Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Do We Owe God?

My apologies to those who look to this blog for spiritual sustenance – I realize I’ve been blogging less and less these days. The reason is simple—my normal busy life periodically rises to a crescendo of activity, and the last couple weeks have been such a crescendo. And the one thing in my life that is most expendable—this blog—is what invariably gets the chop.

But no matter—I’m back! And we’re back with the commentary on the Mass, where we have just passed the central moment of the consecration, and reach this prayer:

Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty, from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

This moment in the liturgy, when in the person of the priest the assembly is now for the first time in the Mass quite literally holding Christ in our hands, quite literally in the presence of Jesus, brings out this aspect of offering to God, of making the sacrificial offering to Him that He desires.

This business of sacrifice is a very deep one. The most ancient religions of humanity, the most Paleolithic evidence we have dug up, seems to indicate that ‘sacrifice’ is a primeval human impulse. 
To give something of the created realm to God or to the gods, and to give it to them by destroying it for human use and offering at least part of it in burnt offering of smoke and ashes—this is a deep impulse in the human person, not limited to one religion or another.

Sacrifices take many forms, some of which are quite repellent to us—human sacrifice, for example. But running deep in the human intuition is this core conviction that fundamentally we owe something to God. God (or, in paganism, the gods) is up there in heaven (where is that, again?), and humanity is down here on earth, and… we need to give Him something.

There is a debt to be paid, a return to be made. This is such a core human conviction transcending race and culture that it makes a mockery of the secularist human claim that since man is the measure of all things, we should do away with God. But at the heart of the human experience and condition is precisely a sense of God and our indebtedness to Him. Secular humanists are not interested in ‘humanity’ as it is, but in their own narrow vitiated experience of it.

And so we turn to the Christian convicition, expressed beautifully in this prayer, that God Himself has provided the victim for the sacrifice (cf Gen 22:8). And that this victim is not some bull or goat or ram or some such thing, but is a pure, holy, spotless victim. That this victim is, truly, God Himself, God the Son who has made Himself flesh and blood precisely so as to be this perfect offering of humanity to God, the sacrifice that repays the debt of all flesh and blood to God, while being at the same time the true God to whom the debt is paid. ‘The mystery of faith’, indeed.

I have been linking this commentary on the Mass to our daily life of discipleship and faith. It seems to me that this prayer takes us right to the very heart of the mystery we are all living (or are called to be living) each day. Our entire life and all that fills it, the little tasks and chores of our state of life, the call to love and serve, to be kind and good and merciful to those around us, the sufferings we bear in our bodies or emotions, the joys and beauties that come to us each day—all of this is meant to be lived with a certain intentionality, a certain frontier that is upwards, a movement through, with, and in this One Perfect Victim, towards the Father. 

He is the One on the altar who in some strange fashion we truly do not understand makes all creation new and whole and healed and well with God and with itself. But you and I and every human being is meant to live in Christ (the letters of St. Paul are full of this theology) and so our little lives and all they hold are taken up into that offering, that sacrifice.

And this moment in the liturgy—the liturgy itself as a whole—is indeed the moment in our life when all of us is gathered up into one, and gathered together with the community of faith, and all of us together are gathered into Christ’s offering on the altar, and all of it goes up, up, up, into the heart of the Trinity. And so the deep intuition of humanity that something is owed to God, that we need to make some return to Him, is fulfilled—the return we make to Him is the gift of our whole self, our hearts, our lives, and it is made through our union with the Lord Jesus, the Lamb of God.

And so our lives are made whole, our wounds healed, and the world reborn in grace and in beauty and peace. And that is how the Mass is lived out in our daily lives.

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