Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is the Mass a sacrifice?

The following is a Q & A which was posted on

Scriptural Basis of the Mass as Sacrifice

ROME, SEPT. 26, 2006 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Where are we commanded to have a sacrifice in our formal worship of God? Protestants, for the most part, worship with singing, some collective prayers and long sermons. Where in the Bible does it say that proper worship contains a sacrifice? Also a review of where in the Bible the Mass parts come from and why we include them in Mass would be useful. Again, it will come down to convincing a "sola scriptura" believer that Scripture says we must do it. Any help would be appreciated. -- J.C., Leavenworth, Kansas

A: A full answer to this question exceeds the possibilities of this column. There are, however, many worthy resources available online. Web sites such as Catholic Answers
( contain, among other elements, Father Mitch Pacwa's "Is the Mass a Sacrifice?" (see for example

The Old Testament contains many divine commands to perform sacrifices. All of the complex liturgical rituals described in Leviticus, for example, are ostensibly commanded by God through Moses.

Perhaps the most important sacrifices commanded by God in the Old Testament were those in which the Almighty sealed a covenant. This includes the one with Noah after the flood, the pact made with Abraham, and above all the sacrifice of the paschal lamb in Egypt, a covenant that was completed 50 days later with another sacrifice at Sinai.

It was this covenant that was renewed each year at the Passover by means of a sacrificial ritual that was a "memorial" ("zikkaron" in Hebrew). It was not a mere recalling but rather one that ritually made present and ratified and renewed the saving events that had occurred so many years before.

For Catholics, the central divine command to worship, using a sacrifice, came from the lips of Christ when he told the apostles at the Last Supper, "Do this as in memory of me."

In doing so, he specifically recalled the Jewish Passover as a memorial and applied it to himself and his upcoming sacrifice on the cross, with a totally new and definitive meaning.

In this context Our Lord's words "This is my body, which is given for you" (Luke 22:19) correspond to those of Exodus 12:27: "[This ritual] is the sacrifice of the Passover in honor of Yahweh" when he freed Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The words "For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28) echo those of Exodus 24:8 when Moses says: "This … is the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you."

We are thus before a unique sacrifice, the memorial sacrament of Christ's paschal sacrifice. Through it he has brought salvation to all mankind and sealed a new and eternal covenant in his blood.

Although the apostles probably did not immediately grasp the full meaning of Christ's gesture in the cenacle, their reflection on his words and actions and their familiarity with the Passover as a memorial quickly led them to understand that Our Lord had commanded them to repeat the ritual that he had established.

They understood that this ritual was the definitive paschal sacrifice which made present Christ's unique sacrifice on Calvary and in doing so ratified and renewed the new and eternal covenant.

Therefore, God has commanded us to worship with a sacrifice, his own unique sacrifice.

All other forms of ritual sacrifice have fallen by the wayside as Christ's sacrifice has an infinite worth that absorbs all the values and intentions expressed in the ancient sacrifices.

The Mass is a sacrifice insofar as it is the memorial that ritually renews and makes present to us, in time, Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross.

The personal prayers and sacrifices of Christians reach their fulfillment when they are united to Christ's sacrifice through full, devout and active participation at Mass.

As to where in the Bible the various parts of the Mass are found, the answer is less clear. In a way it is everywhere and nowhere.

Everywhere, because the entire Mass is animated by Scripture. Almost all of the prayers and texts have a scriptural background and the entire rite is developed as a fruit of Christ's command to continue his actions.

Nowhere, in the sense that we will not find explicit commands to say, "Sing the Sanctus after the preface." Rather, the ritual has developed over time as a response to the scriptural exhortation to pray, to repeat the sacrifice, etc.

In this case even a Protestant would have to accept that the details of his worship (songs, psalms and long sermons, etc.) are found in the Bible only in very general terms.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Breaking the Bread (Sept. 24)

Biblical Reflections on the Sunday Mass Readings
September 24 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 Psalm 54:3-8 James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37
find readings on web at

"Servant of All"

In today's First Reading, it's like we have our ears pressed to the wall and can hear the murderous grumblings of the elders, chief priests and scribes--who last week Jesus predicted would torture and kill Him (see Mark 8:31; 10:33-34).

The liturgy invites us to see this passage from the Book of Wisdom as a prophesy of the Lord's Passion. We hear His enemies complain that "the Just One" has challenged their authority, reproached them for breaking the law of Moses, for betraying their training as leaders and teachers.

