Corpus Christi: Sacrement of Sacrifice
Today I’d like to talk about priesthood, covenant, and sacrifice. In our second reading for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Christ is called the high priest of the good things that have come to be [Heb 9:11]. He is the one mediator between God and man. Really, in the Catholic Church, there is only one priest – Christ the head of the Church. All true priesthood is a sharing in his priesthood.
What does a priest do? I mean, in general? In all cultures, a priest leads worship, which in most cultures means that a priest prays prayers and offers a sacrifice. Nowadays, we usually think of worship as singing songs, praying prayers out loud, a homily and so forth. It wasn’t always that way. In the old days, and I’m talking about Old Testament, worship was going out somewhere, killing an animal, burning some of it, and eating some of the rest with your family or friends. Nowadays we call that a barbeque, and men still preside at it. Worship is offering something, showing God’s absolute claim on his creation.
In the Old Testament, there were different kinds of sacrifices: holocausts (a burnt offering), sin offerings, fellowship offerings, and so forth. There were sacrifices in remembrance of the great events of salvation such as the Passover, which was a celebration of God’s power to save and liberate. Worship, therefore, is offering, worship is sacrifice. The ancient sacrifices were on to something – making an offering to God, but they fell far short of the goal – it is Christ who makes the perfect offering of himself to the Father, and has brought those other sacrifices to an end.
The Eucharist sums up and surpasses all other sacrifices – it is the true offering of adoration, reparation for sin, thanksgiving, and fellowship. As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we are part of that sacrifice. That’s why it’s important to come to Mass on Sundays. At the Last Supper, Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me.” He did not say, “Do whatever floats your boat in remembrance of me.” He said “Do this.” This connects us with Passover, a feast of liberation, and with his Cross, the perfect offering.
Let’s look at that word remembrance – we use this word to mean something like an echo in our minds of a past event. The Biblical meaning of remembrance is that the thing remembered becomes a reality. Think of the times when it says in the Old Testament that God remembered his promises…God didn’t just say “Oh, yeah, that’s nice”. When God remembers, it happens.
When the Eucharist is offered, God’s memory is the one at work, and remembering makes us part of that event, or makes it present to us. That’s why it’s perfectly biblical to speak of the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ, and the celebration of the Eucharist as really being a participation in the sacrifice of Christ. That’s the difference between Mass and a communion service – in Mass we participate in Christ’s perfect offering. That’s why we display Christ on the Cross – to make it clear what we’re doing here.
A sacrifice can also make a covenant. Today we read the story of Covenant at Mt. Sinai. This is the Covenant of the Old Testament. This sacrifice makes a people; it inaugurates a nation, a community of people consecrated to God for the worship of God. In a more surpassing way, the sacrifice of Christ constitutes the Church, a people dedicated to God. The mission of the Church is to be a sacrament of communion with God and with each other, a communion which the icon of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the God who is worshiped in this offering [LG 1].
This is the role of the laity in the Church – a priestly people consecrated to God in Baptism and Confirmation. Your participation in the Eucharist is to bring an offering to unite to this sacrifice – the offering of your time, your labors, your joys, your sufferings. Nourished by this sacrifice, you go out to sanctify the world, to make the world a more holy place, wherever you go. I’m speaking about worship as sacrifice because I think that our culture is in danger of losing sight of this. In many places, worship has become entertainment – bring your cafe latte and watch the praise show; if you like it and feel good, then it was worship. Nope. It’s worship if you offer something. So if you had to get out of bed sooner than you wanted, if you had to go to the effort of dressing up, if you had to say “We’ll meet you later”, or had to miss a sporting event, then you’ve actually made a sacrifice, an offering, and are starting to do the worship thing.
The Passover is a sacrifice of liberation. Likewise, the Letter to the Hebrews says that Christ, the High Priest obtained eternal redemption. That word, redemption, in Greek means to obtain someone’s freedom. Sacrifice is an act of liberation – by letting go of things that are of lesser value, we make room for God. Sacrifice offers us freedom from everything that is of lesser value than God. Likewise, Sunday should be a day of liberation, of freedom. And yet, I see more and more people becoming slaves of the rat race on Sundays as well, bouncing from Church to work to a game. Keep Sunday free for God. Rather than see Sunday as wasted time, see it as consecrated time, dedicated time, time offered to God for worship, freedom, rest, re-creation and celebration.
In conclusion, today we honor Christ as Priest who has left us this unending sacrifice. He offered himself to make us holy. This is the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which makes a people dedicated to God in Christ, and it is our mission to gather all people into that unity in Christ. Finally, it is our role to carry that holiness into the world, consecrate and offer the world to God in thanksgiving and to draw others into this offering, that God may be all in all.
Praised be Jesus Christ – now and forever!
By Fr. James Lease