Question: In your answer about wheat for Communion Hosts [Parish Bulletin, October AD 2004], you spoke of offering sacrifice to God. What is the connection between receiving Holy Communion and offering Sacrifice? Isn’t the Mass more a meal and Communion more a food?
Answer: There can be no Holy Communion without the Sacrifice of the Mass. Mass can be offered and Communion Hosts can be reserved in the tabernacle for the faithful to receive at a later time, but without Mass there can be no consecrated Hosts. Our Lord becomes present in the Blessed Sacrament at the Consecration of the Mass, and His Presence remains as long as the appearances of bread or wine remain.
Forty years ago the Modernists were quite insistent that the faithful exercised the priesthood together with the priest in a way that made the priesthood and the laity indistinguishable. That of course, was wrong and lamentable. But equally wrong and lamentable was the movement which gathered strength immediately thereafter which reduced the Mass to nothing more than a memorial meal in which the people gathered to celebrate each other as the Body of Christ.
If we look to the sacrifices of the Old Testament, we find that animal victims were offered to God by the priest.[i] In some cases they were completely consumed in a fiery holocaust. In other cases they were only partially consumed, and portions were reserved to feed the priest and his family—and in some cases the portion not consumed by fire was shared by the one offering the sacrifice with his friends and family.
For the Passover sacrifice, after which the Last Supper and the Mass are fashioned, a lamb was sacrificed at the Temple, and then brought home to be shared with the extended family (including the neighbors if the family was small). Together with the lamb, the family ate bread (unleavened to remind them of the haste in which they left Egypt) and drank wine. Several other foods, including a green leafy vegetable, a roasted egg, bitter herbs, and a chopped mixture of apples, cinnamon, nuts and wine, were added to complete the meal and to serve symbolic purposes.
At the Last Supper our Lord—the true Lamb of God who was soon to be sacrificed for the sins of mankind—took the unleavened bread and gave it to his disciples: “Take ye and eat, for this is My body.” In doing so he fulfilled the unequivocal assurance made the year before in which he had promised to give His disciples His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. Likewise, after the supper, probably the third cup of wine, He gave the disciples His blood to drink: “This is a chalice of My blood, which will be poured out for you and for many in remission of sins.” In giving the Apostles the power to “do this, as often as you do it, in memory of Me,” He gave them the power to renew the unbloody sacrifice of His body and blood. Shortly thereafter He went out to the garden of Gethsemane where He was taken prisoner and put to death on the Cross, offering the same Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, but this time in a bloody manner. The Last Supper and the Sacrifice of the Cross are thus joined forever in a moral unity.
When we participate at Mass the priest offers the same Sacrifice as our Lord, following the unbloody manner of the Last Supper. He takes the place of Christ as priest and victim. Acting “in persona Christi—in the person of Christ,” he offers the bread and wine, pronounces the words of Consecration over them, and then consumes them in Holy Communion. The Sacrifice is completed by the priest’s Communion, but the faithful are generally invited to join him in consuming what remains of the body and blood of our Lord. This is, of course, a meal like that taken by our Lord and the Apostles on Holy Thursday. Just like that meal it is also the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross on Good Friday. On some level, those who assist at Mass, and, a fortiori, those who receive Holy Communion join with the priest in offering the sacrifice with him to God—they share the same Victim with him, the Victim who offered Himself to the Father for the forgiveness of sins, our Lord Jesus Christ.
[i] Cf. Leviticus, especially the first third of the book.