Dear Friends and Benefactors, 6/18/2020
“The celebration of Mass is of as much value as the Death of Christ on the Cross.” (Saint John Chrysostom)
“Recognize in this Bread (Host) what hung on the Cross, and in this Chalice what flowed from His side … whatever was in many and varied ways announced beforehand in the sacrifices of the Old Testament pertains to this one Sacrifice which is revealed in the New Testament.” (Saint Augustine)
Ever since Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Mass, Catholics have been poisoned with Protestant theology concerning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Everyone needs to be reminded of the sublime truths contained in the True Catholic Mass, namely, the Traditional Latin Mass, especially the relationships between the Sacrifices of the Mass and of the Cross. The renowned holy authors of “The Preacher’s Vademecum” written a century ago give us much needed insight in this all-important topic.
“The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread. And giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye and eat: this is My Body: which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the New Testament in My Blood: this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of Me: for as often as you shall eat this Bread, and drink the Chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord until He come.” – I Cor. xi. 23-26
I. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the central act of Catholic worship. It is the principle of the Church’s life, the source of her energy, the seat of her vitality, the bond of her cohesive unity, the point of convergence on which all her rites and ceremonies and Sacraments center, the point of divergence whence flows the fecundity of all her graces; it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, “the consummation of all the Sacraments,” or, as St. Bonaventure calls it, “the compendium of Christ’s benefits to mankind.”
It is all this and more; for human language and human figures waste themselves in the attempt to picture all that the Mass is to the Church, and through the Church to the whole world. Beyond yea or nay, the world would, ages ago, have perished because of the sins of men, were not the merits of Christ’s Passion, as applied in the Mass, daily interposed as a mighty shield of protection between sinful man and the sword of the Almighty’s vengeance. Take away the Mass, and you take away all; leave the Mass, and we want no more. Daily the sins of men strike in the face of the Almighty and cry out for vengeance, but daily the Sacrifice of the Mass cries out for mercy on the sinners.
Whence is all this efficacy of the Mass? What gives it this huge power to stay the arm of God? It derives its value principally from the relations it bears to the infinite Sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus Christ on the Cross, because it was instituted as a standing memorial of that terrible tragedy, to apply its immeasurable merits for all time to the souls of men. This is the one great secret of its illimitable efficacy.
The Scriptural account of the institution of the Mass gives us the key to understand this great fact. St. Paul thus writes of the first Mass: “The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye and eat: this is My Body which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the New Testament in My Blood: this do ye, as often as ye shall drink, for the commemoration of Me. For as often as ye shall eat this Bread and drink the Chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until He come.” These thrice-solemn and thrice-blessed words suggest the great relation which, according to the divine intention in the institution of the Mass, was to subsist between that Sacrifice, first offered on Holy Thursday evening, and the adorable sacrificial tragedy of Calvary on the following Good-Friday morning. They show that the Mass was, by its institution, intended as a Sacrifice commemorative of the Sacrifice of the Cross. Our divine Master, with His searching knowledge of the human heart, knew too well that grateful remembrance is no characteristic of the human race as such ; but He foresaw with sorrow, that, unless some perpetual memorial of His bitter Passion were left them, the Gentiles, whom He was to call to the faith, like the Jews, would most ungratefully forget the God Who had saved them. Hence His object in instituting the Eucharistic Sacrifice was to leave us a keepsake of that love, greater than which no man hath – to bequeath us, after the ending of His Sacred Passion, a precious legacy, the sight of which would stir up even our cold, forgetful hearts to a remembrance of the Death which left us such a priceless possession. That keepsake, that legacy of our Crucified God, is the Holy Mass. Perfection is an unfailing quality of all the divine works, and hence the Mass, which was left as a memorial of the Passion, must vividly and forcibly recall the tragedy it was instituted to perpetuate. Let us compare the two Sacrifices and see how this is so. That both are Sacrifices you are all perfectly aware; you know that both the Mass and the Death of Christ on the Cross contain, in the most perfect manner, all the elements of a sacrifice – namely, a victim, a priest, duly empowered and authorized, a sacrificial act, by which the victim is immolated, and the purposes for which the sacrifice is offered. All these elements are eminently present in both Sacrifices, and with such a striking resemblance, that we may, in a most true sense, affirm that both are one and the same Sacrifice