In this installment, an overview is given of “why” the Mass is understood to be a sacrifice, or the “re-presentation” of the one-time sacrifice of Christ for our salvation while acknowledging that the sacrifice of Christ was necessary for our salvation and that our worship is a participation in His one-time sacrifice.
Lesson 27 of The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism gives a very brief definition of the Mass as a sacrifice, noting that there is one true sacrifice of Jesus Christ in which he offered Himself for us to God the Father, and in which we participate through our worship in the Mass. When Jesus offered Himself He did so as an act of perfect love. His offering was as a true priest (priests being those who offer sacrifices), making a gift of His own life on our behalf so that our sins might be forgiven. His one-time sacrifice in His death on the cross was anticipated through His gift of Himself as bread and wine at the Last Supper, where through celebrating the Passover, He both fulfilled the Old Testament and established the new, eternal covenant through offering of Himself as the true Lamb of God.
Why then is the celebrating of the Eucharist considered to be a sacrifice?When Jesus offered Himself as bread and wine at the Last Supper, he provided a way for all generations to be able to participate in His one-time gift of Himself offered on the cross so that all might receive of His saving work of redeeming us from sin and death. His offering at the Last Supper and on the cross is one and the same: His giving of Himself as Victim for our sins by offering His own Body and Blood. The difference between the Last Supper and the cross is that in offering Himself of the cross He died in a violent and literally bloody manner; whereas at the Last Supper Jesus offered Himself in a non-violent and unbloody manner that could be continually offered and made present until the end of time. Ordained priests who stand in the place of Christ at the altar make present this one-time offering in the manner of the Last Supper such that Christ’s Real Presence in His one-time offering is made manifest, under the appearances of bread and wine as at the Last Supper – as a true offering of the life of Jesus to the Father as on Calvary, making it one and the same sacrifice (of Christ Himself on the Cross) in the unbloody and non-violent way of the Last Supper.
As an act of worship, the Mass is therefore primarily a sacrifice: it is the offering of Christ to God the Father on our behalf for the forgiveness of sins, inviting us to share in the fruits of His cross in the sacrament of the Eucharist. For us to rightly “participate” in this sacrifice is by offering ourselves in union with Christ through the priest who stands in the place of Christ at the altar. Just as Jesus gave Himself as an offering to God the Father in obedience, so we are called to give our very lives to God the Father through, with, and in Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit as a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” – for we truly owe our whole lives to God, especially as it is He who has made us, and when we were still sinners gave Himself up for us that we might live. Fully partaking in the Eucharist is only through this sacrifice; for were there no sacrifice nor resurrection of Christ, there would be no redemption and forgiveness and our faith would be in vain (See 1 Corinthians 15:14). When we rightly offer the sacrifice, humbling ourselves in obedience to the command of Christ to “Do this in memory of me,” we become partakers of fruits of His one-time offering of very self on Calvary, made present in the Eucharist. Thus, the “sacrifice” is essential to our being redeemed – for were there no sacrifice, there would be no salvation.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1356-1381 speak at length of significance of Mass as a sacrifice.