The Catholic Mass and Calvary


“Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer (Hebrews 8:3). Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 8:1)

The reason why the daily Mass is the greatest event on planet earth each and every day is because it makes present to us in time and space the ever-living prayer within the heart of Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven. What is this prayer? It is the offering of Jesus to the Father of his Calvary sacrifice that is perpetuated by our Eucharistic liturgy (just as Jesus commanded it to be when he instituted the Eucharist on Holy Thursday as a memorial of his passion and death).

Imagine you have your own personal priest…and that priest is able to offer on your behalf a most beautiful sacrifice to God –  a sacrifice of Infinite value, a sacrifice which is a universal cause of all graces, a sacrifice containing every possible grace needed for your sanctification. How awesome would that be!  And what does Hebrews 8:1 say?: – it says that we do have such a priest who is in heaven right now. And this high priest, says Hebrews, is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices on our behalf (Hebrews 8:3) And how is this done?: – most especially through the Mass, through the Eucharistic sacrifice, through the gifts of bread and wine. And so the true priest at every Mass is Jesus (see CCC 1137).

It is true that the Holy Mass is the Memorial of Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary. But as a memorial ceremony normally involves the remembrance of someone who is dead, the Mass is altogether unique because Jesus is alive – indeed He is Risen and Glorified!  Jesus is the true Priest who celebrates each and every Mass! So when you go to Mass you are going to a liturgical gathering to pray with Jesus and to join in with Jesus to offer to the Eternal Father Jesus’ Infinite sacrifice which won our redemption. It is therefore an awesome privilege to attend Mass and to make this offering to the Father with our High Priest, Jesus, and to offer yourself to the Father in union with Jesus. In Holy Mass the sacrifice of Calvary is made present to us in a sacramental manner through the ongoing priestly ministry of Jesus Christ (see CCC 1362-1368).

Indeed, there are additional powerful words in the Epistle to the Hebrews about Jesus’ ongoing priestly ministry in Heaven (words that should really give us great encouragement!). In the seventh chapter of Hebrews we read: “… because Jesus lives forever [in Heaven], he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:24-25; CCC 519).

Moreover, the author of Hebrews identifies Jesus’ never-ending priesthood in Heaven as the true fulfillment of the Order of Melchizedek, the very first priesthood mentioned in the Old Testament (see Genesis 14). In fact, the Order of Melchizedek is mentioned multiple times in Hebrews! This is a very significant point for Catholics because the “thanksgiving offering” made by the priest Melchizedek in the Old Testament was that of bread and wine (Genesis 14:18), which constituted a “communion sacrifice” per Dr. Scott Hahn. Jesus is identified in Hebrews as “the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 12:24). The true sacramental sign of this New Covenant is identified by Jesus as the Holy Eucharist (“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” – Luke 22:20). As such we are advised in Hebrews not to neglect ‘to meet together” for the New Testament liturgy (Hebrews 10:25), the Mass, of our High Priest, Jesus Christ (see CCC 692).

The time-transcendent dimension of Jesus’ unique and unrepeatable sacrificial death on Good Friday is such that he is referred to as “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Dr. Scott Hahn comments: “The Mass is the ‘once for all,’ perfect sacrifice of Calvary, which is presented on heaven’s altar for all eternity. It is not a ‘repeat performance.’ There is only one sacrifice; it is perpetual and eternal, and so it needs never be repeated. Yet the Mass is our participation in that one sacrifice and in the eternal life of the Trinity in heaven, where the Lamb stands eternally “as if slain’ (Rev. 5:6).” It is in this light that Jesus could institute the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday as the true memorial and making present of his sacrificial death which would be historically consummated the following day, Good Friday. “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (CCC 1367).

CONCLUSION: The Mass, then, is the ever-living prayer present in the heart of Jesus Christ.  It’s where the full power of Christ’s universal sacrifice and offering is made present on earth. What a privilege it is for us to attend this daunting and holy ceremony which connects heaven and earth, and to unite our hearts and our prayers to Jesus’ loving oblation to the Father. And then to partake of the fruit of this sacrifice – the supernatural food which feeds our souls. At Mass Jesus is the priest, the victim and our holy communion. “Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.”

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: My source for this note is Father Garrigou-LaGrange’s essay, “Assistance at Mass, the Source of Sanctification,” Chapter 31, Volume 1, of The Three Ages of the Spiritual Life, pages 407-413 (TAN). It is Father Garrigou-LaGrange who states that the the Mass is “the oblation ever living in the heart of Jesus” (p.407). Father Garrigou-LaGrange also states that the Mass “is the greatest act of each of our days,”  that the Mass is “a universal cause of graces,” and that the Mass contains “all the graces we need for our sanctification.” You can see that I have incorporated these precise observations of Father Garrigou-LaGrange in my note. I am also relying on Scott Hahn’s talk, “The Meal of Melchizedek,” and his book, The Lamb’s Supper. The following sections of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, mentioned in The Lamb’s Supper, reinforce some of the key ideas in this note pertaining to the profound value of the Mass:

The celebrants of the heavenly liturgy

1137 The book of Revelation of St. John, read in the Church’s liturgy, first reveals to us, “A throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne”: “the Lord God.”1 It then shows the Lamb, “standing, as though it had been slain”: Christ crucified and risen, the one high priest of the true sanctuary, the same one “who offers and is offered, who gives and is given.”2 Finally it presents “the river of the water of life . . . flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” one of most beautiful symbols of the Holy Spirit.3

. . . is present in the earthly liturgy . . .

1088 “To accomplish so great a work” – the dispensation or communication of his work of salvation – “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister, ‘the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross,’ but especially in the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes, it is really Christ himself who baptizes. He is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, he is present when the Church prays and sings, for he has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”‘11

1089 “Christ, indeed, always associates the Church with himself in this great work in which God is perfectly glorified and men are sanctified. The Church is his beloved Bride who calls to her Lord and through him offers worship to the eternal Father.”12

. . . which participates in the liturgy of heaven

1090 “In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, until he, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with him in glory.”13

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