Posted February 13, 2008
Book: The Mass as Sacrifice: Theological Reflections on the Sacrificial Elements of the Mass
Author: James B. Collins
Fathers and Brothers of the Society of St. Paul. N.Y. 2007. Pp. 71
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
In many places around the world the reality of the sacrificial nature of the Mass has been seriously down-played to the detriment of the spiritual life of the faithful. Pope John Paul II lamented this in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistica where he addressed his concern at the current state of affairs, saying, “at times one encounters as extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet.” Speaking about th impact on the ordained priesthood he went on to say, “Furthermore, the necessity of the ministerial priesthood, grounded in apostolic succession, is at times obscured and the sacramental nature of the Eucharist is reduced to its mere effectiveness as a form of proclamation.” The present work examines this whole question in depth, showing how, especially in the Roman Canon, the sacrificial nature of the Mass is emphasized and expressed as it always ought to be.
An Excerpt from the Book:
Praise and Thanksgiving
To the Christian mind the idea of “thanksgiving” and “sacrifice” are not foreign to one another. “An offering in the form of thanksgiving was a mode of prayer frequently used by the Christians of early centuries, as they had grown accustomed to in the Eucharist.
The many saints and martyrs, who sacrificed their lives for Christ, often gave thanks to God before their sometimes brutal death. An example of this is the “Eucharistic” prayer made by St. Polycarp at the moment of his death:
Condemned to be burned alive, he climbed the pyre, and while being tied to the stake he lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed: “O Lord, God Almighty. . .I bless you this day, at this very hour, you have found me worthy to drink of the chalice of your Christ. . .I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ.”
It was our Lord himself who began the Last Supper giving thanks. The objective of our own thanking and remembering is the sacrifice of Calvary in which Christ offered himself on the cross and redeemed the world: “As far as this concerns an objective remembrance. . .it must be conceded that with this remembrance the sacrifice of Christ is made present.”
Msgr. Ronald Knox says that our penitence, our confidence in God, our adoration, all these things, are perfectly in place for us, but it is the characteristic attitude of the Christian people in worshiping God is thankfulness. At the mass and especially during the Eucharistic Prayer, “we are catching our breath at the great deliverance, and thanking God for it.”
St. Augustine says that it is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion. Every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness, is a true sacrifice. We must therefore consider the Eucharist as both thanksgiving and praise to the Father as well as “the sacrificial memorial of Christ and his Body; the presence of Christ by the power of his word and of his Spirit.” The Eucharist is also a blessing by which “the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving.’”
The Roman Canon begins with the words: “We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son.” The Eucharist is called a sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ because it is he who unites the faithful to his person, “to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him.”
It is through Jesus Christ that the church can offer this sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all God has made. Through the Sacrifice of the Mass, all of creation, loved by God, is presented to the Father through the death and the resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.
Bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord.
The word epiclesis means an “invocation upon,” it is the intercession in which the priest begs the Father to send the Holy Spirit, “so that the offerings may become the body and blood of Christ and that the faithful, by receiving them, may themselves become a living offering to God.”
The epiclesis in the Latin text reads: Quam oblationem tu Deus. . .rationabilem acceptablilemque facere digneris. Literally translated it would be, “May God bless our sacrificial gift, may he consecrate, render it valid and spiritual and so worthy of him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that together with the anamnesis (which is the prayer of remembrance in which the church calls to mind the Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven) the epiclesis is at the heart of each sacramental celebration, most especially of the Eucharist. St. John Damascene commenting on the epiclesis says:
You ask how the bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the wine . . .the Blood of Christ. I shall tell you: the Holy Spirit comes upon them and accomplishes what surpasses every word and thought . . .Let it be enough for you to understand that it is by the Holy Spirit, just as it was of the Holy Virgin and by the Holy Spirit that the Lord, through and in himself, took flesh.
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Sacrifice and sacred scripture
Sacrifice and the Mass
Chapter 2: Sacred tradition and the magisterium
Fathers of the Church
St. Thomas Aquinas
The Council of Trent
Encyclical Letter by Leo XIII
Encyclical Letter by Pius XII
Encyclical Letter by Pope Paul VI
The Second Vatican Council
Chapter 3: The Roman Canon
Brief history of the Roman Canon
Praise and Thanksgiving
The consecration: words of institution
The mystery of faith
The Last Supper, Calvary, Mary, and the sacrifice of the mass