What does it mean to sacrifice? For many of us, it means to “give something up” or to do something that we do not like such as “sacrificing” chocolate during the season of Lent. Yet, this is not the proper definition. The word “sacrifice” comes from two Latin words, sacra (holy) and facere (to make). To “sacrifice”, therefore, literally means “to make something holy.” Last week we mentioned that our role in the world is to join Christ in His sacrifice of praise to the Father. Now, with a correct understanding of the word “sacrifice” we can dive more deeply into the mystery of what this role entails.
The Letter to the Hebrews is the most spiritually rich text in regards to the sacrificial mission of Jesus. It is in this writing that we hear Christ referred to as the “great high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” becoming “a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle not built by human hands, but rather by the hand of the Lord” (Heb. 8:1-2). What is this “true tabernacle” of which Christ is the premier minister? It is His own Person. The Resurrected and Ascended Body of the Lord is the true tabernacle. Through His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension, Christ has sacrificed all of creation within and through Himself. In other words, He has definitively consecrated all things that were once severed by sin bringing them into an active communion with the Father in the life of the Holy Spirit. The streams of blood and water which flowed from the pierced side of Christ on the cross have baptized and consecrated creation as an ever-lasting testament to the goodness of God. As St. Jerome so beautifully reminds us, “Do we not know that we walk upon an earth that has been warmed by the blood of its Creator?” How often we forget this remarkable fact!
However, this sacrificing activity of Jesus is not a one-man show. Rather, He incorporates us into this saving action by allowing us to actively participate in it through the Church. And with this we arrive to the heart of the matter. There is no better way to share in the saving activity of Christ then the Eucharist. The Holy Mass is properly referred to as a “sacrifice”. It is not simply a banquet or nice memorial dinner. It is a living sacrifice of the living Christ; a perpetuated “making holy” of the world through the singular act of salvation which He has accomplished from the cross. Beginning next week, we are going to reflect on the different aspects of the Mass and how they reveal the sacrificial activity of Christ in His Church.