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1. The Son of God offered a sacrifice at the Last Supper, because He gave His body and blood to be offered up, in order to reconcile His heavenly Father with man.
At the Last Supper our blessed Lord instituted a visible sacrifice, in order thereby to represent the bloody sacrifice which was to be offered once upon the cross, and to preserve the memory thereof unto the end of the world. Our Lord indicated to us that He intended at the Last Supper to institute a sacrifice, by choosing for this act the very time when the paschal lamb was slain and eaten. Moreover the words He made use of were almost identical with those which Moses spoke on the institution of the Old Covenant. We read that Moses, after the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, slaughtered an animal, and sprinkled the blood upon the people, saying: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord hath made with you” (Exod. xxiv. j 8). As Our Lord’s words were similar to these, it follows that in His case also there was a sacrifice. Again it is a significant fact that Our Lord caused His Passion and death to follow immediately after the Last Supper; by this He would have us know that they were one and the same act. The sacrifice begins with the consecration, when Christ assumes the form of bread and wine; for lie then divests Himself of the splendor of His divine glory, and conceals His infinite majesty. Nay, more, not only does He conceal His divine grandeur, He also conceals His human presence. “Christ, the King of heaven and of earth, reduces Himself by the words of consecration to a condition of abasement which is almost equivalent to annihilation. Not even a trace can be perceived of that regal dignity with which His humanity was invested, and which inspired men with reverence and awe. At His birth at Bethlehem He was at least in the likeness of man, but here He seems to be nothing but a morsel of bread.” By this profound self-abasement Our Lord reconciles us to His Father, Who is justly angry with us; for there is no better means of appeasing one whom we have offended than by humbling ourselves before him. King Achab averted the punishment of which he was warned by the prophet Elias, by humbling himself before God (3 Kings xxi. 27); the Ninivites did the same. The sacrifice is not consummated until the species of bread and wine are consumed. Thus it was with the sacrifice Our Lord made upon the cross; He suffered first, His body being torn and mangled; then death came, and His human existence was ended. The sacrifice was accomplished; He spoke the words: “It is consummated!” Hence it will be seen that the unbloody sacrifice of the altar is in every respect a faithful representation and a true repetition of the bloody sacrifice of the cross. What the death of Christ was then, the reception of the sacred elements is now. Thus St. Paul says that those who eat this bread and drink the chalice show the death of the Lord (1 Cor. xi. 26). Moreover the separate forms of bread and wine symbolize the destruction of Christ’s human nature, for the body and blood of Christ are separated one from the other upon the altar, as they were upon the cross, when the blood flowed out of His body through the countless wounds. We also gather that the object of this unbloody sacrifice is the reconciliation of man with God, from the words Our Lord uttered at the Last Supper. “This is My blood,” He said, “which is shed for the remission of sin.” This unbloody sacrifice is therefore like the sacrifice of the cross, truly a propitiatory sacrifice (Council of Trent, 22, 2). We are not, indeed, redeemed anew by it, for we are redeemed by the bloody sacrifice, but the fruits of redemption are applied to our souls bv this unbloody sacrifice. Nor is this unbloody sacrifice of itself sufficient to reconcile men to God without their own co-operation: but it has the effect of awakening them to a sense of sin, exciting them to contrition, inducing them to confess their sins and avoid them in future.
1 . The apostles had, and their successors have, the power of peering the same sacrifice, for the Son of God at once commanded and empowered them to do so, when He said: “Do this for a commemoration of Me” (Council of Trent, 22, 1).
When Christ gave His twelve apostles His flesh to eat and His blood to drink, He commanded them to immolate Him in lieu of the usual sacrificial victims. God had enjoined upon the Jews to slay a paschal lamb every year, in remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, and in like manner it was His will that a special sacrifice should be offered in commemoration of the death of Christ upon the cross, and the redemption of mankind from the servitude of the devil (Council of Trent, 22, 1).
2. This sacrifice was foretold in the Old Testament both by types and prophecies.
Several sacrifices in the Old Testament were types of the true sacrifice; the offering made by Abel, to which the Lord had respect (Gen. iv. 4), because it was offered by faith in the future Redeemer and His true oblation (Heb. xi. 4); the sacrifice of Abraham, who in obedience to God’s command offered his son Isaac upon Mount Moria, without shedding his blood (Gen. xxii.), and above all, the sacrifice of Melchisedech, the King of Salem (i.e., the king of peace), who offered bread and wine (Gen. xiv. 18). These three sacrifices are mentioned in the Mass, immediately after the consecration, when the priest beseeches God to look propitiously upon our gifts, as He was graciously pleased to accept the gifts of Abel, Abraham, and Melchisedech. The holy Mass was also foretold by prophecies. David predicted that the Messias would be a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech (Ps. cix. 5). The prophet Malachias foretold the holy Mass to the Jews who, after their return from captivity, performed the sacrificial ceremonies in a careless manner, saying: “I have no pleasure in your sacrifices, saith the Lord of hosts; I will not receive a gift of your hands. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation” (Mai. i. 10, 11).
3. This sacrifice was offered by the apostles, and it has since been offered by their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church.
Even in apostolic times the Christians were accustomed to assemble together, on Sunday particularly, for breaking of bread (Acts xx. 7, 11). St. Paul repeatedly mentions the chalice of benediction which was blessed and given to the faithful, and the bread whereof they partook (1 Cor. x. 16; xi. 26). He says: “We have an altar whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle” (Heb. xiii. 10). It is recorded that the Apostle Andrew when urged by the pro consul to offer to the gods, said to him: “I offer daily to the almighty and true God, not the flesh of oxen or the blood of rams, but the immaculate Lamb of God; and when all the congregation of the faithful have received His sacred body, the same Lamb that was immolated is still unconsumed and lives forevermore.” St. Justin, in one of the apologetic writings he addressed to the Roman emperor, speaks of the different parts of the Christian sacrifice, the reading and explanation of Holy Scripture, the oblation of bread and wine, the consecration and transformation of the sacred elements, and their distribution to the people. The oldest of the Fathers of the Church mention the sacrifice of the Mass. St. Irenseus, Bishop of Lyons (202 A.D.), says: “The oblation of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Supper; Christ instituted it as at once a sacrifice and a sacrament, and throughout all the world the Church offers this sacrifice.” St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (258 A.D.), says: “In the Church the priest offers the same sacrifice which Christ Himself offered,” and again: “Day by day, in times of persecution and of peace, we offer the sacrifice whereby the faithful are prepared to give themselves as sacrificial victims by a martyr’s death.” Pope Leo the Great says: “The one oblation of the body and blood of Christ is substituted for all the former sacrifices.” The frescoes in the Catacombs bear witness to the offering of the holy sacrifice, likewise the most ancient liturgies, the altars, chalices and vestments, which would not have been needed had not the Mass been celebrated. Some of these are still preserved, among them the wooden altar at which St. Peter and his successors for nearly three centuries said Mass. Until the tenth century no heretic dared to impugn the holy sacrifice. Luther attacked it most vehemently, at the instigation of the devil, as he himself confessed.
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