In this month of meditation on the Precious Blood, we pause to consider the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.
In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I, the longer, traditional one), the priest says:
“Be pleased to look upon these offerings
with a serene and kindly countenance,
and to accept them,
as once you were pleased to accept
the gifts of your servant Abel the just,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,
and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,
a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.”
Now, this is an interesting way to approach the Eucharist. Because notice, we are asking the Lord to accept the Body and Blood of Christ the same way he accepted Abel’s plain old lamb, Abraham’s sacrifice (of Isaac? he made other sacrifices as well – but not of the Body and Blood of Christ), and Melchizedek’s just plain bread and wine. If we look at the thing being offered, it’s as if we’re asking God to treat what we have on the altar as if it were something less. Our offering is better than theirs.
It is odd, too, that we ask him to “accept” what is obviously acceptable. Why do we need to say this kind of thing?
The reason is because we’re not talking about what’s on the altar, the victim. We’re talking about what’s in our hearts, as we make our priestly offering.
See, what is on the altar is important precisely because of the way it relates to our hearts as we offer it. We want to offer not the things Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek offered – we have something better. We want to offer the way they offered.
The deeper point is that they used what was on the altar to honor God, to acknowledge him, to give him thanks. That’s the true meaning of sacrifice.
That’s why, even before the gifts are consecrated, the Roman Canon says, “accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices.” Even before what is on the altar becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, we are already talking about what we are doing with our hearts.
Now, the greatly abbreviated Eucharistic Prayers given to us after the Council (most priests use Prayers II and III almost exclusively) don’t talk about this as clearly. But it’s still there – in fact, it’s still the heart of what’s going on in the Eucharist.
In the offertory, the priest says, “we have this bread to offer.” Not “to eat,” not just “to receive.” We are going to do something – to give thanks by offering. We then pray, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands.” What is in the hands of the priest is our prayer of thanksgiving.
In Eucharistic Prayer II, the priest begins, “Make holy, therefore, these gifts.” Well, the translation doesn’t make clear who is giving gifts to whom. Certainly God gives the Eucharist to us. But we also give it to him: “gifts” is sacrificial language.
This comes out in the acclamation, when we say, “we proclaim your death.” That’s what we’re doing with the Body and Blood on the altar. Not just receiving, but proclaiming, offering, giving thanks.
And thus in the “anamnesis,” the priest’s prayer right after the consecration, he says, “as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and Resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, giving thanks.” We offer the Eucharist to him! And we give thanks “that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you” – again, in Latin, this is explicitly sacrificial language. We are doing something!
Eucharistic Prayer III, the slightly longer one, has more of this. “All you have created rightly gives you praise.” “You never cease to gather a people to yourself, so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name.” “As we celebrate the memorial . . . we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.”
“Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church, and recognizing the sacrificial Victim.” The Latin verb for “offer” is irregular: oblation and offering are the exact same word in Latin. Both of them are about sacrifice: we life up a sacrifice to God.
Christ pours out his Blood as an act of praise. We drink that Blood, commune with that sacrificial Victim, so that we can life up our hearts to the Lord. So that “through him, and with him, and in him,” united to him “in the unity of the Holy Spirit,” as he is united to the Father, we may acknowledge that “all glory and honor is” to “God, the almighty Father . . . forever and ever.”
How could you remind yourself to lift up the Sacred Victim as your sacrifice of praise? How could you be like Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek?