§ 34. Mass is the Renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross for the Consolation of the Suffering Souls.
177. Holy Mass, celebrated with becoming faith and devotion, is the most sublime sacrifice, and nothing in the world can equal in value this service of God. In the New Testament we have only one sacrifice, namely that sacrifice which was offered by Christ on the cross for our redemption, the fruits of which are transmitted to us in Holy Mass. By His sacrifice on the cross Jesus Christ redeemed all mankind; by it everybody was made capable of participating in the merits of His passion and death, and of receiving the grace thereby obtained for us. But how is this to be accomplished ? To rational beings whose perceptions depend on their senses, an external, visible action is v most suited for this purpose; and therefore the Holy Sacrifice of Mass was instituted. In it the bloody Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is renewed in an unbloody manner; in it Jesus Christ sacrifices Himself mysteriously. Whosoever is present at this sacrifice stands as it were beneath the cross of Christ; he is a witness of the sufferings and death of his Redeemer, and has full opportunity to participate in the merits of Jesus, and to offer himself and his whole being for God's greater glory in this world and in the next.
178. Holy Mass is essentially the same Sacrifice as that once offered on the cross. Hence the Council of Trent declares: "In this Divine Sacrifice of the Mass there is contained the same Christ who offered Himself on the cross in a bloody manner, the only difference being that in Mass He offers Himself in an unbloody manner." If we had no other declaration but this it should suffice to remove all doubt. For we must receive as infallibly true whatever the Catholic Church teaches and proposes to our belief, and we are not allowed to contradict it in the least. To prove that Holy Mass is essentially the same Sacrifice as that of the cross, the Church adds the following declaration to the words quoted above: "For it is the same Victim, and the same Minister of sacrifice through the agency of the priest, who once offered the sacrifice on the altar of the cross; only the manner of sacrificing is different."—This Sacrifice is not only a sacrifice of praise, but the Church regards it also as "a sacrifice of Propitiation for the living and the dead." And hence she has at all times offered it also for the aid and consolation of the souls of the faithful departed.
179. By the sin of our first parents our Heavenly Father was so greatly offended, that the whole human race was sentenced to eternal perdition. The Son of God, knowing that only a victim of infinite merit could reconcile His Father, and moved by compassion for fallen mankind, resolved to offer Him such a victim. And this victim was no other than Himself.—Behold, O Christian soul, the love of your Redeemer! The Son of God offers Himself as a Sacrifice of propitiation to the Eternal Father, and the Father accepts this Sacrifice from the hands of His Son, who "humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross." (Philip. 11. 8.) "He was offered because it was His own will." (Isai. L iii. 7,) In order to accomplish this sacrifice, the Son of God became man and died to prove His infinite love for us. He concealed His divinity by taking to Himself a human body, in which He suffered the ignominious death on the cross at the hands of His executioners. God permitted this and Jesus thus willed it for the sake of our redemption. He willed not the sin of those who clamored tor His death, but it was His will to die for us on the cross. The sins of His executioners did not in the least detract from the infinite value of the sacrifice of the divine Victim. "He was offered because it was His own will."
180. God might have commissioned His priests to offer this sacrifice, as He commanded Abraham in the Old Law, "Take thy only begotten son Isaac whom thou lovest, and go into the land of vision, and there thou shalt offer him for an holocaust upon one of the mountains which I will show thee." (Gen. xx. 2.) But He left it to His Divine Son to institute a ministry ior the oblation of the unbloody sacrifice, and He did institute it at the Last Supper with the words, "Do this for a commemoration of me." (Luke xxii. 19.) In the Holy Scripture Christ is called "a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech." (Ps. cix. 4.) From this it is evident that Christ, as "a priest forever," is to offer the sacrifice not once, but repeatedly, "forever." Once He was both the Victim and the Minister of the sacrifice on the cross through the instrumentality of His executioners; but forever He is the Victim and the Minister of the sacrifice on the altar through the instrumentality of His priests. And this is done because it is His will that the living and the dead should participate in His merits.
181. To facilitate the offering of this Sacrifice He performed His greatest miracle: He hid both His divinity and humanity under the form of bread and wine, just as He had hidden His divinity by assuming a human body in which to suffer and to die. The first unbloody Sacrifice which Jesus offered in presence of His apostles at the Last Supper was not a mere type of the bloody Sacrifice which He accomplished next day on the cross, but it was the same Sacrifice; it was the same essence of His flesh and blood, of His divinity and humanity, only in a different form, under the appearance of bread and wine; it was the institution of the Sacrifice in the form in which it was to be offered to His Heavenly Father by the ministers of His Church until the end of time.
