US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is the mass still a sacrifice?

By Joel Schorn | Print this pagePrint |
It's in there. At Mass Catholics pray to God to "look with favor on your church's offering and see the victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself. . . . Calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salva-tion . . . we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice."

Throughout the church's history and to the present day, the Mass has been many things-a community meal evoking the presence of the risen Jesus; the remembrance of his Last Supper and his death; communion with Christ and the church; thanksgiving and praise-but underlying it all has been sacrifice.

 Just how is the Mass a sacrifice? At his Last Supper Jesus made an offering of himself by telling his disciples to eat and drink his body and blood in memory of him. And this sacrifice, which Catholics reenact at every Mass, makes real, here and now, Christ's sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

 "To satisfy God's justice for the sins of men" was how the old Baltimore Catechism defined the purpose of Jesus' self-sacrifice on the cross, reenacted in the Mass. While the church's understanding has broadened, Christ's sacrifice celebrated in the Mass still gives Catholics a key to bringing his Good News to the world.

 Christ's dying for the forgiveness of our sins refers to his whole life, not only his death. Christ is the best model of a "person for others" who embodies God's love, compassion, and justice. His suffering and death were the ultimate expression of his suffering love-and God's-for humanity. The sins of hatred, misunderstanding, and violence killed him, but by enduring the destruction of his body he gave indestructible hope to all who suffer and who sacrifice for others, and forgiveness to those who inflict suffering or refuse to live generously.

 Sacrifice is not only something Jesus did; it's something Christians do as well if they are to follow him. "That the Eucharist contains the sacrifice of Christ is clear," liturgy profes-sor Kevin Irwin has said; "that his sacrifice should be imitated and lived in our lives of . . . self-sacrifice and service should be equally clear."

 In the sacrifice of the Mass, Catholics enter into communion with one another and with God. In this offering of themselves through Christ, they put themselves at God's disposal, to work in love and service for the good of the world.