The center of the Mass is the Sacrifice of the Altar: the Holy Eucharist. Before we reflect on the second movement of the Traditional Mass, I think that it would be beneficial for us to pause and reflect on the purpose of this Sacrifice so that we might rightly understand each movement of the Ancient Liturgy.
All movements, prayers, and deliberate moments of silence within the Traditional Mass exist for the sake of the Sacrifice. For this reason, our meditations and internal acts of piety throughout every part of the Mass, from the prayers at the foot of the altar to the Last Gospel, should be directed towards this Sacrifice offered to God. But why is this Sacrifice offered to God? In her authoritative Tradition the Church has taught that there are four reasons for which the Sacrifice is offered to God: 1) Adoration, 2) Expiation, 3) Thanksgiving, and 4) Impetration. With the aid of St. Alphonsus Liguori let’s briefly reflect on each one of these reasons for the Offering.
First, we offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to adore and honor God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus Christ offered himself in perfect love and obedience to God on the Altar of the Cross, we are now able to offer up what he himself offered, namely, his perfect Body and perfect Blood. Any other offering is an imperfect adoration of God.
This is no small point. The history of religion has demonstrated that man is unable to adore God in proportion to His perfect Holiness, perfect Goodness, perfect Justice, etc. Man is incapable of fulfilling his duty of religion if he is incapable of giving God his proper due. All of those bloody sacrifices of the Old Covenant and of the pagans were a vain attempt to offer God his proper due. In other words, man could establish no just act whereby he could acknowledge the Perfection of God.
The New Covenant overcomes this severe impotence. Through the Sacrifice of the Altar you and I are able to offer perfect adoration to God. We can finally say that we have a Sacrifice that is “fitting and just” (dignum et justum). We can finally rejoice in the fact that we mortals can fulfill our duty to adore Him. Thus, St. Alphonsus Liguori states: “My God, I adore Thy majesty. I would wish to honor Thee as much as Thou deservest; but what honor can I, a miserable sinner, give thee? I offer Thee the honor which Jesus renders to Thee on this altar.”
Second, the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered to God for the expiation of our sins. Because the Sacrifice on Calvary is the same Sacrifice that Christ himself offers in the Mass, the priest offers it to God as the complete satisfaction for man’s sins. Because he himself offered perfect love and obedience to God in the separation of his Blood from his Body on the Cross, the Sacrifice of the Altar has infinite value.
Even though the Victim and Priest of this Sacrifice has infinite worth and merit, the fruits of this Offering in regards to forgiveness of sins and of temporal punishments for sins are finite because they depend upon the disposition that we bring to the Mass. For this reason our dispositions are of prime importance when attending Mass. Therefore, St. Alphonsus helps us realize the proper disposition in this prayer during the Canon of the Mass: “Lord, I detest above every evil all the offences that I have given Thee: I am sorry for them above all things, and in satisfaction for them I offer Thy Son, who sacrifices himself for us on this altar, and through his merits I pray thee to pardon me, and to give me holy perseverance.”
Thirdly, just as man was incapable of offering proper adoration to God before the New Covenant, so was he incapable of giving proper thanksgiving to God. In ourselves we are incapable of offering Him the thanksgiving that he is owed. Because of this inherent impotence in man, it is we that suffer because we cannot do what our souls desire to do: to give perfect thanksgiving to God for who He is and what He has done. Through this Sacrifice alone are we able to offer a proportionate thanksgiving (eucharistia) to God for his Goodness. We can now say with St. Alphonsus: “Lord, I am unable to thank Thee; I offer Thee the blood of Jesus Christ in this Mass, and in all the Masses that are at this moment celebrated throughout the world.”
Finally, the Sacrifice is offered up for the sake of petition or impetration. When the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God we should make our petitions (impetrationes) made known to Him. It is through his perfect Sacrifice that our spiritual and temporal goods should be brought to the Giver of all good things. Thus from Communion to the end of the Mass St. Alphonsus states: “You will ask with confidence the graces that you need, and particularly sorrow for your sins, the gift of perseverance, and of the divine Love; and you will recommend to God, in a special manner, the persons with whom you live, your relatives, poor sinners, and the souls in purgatory.
If we wish to be active participants in the Mass, we should return to these four reasons for the Sacrifice of the Mass. When we forget why we are at Mass we need to remind ourselves that we are here to adore Him, we are here to offer Him thanksgiving, we are here to offer expiation for our sins, we are here to petition Him for His good things. And through the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present on the altar, we are able to do all of the above efficaciously.
But while reflecting and meditating on the Sacrifice as an Offering to God, we must not forget that it is a Sacrament of Charity and Gift to man whereby the Sacrifice redounds to us in perfect communion with Jesus Christ. For indeed the Eucharist is not only called the Sacrifice; it is also called Communion.
The authors of this blog are the tutors of Saint John of the Cross Academy: