The sacred ceremony of the Holy Mass is the perfect act of religion, the perfect act of obedience and devotion to God. By God’s design, the Holy Mass is both the sacrifice of salvation and the feast of faith.
The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the source of eternal life. It is the divine Body and Blood, the flesh animated by the undying life of God.
How do we mortals share in Christ’s immortal life? Through His death.
Before the crucifixion—before He gave us the Mass–Christ had eternal life by His divine power, and we had inevitable death by His divine justice. But then He died our death for our sakes, so that we could live His life in His flesh.
Christ’s sacrifice of His Body and Blood on the cross transformed His flesh into our Bread of Life. The words of consecration themselves teach us this. At the Last Supper, He did not simply say, “This is my Body.” He said: “This is my Body which will be given up for you.” He did not just say, “This is my blood.” He said: “This is my blood which will be shed for you.”
On the cross on Mt. Calvary, the Lord Jesus acted as a priest and offered Himself in sacrifice. He made this offering out of perfect obedience to the will of the Father, and out of perfect love for us. The sacrifice of the cross is a unique kind of priestly act: The Priest offered Himself as the sacrificial victim, instead of an animal, or cereal offering, or libation.
When Christ offered Himself to the Father on the cross, He revealed fully the self-giving love of the Trinity of three divine Persons. From all eternity the Son offers Himself to the Father. This eternal self-offering was made present in the world on the cross. The eternal divine self-giving became the sacrifice of a flesh and blood man, Jesus.
So the crucifixion is the visible image of the invisible triune love of God. The triune love of God is always and everywhere. The triune love is the power of God which made and sustains heaven and earth. What is present invisibly always and everywhere was made visible on the cross two thousand years ago.
Now, we know that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary, because this is what the Church teaches on divine authority. As we already recalled, the Lord Jesus instituted the Mass at the Last Supper with the words of institution that referred to His coming crucifixion.
The fact that the Mass IS the sacrifice of the cross is a mystery beyond our comprehension. We might have some honest questions, like: In the Holy Mass, are the priest and victim the same, as they were on the cross? For that matter, it seems like the altar of sacrifice is different, too, since at the Holy Mass we do not offer sacrifice on a cross, but rather on an altar.
So let’s try to understand as best we can the connection between the crucifixion and the Mass.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the ceremony of the Holy Mass is the image of the crucifixion. It makes sense that the living image of the sacrifice of the cross would be a ceremonial sacrifice at a consecrated altar. The original sacrifice of Christ on the cross was an act of religion, of devotion to God. The image of Christ’s sacrifice is therefore also a religious act, a prayer of the Church.
Because the sacrifice of the Son to the Father is eternal, it can be made present anywhere and at any time. The Mass does not repeat the sacrifice of Calvary. The Mass makes the one sacrifice present and visible.
And in the Holy Mass the priest and victim are in fact the same. The ministerial priest who puts on his vestments and approaches the altar is simply an instrument of the true Priest of the Mass, Christ Himself. Christ is invisible; the priest in his vestments is the visible image of the invisible Christ. And the altar is the image of the cross.
During the Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is consecrated in order to be offered to the Father. The gifts set on the altar become the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of His own words. Then the Son offers Himself to the Father, and the whole Church joins in this self-offering by our prayers.
After the Victim is offered, then the Host is broken and given to us as spiritual food.
How do we feast on this Bread of divine life?
It is a unique kind of meal. The Lord Jesus said to those who followed Him after the miracle of the loaves: “Look for more than food to fill your belly.” He says: Look for the food of faith that fills your heart and soul with God.
We feast on the Bread of Life by believing as we receive. The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the Body, Blood, soul, and divinity of the One Who offered Himself on the cross and rose on the third day. Let us receive Him in faith with loving and contrite hearts.