It is well known that the propitiatory sacrifices of the Old Law were accompanied by repasts. These were intended to symbolize the participation of the people in the sacrifices offered, and to signify in an impressive manner the reconciliation and renewal of friendship with God effected by means of the sacrifices. Our Divine Lord wished to retain this feature in His Sacrifice on the cross as well as in that of the altar. Hence He Himself partook of the Last Supper with His apostles and expressed His will that they should follow His example; that is, they should permit the faithful to partake of the Sacrifice as they had partaken of it with Him. This He commanded them to do by the significant words, "Do this for a commemoration of me."
182. St. Augustine calls the Holy Sacrifice of Mass "the sacrament of love, the revelation of unity, the bond of most intimate friendship." He remarks, "Christ was slain but once as the Victim of sacrifice, yet He is offered up for the people every day in the sacrament or in Holy Mass." And St. Cyprian declares, "The passion of Christ is the Sacrifice which we offer." Thomas a Kempis says in the "Imitation of Christ," "When saying Mass or assisting at it, this ought to seem to you so great, so new and joyful, as if Christ had just on this very day descended into the virginal womb of Mary to become man."—O high dignity of Catholics, for whose salvation Christ every day renews His incarnation in a spiritual manner I O great love for us poor sinners !
Not only for the living however, but also for the faithful departed does Christ grant His aid in Holy Mass. Though dissenters presume to deny this consoling truth, we are nevertheless assured of it by our infallible Church. Hence St. Chrysostom exclaims, "By no means do we celebrate the august mysteries of the altar in vain; and not in vain and without fruit are our prayers."
183. Convincing as are the testimonials of the Church, of the Councils and the holy Fathers concerning the doctrine that Holy Mass is the renewal of the Sacrifice of the cross on the altars of the New Law, our Divine Savior does not confine Himself to their authority, but confirms this truth again and again by miracles. For our Savior is not compelled to retain the form in which it is His will to appear in Holy Mass. It sometimes happens that He lays aside the form of bread and appears in the form of a child, of a man, or of blood, in -order thereby to confirm or propagate the true faith by a new miracle.—For the twelfth time during Lent had Charlemagne advanced with his army against the Saxons to conquer them and have them converted to the Christian faith. When Easter approached, he commanded his entire army to prepare with due devotion for the reception of the sacraments on that feast. In order to witness the Christian service, Wittekind, duke of Saxony, disguised himself as a beggar and secretly entered the enemy's camp. He assisted at Mass, and was greatly impressed by the devotion of the Christian soldiers. He paid close attention to the celebrant, to whom all eyes were directed. At the consecration he saw to his great astonishment a most beautiful little child in the hands of the priest; and at the same moment he felt his heart moved by a joy never experienced before. He now kept his eyes on the priest; and he saw that at holy communion the priest presented such a child to every communicant. To his further astonishment he beheld the child coming to some with all the indications of joy, to others with great reluctance. Later he- related his experience to Charlemagne and asked for an explanation. On receiving it he was so affected that he asked for baptism; and he took some priests with him to Saxony to convert the country.
184. A celebrated historian, a Benedictine of Monte Cassino, relates a remarkable occurrence in the life of St. Gregory the Great. A noble Roman matron had from devotion taken upon herself the task of preparing the altar breads and of bringing them to Church on Sundays. Once, when approaching with others to receive holy communion from the hands of the pope, she began to laugh just as he was about to give her the consecrated host with the words, "May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting." The holy pontiff withdrew the sacred particle and placed it aside on the altar, where he stationed a deacon to guard it. After Mass the pope questioned the matron about her unseemly behavior. She replied that she had laughed because the pope had called the altar bread which she had baked herself the body of our Lord. The pope informed the assembled congregation of it, and exhorted the people to prayer. All present fell on their knees with him; and when he arose after Some time and spread out the corporale in which the consecrated particle had been folded, his fingers were stained with blood miraculously exuding from it. The whole congregation thronged about him to view the miracle. Prayer was then resumed, and the sacred host resumed its former appearance.
185. Now if God, for the sake of this mysterious Sacrifice, lifted the veil of unbelief from the souls of Wittekind and the Roman matron in so miraculous a manner, how much the more may we hope that He will disrupt the bonds of the Suffering Souls whom He loves so dearly! For we have already learned that this Holy Sacrifice is offered up not only for the living, but also for the dead. Who is able to describe how the Suffering Souls yearn for this Holy Sacrifice? —St. Bernard relates that St. Malachy, archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, had celebrated Mass for a long time for his deceased sister. Finally he ceased to do so. After thirty days he one night heard his sister's mournful voice telling him that she had waited for thirty days in the vestibule of the church for his help, but had received none. Then she appeared to him at the church door clothed in mourning. When he celebrated Mass for her again, he saw her inside the church, but still wearing a dark dress. He continued to offer the Holy Sacrifice for her every day until he saw her going to heaven in great splendor in company with a great number of other released souls.