Priests, Mass, & the Crucifix


Read Hebrews 10:11-18

“Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying…Their sins and their evildoing I will remember no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.”

These beautiful verses from the Letter to the Hebrews teaches the transition from the Temple Sacrifice practiced by ancient peoples, in this case, the Jews (see Leviticus 6:17), to faith in the one perfect sacrifice, Jesus Christ, that exists for all time thereby abolishing the need for further animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is both High Priest (see Hebrews 10:1-10) and Sacrificial lamb (see John 1:36)! Because He is most perfect High Priest as God, and perfect sacrificial offering, again, as God, then His is a perfect sacrifice that is able to forgive every sin for all humanity throughout all of human history! Hey, that’s some good news, indeed! So, as far as the teaching goes, sacrifice and offerings are not what is required for salvation, but instead, faith in and acceptance of He who offered Himself for others, Jesus Christ. It is our faith in God, faith in Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, our willingness to embrace Him, and to respond toward God and neighbor with love that is required for salvati0n! Yes!

crucifix-full  As regards some misunderstandings, many non-Catholics don’t understand where we’re coming from with our priesthood, the sacrifice of the Mass, and the Crucifix that depicts the tattered and broken body of our crucified Lord. In fact, many Catholics don’t really understand very well either as far as that goes. It’s really cool, beautiful, and meaningful so I’m going to explain a bit here…

Our priests aren’t really priests in and of themselves as far as that goes. Let me explain. Our priests are priests insofar as they re-present to us the one true priest, Jesus Christ. They act “in persona Christi,” which is a Latin phrase that means, “In the person of Christ.” They are not Christ and they are not Priest, but they do, by the power of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, make Christ, the One True Priest present to us. St Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers.” (qtd. in C.C.C. 1545) So, priests SHARE in Christ’s priesthood and cannot possess it apart from Him. They are priests because He is priest. Their ministerial priesthood is expressed most clearly at the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Many people, again both Catholic and non-Catholic, wrongly think that Jesus is being sacrificed anew at every Mass. “Gee-wiz,” say the critics, “would you Catholics just let Jesus off the cross for crying out loud?! Why are you so intent on sacrificing Him anew each week!” We say, “Each week! We do it every day!” But that wouldn’t be true either. Let me explain. We DO NOT re-sacrifice Christ every day. We instead, every day, participate in His one perfect sacrifice! Some Sacramental imagination is necessary here. Sacraments, to include the Eucharist, are NEVER repeated. “But Stephen,” you protest, I’ve received communion a number of times!” You have, and so have I, but never do we repeat the Sacrament. We participate in it anew each time. We have entered into and participated in the Sacrificial banquet a number of times, but never have we done it twice the same. We cannot because we cannot go back in time! Each time we receive we receive anew.

Imagine this, the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross does not turn the cross into a Divine sling shot that shoots forward Christ’s grace over the centuries to the present day. It is not a gift that travels through time to be received by those who receive it today. Although Jesus was bound by time as a human being, He was still the transcendent Word. Far from the Divine slingshot, the cross is a Divine atomic bomb with a mushroom cloud that spreads throughout and saturates the whole of history. It isn’t a gift brought forward, it’s an ever present cloud of Grace that is entered into by those who believe! It exists in every moment of every day, and by God’s grace we are on made aware of it in a unique and powerful way. Salvation is an ever present reality for us. I wasn’t saved back then, I am saved now…and now…and now! We say that we’ve been saved, are being saved, and will be saved based upon our willingness to cooperate and live in God’s friendship and love.

And that brings us to the Crucifix (and my hope is that you have one). I know that many today have abandoned the Crucifix for what I call the Glorifix or the Risifix. You know, the cross with the glorified, risen Jesus. I think that’s fine if that’s your style, but let’s never forget that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself back then for us now. Again, His sacrifice transcends time and is made present all the time. The C.C.C. teaches, “The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church.” (1545) He sacrifices Himself now…and now…and now. He dies for my sins now…and now…and now. I’m being forgiven now…and now…and now. And I’m being saved now…and now…and now. Christ went to His cross, embraced it, and offered Himself as a willing sacrifice. This is why Christ is on our Cross and why at the Good Friday liturgy we yell “Crucify Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” It was St. Francis of Assissi who said, “It was not demons that crucified [Christ]; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” (qtd. in the C.C.C. 598)

The early Church knew it and the Catholic Church faithfully still teaches it today. Revelation 5:4-6, John’s vision of the heavenly Jerusalem reads,“Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.” Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” Our risen Lord remains still the Sacrificial Lamb, our Passover Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Not who “took away” but who “takes away” the sins of the world. Happy indeed are those invited to the banquet of the Lamb! God Bless.

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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