The Sacrifice of the Mass
Reading (Hebrews 7:25-8:6) Gospel (St. Mark 3:7-12)
Saint Paul tells us this morning, in his Letter to the Hebrews, that while the high priests of the Old Covenant are men who are besought with weakness themselves and have to offer sacrifice, first for themselves and then for the people, now we have a different high priest, One Who is the Son, One Who is God. He is the same One of Whom even the demons recognize and proclaim as we heard in the Gospel reading this morning: “You are the Son of God.” While the people were not able to recognize Him, the demons certainly knew exactly Who He was and they had no choice but to proclaim the truth. Now, of course, they may have had a little different reason for trying to do that and Jesus commanded them to be silent and not to speak to anyone else. But the fact that they knew Who He was and the fact that they had to be obedient to Him tells us something very important: Not only did He have the authority as the Son of God, but also as the high priest. It was at His word that the demons had to leave. It was at His word that people were healed. It was at His word that all things came to be.
And so, Saint Paul tells us that Jesus needed to have something to offer as high priest, and it is at His word that that offering takes place. God gave Jesus a body that He would be able to offer, according to the Psalms, “Holocausts and sin offerings you wished not, but a body for sacrifice you have given me.” And so He offered Himself – His own flesh – and it continues to be offered. That is the point Saint Paul also makes in the reading that we heard today. He says, “He has no need as did the high priest to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for the people; He did that once for all when He offered Himself.”
Now, we must understand that properly. Non-Catholics will look at that and say, “You see, He offered Himself once. That’s it! There is no more sacrifice for sin; that’s all. He did it once.” A Catholic would look at that and say, “No, that means He has offered Himself once for all time.” It was not just a one-time offering that is going to simply be made for everybody; but rather, it is one offering that is made for all time, from the moment that the sacrifice was offered on the Cross, for the rest of time. We are told in the Prophet Malachi that there will be one pure offering made to God from the rising of the sun to its setting - so one pure offering for all time, as well as, of course, for all people, but for all time.
He had to have a sacrifice to offer and it is Himself. He told us – commanded us at His word – to continue to do this in His memory. And it is at His word that bread and wine become His Body and Blood according exactly to what He told us in Saint John’s Gospel, “The bread that I will offer is My flesh for the life of the world.” And so His sacrifice continues. You must understand that very clearly. The sacrifice that we will offer this morning is not a different sacrifice from that of the Lord, nor is Jesus being sacrifice again, but rather, Our Lord is being sacrificed still. It is the same sacrifice that continues to be offered. It is not offered again and again; Saint Paul made that very clear: He has no need to offer sacrifice day after day. He does not have to enter into the sanctuary again and again to offer sacrifice, but there is one sacrifice that He offered to the Father and continues to offer. It is not a new sacrifice. It is not a different sacrifice.
The high priests of old had to offer a bull for themselves and a sheep for the people. Once you offered the bull, you could not offer it again; the next day you would have to offer something different, a new sacrifice. But because Jesus lives forever, there is no need for a separate sacrifice. There is only one sacrifice and it is forever; that is the sacrifice we celebrate every single day, the continuation, the re-presentation of Calvary; it is the reality of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the fullness of His sacrifice merely offered in a sacramental way, in a mystical way, rather than in a physical way, but it is no less the exact same sacrifice of the Lord. And so as our high priest, it is He Who offers the sacrifice because there is in the New Testament only one priesthood and all other priests share in that one priesthood. So it is not a separate priesthood; it is not a separate victim; it is not a separate sacrifice. There is one priest, one victim, one sacrifice, offered for all people for all time. The one sacrifice of Jesus Christ was offered on Calvary physically and continues to be offered, and will continue to be offered, until the end of the world.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.