THE HOLY EUCHARIST AS A SACRIFICE
We have not yet exhausted the sublime riches of the Holy Eucharist, and have still further truths to study in regard to it. For, as was stated in an earlier part of these Instructions, the Holy Eucharist is not only a Sacrament, it it also a Sacrifice. It is as a Sacrament we have dealt with it so far, as a means for sanctifying and perfecting mans soul ; we have still to examine it as a Sacrifice, whereby we are enabled to offer to God the homage which the creature owes to the Creator. Before treating of the Eucharist under this second aspect, it may be well, or even necessary, to study the nature of Sacrifice in general.
For a complete yet simple definition of Sacrifice, we cannot do better than take the one given in the penny Catechism, thus worded : " Sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, in testimony of His being the sovereign Lord of all things." This definition may be amplified and explained in some detail, as follows :—
Offering of a Victim. —Men are bound, as rational beings, to offer to God the homage and adoration of their hearts ; and sacrifice has, from the beginning, been required by God Himself as the one means by which they were to express to Him that homage in its most perfect form. For sacrifice, in the strict sense of the word, a victim is necessary, that is, some external creature to whom God has given being, which creature must be really or equivalently destroyed, to testify before God that we deserve destruction at His hands, on account of the sins we have committed before Him, and to worship His Divine power over life and death. Having no right to inflict self-destruction, man immolates and offers to his God a creature instead. Thus it is that prayer, though sometimes called a sacrifice, is not one in strict reality, inasmuch as it is not a creature receiving its being from God, it is not a visible oblation, it is not a victim.
By a Priest. —A priest duly ordained alone has the right and the power to offer sacrifice, for it is a public act of Religion, requiring a lawful minister to perform it; anyone else attempting to do so, would be guilty of sin in the sight of God. In the Old Testament, we read how King Saul displeased God by undertaking to offer sacrifice. Saul was surrounded by enemies, while his own followers were slipping away from him ; in these straits, he undertook to offer sacrifice, as the prophet Samuel tarried on the way and had not come, as agreed upon. But hardly was the sacrifice completed, when Samuel arrived, and learning what had been done, he reproved the king in God's name, and warned him that, as a punishment, his kingdom should not continue, but should be given to another, to a man according to God's own heart (i Kings xiii.).
A priest is especially set apart for the very purpose of offering sacrifice, which is the chief duty of his office, for priest and sacrifice are correlative terms, like the words father and son. A man may be an excellent husband, a very good citizen, a model in every way, but he cannot be called a father, unless he have offspring ; one implies the other ; so, in regard to priest and sacrifice. S. Paul reminds us that "every high priest ... is ordained . . . that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins . . . first for his own sins, then for the people's " (Heb. v. i ; vii. 27). Sacrifice can be offered only by one appointed for the purpose.
Here it may be restated that the sacrifice is truly and validly offered, whether it be done by saint or sinner, whether by Peter or by Judas ; for the validity does not depend on the state of soul in him who offers it, but it is an exercise of the power of Orders, which being granted is all that is needed, if only the rite itself be duly carried out. Unless this power exist in the offerer of the Sacrifice of the New Law, there is no sacrifice. Hence, in the Anglican Church, there is no sacrifice ; for they do not possess the power of Orders. Anglican ordinations, after a long and exhaustive inquiry, were rejected as invalid by the late Pope Leo XIII. in 1896. As, then, they have no priesthood, so they have no sacrifice, for one goes with the other ; if one fails, they both fail.
In the Old Law, the priesthood descended from father to son, and remained in certain families only. It was typical of the more perfect and more sublime priesthood of the New Law, which does not remain the privilege of individual families, but candidates for the signal honour are called of God separately and individually ; this Call is known as a Vocation. Should parents perceive in their young boy any signs of a vocation to the priesthood, they should deem themselves highly favoured by Heaven, and do all they can to nurture and assist it, by keeping the child out of the way of evil and danger, encouraging him in his exercises of piety, and helping him, so far as their means may allow, to obtain a good Catholic education. They would do well to speak to their parish priest of their hopes and convictions ; he will be able to advise them, and assist them in bringing the vocation, if it exist, under the notice of the Bishop, with whom the matter must then be left.
