The Holy Sacrifice

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.’
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Friends in Christ, these Sundays of August we are reading Our Lord’s ‘Bread of Life’ discourse. Christ multiplies the few loaves to feed thousands – miraculous bread – today he calls himself the ‘Bread of Life.’ He says that we must eat this bread. And next week he will insist that his followers must ‘eat his flesh,’ – which shocked many; some even left him, because they could not accept this teaching.
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Our Lord is really speaking here of the holy Mass, which he would give us at the Last Supper. The Holy Mass is the very center of our Christian life. When a person in Confession says that he missed Sunday Mass (and not because of illness) – I will often say, ‘Well let’s make sure that we get to Mass even if it kills us! The early Christians risked their life to get to Mass, and sometimes were arrested, and put to death for it.
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At Mass, we are offering up Jesus, his Blood, for our sins, and in thanksgiving for his mercy, and seeking help in our needs. And in praise too. This sacrifice is the price of our salvation. The Mass is how Jesus applies his salvation to us today, so that we can come and say, ‘Father, have mercy me in the blood of Christ.’
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When we come here, even if we are tired, or don’t feel like it, or the homily is boring, or the music isn’t our style – when we come here, we are saying to Jesus, ‘Lord, I am here; I am still one of your disciples.’ It’s like a test of our loyalty.
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The mother of a boy told me recently, that she wanted to sign him up for CCD, but she was afraid he would miss some of his sports games. Her little son said to her, ‘Mom, if I have a game on that day, I just won’t play, I’ll go to CCD because God comes first.’ I was so proud of that little boy.
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Of course if we are able, at Mass, if we have confessed our sins and are living right, we also can receive Jesus in Holy Communion – become one with him, this Bread of Life. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, and so we call it the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
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A sacrifice is the offering to God of some good thing; each Christmas season, my sister has her children choose some of their many toys, to give away to poor children. It is a sacrifice, to take one and give it away. But to take your FAVORITE toy, and give it away, out of love of God – this is a great sacrifice. Or if a boy sleeps on the floor during Lent, as an offering to God, this is a real sacrifice.
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Every sacrifice expresses our desire to be united to God. By giving up something good, and offering it, we really give ourself to the Lord. Sacrifice means love.
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In the Old Testament times, we see sacrifice very clearly. A lamb for example would be taken from the flock; here is something very valuable, to people trying to survive. To take the best lamb and kill it, and burn part of it as an offering – this is a real sacrifice. And these offerings to God were sometimes in thanksgiving for something, but also in atonement for sins.
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Since the fall of Adam and Eve, all people know, deep down inside, that we have to make up for our sins, somehow. Because they offend the greatest Good, our Creator. We deserve the supreme penalty, death. But this we are unable or unwilling to do, and so we make vicarious atonement.
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The ancients took a living animal, offering it’s life to God, and placing upon it the guilt of their sins, and prayed that God would accept it. The offerer laid his hands on the animal. This took place in the Court of the Temple. If it was an offering for a specific sin, he confessed his sins as he laid his hands, saying ‘I have done this and that, may it bring me forgiveness.’ Notice by-the-way, that at Mass, the priest puts his hands out over the sacrifice – placing our sins onto the Victim: Jesus.
In ancient times, after the animal was killed, part was burned as an offering to God, part was eaten by the offerer. And so true sacrifice had these two parts: the offering to God, and the sacrificial meal, by which the offerer felt united to God. But can the life of an animal or even several animals make atonement for our sins? When we think of the infinite goodness of God that our sins offend, it is clear that these measly sacrifices can really do nothing. St. Paul will say this. But all these sacrifices were an expression of man’s desire for atonement, to make up to the Lord for his failings.
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In the fullness of time, such a sacrifice came, that of the Lamb of God: Jesus Christ. No animal can atone for man, but God himself can. A human being can be put to death, but God cannot die. Therefore, the Son of God took on human nature. As the perfect, sinless man, Jesus could die, and as God, he was able to make full reparation for us. It is as if all of humanity looked for the Perfect Man, the most innocent and sinless human being, and offered Him to God on behalf of us all. And let us not forget, that Jesus WANTED to do this.
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If we sin against the infinite love of God, there is only one way that we can pay back, or make up for what we have done, we have to offer Jesus, and that is what we are doing here. There is a nice little movie out there about the Mass, called The Greatest Miracle – you should watch it. It’s animated, but it’s for adults as well as kids. The story revolves around the lives of three different people who find themselves at the same Catholic Mass; they each have a crisis in their life. But at this Mass, their guardian angels help them to see the true meaning.
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We come here and offer Jesus, but also his whole Mystical Body, ourselves. We are offered up, and lifted up to Our Heavenly Father. Father, I thank thee. Father, I love thee. Father, help me. In the Blood of Jesus, have mercy on me. This is the Holy Mass. It is the Perfect Sacrifice.
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In the first part of Mass we go up to God, and offer his Divine Blood. In the second part of Mass, God comes down to us, and we can partake in this sacrificial meal. At every Mass, we are actually linked to heaven, surrounded by the saints and the angels, and Mary is with us too.
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Oh dear good Mother, help us to offer ourselves worthily at Mass with Jesus. Help us Mary, to know that no matter the troubles or joys or sins we have, here is the place to offer everything with Jesus to our Father in heaven.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. John Vianney]

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