, even when it had long come to a standstill in theology” [11](underline mine).[12]

7) “The Priestly Soul:”

All the faithful, by the sacraments of Baptism and Orders, share in and are called to exercise this mediation that is the priesthood of Christ. St. Josemaria Escriva called it “the priestly soul” whereby each faithful and minister are called to be “priests of their own existence” by mastering themselves, getting possession of themselves to make the self-gift on the occasion of ordinary work. In this way, men and women live the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the street that is Christ’s Calvary. As he said on another occasion, “There is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it.”[13] On another occasion, he said, “Look,” pointing to a drawing he had made of a circle containing a cross with special proportions: “This will be the seal of the Work. A seal, not a coat of arms, which is something Opus Dei won’t have. It represents the world and, embedded inside the world, the Cross.” And in a meditation given in 1968, he said: “All the works of men take place on a sort of altar; and each one of you, in that union of contemplative souls which makes up your day, in some way says `his Mass,’ which lasts for twenty-four hours, until the following Mass, which lasts another twenty-four hours, and so on until the end of our lives.[14]

8) “The Lay Mentality:”

Freedom is fullness of being who one is by self-possession. One who has mastered self, and keeps mastering self, enters into possession of self. He/she is not determined to this or that by extrinsic necessity such as instinct, drives, etc. Freedom is the ability to decide about oneself. But that is the work of self-mastery.
The prototype of freedom is God. Ratzinger said, “The real God is bound to himself in threefold love and is thus pure freedom. Man’s vocation is to be this image of God, to become like him. Man is not untranscendably shut up in his or her finiteness. Certainly, he or she must first learn to accept his or her finiteness. He or she must recognize that he or she is not self-sufficient and not autonomous. He or she must give up the lie of independence of all relationships and doing what you want. He or she must say yes to his or her need, yes to the other person, yes to creation, yes to the limitation and direction of his or her own nature [The “good,” by the way is the truth of self-giving as imaging the divine Person of the Son as obedience]. The person who can merely choose between arbitrary options is not yet free. The free person is only someone who takes the criteria for his or her action from within and needs to obey no external compulsion. For this reason the person who has become at one with his or her essential nature, at one with truth itself, is free. The person who is at one with truth [i.e., image of God as self-gift] no longer acts according to external necessities and compulsions; in him or her nature, desire and action have come to coincide. In this way man within the finite can come into contact with the infinite, bind himself or herself to it and thus, precisely by recognizing his or her limits, himself or herself become infinite. Thus at the end it becomes visible once again that the Christian doctrine of freedom is not some petty moralism. It is guided by a comprehensive vision of man: it sees man in a historical perspective that at the same time transcends all history.”[15]


On the Mass as sacrifice, John Paul II wrote: “The Mass makes present the sacrifice of the Cross; it does not add to that sacrifice nor does it multiply it. What is repeated is its memorial celebration, its `commemorative representation’ (memorialis demonstratio), which makes Christ’s one, definitive redemptive sacrifice always present in time. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic mystery cannot therefore be understood as something separate, independent of the Cross or only indirectly referring to the sacrifice of Calvary.
“By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food.”

Benedict XVI said that the Mass is festal to the extent that the Mass answers the question of death. To not resolve death is ultimately not to be festal in truth. “We have said that liturgy is festal, and the feast if about freedom, the freedom of being which is there beneath the role-playing. But where we speak of being, we also raise the question of death. Therefore the festal celebration, above all else, must address itself to the question of death…. The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy – Eucharist – is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection… As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection. To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ. And as for the joy it heralds, it presupposes that we have entered into this mystery of death”[17] (italics/bold mine).

