The MOST Theological Collection: Our Father's Plan: God's Arrangements and Our Response
"Chapter 11: Renewal of the New Covenant"
Jesus made perfect atonement for our sins, and won for us, with an infinite title for each one, an infinite treasury of grace. His Blessed Mother shared in this work. Can we therefore conclude that we ourselves need not do anything except accept, for these merits are infinite, once for all?
The problem is compounded by the fact that the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the offering Jesus made as being once-for-all. For when Jesus entered this world He said, as we saw (Heb 10: 5): "Behold, I come to do your will O God." Then Hebrews adds: "In this [attitude of His] will we were sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
This seems not only to leave no room for us to do anything, but it seems not even to leave room for the Mass, which Vatican II tells us is the renewal of the New Covenant.1
But the inspired writer of this Epistle was not ignorant of the fact that Jesus, when He instituted the Eucharist, ordered: "Do this in memory of me." How then could he write that we are sanctified thorough His offering "once for all?" The answer is not difficult.
There are two things to note. First, we distinguish between the acquisition of the treasury of grace and forgiveness for us, and the distribution of that treasury. The acquisition of the treasury is sometimes called the objective redemption; the distribution, which goes on throughout all ages, is called the subjective redemption. The acquisition was done once-for-all. It estabished an infinite treasury, that is, an infinite claim to grace and forgiveness for the whole human race, in fact, for each individual person, as we learn from Gal 2:20. Mary shared in that work of acquisition, as we have seen.
Secondly, He ordered His offering to be repeated, "Do this in memory of me," for two further reasons, namely, so that we His members, as St. Paul says,2 might join in the offering, and so that an infinite objective title might be established by His offering in which we join. (As we shall see later in this chapter, His Mother also joins in every Mass.)
He wanted us to join, since as St. Paul tells us, we are saved and made holy if, and to the extent that, we are not only His members, but are like Him. It would be a strangely incongruous picture if our Head were a suffering, atoning, obedient Head, and we would not be like Him in these things.
Especially He wants our obedience joined to His. It is not that our obedience does Him any good-we have seen that before. It is that He knows our obedience makes us capable of receiving, open to receive. It is of no avail for Him to give, if we cannot receive.3
Secondly, the Holiness of the Father still loves the objective order, as we saw in chapter 4. We do not say He was obliged to provide an infinite title for forgiving us as He did, in the death of His Son. But just as He willed to do that, though He did not have to, so too, without any constraint, He wills to provide an objective title for the giving out of the gifts won once for all. Again, we notice that there are two phases, the objective redemption and the subjective redemption. The objective redemption is the once-for-all acquisition of the infinite treasury.4 The subjective redemption is the work of giving out the riches of that infinite treasury, throughout all ages. The Father willed to have an infinite title in both phases. He willed that we join in that title, by our obedience, in union with His.
On the altar, Jesus renews His offering of obedience, even though the Father does not ask Him to die again-He did that once-for-all. But the dispositions of the Heart of Jesus today, in Heaven, are the very same dispositions with which He left this world in death. So Jesus on the altar renews, or, rather, continues His offering, an infinite title for the giving out of the fruits of Calvary in the Mass.
Further, just as the Father willed to have Mary's obedience joined with that of Jesus on Calvary, so, as we will see later in this chapter, He willed to have her obedience joined to His still in the Mass. Thus the title for the dispensation of all graces through the Mass is a twofold title, the offering of the obedience of Head and members.
This title for the giving out of the fruits of Calvary is, of course, like everything in both old and new covenants, on the secondary level. The generosity of Holiness-Love is the fundamental reason for these gifts.
We often hear it said that the Mass is a sacrifice. We do not mean that Jesus dies again, nor that He has to earn all over what He earned once-for-all. But yet it is a sacrifice. In the Cenacle He told the Apostles: "Do this in memory of me. " St. Paul therefore says (1 Cor 11:26): "Whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup, you announce the death of the Lord until He comes." In a sacrifice, as we saw in chapter 4, there are two elements: the external sign, and the interior dispositions which are expressed by that sign. The external sign of the Mass is different from that of Calvary. On Calvary it was His bloody death; on the altar, as in the Cenacle, the external sign is the seeming separation of body and blood. For when Jesus says through His priest, "This is my body," and over the wine, "this is my blood" so that the two, body and blood, seem separate, that is a sign of death. Hence as St. Paul wrote, we "announce the death of the Lord until He comes."
