One of the stories that touched my heart during my seminary formation was the story of a Chinese archbishop. Dominic Tang, the courageous Chinese archbishop, was imprisoned for twenty-one years for nothing more than his loyalty to Christ and Christ’s one and true Church. After spending five years of solitary confinement in a windowless, damp cell, his jailers told him that he could leave it for a few hours to do whatever he wanted. After five years of solitary confinement, he had a couple of hours to do what he wanted! A hot shower? A change of clothes? A long walk outside? A chance to call or write to family? “What do you want to do in these two hours?” the jailer asked. “I would like to say mass,” Archbishop Tang replied. That is something incredible to think about.
We come once more to the wonderful feast of Corpus Christi, The solemnity of the most Body and Blood of Jesus. The reading for this year focuses on the priesthood of Jesus. In the first reading, we see the mysterious priest Melchizedek. The contest is this. Abraham was coming after a battle in which he rescued his nephew Lot. On his way back, he met the priest-king of Salem, which later became Jerusalem, Melchizedek, which means righteous king. He, in thanksgiving to God for Abram’s victory over his enemies, offers an unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine. Thousands of years later, we have another priest, the king of righteousness, king of Jerusalem, prince of peace, performing a sacrifice involving bread and wine, an unbloody sacrifice of bread and wine in thanksgiving for the victory over his enemies; not earthly kings, like Sodom and Gomorrah, but the principalities and the powers of the darkness, over the angelic powers of the kingdom of Satan.
Why do we need to sacrifice? What is the logic of sacrifice? In any sacrifice, we return to God some aspect of creation in order to show our gratitude to God for all his gifts. But does God need our sacrifices?
Not at all, but it pleases him to receive them, for they are an expression of justice. They establish the right relationship between God and us. We can think of a little kid offering his parents a gift. The parents don’t need the gift. Not as though they see it as something of great high value. But they treasure the gift because it expresses their child’s love and gratitude. Something similar we obtain in regard to God and our sacrifices. He doesn’t need them, but he delights in them because they establish us in the right relationship.
Now things get a little more complicated when you take sin into consideration. Sin is an aversion to God. Then our acts of gratitude and thanksgiving will hurt because they will involve reordering the self. Sin is always a kind of active ingratitude. To sin is to fall out of right relation to God. Therefore when the sinner approaches God in the sacrifice, that sacrifice will hurt. Now we can understand the importance of animal sacrifice in the old testament. When the blood of the animal is poured out, the life of the animal is lost in sacrifice. It is an external sign of our painful inner sacrifice.
But the bread and wine are the less painful sacrifice. But if we look at what Jesus did the night before he died, taking these simple elements of bread and wine like Melchizedek, doing something more than animal sacrifice. Because he identifies those elements with his very self, with his body and blood and says, they will be offered for us. This is not a sacrifice among many. But this IS the sacrifice, painful sacrifice on the cross, the sacrifice which sums up, recapitulates and gathers unto itself all of the sacrifices of the human race. Because by this one act, Jesus will make righteous the human race. he will be Melchizedek, the king of righteousness. This sacrifice re-establishes the right order between God and us.
“What is it we present to God when we offer Him the Holy Mass?” We present to Him a treasure so costly that it outweighs the vast heavens and all their infinite riches. We offer Him a gift of such unspeakable worth that nothing short of the Almighty, Infinite Deity and His boundless perfection and majesty can equal it. More cannot be said than this, for in the whole universe, nothing exists, nothing can be conceived greater than God Himself. Now let us reflect ourself how priceless a treasure we offer to the Most Holy Trinity in presenting the divinized humanity of Christ for its acceptance.
Thus, in Holy Mass, we have the noblest burnt-offering, the sublimest sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving. It is the believer’s greatest treasure and the devout Christian’s dearest joy. It is a salutary atonement for the sinner, a powerful support for the dying, the surest earnest of deliverance for the departed. We may truly say that in Holy Mass we are made rich in Christ Jesus, so that no grace is wanting to us.
So let us prepare ourselves to offer this immense gift to the Lord with all our hearts and receive infinite graces.