Saturday, March 07, 2009

Sacrifice & Sacrament

This month at my parish I gave two talks on successive Monday nights on the topic of the Sacred Liturgy. The talks were well attended and went over very well - regarding content, I did not really touch on anything that any reader of this blog probably wouldn't already know, but I have to say that some of the people who attended the talks were somewhat blown away by.

Myself and other bloggers of the traditionalist school have pointed out that conservative Catholics (a loose label which encompasses orthodox, faithful Catholics who get most of their information about Catholicism from modern Catholic media outlets) tend to place an overemphasis on the reception of Holy Communion at Mass as the most important element of the liturgy, as opposed to the offering of Christ to God the Father for the atonement of sins and for the repose of the Holy Souls. Thus, the focus is very much on the sacrament of the Eucharist with not so much understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass.

This part of the talks proved to be the highlight of the evening as I watched people's faces light up with clarity as they perceived the important distinctions between the sacrifice and the sacrament in the Mass. I thought it might be fruitful to go over a few of them here.

The sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrament of the Eucharist are closely united and difficult to distinguish, but they are nevertheless distinct elements. First, the sacrifice of the Mass is transitory, but the sacramental presence is abiding. The sacrifice of the Mass begins at a certain point and ends at a certain point within the liturgy, but the sacramental presence of Jesus abides even after the Mass so long as the sacred species remain. Therefore, we can say that Jesus' sacramental presence in the Eucharist is permanent while His sacrifice is temporary.

Second, the two elements differ in to whom they are directed towards. The sacrifice of the Mass is directed towards God, as it is the very sacrifice of Jesus Himself offering Himself for the sins of the world, a perfect offering, to God the Father, and the Father receives it. On the other hand, the sacrament of the Eucharist is given to the people for their sanctification - or, if it is being exposed in the monstrance, for the adoration of the people.

Finally, there is the fact that regarding the sacrament, the faithful are able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ fully by only partaking of one of the species, the sacred host, without the necessity of partaking of the chalice. This is perfectly acceptable, commendable and allows the recipient to share in the true Body and Blood of Christ. However, regarding the sacrifice of the Mass, the priest is obligated to consecrate both the bread and the wine together, even if nobody but himself were to partake of the chalice. This is because the sacrificial element of the Mass necessitates the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ under sacramental signs. A layman may receive only one element, but a priest may never consecrate under one only.

I'm sure we all know these things already, but it is good to ponder these truths. Coming to a better understanding of the sacrifice of the Mass allows us to have more fruitful receptions of Holy Communion, while receiving Holy Communion with better dispositions will help us come to a more reverent appreciation of the sacrifice of the Mass and reap more of its fruits.


Jeffrey Pinyan said...

Pope John Paul II mentions the three aspects of the Eucharist (sacrifice, communion, presence) in section 20 of Redemptor Hominis:

The Church lives by the Eucharist, by the fullness of this Sacrament, the stupendous content and meaning of which have often been expressed in the Church's Magisterium from the most distant times down to our own days. However, we can say with certainty that, although this teaching is sustained by the acuteness of theologians, by men of deep faith and prayer, and by ascetics and mystics, in complete fidelity to the Eucharistic mystery, it still reaches no more than the threshold, since it is incapable of grasping and translating into words what the Eucharist is in all its fullness, what is expressed by it and what is actuated by it. Indeed, the Eucharist is the ineffable Sacrament! The essential commitment and, above all, the visible grace and source of supernatural strength for the Church as the People of God is to persevere and advance constantly in Eucharistic life and Eucharistic piety and to develop spiritually in the climate of the Eucharist. With all the greater reason, then, it is not permissible for us, in thought, life or action, to take away from this truly most holy Sacrament its full magnitude and its essential meaning. It is at one and the same time a Sacrifice-Sacrament, a Communion-Sacrament, and a Presence-Sacrament. And, although it is true that the Eucharist always was and must continue to be the most profound revelation of the human brotherhood of Christ's disciples and confessors, it cannot be treated merely as an "occasion" for manifesting this brotherhood. When celebrating the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the full magnitude of the divine mystery must be respected, as must the full meaning of this sacramental sign in which Christ is really present and is received, the soul is filled with grace and the pledge of future glory is given.

Boniface said...

The CCC mentions four elements: Sacrifice, Memorial, Presence, Thanksgiving (1356-81).

Nice JP2 quote, but I know you just pulled that randomly out of your JP2 Quote Generator. :)

Anonymous said...

The norm for receiving under only species is to receive under the form of bread. But "in case of necessity" the faithful may receive the Body and Blood of Christ under the species of wine alone. This situation arises mainly in the case of those suffering from celiac disease. There's a good deal of ignorance on this matter, and priests are sometimes reluctant to allow or make provision for this, so I thought I'd mention this little fact.

Anonymous said...

Circumstances prevented me from attending my normal parish Mass today. Drats

So my alternative was again the 5pm at a more local (do not read loco) parish.

It was both a valid sacrifice, and a valid sacrament. But I refrained from considering it a Lenten penance.... that is not "fair" to the Lord. I am always grateful to attend Mass.

But I can't help feeling something of sadness for the pew sitters. They seem to be satisfied with music, posture, and fellowship I would expect at coffee & donuts afterward.

Their youth "director" was liturgically correct (that is, she was dressed in purple today)..... but she was so active with hugs, kisses etc to so many who had just received the Lord..... from a dozen EMHCs.

oh well

Glen Beck noticed on Friday that fully 24% ( a fourth!!!!) of Americans think that the Fed Gov is not a problem because "...they have their own money..." Really!!!

I notice on Sunday that fully a fourth or more of Catholics think they are not a problem because they seem to have a pastorally accepted preference for reverence in the Liturgy.

Gotta love those special incantations and those bells....

But I closed my eyes and imagined, for a moment, how a real high alter would look in the niche shaped sanctuary. That brought some peace.

I guess if nobody cares, then nobody cares.

Thanks Boniface for caring.


Benedicta said...

Your point is very important. I went to the NO Mass for years and have been going to the Tridentine Mass for only 4 years.
This notion of sacrifice to the Father is not just a notion. It is the core of the faith. Its effect on the soul is tremendous. Indeed I had missed that at the NO Mass. Certainly everything within the Extraordinary form of the Mass reveals with much clarity this understanding to us. We, with the priest, presents the Son, the perfect offering to the Eternal Father. The Son came to earth to save us, and he longs to present us to the Father. I can't explain it more, I am simply a lay person. Dom Marmion in "Christ, the life of the Soul" and "Christ in His mysteries" will give you some of the secrets. Jesus at the Tridentine Mass will also make you come to this realization and you "live it" through the Mass.