While the idea of presenting their son to the Church must never rest on unworthy motives, (such as, being a means of getting him an education which it is beyond their own resources to give), parents on the other hand must beware of opposing a vocation clearly defined, and must not thwart the dispositions of God's providence in regard to a child. Such conduct would usually be selfishness, and would also be ingratitude shown for the honour and privilege conferred upon them of having the distinction of giving a son to God's service in the Church ; moreover, it would be the means of bringing great misery on him for the rest of his life, as not being destined for a position in the world, and it might thus even jeopardise his eternity ; he would there be exposed to dangers, without having the necessary graces bestowed on him that would enable him to face them ; God does not call him to life in the world, and therefore does not necessarily grant him grace for such a career. A terrible example of the evil of opposing a vocation is related of a wealthy man who lived at Tudela, in Spain, who had an only son, whom he destined to perpetuate his name. The son, however, feeling he had a vocation to the religious life, after persevering efforts was at length received. The father followed him to the novitiate, and by entreaties and tears succeeded in bringing him back to the world. After awhile, the son again felt the call of God to religion, and he entered a second time, and a second time he was drawn back to the world. The father now wished to have him married, and had already found him a partner; the son, however, as was natural, made a choice of his own. This produced discord and mischief, which went to such a length that one day he killed his father, with the result that he himself died on the scaffold! How many evils follow from opposing a religious vocation, which is sometimes too little appreciated even in Catholic families. Let parents, therefore, be wise, and if they discover any signs of a religious vocation in either son or daughter, so far from opposing it, be it their pride and consolation to do what they can to foster it, and daily beg of God in their prayers to bring it to happy fruition.
Lord of all. —God Almighty, being Creator of all things, is alone absolute Lord of all ; hence in sacrifice which can be offered only to Him, there must be found something that expresses this supreme dominion over all things, His power over life and death, and that is the slaying or consuming of the thing offered, which thus becomes a victim. This destruction of the victim will be more fully developed in the next chapter.
From all this, it may be seen how wide is the difference between Sacrifice and other acts of Religion ; e.g. —
Prayer is the raising up of our minds and hearts to God ; this is certainly most necessary in the spiritual life, but is only an interior act of adoration or praise, while Sacrifice is a material thing, so dealt with as to manifest outwardly those feelings of the heart.
Sacraments are visible signs of grace, conveying to the souls of men the merits and effects of Our Lord's Passion and Death, that is the sacrifice of Himself on Calvary, whereby was wrought the Redemption of mankind, which the Sacraments apply to our individual souls.
Ceremonies are mere external rites used in the worship of God, as He Himself ordained in the Old Law, and as the Church continues in the New. Man is much impressed by teaching which is conveyed in the form of symbols, and many existing ceremonies are really symbolical, but differ essentially from Sacrifice itself, of which they form but the outward accompaniment.
It is quite natural to man and very reasonable to make offerings to those whom he loves and holds in esteem on earth; how much more natural, then, and more reasonable to make an offering to his best and most faithful friend—God Almighty in Heaven ? It need not surprise us, therefore, if we find that from the beginning^of the world's history men made offerings to Him to whom they felt bound to pay the supreme worship of adoration. Reason alone suggested to man the duty of thus testifying his absolute dependence on God, who, moreover, Himself revealed to our first parents the obligation of thus honouring Him, and tradition has handed it on through all the ages of time.
Hence it is that we find, on reading the pages of the Old Testament, that sacrifice has ever been offered to God from the beginning, even among nations the most pagan. Cain and Abel, sons of our first parents, offered it; Cain was a husbandman, and "offered of the fruits of the earth gifts to the Lord," while Abel was a shepherd, and "offered of the firstlings of his flock" (Gen. iv.). When the waters of the Flood had abated, Noah and his family and all living things that had been with him in the Ark went forth therefrom, and Noah "built an altar to the Lord, and . . . offered holocausts upon the altar" (Gen. viii. 20). This was more than two thousand years before Christ. Later on, Abraham "built an altar to the Lord " which implies the offering of sacrifice to Him (Gen. xiii. 18). On another occasion, he was about to immolate his'own son, Isaac, in sacrifice, according to God's direct command, and would have completed the offering, had
not God sent an angel to stay the hand of His servant, ready to obey the terrible order from Heaven (Gen. xxii.). Melchisedech offered sacrifice under the form of bread and wine, very typical of the great sacrifice of the Mass in the New Law (Gen. xiv.). And so, through the long history of the patriarchs, we find them offering to God cattle, sheep, birds, and fruits of the earth, and from all such sacrifices "the Lord smelled a sweet savour" (Gen. viii. 21), that is, they were pleasing in His sight, testifying man's dependence on Him, and foreshadowing the Sacrifice of the Cross, through which fact they became acceptable to God, and derived all their merit and efficacy.
These sacrifices were of many kinds, of which the following are the chief ones :—
1. Holocaust, or whole-burnt offering; the victim was entirely consumed by fire on the altar, its destruction affirming God's absolute dominion over His creatures, His power over life and death, and His full right to the homage of adoration. Job offered holocausts for his children, to obtain pardon of the sins they might have committed (Job i. 5). Such also was the sacrifice of Noah referred to above.
2. Peace offerings were made to thank Almighty God for favours He had bestowed, as also to implore His future mercies. When Josue had gained a victory over the King of Hai, he " built an altar to the Lord . . . and immolated victims of peace offerings" (Jos. viii. 31).
3. Sin offerings were intended to expiate lesser sins committed through ignorance or frailty. The princes of Israel, at the dedication of the altar in the Tabernacle, made sundry offerings each day for over a week, and among them on each day was offered a buck goat for sin (Num. vii.).