And we hear chilling words that foreshadow how they will mock Him as He hangs on the cross: "For if the Just One be the Son of God, He will...deliver Him..." (compare Matthew 27:41-43).

Today's Gospel and Psalm give us the flip side of the First Reading. In both, we hear of Jesus' sufferings from His point of view. Though His enemies surround Him, He offers himself freely in sacrifice, trusting that God will sustain Him.

But the apostles today don't understand this second announcement of Christ's passion. They begin arguing over issues of succession--over who among them is greatest, who will be chosen to lead after Christ is killed.

Again they are thinking not as God, but as human beings (see Mark 8:33). And again Jesus teaches the Twelve--the chosen leaders of His Church--that they must lead by imitating His example of love and self-sacrifice. They must be "servants of all," especially the weak and the helpless--symbolized by the child He embraces and places in their midst.

This is a lesson for us, too. We must have the mind of Christ, who humbled himself to come among us (see Philippians 2:5-11). We must freely offer ourselves, making everything we do a sacrifice in praise of His name.

As James says in today's Epistle, we must seek wisdom from above, desiring humility not glory, and in all things be gentle and full of mercy.

Copyright 2006 St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Just what DID the Pope say?

We are all hearing a lot about what the Pope said about Islam recently... but be careful about where you get your news... not all media are reporting this event properly.

Here is a link to an article that might be of interest:

Also, interesting coverage of the event on various blogs:

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Poetry Break ("Ground for Joy")

Ground for Joy

My past lies
in the merciful hands of God
my future
in His wise love
the present moment
in which I live
is of no duration
how then may fear win
mastery over my joy?

By Fr. Ralph Wright OSB, Leaves of Water


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Why do Catholics have crucifixes?

Today, Sept. 14, is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The Church commemorates the rescue of the relic of the true Cross of Christ by Emperor Heraclius in a victory over the Persians.

Today's feast reminds me of a TV program that I saw on a Dubuque area Christian network a few months back. On the show, a Baptist pastor in Dubuque (I have forgotten his name and have tried to do a web search for his church but cannot find it) made an odd comment. He said that so many Christians in the Dubuque area "worship a dead Christ"... and stand in need of the true Gospel. The context of the whole conversation suggested that he was taking a scarcely veiled shot at Catholics. Sometimes anti-Catholic Protestants go to great extremes to attack the Catholic Church. Why on earth would someone who believes that Jesus Christ died on the Cross to redeem humanity have anything bad to say about a crucifix? The cross is the only acceptable symbol some Protestants say... because it acknowledges the resurrection. SO, WHICH SHOULD IT BE?... THE CRUCIFIX OR THE CROSS?

There is a history to this issue. Early on the simple cross was the accepted Christian symbol. Christians were being crucified themselves under Nero and a slew of later Roman emperors. Perhaps the image of Christ crucified hit a little too close to home. They would see the cross and it would be enough... it reminded them of the instrument that put Christ to death... and the instruments that would still be visible in their own day... waiting for the next Christian... or empty after the most recent execution of a friend. As the years went by, and as crucifixions became more rare... the symbol of Christ on the cross became more common. People needed to remind themselves exactly what it means that God took human form and physically died for us on the Cross. Remember also, that the cross was never really a symbol of the resurrection. The symbol of the Resurrection in the Bible is the empty tomb. (Jesus did not rise directly from the cross).

Now, let's look at a few Scripture passages to get a handle on this.

1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24
"The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing , but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Gentiles alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God..."

1 Corinthians 2:2
"I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."

Galatians 6:14
"But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

When Catholics look to and even pray before a crucifix, we do so because we follow St. Paul's example. He recommended proclaiming Christ crucified. Does that mean that St. Paul denied the Resurrection? Of course not! What it means is that the crucifixion and death of the Lord is intrinsically connected with the Resurrection. Without Calvary, no Resurrection... no crown of thorns... no crown of glory... no pain, no gain. The idea that God became man and died on a cross was a stumbling block in the time of Jesus and the apostles... and it remains a stumbling block to many people today. As Catholic Christians, we proclaim that Christ died on the Cross for your sins and mine (see Galatians 2:20). It sounds like foolishness to the world, but we boast in the crucifix as the power and wisdom of God. So powerful and loving is God that the Son became man, and suffered and physically died (the Creator of the world DIED!)... and rose again... out of love for us. That is how great our God is. Now that is something to boast about.

