At Mass We Join the Worship of Heaven
Thursday January 20, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 7:25-8:6) Gospel (St. Mark 3:7-12)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul continues talking about the priesthood of Jesus. He tells us that Jesus is our high priest and that it is fitting that we should have such a high priest who is holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and higher than the heavens. He has no need, like the other priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, because He did that once for all when He offered Himself.
Now we have to look at what exactly that means, because, of course, we offer sacrifice day after day. Every time we come to Mass, we offer the sacrifice of the Mass, and so it would seem on the surface to be in contradiction to what Saint Paul is saying. But the reality is that “Jesus, having offered Himself once for all” means it is once that He offered Himself on the Cross and that sacrifice is for all time. When we say “once for all” we would normally assume that might mean “once for everyone” or “for all people” or something along those lines. But in the understanding of the sacrifice that is offered, remember that it is the exact same sacrifice that is being offered at Mass. He is not being offered again; He is being offered still. It is one continual sacrifice that is being offered until the end of the world. He is not offering over and over again, but rather He continues to offer His one sacrifice, and so He does indeed live forever to mediate for us.
The only reason this can happen, as Saint Paul makes clear, is, number one, because He has entered into the sanctuary – not the one made by human hands but the one that was made by God. Remember that on the mountain Moses had a vision of the worship of heaven, and he was told to make a tabernacle, a tent, that was patterned after what he had seen. The high priest, when he would enter into the Holy of Holies, would go in there once a year, but it was into a temple that was manmade, a copy of the original. But Our Lord Himself has entered into the original, into the worship of heaven. Therefore, the sacrifice that He offers is an eternal one, because, as Saint Paul makes clear, after the law had already been enacted (indeed many, many years after the law had already been enacted) there was a promise that the one who would be this priest would also be the Son of God. The second psalm says, You are My Son, this day I have begotten You, and we again read in Psalm 110 about the Messiah who was the Son and who would be this priest forever. So He has a priesthood that does not go away. Therefore, since He is the eternal Son of God and because He is God, He has a sacrifice that He has offered and that sacrifice will stand before the throne of the heavenly Father forever. It will never ever stop.
That is the sacrifice we have at Mass. It is literally the same sacrifice that took place on Calvary two thousand years ago. When you are at Mass, you are at Calvary. You are there at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady. You are the beloved disciple who is right there as Jesus looks down at His mother and says, Behold, your son, and then looks at you to say, Behold, your mother. This is what goes on at Mass because you are present at the sacrifice of Jesus, the one sacrifice that is offered for all time, the one sacrifice that is offered continually without end, the one sacrifice that has united us with Him. That is what is going on. Even though we are here in a building made by human hands, what is happening on the altar is something which is eternal and we enter into the worship of heaven.
If we think about what happens at Mass, we saw earlier that way back Moses had the vision of the worship of heaven and made a tabernacle based on what he saw. In the New Testament, something similar has occurred. Saint John, in the Book of Revelation, had a vision of the worship of heaven and in that vision he saw the Mass. If you read the book of Revelation carefully, you will see every single element of the Mass is right there. And so what we are doing is engaging in the worship of heaven even while we are here on earth because it is not just something natural being offered to God; what is happening is something supernatural as the heavenly Father gives us His Son in the form of bread and wine, and as Jesus continues to offer Himself in sacrifice for us.
When we understand what is really going on and we see the dignity of what is happening here, it is then that we are called to enter more and more deeply into the action of the Mass, into the sacrifice that takes place upon the altar, to unite ourselves with that sacrifice and to be one with Christ, because this is preparation for eternity, this is what we are going to do forever. We are going to be at the eternal Mass. We will no longer be doing this in a sanctuary made by human hands because the Lord has opened the sanctuary for us in heaven. Even though what is happening here is real, it is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come; but the glory of the heavenly worship is what is being offered to us. We have the opportunity to unite ourselves with the angels and the saints in the worship of Jesus Christ, in honoring His sacrifice in the most fitting manner, and to prepare ourselves for what we are going to do for eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.