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29-B 2018

The second scripture of this Mass arrests my attention today as I think of our Lord as the great High
Priest of the New Testament. We are less inclined to speak of our Savior as Priest than we are to
speak of Him as Redeemer, Lord, Son of God, and so on. The word ‘priest’ for us is so taken-up with
the ministerial priesthood (that is, with us human priests), that we rarely avert to the fact that we
would not have priests unless Christ Himself were not first Himself a priest.

The significance of priesthood has to do, originally, with the sacrifices of the Old Testament, by
which God ordained that there should be made offerings to Himself from mankind, offerings of
many kinds: grain from the fields, libations of wine, and loaves of bread; but most notably in the
slaughter and offering of various animals. We find ourselves strained to understand these sacrifices
commanded by God because we inhabit such a widely different culture and age from that of the Jews
of old. Suffice it to say here, that sacrifice was the way mankind could express God’s priority-and
infinite sovereignty over all His creation: an acknowledgment that He is the beginning and end of
all that exists. That’s the first reason for these gifts and presents mankind was obliged to render to
God. But then, of course, there is a secondary reason for them: mankind sinned, transgressed God’s
commandments, as-so-many affronts to His majesty. Sin challenged God’s justice, so to speak, and
incurred His punishments on sinful humanity. Some way of compensation, redress, and satisfaction
needed to be made. The various kinds of mortal sins are in their full and proper meaning ‘capital’
offenses, that is, literally worthy of our death. The slaughter of animals by the Old Testament
priests–the pouring out of their blood, and the burning of their animal bodies–was in truth a
substitution for the death of guilty sinners. Now we may balk at that from our privileged perspective
in modern time, but we need to appreciate the significance of these thousands of animals sacrifices
as a necessary preparation and prelude to Christ, the sacrificial Lamb of God. The Jewish sacrifices
begged for their consummation, their ultimate meaning, and their final end by the ‘slaughtering’ of
the Son of God-made-man on the Cross. This was the one and only sacrifice which could effectively
make up for mankind’s sins–all that came before was symbolical and provisional until the time was
ripe for Christ to come and redeem us.

In all I have said thus far, it is evident that Christ became the only worthy and capable victim for
sacrifice to God, to appease His justice. But this too would be incomprehensible (that is, beyond
belief–namely, for God the Father to demand the slaughter of His Son) apart from the fact that Christ
was also the Priest of His own sacrifice. In other words, although Christ did not slay Himself, He
willed voluntarily, indeed, He eagerly offered Himself to God to atone for mankind’s sins. We need
to acquire here what was in the mind of Christ in order to make sense of this immense mystery of
the Christian faith. Our Lord was both the willing priest and the willing victim of His sacrifice. And,
if we do not grasp this, we will never be able to have an understanding of the Catholic Mass; on the
contrary, it will be misinterpreted (as it surely is in the minds of many people, including priests
nowadays) and even trivialized in some vague sort of religious “celebration” (exactly what they think
they’re ‘celebrating’ is never made clear).

Holy Mass is nothing less than the re-presenting of the sacrifice of Christ, that is, making it anew,
over and over again. For, it is in the Mass that Christ the High Priest becomes present in his body,
blood, soul, and divinity and therein offers Himself again and again (though without being slain
bloodily again) offered to God on account of the obstinacy of our sinning. So, what we’re doing here
at the altar is rightly a sacrificial rite, whereby what we see being done before our eyes is also being
conducted in heaven where Christ, in His glorified, risen humanity, pleads to God to forgive us and
spare His just punishments upon us in view of the re-offering of His body and blood on our altars.
Now that’s impressive!

Without the Mass, this intercessory and compensatory action would cease, and heaven only knows
what consequences would accrue from an end to the Mass. How absolutely crucial it is then for us
to offer this holy sacrifice in the most worthy, dignified, beatified, and reverent way we possibly can.

We all know, shamed to admit it, that the Church is going through a terrible time of crisis now due
to the crimes of those who ought to be the most worthy ministers of her sacred rites. Holy Mass is
often conducted not only in ways that are embarrassingly frivolous and secularized (that is, unholy),
but also I fear sacrilegiously, that is, performed by priests who themselves are not in God’s grace,
with large numbers of lay people who are in a state of mortal sin unworthily receiving Holy
Communion. Note the supreme and tragic irony: the very act which was ordained by Christ to
perpetuate His sacrifice on earth for the satisfaction of mankind’s sins is now become (sometimes)
a further affront and outrage to God! It is this that’s the root-cause of the sufferings of the Church
which have been inflicted on her by herself, and especially by her clergy. The other matters which
have got such notoriety in the news–egregious as they are–are only the result and manifestation of
an even more grave and fundamental depravity: that is, the defilement of all that is properly speaking
sacred and holy. The resulting defilement of the body in unspeakable forms of unchastity is, we
might say, only the logical outcome of the underlying, more elemental declination from God through
a lack of true faith and its resulting sacrileges.

This is weighty stuff, I realize. But it’s my intention in speaking of it to evoke from you both an
awareness of the most serious and grave obligation you and I have to offer Mass in such a holy
manner as is possible, and a pledge to lead good and holy moral lives after we celebrate Mass. God
is not mocked. We’re suffering in the Church (and in all the world) on account of our sins. We have
one only recourse: it is to Jesus, our High Priest and Victim. I can sum it all up in one short phrase:
be good and holy Catholics. Keep your minds focused on what is right and true, and do not be misled
by the confusion, the scandal, and shall I say, the deceptive way Catholicism is often being portrayed
today. You’ll be accountable only for your own lives, each and everyone of you individually, and by
each-and-every act of your lives.

I want to close with a liturgical exhortation directly taken from the second reading:

Let us confidently approach the throne of grace (that is, the altar), to receive mercy and to
find grace for timely help.