First of all, I want to say that I was very disappointed at the rate of attendance at the Masses for the Holy Day of the Ascension. (I know I did not have masses at St. Mary’s, so part of this may be as they say “speaking to the choir”.) But what I want to say today will be a benefit to all, even if you did attend the Holy Day Masses. If you attended the Holy Day Masses, thank you. If you did not, you missed an opportunity.
Simply put, every time you choose to miss the Mass, you are missing out on an opportunity for grace. The reading on Thursday from the letter to the Hebrews included the following verses from chapter 9:
“Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But, now, once for all, he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.”
There is an unfortunate and persistent misunderstanding of this section of the letter to the Hebrews. It has to do with the lack of understanding of what the sacrifice of Jesus really was, and how it affects us.
Let me try to explain. The misunderstanding surrounds the Catholic statement about the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the correct way to refer to what we do here. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a once-for-all-time sacrifice. But because Jesus tied it to the Passover, he makes the Last Supper the meal that Christians eat that corresponds to the Passover meal the Hebrews ate just before they left Egypt.
The Hebrews had to eat the lamb in order to participate in the salvation that God had planned from the Egyptians. So too, we need to eat the sacrifice of Christ in order to participate in the salvation that God had planned from sin. So Jesus instituted the Sacrifice of the Mass.
But it is not just a parallel to the Passover sacrifice in Egypt. The Sacrifice of the Mass is also about our participation in the sufferings of Christ, in His Cross. We are called to offer ourselves on the altar along with the bread and the wine, making ourselves a worthy sacrifice because of our union with Christ.
Then, after offering ourselves to God as a pleasing sacrifice, he returns to us Himself in the Body and Blood as a way for us to be strengthened to offer our lives as a sacrifice outside of the Mass.
So, in a sense, (repeat) it is more important that we simply participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass than it is that we receive Communion. Why? The most important part of what Jesus did was to sacrifice himself. He calls us to do the same. In my estimation, it is most important that we offer ourselves to God. Then, when we receive Holy Communion, he is strengthening us so that we can participate fully in the work of Christ for the salvation of the world.
But we can participate in that work without receiving Communion. There are a some among us who, because of different circumstances, cannot receive communion at this time: maybe you ate too recently; maybe you need to go to confession; maybe you are not in a sacramental marriage; and there are a few other reasons to abstain from receiving communion. But whatever that situation might be, it DOES NOT PROHIBIT YOU FROM OFFERING YOURSELF to God in the Sacrifice of the Mass!
Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel today is part of his prayer on the night before he died. His prayer that we may be one with him in the Father includes in that oneness a call to make of ourselves a similar sacrifice that he has made, or that he was about to make. That sacrifice is made available to us through the Mass. It is the way we offer ourselves to the Father on-and-through the altar who is Jesus. In a few moments, as I prepare the altar, I will say “pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the Father Almighty.”
This is not just referring to the bread and the wine. This is referring to ourselves! We are offering not just the bread and the wine, we are offering ourselves. This is what makes the Sacrifice of the Mass so important! This is why it is such a tragedy to miss either Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation.
Am I scolding those of you who forgot, or worse – chose not to come? Yes. But I hope by what I have said that I have also given you a reason to commit, or recommit, yourself to offering yourself to God at every Mass you attend. If you have learned the love God has for you, and understand the sacrifice that Christ made for you on the cross, and the holiness that he is calling you to by making of your life a sacrifice back to God, there never should be a sufficient reason for you to miss Mass again.
Now, as we proceed with this Mass, prepare to offer yourself to the Father in union with the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. If we become a people choosing to dedicate our lives in this way: we are a sacrifice to God, and he will remake the world in his image through us.