Given Up: 19th Sunday OT

Sometimes, standing in the back of the church aisle, about to give the go-ahead for the processional hymn, I’ll ask the servers: “Ready to go save the world?” That's putting it in a kind of lighthearted way, but it’s absolutely not a joke. I’m reminding them, and even more reminding myself, of exactly what it is we are about to do. Because it’s a simple truth that the Mass saves the world.

“Wait!,” someone shouts, “The Cross of Jesus Christ saves the world!” That’s absolutely right, but what do you think the Mass is? It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, extended through time and space. Think of Good Friday as a point on the timeline of history. What Jesus did that day on Calvary offers salvation to every human being who ever lived before Him, and every human being who will ever live after Him. It’s like that Cross comes down from Heaven and plants itself right there in 33 A.D. outside Jerusalem, and ripples out through all time and space. Those ripples are the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That’s a phrase many young Catholics won’t be familiar with. I assure you that your Catholic grandparents were. It’s one of many things we ought to recover.

Bishop Fulton Sheen had a great image for the Mass. Imagine we could reach back to Calvary on the afternoon of Good Friday and take hold of that saving Cross — that sign of perfect love, that Sacrifice that redeems the world — and lift it out of the ground, and transport it through time, and carry it around the world, and plant it right here in Gallatin County in the late summer of 2018. That’s what the Mass does. It plants the Cross of Christ in Gallatin County, and in Tokyo, and in Lima and Johannesburg and Anchorage and London, in 2018 and 1529 and every single day until Jesus returns in glory.

That connection between the Cross and the Eucharist might not be obvious at a glance. You look at a Crucifix, and look at the Eucharist which still appears as bread and wine, and they aren’t exactly similar in any superficial way. But they are one and the same, and I say that because I’m taking Jesus’ word for it, right out of the Bible. When Jesus said at the Last Supper, “This is my Body which will be given up for you… this is my Blood which will be poured out for you,” He showed that the Cross can not be separated from the Eucharist; the Eucharist can not be separated from the Cross. In fact, it might be more true to say they’re simply the same thing: the life offered to the Father on Friday is the life given to the Church on Thursday. It’s how that sacrifice is made present in our lives, our connection to the power of that Cross. Of the Cross, Jesus could say “that was my Body, given up for the world.” Of the Eucharist He says, “this is my Body, given up for you.” As Scott Hahn said, it’s the Eucharist that makes the Sacrifice a Sacrament, and if the Eucharist is just a meal, than the Cross is just a Roman execution.

When Jesus said at that first Mass, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He was in effect telling us, “My giving up of my Body, my pouring out of my Blood: This is for everyone. Take this to the people who won’t be there in person, take Calvary to all the world, to those far away, to those yet to be born. What I am about to do is for all of them. Do this for them!” And that’s what they did. From the very beginning, long before it was called “Mass,” decades before there was a Christian Bible, before the word “Christian” even existed, those who followed Jesus did as He said. They offered the Mass.

Who is offering this Mass? I hope you know the best and truest answer: Jesus Christ is offering this Mass. Remember, it’s His Cross extended through time and space. It’s His offering. You can’t understand Mass at all if you don’t understand that it is before all else an act of Jesus Himself, offering His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity to the Father. If you remember only one thing today, remember this: The Mass is first of all something Jesus does. If you don’t know that, one consequence is you get way too focused on the ordained priest who’s up here. It’s true that in a secondary, vicarious way, the ordained priest is set apart and called to give his body and his voice to Jesus, to stand at the altar and speak in Jesus’ own Name: “This is my Body… This is my Blood.” But if we’re here in the true spirit of the liturgy, you’re looking right through the priest to see the action of Christ.

Who else is offering this Mass? Are you? That’s up to you — but I sure hope so! This is something that’s maybe gotten a little bit lost in recent decades. Every Catholic in the pew is offering the Body and Blood of Jesus for the salvation of the world. We call this your Baptismal Priesthood. That’s a real thing, and it’s a serious calling. Never mind that you aren’t called to stand up here in vestments lending your voice and body to Jesus; you absolutely are called to offer this Mass as a priestly people. Or to take an even better angle: when we say Jesus Christ offers this Mass, we’re already saying that we’re all offering this Mass, because we are His Body. You are His Church, and what Jesus does, His Body the Church does.

We offer Him in the Mass because we are His Body. And why are we His Body? Because we receive Him at Mass. There’s something circular about it. But it isn’t the circularity of bad logic, it’s the circulation of a bloodstream. It’s a constant life-giving flow.

If you want to get more out of Mass, one key is from the homily last Sunday: remember that you are here to receive Jesus. Today, a second key: remember that you are here to offer Jesus.

If you remember that, you won’t be a spectator at Mass. Mass, for spectators, is pretty terrible. Anyone who says Mass is boring is probably experiencing it as a spectator, and as a spectator I’d say they’re right. Saying you didn’t get much out of Mass after attending as a spectator is like saying you didn’t get much out of a book after you stared at the cover for an hour.

 We’re called to full and active participation (to quote the Second Vatican Council) and this means something much more profound than singing along with the hymns and saying your lines when the time comes and standing and sitting and kneeling as appropriate. Full and active participation means first of all that you are praying, and that your prayer is joined to Christ’s Body the Church, and that we together as Christ’s Body are offering all we are for the redemption of the world.

Imagine Jesus reaching out to you from the Last Supper, giving you the Eucharistic offering He gave
His Apostles that night. He speaks to you from Holy Thursday, twenty centuries ago: “This is my Body. Tomorrow it will be nailed to a Cross, given up for you. Take this, and eat it, and do this in remembrance of me. Keep doing it. This is the Bread of Life because it’s the Bread of my Life, the life I will give for you on the Cross. This is the offering acceptable for the forgiveness of sins. This is the offering that saves the world.”

And now imagine all the disciples of Jesus Christ ever since who have received that Eucharist and offered it, day after day for twenty centuries, in every nation on Earth, in every language, in great cathedrals and little parish churches, in family homes and in concentration camps. What you are imagining is the Church, offering the only thing we have to offer: Jesus Himself, our salvation and our life. That’s why we call it the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It’s the Cross lifted up in every time and place. That’s what we’re doing here.

So now it’s time to do your part, to be the Body of Christ, to be the Church. Every one of you… you all brought a cross in here with you today. Can you think to yourself what it is? Maybe there are many pieces to it, maybe just a few. Maybe it feels pretty light today, maybe it’s crushing and breaking you — but you brought a cross in here today. Jesus knows it well. He is with you in every single moment. We’re going to take all our crosses and we’re going to lay them on this altar with all the love in our hearts. Jesus is going to join them to His Cross that conquers death and takes sins away. And we’re going to plant that Cross right here, right now, and proclaim that this day belongs to Jesus, and these people are redeemed by Him, and His victory over death is ours today. So who’s ready to save the world?

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