substantially. The holy Council of Trent expresses this astounding truth in the following words: “ We therefore confess that the Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same as that of the Cross, as the Victim is one and the same, namely, Christ our Lord, Who immolated Himself, once only, after a bloody manner, on the altar of the Cross. For the bloody and unbloody victim are not two victims, but only one, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of the Lord, “Do this for a commemoration of Me” (Luke xxii. 19). Since this is so, it is really a matter of the most urgent importance that we should try to understand, as well as we can, the precise relationship which exists between the Mass and the Death of Christ. If they are substantially the same Sacrifice, and if the Sacrifice of the Cross was one of infinite merits, as we know it was, surely then the Mass is of priceless value and efficacy. If, as we know, is the case, the Mass is a renewal and continuation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, what human standard can measure the treasure of mercy, grace and salvation which Jesus Christ has left His Church; and what limits are we to put to the boundless advantages the souls of men can derive from frequent and fervent assistance at the Holy Sacrifice. I know of no consideration half so potent as this to rouse up the slumbering faith of Catholics to a lively idea of what the Mass is. Let us then make a brief comparison of the two Sacrifices, according to the various elements that go to constitute a true sacrifice. And first as regards the victim.
II. The Victim of the Sacrifice of the Cross and of the Sacrifice of the Mass is one and the same – Jesus Christ, yesterday, today and the same forever – as really, as substantially, as personally present in the consecrated species of the Mass, as He was on the hard rough tree of the Cross of Calvary. It is the same solid Flesh, the same sacred Body, the same Body that was scourged in the Hall of Pontius Pilate ; which, according to the prediction of the prophet (King David), had its hands and feet literally “digged” in the nailings to the Cross, which was drained of its last drop of Blood by the sharp point of the Roman soldier’s lance – that same Body is just as really and personally and as identically present on our altars by the tremendous series of miracles in transubstantiation. And it is the same Body which is the victim in the Holy Mass, as it was on the tree of the Cross. Where, then, is our faith? Every Catholic believes this most firmly in his intellect, and many a loyal son of the Church would seal his belief with his martyred blood; but the misfortune is, that the truth does not come from our intellect into our heart, there to impress itself indelibly like a burning caustic, and thence to influence visibly our life and make us truly devout to the Holy Mass. The Saint King Louis of France was once told by a breathless courtier that our Lord had appeared visibly in the consecrated Host. On being invited to go and witness the miraculous appearance, the king replied, “Let those who have not faith go to behold this miracle; for my part, I believe in the real presence of my Lord in the Sacred Host as firmly as if I saw it visibly, for my eyes and other senses may deceive me, but my faith can never do so.” There is an example of lively faith which may well put many of us to shame. This, then, is the first point in the relationship between the Mass and the Sacrifice of Christ’s Death: in both there is the same Victim, actually slain on the Cross by the real physical separation of the Body and Blood; mystically slain on our altars under the figure of death by the separate consecration of the species.
The next point of resemblance is, that in both Sacrifices we have the same principal Priest and Offerer – Jesus Christ, at once the Priest and Victim on our daily altars as on Mount Calvary. Surely this, too, is another marvelous truth! According to prophecy, He was to be a Priest forever – not the Priest of one Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, infinite though that was, but the Priest of numberless Sacrifices, to announce His Death till He comes again at the consummation of the world. The single Sacrifice of Calvary was sufficient and superabundantly so, to satisfy the rigors of the Eternal Father’s justice; but it was not sufficient to exhaust the love “greater than which no man hath.” He should be a Priest forever, daily continuing and renewing the Sacrifice wherein He laid down His life for His friends; daily applying to the souls of men the infinite merits He accumulated for their benefit at the cost of His own Precious Blood. And He is a Priest forever, for He is the principal Offerer of every Mass that is celebrated in every place “from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof.” True, He acts through a visible minister, an anointed priest, duly ordained that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for our sins; but this mortal visible priest is but the representative of the invisible High Priest: he merely performs the external rites and ceremonies; he acts in the Name and Person of Jesus Christ, Who is the real Offerer, since it is His omnipotent power that changes the substance of bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of the same Jesus Christ, Who was crucified and slain. Jesus Christ, then, is the true principal Priest in the Mass, and offers Himself up for us to the Eternal Father every day, as once on Calvary He offered Himself for us to God, an Oblation and a Victim of sweet odor (Eph. v. 2).
