The Eucharist as sacrifice
When thinking about the Eucharist, I think we’re sometimes content to stop at teaching about the Real Presence, as if talking about Christ becoming present substantially in the bread and wine at Mass is “truly enough.” Honestly, it would be truly enough. Receiving the glorified Body of Christ in the Eucharist is truly enough! Being in the divine presence of God while celebrating the Eucharist is truly enough! There’s enough “content” regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to spend the rest of our lives with, really.
But our God isn’t about “enough.”
We speak of the “superabundance” of God. We read in the Catechism that Christ becoming “‘obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience of Adam” (CCC 441) and “the miracles of the multiplication of loves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist” (CCC 1335).
And so really, talking about the Real Presence is only part of our task. In fact, it can be said that the Mass doesn’t exist just so that you and I can receive communion. The Mass exists so that you and I can participate in the very life of Jesus Christ, especially His Paschal Mystery – His passion, death, and resurrection. The Mass allows us to participate in the central action of Christ’s Paschal Mystery: His sacrifice in offering himself to God the Father for our salvation. To put it curtly: Christ does something with His body on the cross at Calvary – He offers it to God, the Father. So too, then, does the mystical Body of Christ on Earth – the Church – do something with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist at every Mass. The Eucharist doesn’t exist simply to sit on our altars or in our tabernacles (although that by itself would “be enough”). The Eucharist exists so that we may do something – and by doing that something – we participate in the Paschal Mystery at its core in a very concrete, very real way.
Here we get to the heart of the Mass. The Mass is a sacrifice. The language of sacrifice has largely been lost over the years; many Catholics sadly would not recognize the meaning behind the phrase “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Space here doesn’t allow me to explore the meaning of the sacrifice of the Mass in any great depth. Suffice it to say here that the Eucharist as sacrifice is an example of God’s superabundant love for us. Christ isn’t content simply to be present at Mass; He wants us to participate in His very offering of himself to God the Father that was accomplished once for all on Calvary. We participate through the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass. So far from shying away from this idea of sacrifice, let us embrace it, and pray with greater zeal in the Eucharistic Prayer, “we offer you, Lord, the Bread of Life and the chalice of salvation, giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you.”
— Josh Perry is the director of the Office of Worship for the Diocese of Burlington.
—Originally published in the Sept. 30-Oct. 6, 2023, edition of The Inland See.