The interior dispositions of Jesus on the altar are not just a repetition of the dispositions He had on the cross: they are numerically one and the same! For death makes permanent the attitude of heart with which a soul leaves this world (hence both heaven and hell must be permanent). So on the altar Jesus does not repeat His attitude of obedience; it is still one and the same act of obedience with which He cried out: "It is finished. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
So the external sign of the Mass differs, but the Heart of the sacrifice, the Heart of Jesus, is not changed, is not repeated, for it is still in continuation with the act He made on the cross. Hence the Council of Trent could teach that the Mass is the same as Calvary, "only the mode of offering being changed" from the bloody to the unbloody.5
In saying to the Apostles, "Do this in commenoration of me," Jesus gave them both the command and the power6 to do what He had done, to carry out the external sign of His interior offering in the Mass, in which He becomes present again. Whenever they or their successors, or a priest ordained by them, bring about this external sign, He, Christ, becomes present, in a remarkable act of obedience to their word, making Himself so lowly as to be present under the humble, lifeless appearances of bread and wine.
Vatican II speaks of two kinds of participation in the priesthood of Christ, that of the ordained or ministerial priest, and that of the laity.
Speaking of the laity, the Council said:
A bit farther on the Council makes clear what it means by "spiritual sacrifices":
Since there are, as we saw, two aspects to a sacrifice, the external sign and the interior dispositions which it signifies, it is clear that we could speak of a participation in either or both of these elements. Since the external sign is there to express and even promote the interior dispositions, it is obvious that these interior dispositions are by far the more important of the two. In fact, on Calvary itself, the external sign, His death, would have been worth nothing, would have been just a miscarriage of justice, without His interior disposition of obedience to the Father. As Vatican II said, "by His obedience He brought about redemption."9
It is clear that the Council is speaking basically of the interior offering when it speaks of "spiritual sacrifices" which are "offered devotedly to the Father . . . along with the offering of the Lord's body." That is, the Council is telling us that, in our daily lives, we should live out the will of the Father in obedience to Him, and then bring that offering of our obedience to His will to be joined to the offering of the obedience of Jesus on the altar in the Mass. So before each Mass we would do well to look back on the period of time since the previous Mass, to see what we have done in following the will of the Father since that time, to see what is fit to join with the obedience of Jesus. If we find some things not done well, these we may not join to His obedience; rather we will have to offer our sorrow, our regrets for not having done well enough in these points, and should ask for His grace to move us to do better in the future. We should also look forward to the days to come, to see if we can note any especially difficult thing coming up, in which it may be less easy to carry out the will of the Father. We should make a firm resolve not to fail Him at these junctures, and realize we cannot honestly join in the offering if we do not really mean to do our best to follow what He wants of us at all points.
The Mass really becomes the center, the focal point of life; if we unite in the one present moment of offering in the Mass both the past and the future, the Mass truly dominates all of life. Then no one could possibly say that to him the Mass does not mean anything. He may not have any special feelings, but they are not really important: it is the spiritual offering of will that is important and supremely valuable, with or without the presence of feelings.
In this vein St. Augustine wrote well: "The Church, since she is the body of the Head Himself, learns through Him to offer herself," in the "daily sacrifice of the Church."10 We could say that by this interior union with our Divine Head, we get "straightened out" each day, that is, our wills are aligned with His.
It is important to distinguish the ordained or ministerial priesthood from the priesthood of the laity. Vatican II says on this matter that "they differ in essence not just in degree." That is, the priesthood of the ordained priest is not just a higher degree of basically the same thing as the priesthood of the laity-it is of a different essence or nature. Why? Vatican II says of the ordained priest that he "brings about the Eucharistic sacrifice in the person of Christ." For at the consecration he uses the very words of Christ, He acts as Christ, as another Christ.11
Pius XII, in his great liturgical Encyclical, Mediator Dei, on which the Council bases its presentation, wrote, "that unbloody immolation, by which . . . Christ is made present on the altar in the state of victim, is carried out by the priest himself alone, as he acts in the person of Christ."12 He then went on to tell in more detail just how the people join in: "The faithful participate in the offering in this restricted sense, in their own manner, in a twofold way, namely, because they offer not only through the hands of the priest, but also along with him."13
Pius XII then goes on to clarify both ways still further: "It is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice through the hands of the priest from the fact that the priest at the altar in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, does so in the person of Christ, the Head [of the Mystical Body]."14 So the priest acts for Christ, and the people, being members of Christ, can therefore be said to offer through the priest. Secondly,
That is, they join their "spiritual sacrifices" or their interior dispositions to those of the Divine Victim on the altar.
