by Michael Podrebarac
“The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood.
“But the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is wholly directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion. To receive communion is to receive Christ himself who has offered himself for us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1382).
A priest I know and especially admire once described our Catholic faith as “a series of ‘both/and’ beliefs” which demonstrate its philosophical balance and reveal its sublime beauty.
In other words, as Catholics we are not forced to have to choose between “either” sacred Scripture “or” sacred tradition. It is through “both” sacred Scripture “and” sacred tradition that the divine Word is revealed to us. Similarly, we don’t have to choose between either faith or works, between either word or sacrament, or between either faith or reason. In each case (and countless others) the two work together, existing in a complementarity which prevents us from separating them.
This same principle, of course, applies to the Mass. The Mass is inseparably a sacrificial memorial and a sacramental banquet.
And who wouldn’t want it to be? To think that our Lord has commended to his church the perpetual offering of his one perfect sacrifice, and makes this sacrificial offering present under the signs of bread and wine, the same signs we are commanded to eat in his memory: What more could we ask for?
And yet the Mass is not just about remembering and eating and drinking. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross becomes the church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, a sacrifice in which the church places itself and its children. We are those children. We are invited to place ourselves, in a sense, upon the altar with our Lord, to join him on his cross so as to share in his resurrection.
And we are invited through holy Communion to fulfill his promise: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). In other words, the incarnate union of his divinity and his humanity is shared with us through the eucharistic banquet. Our own human dignity is thus raised heavenward, and we are equipped with the grace necessary to do God’s will in our daily lives — daily lives of faith and works.
That’s why our belief in Christ’s bodily presence — “both” in the holy sacrifice “and” in the sacramental banquet — is so crucial. Otherwise, we would offer nothing more than mere bread and wine to the Father, and would receive nothing more than mere bread and wine. And what good would that do us?