III. The sacrificial act of immolation is the next point of comparison. On the Cross, Christ freely accepted the Death demanded by the rigors of the offended justice of the Father. “He was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.” A most ignominious death was placed before Him, and, with desire desiring to eat that Pasch too, He stretched forth in yearning and longing His sacred arms to embrace the death presented to Him. That supreme act of sovereign conformity to the Father’s will was the sacrificial act in the Sacrifice of the Cross. But where is the principal act in the Mass? Where is the immolation of the victim? It is found in the words of consecration. You know that these words are spoken in the Name and Person of Christ, and by virtue of His omnipotence they at once bring about what they signify. Quick as thought or the lightning flash, the moment the words of consecration are finished the substance of bread and wine are entirely changed into the real Body and Blood of God the Son made man. Reflect for an instant on the awful significance of this change, and see whether or not it deserves the name of immolation – nay, almost annihilation. Was not the mystery of the Incarnation something approaching to annihilation? It was at least an “emptying out” of the Divinity, according to the famous words of the Apostle: “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil. ii. 7). And yet the humiliation of Jesus in the consecrated species is greater still. For in the Incarnation He concealed only His Divinity, while in the Mass He concealed also His Sacred Humanity. And besides, the humiliation of the Sacrifice of our altar appears to presuppose the “emptying out” in the Incarnation. St. Alphonsus de Liguori evidently thinks so, when, in describing “the many rough and lofty mountains” which the spouse of souls had to traverse in coming to unite Himself to His beloved in the Blessed Sacrament, the holy Doctor employs these most beautiful and touching expressions, which it is given only to saints to conceive and utter: “First, from being God, thou hadst to become man; from being infinite, to become an infant; from being the Lord of the Universe, to become a servant; from the bosom of the Eternal Father, and from the throne of glory to an ignominious gibbet.” These are the words of a saint, and it would be difficult to describe better than they do the unutterable abasement of Jesus hidden away under the sacramental veils. Do they not give evidence of an immolation of the Victim in the adorable Mass? Surely, here is humiliation, here is a thorough “emptying out.” How the angels of Heaven must be wrapt in most and adoring wonderment. That every morning Jesus, by one act of abasement, renews two mysteries – His Incarnation and His Death. His Incarnation, according to the memorable words of St. Augustine, that, “In the hands of the priest, as in the womb of the Virgin, the Son of God is made flesh.” His Death, by the separate consecration of the two species, which is a mystical representation of His actual Death on Calvary. That the author of all life, Who is Himself the eternal life – “I am the way, the truth, and the life” – that He should appear under the figure of death, “a Lamb standing as it were slain” (Apoc. v. 6). That He should surrender Himself abjectly and unconditionally into the power of His creatures, and perhaps – terrible to think – of a sin-stained creature. That He should offer Himself voluntarily to be shackled with the bonds to the lowly sacramental species, and become the love-bound prisoner of the Tabernacle. That He should become more helpless than He did as an Infant in the stable, where He had an Immaculate Mother to perform the offices required by childhood; and trust Himself to the custody of a weak man who has known sin. That He should assume the form of inanimate meat and drink. That the infinity of divine power and majesty should be, as it were, condensed into a tiny Host, which a draft of wind from an open window might easily toss about.