We need to take care to avoid a misunderstanding of this offering: it is not that the ordained priest makes Christ present, and then all, priest and people, offer him.16 Pius XII made this clear in Vous nous avez: "When the consecration of the bread and wine is validly brought about the whole action of Christ is actually accomplished. Even if all that remains could not be completed, still, nothing essential would be lacking to the Lord's offering."17
Really, this is obvious when we recall that the Mass consists precisely in the fact that Jesus, through the ordained priest, uses exactly the same sign He used in the Cenacle to express His acceptance of the will of the Father, namely, He uses the seeming separation of body and blood in the separate species of bread and wine to stand for His acceptance of death. When that sign has once been produced, then the offering is complete, or rather, the offering consists precisely in His dispositions under that double sign. So "to offer" means that He makes this acceptance of the will of the Father, in which we all join. "To offer" does not mean to lift up a host or chalice and say or sing: "Lord, we offer to thee," nor to sing Amen many times.18
What of the external forms of participation in the Mass-answering responses, taking part in offertory processions and similar things? Objectively it is better to take part in these than not to do so. We say "objectively" because the spiritual needs of different persons are different, and allowance should be made. Today we have guitar Masses to please teenagers, special Eucharistic prayers for children, and other adaptations. So the principle is surely valid. But yet the internal participation, the union of our obedience with that of Jesus, is the essential thing. Pius XII's great and fundamental liturgy Encyclical again helps us. After raising the question of how the people should participate, he begins:
Then he goes on to explain the interior participation, in the way we saw above.
At the time of the great prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel were quite good at external participation in their rites. They loved to clap their hands and shout to God with cries of joy. But it was all externalism, perhaps even fun, and so God complained (Is 29: 13): "This people comes near me with their mouth, and with their lips honor me, but their hearts are far from me." Similarly, through Hosea, God said (6:6) "Hesed is my pleasure, not sacrifice." Hesed we will recall, is obedience to the covenant condition: without it, sacrifice is worth nothing.20
We already explained (chapter 5) why our stress is on obedience, where one might expect to hear of love. The truth is that in loving God, obedience and love turn out to be identified in practice. Pope Paul VI, in a text we have already seen, taught that obedience,
And it is in the Mass that we are assimilated to Him in this.
In the light of this, we can see what to think of those who say that only by many illegitimate, that is, disobedient, changes in the Mass can they make Mass meaningful. No wonder they never find the meaning: they are running at full speed away from the real meaning! For the heart of the Mass is obedience, and they think disobedience is the way to join with Christ's obedience!
There are, of course, other dispositions of the Heart of Jesus on the cross and in the Mass, especially thanksgiving, petition for favors for us, and adoration of the Father. As we saw in our introduction, the spiritual lives of many today are sick for lack of realization of His majesty, which we recognize in adoration, for adoration is simply the attitude resulting from realizing who He is, and who we are. He is the Infinite; we are nothing at all without Him.22
Pope John XXIII in a radio message to the 16th Eucharistic Congress of Italy on September 13, 1959 expressed the hope that all the people of Italy would be strengthened in their fervor and veneration for the Blessed Virgin, "the Mother of the Mystical Body, of which the Eucharist is the symbol and vital center." And then he added: "We trust that they will imitate in her the most perfect model of union with Jesus, our Head; we trust that they will join Mary in the offering of the Divine Victim."23
This is a most remarkable statement. The people are asked to join Mary in the offering. They could hardly be urged to join her in what she did in the past, so there at least seems to be the implication that she is somehow involved in the Mass itself today.
