13 October 2014 - District Superior's Letter

In a solemn declaration the Council of Trent tells us that Christ instituted the Mass: “In order that He might leave to His beloved Spouse a visible sacrifice by which the bloody sacrifice once offered on the Cross might be represented, and its memory remain to the end of time.” (Sess. XXII).

Dear friends and benefactors

In a solemn declaration the Council of Trent tells us that Christ instituted the Mass: “In order that He might leave to His beloved Spouse a visible sacrifice by which the bloody sacrifice once offered on the Cross might be represented, and its memory remain to the end of time.” (Sess. XXII).

From these words we see that there are two aspects under which we are able to contemplate the profound mystery of the Mass. Firstly, the Mass is a Memorial of Christ’s death on Calvary. Considering the host separated from the chalice upon the corporal we are reminded of how the Sacred Blood was really separated from the Sacred Body upon the Cross and we recall the intense pain Our Lord suffered in order to pay the debt of punishment for our sins. We recall the love of Christ for His heavenly Father; the love for us sinners which made Him desire to die for us and enable us to become worthy to enter His Kingdom. 

But we must go further since the Mass is not a mere memorial of what took place on Good Friday. The Mass is something more; it is a real sacrifice that Christ commands us to do (hoc facite). We are not commanded to remember but to do the same thing that Christ did and to do it to remember; the memorial is consequent to the sacrifice. If our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the New Law is joined to a pure heart, a lively faith and an inward sorrow for our sins, we will obtain mercy and satisfaction for our sins as well as grace and merit for the future. Thus it can be beneficial in the formation of these proper dispositions to have a better understanding of the meaning and essence of sacrifice.

Properly speaking, sacrifice is the offering of a visible object, which is effected through any change, transformation or destruction, in order to acknowledge the absolute Majesty and Sovereignty of God as well as man’s total dependence and submission to Him. Through sacrifice, the interior acts and affections of the virtue of religion (i.e. adoration, thanksgiving, petition and satisfaction) find their supreme and most solemn expression.  

This visible object or gift ought to correspond to the object in view and should be selected with due regard for it. In order to acknowledge the Almighty God, it is therefore appropriate that the noblest thing from visible creation be offered, i.e. human life. Thus, Christ’s offering of His precious life on the Cross in accordance with His Father’s will was and is the most perfect sacrifice possible. However in every other case, God, not wishing human life to be sacrificed, was instead content with the interior offering of the heart and its symbolical expression in the form of irrational creatures (e.g. heifers, lambs, doves, bread, wine, incense etc.). But even these offerings had to be as perfect as possible, without blemish or defect. Their value would also depend on both the dignity and interior disposition of the person making the offering and the value of the gift offered. Thus an indifferent, trifling or imperfect gift would indicate a lack of the proper spirit and respect for the Divine Majesty. 

This is not to say that every gift offered to God is a sacrifice, for much depends on the way and manner. The entire destruction of the gift, or at least what is morally equivalent as in liturgical transformation, is essential to the idea of sacrifice. This lacking, there can be no real sacrifice but rather an oblation, which is essentially different. We have examples of real sacrifices being performed in the Old Testament in the slaying of animals and the pouring out of their blood poured on the altar and the consummation of these or other things, such as incense, by fire.

This destruction or transformation of the gifts is intended to be a symbolic representation of God’s absolute authority and dominion over all creation without exception. Consequently, by the act of sacrifice, man makes recognition of his complete dependence upon and subjection to the Almighty God and that he is, therefore, bound and ready to dedicate his entire life to Him. It is thus easy to see that in order to make an acceptable exterior sacrifice there must be an accompanying interior spiritual sacrifice that is likewise animated by the essential sentiments of sacrifice whereby we accept wholeheartedly our position of dependence, as St. Augustine says: “The visible sacrifice is a holy sign of the invisible offering.”  

It is also important to understand that since Divine Providence has seen fit to create men as social beings who depend on and live with one another in society, then society, likewise dependent on God, must also take part in religious worship. Therefore, in so far as sacrifice is a constituent part of public worship and has a symbolical meaning, it must be positively instituted by a legitimate authority. But neither to the Synagogue nor to the Church did God impart the right or the power to institute sacrifices. In His infinite mercy He Himself prescribed the sacrifices by which He should be honored and propitiated. Our Divine Saviour alone could institute so sublime and so excellent a sacrifice as the one He gave to His Church in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Also, by the very nature of sacrifice, which is a public, solemn act of worship, it is required that a man be chosen to perform this solemn act of worship in the name and for the welfare of the people. “For every highpriest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb. 5, 1). Sacrifice and priesthood are inseparable: no sacrifice can exist without a priesthood, and no priesthood without a sacrifice. 

Only such acts of worship that contain these essential characteristics of the idea of sacrifice may be called sacrifices in the proper sense. Yet the term sacrifice is often used to refer to various virtuous acts. When applied to such acts, the term sacrifice is not taken in its proper and strict meaning but rather in a derivative, figurative or broader sense. Thus, in so far as they bear a certain resemblance to proper sacrifice, the term is often figuratively applied to good, meritorious actions, which also consist of the intention to glorify God and a certain destruction, e.g. the mortification of our sensual nature. 

In this broader sense the term sacrifice can and has been applied to many things such as acts of charity, works of mercy (Heb. 13, 16), renouncements of sensual pleasures (Rom. 12, 1), acts of contrition or humility (Ps. 50, 19), renunciation and consecration of religious persons or even prayer (Hebr. 13, 15), which is termed “the sacrifice of the lips” in the book of Osee (14, 3). 

Taken in this broader or figurative sense there is also a correspondence to the figurative priesthood referred to by St. Peter in his first epistle: “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2, 5). In this broad sense, the faithful can be said to constitute “a holy priesthood” in so far as they have been separated from sinners by the sacramental character and grace of baptism and have dedicated themselves to honor and glorify God by prayer, fervor, self-denial, charity etc.

As we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King and move into the month dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory let us reflect on this notion of sacrifice and ask the grace to make ourselves and our sacrifices more acceptable to God. 

Sincerely yours in Christ the King,

Fr. John Fullerton

District Superior