4. Trespass offering was made for some particular sin, committed wilfully or through culpable ignorance, and in general for sins of a more grievous kind, especially where injustice had been done, and restitution became obligatory.
These various offerings were all typical of the Sacrifice of the New Law, and as this is of a twofold form, so were they of two kinds.
1. Bloody sacrifices consisted of living victims, such as oxen, lambs, turtle-doves, etc. : as they were destroyed and their blood was shed, they typified the bloody Sacrifice of Calvary, wherein Our Lord shed His Precious Blood for the souls of men, as the^Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world.
2. Unbloody oblations, in which there was no shedding of blood, consisted of the fruits of the earth, flour, corn, oil, or wine. These were typical of the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass.
How jealous is God of the worship of Sacrifice, and how highly He values it, may be inferred from the voluminous instructions which He gave to Moses relative to this Divine act. Not a rubric, not a detail of ceremonial rite was omitted. The material, size and shape and furnishing of the altar, the choice and qualifications of the priests, the style of victim, the varying kinds of sacrifices, the very hours of offering : nothing was too minute to be passed over, even to the form and ornamentation of the priestly vestments. What an idea does this not convey of the sublime excellence and surpassing dignity of the Divine worship of Sacrifice!
And in the new law of grace, so anxious was Jesus Christ that sacrifice should be offered with perfect reverence and decorum, that He Himself celebrated the first Christian oblation in the presence of His chosen Apostles, that it might serve as a model and copy for all time.
But apart from the Jewish race to whom these directions were given, we find that all nations of the earth, pagan and idolatrous included, have ever made sacrifice the principal act of their worship. No matter how false their notions of the Deity, they retained enough of the primitive revelation to remind them of the obligation of appeasing the anger, or invoking the blessing, of the Divinity, by means of victims and sacrifices. Plutarch, a writer of the second century, says : " You may find cities without walls, without literature, and without the arts and sciences of civilised life, but you will never find a city without priests and altars, or which has not sacrifices offered to the gods." Though the offerings of pagan nations were made to idols, the principle remains — their conviction of the necessity of sacrifice as essential to Religion.
But when the Old Law was abrogated, was sacrifice abolished with it ? By no means; God, on the contrary, declared that the Jewish sacrifices would be succeeded by a clean victim, that would be offered in every age and clime. These are the words He addressed to the Jews by the voice of His prophet: " I have no pleasure in you . . . and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For, from the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation" (Mal. i. 10, n).—Herein we have the prophet foretelling, four hundred years beforehand, an acceptable oblation to be offered to God, and the fulfilment of the prophecy is found, not among the Pagans nor the Mahometans, not among the Jews nor the Protestant sects, but solely and exclusively among Catholics. The Pagans worship false gods, while none of the others have any sacrifice at all, till we come to the Catholic Church, where alone the Prophet's words are fulfilled in the pure victim offered in the Mass.
Being without sacrifice, in the strict sense of the term, Protestants seem to consider prayer as a sacrifice ; hence, possibly, their repugnance to offer prayer to the Saints, as we do ; hence, too, the accusation they bring against us, of honouring the Saints almost more than God, though the Bible itself amply demonstrates the influence and love of the Saints in our regard, and gives many examples of the honour and prayer men have offered to them.
From what has here been said, it will appear that there are points of difference between the Holy Eucharist as a Sacrament and as a Sacrifice.
1. As a sacrament, its efficacy and power
lie in its worthy reception into the soul, while, as a sacrifice, it is the oblation or offering that constitutes its essence and efficiency.
2. As a sacrament, the Holy Eucharist increases grace and merit in the soul of the worthy communicant, and does for his soul what food does for his body, while, as a sacrifice, it pays homage to God and is able to make atonement and reparation for sin, like the sacrifice of Calvary, of which indeed it is the continuation to the end of time.
3. In its quality of sacrament, the Holy Eucharist benefits him only who receives it as his spiritual food, and that too in proportion to the fervour and devotion he brings to its reception. As a sacrifice, however, it benefits the Universal Church, nay the whole world to some extent, inasmuch as it brings down God's blessings on men, and tends to appease the Divine anger, aroused by the sins of the world.
4. The chief object of the Eucharist as a sacrament is to sanctify the hearts of men through their reception of it, as their supernatural food and support ; such close contact with the sanctity of God is bound to work its effect upon them, purifying them more and more, and leading them to the heights of sanctity. On the other hand, the chief object of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, is to offer to God the supreme homage and adoration, which, as His creatures, we owe to Him, and by it we offer worship truly worthy of Himself, inasmuch as therein is presented to the eternal Father His own Divine Son, as the victim of infinite value.
These few thoughts show how there is found to be a clear difference in the Holy Eucharist considered as Sacrament or Sacrifice, and the remembrance of these distinctions will enable us to see the need of the twofold division of our subject.