Pope John Paul II brought out the same idea even more clearly in an address to the crowds in St. Peter's square on Sunday February 12, 1984:
Theological reasoning leads us inevitably to this conclusion that she takes part in the Mass. Vatican II, as we know, said that the Mass is the renewal of the new covenant.25 The Council of Trent said that the Mass and Calvary are the same, "only the manner of offering being changed" from bloody to unbloody.26 Now if the change in the mode is the only change then, since she was so intimately involved in the original sacrifice, she must be involved in the Mass too. Similarly, if the Mass renews the new covenant, and if in the making of that covenant she had the tremendous role we have seen-then if the renewal is faithful, and does not change that which it should renew, again, she must be involved in that renewal, in the Mass.
If we ask how this could be, we turn to the two aspects of sacrifice, the external sign and the internal dispositions. As we said before, she did not bring about His death, nor did He Himself do that, but she did supply, literally, the humanity in which He could die for us.
As to the interior dispositions: His dispositions are strictly a continuation of those He had on the cross, for He died in that attitude of Heart. She did not leave this world at once. But her union with His dispositions did not waver, did not diminish. Now in the glory of heaven, her dispositions of union with Him are as permanent as His. So she does really then join in every Mass.
So we reach a remarkable conclusion: though we may not realize it, yet, the more closely we are joined to Him in the Mass, the more closely we are joined to her. For these two Hearts are inseparable, and she is most closely united with Him in the Mass.
If this be true of all who join in the Mass, it is in a most special way true of the priest who acts "in the person of Christ," as Pius XII and Vatican tell us.27 Precisely as another Christ, the priest is another son of Mary. On one occasion, when He was in the middle of a crowd, and it was announced that she was near, He decided to teach an important lesson forcefully. He asked (Mt 12: 48-50): "Who is my Mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out His hand to His disciples, He said: "Behold my Mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother, and sister and mother." He did not, of course, mean to disown His Mother. But He wanted to compare two greatnesses. One lies in one's position in the external order, that is, in dignity; the other in the interior order of doing the will of the Father. She was at the peak of all mere humans in both orders, for the dignity of the Mother of God, in the external order, is "second only to God," as Pope Pius XI told us.28 But likewise in interior holiness, or love of God, or adherence to His will-they all amount to the same-her holiness is so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."29
So, though she is surpassingly great, at the very peak, in both orders, her Son wanted to make clear that the greater of the two is adherence to the will of the Father, hearing the word of God and keeping it.
In regard to the Mass, some are preoccuped with the dignity of the priesthood, whether that of the laity or of ordination. There is nothing wrong with this. But the lesson of her Son remains true: adherence to the will of the Father, with Jesus and Mary in the Mass, is far the greater of the two.
When Mass is over, some rush out at once, or stay to talk loudly even if others may be trying to pray (a lack of reverence to God and of courtesy to people). They seem not to realize that for some precious moments30 they still carry within themselves the Divine Presence. Mary knew better. For the nine months before His birth, she had one long Communion. Who can picture its richness, its love! After His death, staying with St. John, she must have received Him often, and would surely linger over the Presence within her.
Our thanksgiving should include both silent meditation and vocal prayers, for each has its own special kind of value for which the other will not substitute. Hence we should not just say: liturgical prayer or prayer in common is better than individual prayer. This is in general true. But just as in eating, we do not ask what is the most valuable of all food elements and then eat only that one thing-we would soon have deficiency diseases-so too it is with our thanksgiving, and other prayers, too.
We should ask Our Lady to come and join her perfect dispositions to our imperfection and weakness. One good way to do this and to extend our thanksgiving is to say the joyful mysteries of the Rosary, meditating on her welcome of Him in them, asking her to welcome Him now as she did at the annunciation, during the nine months, at Christmas, and to renew in us-and move us to do the same-her offering that she once made with Him when she presented Him in the Temple, or when she found Him again.
Pope John Paul II, in his very first Encyclical Redemptor hominis, gave some valuable advice on the need of working, as it were, at our reception of Him: "Without this constant ever-renewed endeavor for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness, and there would be a loss, or at least a weakening of the special readiness to offer God the spiritual sacrifice."31 Indeed, frequent Communion without such effort can mean not only no spiritual gain, but even a spiritual loss.