Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Sacrifice of Reparation

While I was talking with a fellow blogger the other day, he told me of a colleague of his, a committed Catholic, but who had nonetheless been surprised and caught unawares when mention was made of a Mass being offered in reparation for the sin of abortion – that colleague knew of course that abortion is a tragic evil and a vile sin, but was unaware that the Sacrifice of the Mass could be offered up in reparation therefor: indeed, he seemed unaware of either the concept of reparation for sin, or that the Mass was a Sacrifice – the making present in our midst of the Sacrifice of Christ Himself, the Lamb who taketh away the sins of the world – let alone one that could rightly be offered in atonement for sin.

Given that the concept of sin itself is not believed in by many (yet our age has been and still is afflicted by every form of sinful violence and even warfare, as every man knows), and that too many even confession-going Catholics would regard the three Hail Mary's or the like that they receive in penance as quite sufficient a quantity of reparation, I can perceive why the idea of making reparation for sins could seem strange.

Yet how odd it is, really, that, if Christ willingly suffered for our sake, on our behalf, and if we as Christians are called to follow Christ and take up our cross in union with him, then the obvious conclusion – that we ought make vicarious atonement for sin, in union with Christ, "filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" as St Paul dared to say – is not drawn.

A generation or two ago, what was then widespread devotion to the Sacred Heart would have made all Catholics familiar with the idea of reparation; indeed, both a collect and a prayer over the offerings to that effect still occur in the Missal on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart:
O God, who in the Heart of your Son, wounded by our sins, bestow on us in mercy the boundless treasures of your love, grant, we pray, that in paying him the homage of our devotion, we may also offer worthy reparation. Through... 
Look, O Lord, we pray, on the surpassing charity in the Heart of your beloved Son, that what we offer may be a gift acceptable to you and an expiation of our offences. Through Christ our Lord.
Alas, the Sacred Heart is not known nor loved as once it was.

But as to not knowing the Mass to be offered up as a Sacrifice in reparation for sin, I hazard a guess that the man in question has heard the Eucharistic Prayers again and again, at all the Masses he attends; but perhaps has not perceived their significance, especially if (as is usually the case) Eucharistic Prayer II (the short one) has been the main one he has heard used. 

For, to begin with, E.P. II contains only one mention of oblation: "we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation" – without any further explanation as to what this offering of the Bread which has become Christ's live-giving Body, and the Chalice which now contains His saving Blood, might effect. Certainly none of the very brief intercessions contained in E.P. II refer to reparation or atonement for sin.

I have heard from a correspondent that, while Catholics have a good idea of Christ's Presence in the Sacrament (as, say, compared to Anglicans, given their manifold views on that subject, even if their Eucharistic services were valid), sad to say ordinary Catholics of the modern Roman Rite have to a large extent lost the idea of Sacrifice. The same writer made the reasonable claim that E.P. II is quite deficient as regards the sacrificial merit of the Mass, which, given its status as the most commonly used Eucharistic Prayer, has led to Catholics being insufficiently reminded of this point. 

Similarly, I would go on to add, the abandonment of due reverence and of Eastward celebration has served to make Mass seem more a happy little Communion service rather than something awesome, solemn and sacrificial, a truly religious and priestly act of cultic worship and sacrifice – which is what it truly is and thus should be worthily celebrated in piety, fear and love.

But the other Eucharistic Prayers do speak more of sacrifice. That is why I remain surprised that a man could be a Mass-goer and not know these things, assuming he actually attends to the words spoken, since not vainly (one presumes) does the priest pray aloud at Mass.

To begin with, the Roman Canon makes reference to the liturgical action as "this sacrifice of praise... this oblation of our service", and to the consecrated species as "this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim," that is, Jesus Christ present in His Body and Blood, which are named, under their sacramental veils, as "the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation... these offerings" which are offered up for the Church, for the Pope, for the local Bishop, for all passers-on of the Catholic Faith, for all present, for those dear to us, for the redemption of our souls, for deliverance from damnation and enumeration among the elect, for repose of the faithful departed.

Of course, these days in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, the Roman Canon or E.P. I is not so commonly used... but others are, above all, E.P. III, whose expressive language more than compensates for the minimalistic nature of E.P. II, that short, mean little prayer whose main advantage, if such is an advantage rather than a scandal, is its brevity. Even the very Missal itself, in its Introduction (GIRM, n. 365), states that E.P. II is for use on weekdays, not Sundays nor feasts.

