Ave Maria Meditations
The Eucharistic sacrifice and the ordinary life of the Christian.
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that the sacrifice of the Cross and its sacramental renewal in the Mass are, apart from the difference in the manner of offering, one and the same sacrifice of praise, of thanksgiving, of propitiation and of satisfaction. The ends which Our Savior gave to His sacrifice on the Cross are usually summed up in these four.
The four ends of the Mass are achieved in different ways and to a different extent. The ends that refer directly to God, namely, adoration, praise and thanksgiving, are always produced infallibly and with all their infinite value, independently of our collaboration. This is true even when the Mass is celebrated without the presence of a single member of the faithful, or, if there is one, if he assists in a distracted way. God, our Lord is praised infinitely every time the Eucharistic Sacrifice is celebrated, and thanksgiving is offered up which satisfies God fully. This oblation, says Saint Thomas, pleases God more than all the sins of the world offend him, since Christ himself is the actual Priest who offers, as well as being the actual victim who is offered in every Mass.
However, the other ends of the Eucharistic Sacrifice (propitiation and petition), which are for the benefit of man and are called the fruits of the Mass, do not in fact always achieve the fullness of which they are capable. These fruits – of reconciliation with God and of obtaining from him what we ask for from his bounty – could also be of infinite value. They too rest on the merits of Christ. We never receive these fruits to that perfect degree, since they are applied to us according to our personal dispositions. The more ardently and intently we take part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, the greater application of these fruits of propitiation and petition we shall receive. Christ’s own prayer multiplies the value of our prayer to the extent that we unite our petitions and atonement to his in the Mass, on the Cross itself so that we might receive the fruits of the Mass, the Church invites us to unite ourselves with the Sacrifice of Christ. That is, to take part in Jesus Christ’s praise, thanksgiving, propitiation and impetration.
The external rite of the Mass (comprising the actions and ceremonies) both signifies the interior sacrifice of Jesus Christ and is a sign of the offering and dedication of all the faithful united to him. This dedication of the whole of our being, of all our daily activities, is yet another reason for us to carry them out perfectly and with a right intention. As the Second Vatican Council puts it: For all their deeds and actions, prayers and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit indeed, even the hardships of life if patiently borne, all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. All our actions and our very life itself take on a new value when they hinge on the Mass as the center of our day towards which all our thoughts and deeds are directed. It is the source from which flow all the graces we need to sanctify our stay on earth.
Taking part in the Mass conscious of what we are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. Our participation should be personal prayer, union with Jesus Christ, who is at once the Priest and the Victim.
Our Mother the Church wants to obtain ever more fruits from the Mass. So she desires that when we are present we should not be there as strangers or silent spectators, but constantly increasing our understanding of the rites and prayers, taking part in the sacred action in full awareness of what we are doing, with devotion and earnest collaboration. We should foster a right disposition of heart, with soul and voice in unison, and co-operating with divine grace. We shall pay particular attention to the dialogues and acclamations. We shall fill the established periods of silence with acts of faith and charity, particularly at the Consecration and when we receive Our Lord in Communion. The most important thing is interior participation, our union with Jesus Christ who offers himself. The external elements which also form part of the liturgy will be of great help to us in doing this – bodily postures (kneeling, standing, sitting) reciting or singing of other parts together, such· as the Gloria, the Creed, the Sanctus, the Our Father, etc.
We will often find it helps to follow the prayers of the celebrant in our missal. The effort to be punctual, arriving a few minutes before Mass begins, will help us to be better prepared. Besides, it is a sign of love for Christ and a courtesy towards the priest who is celebrating Mass as well as to others who are attending. God wants us to be exemplary in this, too. Wouldn’t we arrive in good time for an important interview? There is nothing more important than the Mass.
Internal participation is mainly a question of practicing the virtues through acts of faith, hope and charity. At the moment of the Consecration we can say with the words of the Apostle Thomas, words overflowing with faith and love, My Lord and My God, … or ‘I firmly believe that You are really present on the altar’ … or whatever form of words appeals to our personal devotion.
Above all, our taking part in the Mass must be personal prayer, the high point of our customary dialogue with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This prayer, to the extent possible to each person, is a requisite for a genuine, conscious liturgical participation. But not that alone, it is also the fruit of such a participation. Now and always, but nowadays more than ever, we need to foster the spirit and practice of personal prayer … We cannot keep going as Christians without a constant, intimate, personal life of prayer, faith, and charity. Without these we cannot carefully and advantageously take part in the liturgical renewal
Without them we cannot be effective witnesses to that Christian authenticity that we hear so much about. Lacking such participation we cannot think, breathe, act, suffer and hope with the living, pilgrim Church … To all we say, ‘Let us pray, brethren:’ Never tire of trying to call up from the depths of your soul that intimate voice which addresses God as ‘Thou’ … , the God beyond words, the mysterious Other who watches over you, waits for you, loves you. And you will never be let down, or left alone. You will experience the new joy of an enrapturing response: Behold I am with you. Our God is with us and in us in a very special way in Holy Communion, when our taking part in the Mass reaches its highest point. The proper effect of this Sacrament, teaches Saint Thomas Aquinas, is to change man into Christ, so that he can say with the Apostle, ‘I live; no, it is not I who live. It is Christ who lives in me.’
Preparation for Mass. Apostolate and the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Before Mass we have to prepare our soul to ready for the most important event that takes place in the world each day. The Mass celebrated by any priest in the most out-of-the-way, the remotest comer of the world, even when no other person is attending, is the greatest thing happening on earth at that moment. It is the most pleasing thing that we men can offer to God. It is the opportunity to thank him for the many benefits we receive; to ask forgiveness for so many sins and such lack of love and for all our spiritual and material needs. We all have things we need to ask for…Lord, this illness…Lord, that sorrow… Lord, that humiliation I can’t accept even for love of You … We desire blessings, happiness and joy for the members of our household. We are saddened by the fate of those who suffer hunger and thirst for bread and justice; of those who undergo the anguish of loneliness; of those who at the end of their lives are facing death without an affectionate look or the help of a friend.
But it is sin which is the wretchedness that causes suffering, and is the great world-wide malaise we have to remedy. It separates us from God and endangers souls with the prospect of eternal damnation. To bring men to eternal glory in the love of God – that was the essential desire of Christ when He gave up his life on Calvary, and that has to be our desire when we celebrate Mass. Our apostolate is therefore directed towards the Mass and is strengthened by it.
Some minutes of thanksgiving after Mass will round off these most important moments of the day. They will have a direct influence on our work, on our family life, on the cheerfulness we show to everyone, and in the certainty and confidence with which we face up to the rest of our day. The Mass lived in this way will never be an isolated incident. It will nourish all our actions and give them a special tone, value and significance.
We always find our Mother Mary in the Mass. How could we take part in the sacrifice without remembering and invoking the Mother of the High Priest and Victim? Our Lady played such an intimate part in the priesthood of her Son during his life on earth that she is eternally united to the exercise of his Priesthood. Just as she was present on Calvary, so is she present in the Mass, which is a prolongation of Calvary. She helped her Son on the Cross by offering him to the Father. In the sacrifice of the altar, the renewal of the sacrifice of Christ, she helps the Church to offer herself in union with her Head. Let us offer ourselves to Jesus through the mediation of Mary. Let us remember Mary during Mass, and she will help us grow in piety and recollection.
Fr. Francis Fernandez