Romans 6:5-11
"For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might no longer be in slavery to sin. ... Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus."

See also: Philippians 3:10

Luke 9:23-24
"Then he [Jesus] said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

We remember that in this world, even after Baptism, we Christians still will experience suffering and eventually are own bodily deaths. Is there a purpose to suffering? Yes, when we prayerfully unite our sufferings (whatever they are) with the sufferings of Christ, our suffering takes on redemptive meaning. We can offer our suffering as a prayer for those whom we love. We offer our suffering in obedience as a gift of love to the Father... through the Son, ... in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus clearly told us to take up our cross and follow Him. When we see a crucifix, we remind our selves of the true (and graphic!) price Christ paid for our redemption... we remember that, through baptism, we have crucified ourselves to the world, nailed sin to the cross so that we can live a new life of God's grace... the life of the Resurrection... freed from slavery to sin. Everytime we go to Confession, we take our sins to the Cross, and experience the joy of the resurrection... new life.

I think part of the problem is that Catholics and some non-Catholics think and worship in a different way. We worship liturgically... certain days and seasons celebrate certain aspects of the the life of Christ. During Lent we focus on sin, the need for repentance, self-denial... during Easter, the focus is on the Resurrection. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter, celebrating the Resurrection. On Friday, we might abstain from meat or do some other sacrifice, pray to the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary or pray the stations of the Cross. Just because we celebrate the joyous birth of Jesus on Christmas one day, does not mean that we have forgotten about His death and resurrection. We focus on different mysteries at different times, always keeping in mind the big picture. Even in Mass itself, we have moments that bring to mind the sacrifice on the Cross... but then we pray: "Christ has DIED (crucifixion), Christ has RISEN (resurrection), Christ will come again. Life in this world is like that for the Christian... times of sorrow and suffering, times of joy, times of continual repentance, times of praise and thanksgiving.

Why would we shutter at the sight of Christ crucified? It was his supreme act of love for us!

This picture on the right is of an Orthodox Christian using the crucifix to protest a Madonna concert in Moscow (who has been attaching herself to a crucifix and wearing a crown of thorns at her concerts--funny how everyone rightly gets angry at Mel Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic tirade--for which he has apologized--and where does anyone repudiate Madonna's anti-Catholicism--something for which she has not apologized?).

Another article on the Crucifix vs. the Cross issue, see the following link:

Now remember that tomorrow - Sept. 15 - is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Mary remained faithfully at the foot of the cross, offering the Son she loved to the Father.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Breaking the Bread (Sept. 10)

Prepare yourself for Mass this weekend!... read the Mass readings
( )
and then read this reflection (by Scott Hahn's St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology):

Breaking the Bread: Biblical Reflection on the Sunday Mass Readings

September 10, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Isaiah 35:4-7 Psalm 146:7-10 James 2:1-5 Mark 7:31-37)

The incident in today's Gospel is recorded only by Mark. The key line is what the crowd says at the end: "He has done all things well." In the Greek, this echoes the creation story, recalling that God saw the things he had done and declared them good (see Genesis 1:31).

Mark also deliberately evokes Isaiah's promise, which we hear in today's First Reading--that God will make the deaf hear and the mute speak. He even uses a Greek word to describe the man's condition (mogilalon = "speech impediment") that's only found in one other place in the Bible--in the Greek translation of today's Isaiah passage, where the prophet describes the "dumb" singing.

The crowd recognizes that Jesus is doing what the prophet had foretold. But Mark wants us to see someting far greater--that, to use the words from today's First Reading: "Here is your God."

Notice how personal and physical the drama is in the Gospel. Our focus is drawn to a hand, a finger, ears, a tongue, spitting. In Jesus, Mark shows us, God has truly come in the flesh.

What he has done is to make all things new, a new creation (see Revelation 21:1-5).

As Isaiah promised, He has made the living waters of baptism flow in the desert of the world. He has set captives free from their sins, as we sing in today's Psalm. He has come that rich and poor might dine together in the Eucharistic feast, as James tells us in today's Epistle.

He has done for each of us what He did for that deaf mute. He has opened our ears to hear the Word of God, and loosed our tongues that we might sing praises to Him.

Let us then, in the Eucharist, again give thanks to our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Let us say with Isaiah, Here is our God, He comes to save us. Let us be rich in faith, that we might inherit the kingdom promised to those who love Him.

copyright St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology