Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Passion Sunday—17 March A.D. 2013

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[Mass Text - Latin]
[Mass Text - English]
[Lenten Observance]

“... by means of his death ... they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.[1]

    Next Sunday we will begin Holy Week, and I would ask you—if you are unable to attend all the Masses of that week—to make a point of reading each day’s Gospel at home in your missals.  As you hear them in church, or read them at home, be aware that our Lord came to Jerusalem quite purposefully.  On a number of occasions He predicted the nature of the death that He was to undergo.  As Saint Paul points out in today’s epistle, His death on the cross was a sacrificial offering of Himself to God the Father.

    The Jewish religion at the time of Christ was sacrificial.  At first this was somewhat informal, usually with the father choosing to offer an animal to God on behalf of his family or his tribe.  Noe, Abraham, and Melchisedech are examples—we are not sure whether Abel, the first man to offer sacrifice, was the head of his own family or not (he seems to have been old enough).  This system of family sacrifice seems to have persisted up until the Passover sacrifice offered in Egypt just before the Exodus:

    On the tenth day of this month let every man take a lamb by their families and houses.... And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month: and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening.[2]

    After the Exodus, God made the sacrificial system more standardized.  The priests were to be exclusively from among the male descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses.  And there was a list of sacrifices and sacrificial victims that God expected His priests to offer.[3]  There were sacrifices of wheaten flour and wheat breads, as well as sacrifices of animals considered “clean” under the Mosaic Law.  The blood of sacrificial animals was poured out and sprinkled on the altar, and also on the people as a symbol of purification.  The sacrificial altar was placed in front of the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple wherein the presence of God dwelt, surrounded by a high curtain, that only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer incense and to sprinkle the blood of a calf and a goat.[4]

    The ashes of a burnt red heifer (a red cow), a fairly rare and valuable animal, were mixed with spring water and sprinkled on those who had become ritually “unclean” by coming into contact with a dead body.[5]

    All of these things were well known to the Jews of Jesus’ time.  They also knew that the promised Messias would be priest, for one of the Messianic Psalms of David has God saying to David’s Lord:

The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.[6]

Melchisedech, by the way, offered sacrifice in bread and wine.[7]

    In today’s epistle, Paul is pointing out that Jesus Christ is the eternal high priest of the New Covenant.  Indeed, He is both priest and sacrificial victim, for instead of offering calves or goats or heifers, He offers Himself.  He offers His own blood before God the Father in heavenly Holy of Holies.  And, as Paul says:

how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, by the Holy Ghost, offered himself without spot to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?[8]

    This is another of the things to ponder during Holy Week.  This offering of our Lord took place in order that we might “serve the living God.”  Christ died to redeem us from the sin of Adam and from our own actual sins—but that redemption requires something on our part—we are redeemed, but that does not mean that we are saved.  We will not enjoy the eternal joys of heaven if we do not cooperate with the graces won by our Lord on the Cross.  The idea of universal salvation is a myth made up by those unwilling to keep the Commandments themselves.

    During Holy Week, Traditional Catholics read the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke that show the close connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.  We will read about Jesus, at the Passover, taking bread and wine, and by His very saying so, changing these elements into His body and blood:  “Take and eat, for this is my body.... Take and drink, for this is my blood....”  And then we will read about our Lord being taken captive in the garden of Gethsemane, and shortly thereafter giving up His body and blood on the Cross.

    We will read also that our Lord gave His Apostles the power to work the same miracle of bread and wine—body and blood—to do what He did, so that no one may forget.  Only a relatively small number of people stood before the Cross on the day Jesus died.  That day is thousands of years and thousands of miles away from us—yet, we stand right there whenever we attend Holy Mass.  For Christ exercises His priesthood through the ministry of his merely mortal priest, making His body and blood present once again, in any time, and in any place.

    On Holy Thursday we will read Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper in his epistle to the Corinthians.[9]  It is particularly significant, for it demonstrates that the priesthood with which Christ invested the Apostles was not restricted to them alone.  Paul had received it, and had passed it on to priests among the Corinthians:  What “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you....[10]  He then reiterates the connection between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of the Cross:  “For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come.[11]  And, finally he speaks of the need to be in the state of grace to receive Holy Communion, because it is the true body and blood of our Lord:  “Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.[12]

    Now, on Holy Thursday, the priest will consecrate two large hosts—one for his Communion on that day, and the other to be reserved on the altar of repose until Good Friday.  The Liturgy on Good Friday is not properly called a Mass—we call it the Liturgy of the Presanctified, for it is the continuation, or the completion, of the sacrifice begun on Holy Thursday.  The two days are further complimentary in that on Thursday we read about the Last Supper and not the Crucifixion, while on Friday we read about the Crucifixion and not the Last Supper.  Both must be seen together as a unified whole.

    Finally, I would ask that during Holy Week you give some thought to the ways in which we can cooperate with our redemption, which our Lord gained for us with no lesser price than the sacrifice of His body and blood.  How do we make ourselves less unworthy of His graces?  Remotely, we do so by doing good and avoiding evil.  Keeping the Commandments are a minimum.  We must keep them for love of God and love of neighbor—and that suggests that prayer, and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, must play an active part in our lives.  True contrition when we sin must lead to frequent sacramental Confession.  And, obviously the way in which we most closely associate ourselves with the redemption is by frequent assistance at Holy Mass and devout reception of our Lord in Holy Communion.

“... by means of his death ... they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.



[1]   Epistle:  Hebrews ix: 11-15

[3]   Most of the book of Leviticus is dedicated to this information.

[9]   I Corinthians xi: 2 0-32

[11]   ibid.  26

[12]   ibid.  27

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