The second reading at the Mass of Corpus Christi this year focuses us on the sacrifice of Christ. The language of sacrifice has proven rather controversial in the Church, particularly as related to the Mass.
Sometimes this is because the way the Catholic church speaks has seen to imply the Mass is a second saving sacrifice. Yet the Church is clear, there is but one sacrifice by which we are saved and that is the sacrifice offered, once and for all at Calvary.
That redemptive sacrifice offered by Christ himself at Calvary (and beautifully anticipated at the Last Supper with the Institution of the Eucharist) is made present to us still in the mystery of the Eucharist. And, wonderfully, at Mass, that once-and-for-all sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented in the Sacrament of the Sacrifice. That Sacrifice truly is once-and-for-all, but it is not over and done with. The Christ who made offering of himself, continues to be present to the Church, and continues in his love, an outpouring of love for the Father, for us, and for the world.
The second reading on Sunday speaks of the unique power of Christ’s sacrifice.
Now Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come. He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands because it is not of this created order; and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives; how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God. He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant. Hebrews 9:11-15
At the heart of sacrifice is not the destruction of life, a consecration to God only of something otherwise precious to humankind. At the heart of sacrifice is love. Love of God, love of neighbour, love of self: love which takes us beyond just ourselves, and transforms us.
That love overcomes our brokenness, it restores humankind and individual human persons to wholeness and holiness, and leads us ultimately to God.
To do all that takes more than the love that fallen human beings are capable of, unaided. It takes the love of God incarnate, offered for us by Jesus in so many ways, but in an ultimate way in the shedding of his blood at Calvary.
At Corpus Christi we celebrate that love, that sacrifice, and we recommit ourselves to seeking to cooperate with it, to God’s glory, for the sake of our neighbour, and for our own healing and growth.
The Holy Door at St John Lateran, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.