Ah, my friends, one does not know where to stop in describing the humiliations of Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These are not thoughts of pious persons in ecstatic communion with God. No, they are but sober truths of Catholic doctrine, yet how intoxicating they should be, if we had but a lively faith. Enough has been said to show that, in the Sacrifice of our altars, there is an immolation of the Victim, more real than the imagination can conceive. And all yet said takes no account of the mystic Death which Christ suffers by the separate consecration of the species. It is not an actual death, “for Christ rising again from the dead dieth now no more; death shall no more have dominion over Him.” Yes, since the Bread is His Body and the Wine His Blood, their separate consecration typifies, in a most clear manner, the real shedding of the Blood of Jesus from His Body on the altar of the Cross. But all this took place in a bloody manner on Mount Calvary, while on our altars it occurs in an unbloody manner. And this is the great point of difference between the two Sacrifices.
To explain adequately the relationship of the Mass and the Death of Jesus, under the aspect of the purpose of each Sacrifice, would require a long sermon, or even a series of sermons. Hence at present I cannot do more than refer to it in a few words. The purpose of Christ’s Death on the Cross was a four-fold one, to offer a Sacrifice of infinite adoration, thanksgiving, satisfaction and impetration to His heavenly Father, in atonement for the sins of men in all time and in all nations. His Death was an act infinitely meritorious, and superabundantly satisfied the divine justice for our sins. Our debt of sin was great; the payment was greater still. The dishonor of our crimes was indeed terrible; but the reparation of honor far exceeded the offense. One world sinned; but an atoning Sacrifice was offered, sufficient to satisfy for the sins of worlds innumerable. Yet, by the Death of the Saviour, these infinite merits were not actually applied to our souls. It was left to the Mass to do this. And here we see the real value of the Mass. Morning after morning it applies to the souls of men the infinite merits stored up in the Passion. The Passion turned once more toward men the face of God the Father, averted by their sins; it, in other words, made us capable of redemption. The Mass puts us in possession of the merits accumulated by Christ’s Death. It is certain that, if so were the will of God, a single Mass would be sufficient to apply all these infinite merits, according to the words of St. Chrysostom, “The celebration of Mass is of as much value as the Death of Christ on the Cross.” But that God does not so wish it is also certain, still who can limit the amount of treasure to be derived from this infinite mine? The ocean of His merits is infinite; no soul can, then, be large enough to exhaust it. Expand, therefore, the capacity of your hearts, by love and intense devotion, and rest assured that no amount of favors can exhaust the divine liberality of Him Who died for love.
I will say but one brief word in conclusion, for it is better to let these wonderful truths speak directly to your own hearts. Try to live up to your faith. Let the words of St. Peter Damian sound in your ears like a warning trumpet: “Of what avail is it to believe as a Catholic, but to live as an infidel.” After recounting the various miracles that occur in the consecration, Father Faber said that the greatest miracle of all was that men could be so cold and careless in their conduct towards the Holy Sacrifice. A single Mass, heard with rapt devotion and attention, can bring you more numerous and more previous graces than all the prayers, good works, sufferings and penances of a lifetime, unaided by the merits of Christ’s Passion as applied in the Mass.
We will end with a few more significant quotations from the Saints:
“Put all the good works in the world against one Holy Mass; they will be as a grain of sand beside a mountain.” – St. John Vianney
“Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let Heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension! O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of Bread.” – St. Francis of Assisi
“No human tongue can enumerate the favors that trace back to the Sacrifice of the Mass. The sinner is reconciled with God; the just man becomes more upright; sins are wiped away; vices are uprooted; virtue and merit increases; and the devil’s schemes are frustrated.” – St. Lawrence Justinian
“Know, O Christian, that the Mass is the holiest act of religion. You cannot do anything to glorify God more, nor profit your soul more, than by devoutly assisting at it, and assisting as often as possible.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard
“The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” – Pope St. Gregory the Great
“I believe that were it not for the Holy Mass, as of this moment the world would be in the abyss.” St. Leonard of Port Maurice
AVE MARIA !
Father Joseph Poisson
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