Brookline Carmel Bulletin
April 23, 1961
As a consequence of living in an age of sophistication, we don’t easily come by an understanding and appreciation of the significance of ritual sacrifice. To the pagans of old, sacrifice was almost as natural as breathing. Nowadays we have such a thorough gasp of most of the laws governing the physical universe that we have to train ourselves to see through them to the Living God, their Author, Whose Providence either directs or permits everything that befalls us. The pagans, on the other hand, because of their ignorance of secondary, immediate causes, went back to primary, ultimate causes: ultra-mundane persons and forces whose existence they postulated to explain the natural events that occurred in the world around them. Often-times we feel as helpless in the face of the mighty forces nature unleashes as they did, though we are not terrified as they were, for we understand the underlying causes. Out of their terror grew the sentiment basic to sacrifice, namely, the desire to be on good terms with the non-existent supra-natural personalities in whose fickle power they were convinced their destiny lay. The sentiments upon which Judeo-Christian sacrifice is founded also grew out of fear, only it is a filial fear, fear of remaining at enmity with a God who is at once a tender and loving Father.
The desire to be at one with God is uncomplicated enough in itself, but in order to be authentic it must engender a certain well-defined frame of mind. When it is expressed externally in symbolism, then we have sacrifice. These are the interior dispositions essential to every sacrifice:
First, the conviction of our unworthiness to approach a God of such exalted majesty. And because the disproportion between Him and us is heightened by sin, our protestations of humility must be accompanied by contrition.
Second, we have to acknowledge our dependence upon Him, the ultimate source of all we have and are, Who alone can supply for all our wants. Particularly, we must admit we need His help in order to fulfill our destiny and attain final happiness.
Third, the determination to bring our own will into conformity with His, for He holds supreme dominion over us. This determination must include the intention of doing whatever violence to our lower nature is necessary in order to guarantee perfect conformity.
Fourth, the willingness to offer satisfaction for our past sins, and sentiments of gratitude for the blessings He has continued to bestow in spite of our offenses.
Finally, a festive spirit, for it is fitting that we rejoice with Him over the reconciliation, the frame of mind just indicated, has brought about.
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, these very sentiments are either symbolized or expressed outright. At the beginning we declare our intention to seek reconciliation with God, and we hasten to profess our unworthiness and sinfulness, making an act of contrition. Then we proceed to the part of the mass that contains readings and instruction. Here we are reminded of where we stand in relation to God, what He expects of us, how completely dependent we are upon Him. Then we close this part with an excerpt from the ‘good news’ of how God Himself has taken it upon Himself to preserve us from our sins and has promised to help us do His Will.
When we offer to God the bread and wine, commonplace things, we are offering the commonplace events of our daily lives. The bread and wine are precious to God because they will soon become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The commonplace happenings we offer are precious because by taking part in them in accordance with God’s laws we are offering to Him our will.
The essential part of the Mass is the Consecration. It is the mystical immolation, which signifies and re-presents the sacrificial death of Jesus on the Cross. We share His death ‘in voto’, i.e., in desire, by being determined to die if necessary in order to be true to the will of God. This frame of mind, then, identifies us with Jesus in the Sacrifice of the altar and thus expiates our offenses and makes us more surely one with God. Finally, with sentiments of gratitude we celebrate the reconciliation by partaking of the Heavenly Banquet God Himself has prepared: the body and Blood of His Son, the self-same Victim we have just offered.
To assist at Mass fruitfully, it is necessary to be well aware of what is going on at the altar and to be united with the celebrant. Any method that enables us to do this is good and may be used without scruple. A sure way to do so would be to follow along with a Missal, though it is not necessarily the best for all. Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene believes that not even the dialogue Mass is to be made mandatory for all, especially not for contemplatives. (He had in mind the Discalced Carmelite Nuns). Most contemplative Nuns prefer to assist at Mass as Mary assisted at Calvary: united to Jesus in recollection and sharing intimately in the sentiments of His Most Sacred Heart.
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