[1] John L. Allen, Jr. Opus Dei, Doubleday (2005) 1.
[2] Cardinal Francis George remarked: “We cannot permit him [God] to have power or we will lose our freedom. If God can make no demands, then religion is necessarily a hobby. It is what we do in our leisure time, particularly in the kind of leisure time we have invented with the weekend…. It is leisure time. It is a time for self-expression. If religion is one form of self-expression and if you want to express yourself that way, then that’s fine. If it’s not, that’s fine too. In any event, neither religion nor church nor God can make demands on what you do with your free time, what you do in your leisure time. Religion is a leisure time activity, not a way of life;” The Laity and the Contemporary Cultural Milieu, Origins, September 11, 2003, p. 3.
[3] J. Ratzinger, God is Near Us, Ignatius (2003) 85-86.
[4] Raniero Cantalamessa, Jesus Christ, The Holy One of God, The Liturgical Press (1991) 45-46.
[5] Keep in mind the “Christian Distinction” is the radical difference between the pagan gods and the God Who reveals Himself to be Creator. The pagan gods, including the One of Plato and the Prime Mover of Aristotle, were the greatest and the most, but always within the experienced cosmos. The revealed and revealing God of Judeo-Christianity stands over and above the created cosmos such that He would not be less if the cosmos did not exist; and He is not more now that it is. The very texture of the Creator-Being of
Revelation is “other” than that of creation. In this concrete point, that “texture” is personal and subjective as “I” and is totally relational in the sense that each of the divine Persons is totally relational as self-gift.
The most difficult point to grasp here is that the distinction between God and the world takes place in two different epistemological horizons. The God of revelation is grasped by the experience of self-gift that is called faith. The knowledge of the Revealer is a consciousness before it is a concept. The gods of the cosmos are known conceptually and are based on sensation and abstraction, but not on the experience of self-giving, a self-giving (faith) that is a response to revelation that is self-giving on the part of God. Sokolowski says: “The Christian distinction between the world and God may receive its precise verbal formulation in a theoretical context, since it is described especially by theologians and philosophers, but the the distinction does not emerge for the first time in this theoretical setting. It receives its formulation in reflective thought because it has already been achieved in the life that goes on before reflective thinking occurs. The distinction is lived in Christian life, and most originally it was lived and expressed in the life of Jesus, after having been anticipated, and hence to some extent possessed, in the Old Testament history which Jesus completed. The Christian distinction between God and the world is there for us now, as something for us to live and as an issue for reflection, because it was brought forward in the life and teaching of Christ, and because that life and teaching continue to be available in the life and teaching of the Church. This is how the Christian understanding of God as creator, the understanding that Anselm formulates for us, has ben in fact achieved;” Robert Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason UNDP (1982) 23-24.
[6] R. Sokolowski, Eucharistic Presence, A Study in the Theology of Disclosure, CUA (1993) 13-15.
[7] UNDP (1982) 21-40.
[8] John Henry Newman Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion PPS.
[9] J. Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1984) 92-93.
[10] If God had not become man, He could not master Himself since there is nothing created to master. Only a God-man and a person created in the image of the divine Persons that is enfleshed can be priest in the sense of mastering self and making the gift of self. As unincarnate divine Person, He is fullness of relation as self-giving in given act.
[11] J. Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio 17 (Fall 1990) 449-450.
[12] The orientation of the Magisterial documents leading up to “Mane Nobiscum Domine” as the blueprint of a year of the Eucharist, is aimed at the praxis of the Second Vatican Council and the entire pontificate of John Paul II. The goal is to create a new world culture dynamized by the human person as worker (subject) and not merely on such social structures such as Capitalism or Socialism (object). Since Christ is the very revelation and meaning of man, Adam being merely a “type,” the prototype of work for man will be revealed in the supreme “work” of Jesus Christ, the obedience to the Father as death on the Cross. True obedience is not extrinsic performance, but submission of the very “I” of the person. And since the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the instantiation of that eternal act of Self-gift of the Logos to the Father that transcends time and space, the Mass becomes the template and meaning of all human work. That template and that meaning is the action of self-gift.
[13] Conversations, 114.
[14] Meditation, St. Joseph our Father and Lord, 19 march 1968.
[15] J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism and Politics, Crossroad (1988) 274-275.
[16] John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, #12.
[17] J. Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, Ignatius (1981 in German; 1986 in English) 64-65.


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Joseph Smith Jr.