Eucharistic Prayer III is to my mind the prayer that, being in reasonably common use, best teaches the doctrine of the Mass as a sacrifice of reparation. It may be asserted that this E.P. is if anything even more explicit about the Sacrifice of the Mass and its atoning power than the Roman Canon! For it states that God has gathered a people to Himself "so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to your name", and in fulfilment thereof, at Mass "we offer [Him] in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice" and we address God, asking him to "Look, we pray, upon the oblation of your Church and [recognize] the sacrificial Victim by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself" – indeed, "May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world".

Surely this teaches the doctrine of the Mass-Sacrifice as one of reparation? For in the Church's One Oblation, we recognize, and beg God to receive on our behalf, "the sacrificial Victim" – Jesus Christ crucified – "by whose death you willed to reconcile us to yourself". This is the doctrine of vicarious atonement expressed in prayer. And furthermore, this doctrine of reparation, of reconciliation, of atonement, is repeated again, when at Mass the priest prays on our behalf "May this Sacrifice of our reconciliation... advance the peace and salvation of all the world".

While perhaps the terms reconciliation and reparation are not entirely synonymous, it seems to me that the underlying message is one and the same. So it appears odd to me that, given E.P. III is used reasonably often, a person who goes to Mass could have never put two and two together and realized that the Mass is a Sacrifice, since it makes present Christ Himself, our High Priest and Sacrifice, crucified and risen, in His own true Flesh and Blood, rent and spilt for us; and that, just as Christ's oblation of himself on Calvary was a perfect atonement for the sins of the world, so too its making present in the Mass is itself the plenitude of reparation.

Too much teaching and catechesis, it must be acknowledged, however, has puerilely emphasised the gladsome presence of Christ in the Eucharist, while never alluding to His presence as precisely the same sacrificial Victim as died for us on Calvary's Tree. The way some Masses are conducted would not seem consonant with such a sobering truth... it remains a grave temptation to try to have Christ without His Cross; yet One was nailed to the other, and ever lifts up pierced Hands in intercession on our behalf; as is said to priests at their ordination, we should recognize that which we imitate, and live as befits those who bear in their bodies the Passion of Christ.

The fourth Eucharistic Prayer is more explicit still about the identity of our Offering with that of Christ, and its saving power: "we offer you his Body and Blood, the sacrifice acceptable to you which brings salvation to the whole world". It states that it is "the Sacrifice which you yourself have provided for your Church"; and in its intercession it bids God "remember now all for whom we offer this sacrifice". That said, it seems to me that E.P. III is the prayer most direct in its expression of the doctrine of the Eucharist as a reparative sacrifice.

The two Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation also teach this doctrine. E.P.R. I states "we offer you, who are our faithful and merciful God, this sacrificial Victim who reconciles to you the human race. Look kindly, most compassionate Father, on those you unite to yourself by the Sacrifice of your Son... who heals every division". E.P.R. II similarly reads "we offer you what you have bestowed on us, the Sacrifice of perfect reconciliation. Holy Father, we humbly beseech you to accept us also, together with your Son".

Finally, the Eucharistic Prayer for Various Needs (in its first incarnation, the so-called Swiss Eucharistic Prayer, later rendered more orthodox by Roman redrafting), in each of its four variants (which are identical but for a different Preface and a different intercessory insert), also teaches this consoling doctrine. It prays "we offer you the Bread of life and the Chalice of blessing. Look with favour on the oblation of your Church, in which we show forth the Paschal Sacrifice of Christ that has been handed on to us". For Christ is in truth our Passover and our lasting peace, who has reconciled all in Himself; and to the Church has been handed on this Mystery, this saving Sacrament of the altar, which makes present, in the life-giving Bread and blessed Chalice, the true Body and Blood of Christ.

It never ceases to amaze me, given that "the law of prayer is the law of belief", how men can go to Mass, which is generally said in the vernacular, and has been for decades, and yet not know what the prayers themselves teach. Mass is not merely a Communion service (for which a well-stocked tabernacle would suffice) – it is the Sacrifice of Calvary made present. Why else do we sing "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us... grant us peace"?

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