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Mass enables us to unite everything in our lives to Christ’s sacrifice

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate during Holy Week the central historical events that revealed the depth of God’s love for us and liberated us from the bondage of sin and death. On Good Friday, we commemorate the death of Jesus on Calvary that atones for our sins.

On Calvary, Jesus entered into death in order to defeat its grip on humanity. Our Lord’s resurrection on Easter marks his clear victory of life over death. Through the waters of baptism, we have been given a share in the life of Jesus and therefore an eternal destiny to live with God, the angels and saints forever.

One of the dictionary definitions of atonement is: satisfaction given for wrongdoing, injury, etc.; amends, expiation. Some Christians have misunderstood Our Lord’s atonement for our sins to be a substitutional atonement. In this misunderstanding, God is perceived as a vengeful god, who demands that we suffer for the injustice of our sins. Jesus, therefore, sacrifices himself in our place to appease the anger of God.

Dr. Lawrence Feingold in his textbook on the Eucharist articulates the Catholic understanding of the atonement. Drawing upon the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Feingold states that Jesus offers satisfaction for our sins “not by virtue of punishment, destruction or deprivation received in our place, but rather because of its supreme goodness in charity, by reason of which it serves to compensate for all sin’s violation thereof. The infinite value of the sacrifice of Calvary comes from the charity by which it is offered, from the divine dignity of the victim offered, from the totality of the holocaust of the victim, from the dignity of the priest offering it, from the unity of the priest and victim, and finally, from the unity of the mediator with God, to whom it is offered, and with mankind, for whom it is offered. The sacrifice of Calvary is maximum or infinite in each of these respects.   

“The Son of God has infinite dignity both as the victim being offered and as priest offering. He offers himself with unlimited charity, both for the glory of his Father and for the love of all men, for whom he offers himself. Every man can say with St. Paul that the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.” (Excerpted from “The Eucharist: Mystery of Presence, Sacrifice and Communion”; Emmaus Academic; page 333.)

Feingold argues the totality of the holocaust because Jesus chooses to submit himself to the “worst and most humiliating kind of death, with total freedom.” Through Our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, Jesus “offered himself in union, with all human suffering, redeeming it and giving to it a redemptive sacrificial value when offered in communion with his.”

I encourage you to reread Feingold’s description of the sacrifice of Calvary that is made present to us in every Mass. God the Father is not appeased because of the level of Our Lord’s suffering but because of the total love with which his suffering is not only endured but offered freely.

Sadly, after Vatican II there was, by some, a mistaken de-emphasis of the sacrifice of the Mass in favor of the Eucharist as a meal. The Mass is both a meal and sacrifice. It is a sacrificial meal.

When we attend Mass, we should always be aware that we are touching Calvary. We should also bring whatever suffering is present in our lives and unite our suffering with the perfect sacrifice of Calvary.

During the offertory at Mass, we should not just place our envelope in the collection basket. Though if our support of our parish is truly sacrificial, then it is part of what we bring to the altar. We should call to mind all of the difficulties, adversities and suffering in our lives so that we can unite it during the consecration to Jesus’ perfect gift of himself on Calvary.

Our participation in Mass is not just about being a eucharistic minister, lector, greeter, choir member, sacristan, etc. It is more about uniting everything that is going on in our lives with the sacrificial love of Jesus. We should give thanks for all of God’s blessings, but also the opportunities that he provides to us to unite our small sacrifices with his perfect sacrifice.

When we participate in Mass in this way, the Eucharist can never be boring. In truth, Sunday Mass becomes the most exciting experience of our week.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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