Thursday, November 05, 2009

Liturgical Spirituality: The Baptismal Priesthood and the Mass (Part III)

The Unique Contribution of the Bread and Wine

← Part II: Spiritual Sacrifices United to Bread and Wine

While the faithful are called to unite their spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine on the altar, this contribution is the duty of the faithful and does not make up the matter of the Eucharist, which is strictly bread and wine.  There is no Eucharist without these elements, prefigured by Melchizedek and chosen by Christ.  We offer ourselves spiritually, whereas we offer the bread and wine physically.  The bread and wine are a necessary component of the Mass, and they provide a unique contribution.  Quoting from Pope John Paul II's letter Dominicae Cenae once more:
All who participate with faith in the Eucharist become aware that it is a "sacrifice," that is to say, a "consecrated Offering." For the bread and wine presented at the altar and accompanied by the devotion and the spiritual sacrifices of the participants are finally consecrated, so as to become truly, really and substantially Christ's own body that is given up and His blood that is shed. Thus, by virtue of the consecration, the species of bread and wine re-present in a sacramental, unbloody manner the bloody propitiatory sacrifice offered by Him on the cross to His Father for the salvation of the world. Indeed, He alone, giving Himself as a propitiatory Victim in an act of supreme surrender and immolation, has reconciled humanity with the Father, solely through His sacrifice, "having cancelled the bond which stood against us."

To this sacrifice, which is renewed in a sacramental form on the altar, the offerings of bread and wine, united with the devotion of the faithful, nevertheless bring their unique contribution, since by means of the consecration by the priest they become sacred species. This is made clear by the way in which the priest acts during the Eucharistic Prayer, especially at the consecration, and when the celebration of the holy Sacrifice and participation in it are accompanied by awareness that "the Teacher is here and is calling for you."
During the Offertory, the priest asks God to be pleased with the offering of bread and wine, which are natural and imperfect (although they are the best we have to offer).  God accepts them as fitting matter for the Eucharist and changes their substance in the Eucharistic Prayer:  they become supernatural and perfect.

Because of what the bread and wine will become (once consecrated) the union of our spiritual sacrifices to the bread and wine during the Offertory is a sign of our participation in Christ and His sacrifice.  The bread and wine already have a physical likeness to Christ's sacrifice, since they are the same elements He used, and the same elements that were offered centuries before Him by Melchizedek.  When we join our spiritual sacrifices to them in the Offertory, each of us gives them (to our own degree) a spiritual likeness to Christ's sacrifice.  In the Eucharistic Prayer, this likeness is perfected as they receive a substantial likeness to Christ's sacrifice.

What began as our gift to God, bread and wine, becomes His gift back to us, the Eucharist.  But this gift to us is not meant simply for our nourishment, as the Eucharistic Prayer makes clear immediately following the consecration:  the Body and Blood of our Lord, under the species (appearances) of bread and wine, are then offered back to God as the perfect sacrifice.  Only after this offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass do we partake in the sacred banquet of Holy Communion.

The final part of this essay revisits the idea of joining our sacrifices to the offering at the altar, now that the offering is no longer bread and wine, but the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord.

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