There are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be
forgotten, such as the love of a mother. Hence we treasure her picture.
The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their country is
likewise too beautiful to be forgotten; hence we revere their memory on
Memorial Day. But the greatest blessing which ever came to this earth
was the visitation of the Son of God in the form and habit of man. His
life, above all lives, is too beautiful to be forgotten; hence we
treasure the divinity of His Words in Sacred Scripture, and the charity
of His Deeds in our daily actions. Unfortunately this is all some souls
remember namely His Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they
are not the greatest characteristic of the Divine Savior.
most sublime act in the history of Christ was His Death. Death is
always important for it seals a destiny. Any dying man is a scene. Any
dying scene is a sacred place. That is why the great literature of the
past which has touched on the emotions surrounding death has never
passed out of date. But of all deaths in the record of man, none was
more important than the Death of Christ. Everyone else, who was ever
born into the world, came into it to live; our Lord came into it to
die. Death was a stumbling block to the life of Socrates, but it was
the crown to the life of Christ. He Himself told us that He came "to
give his life redemption for many"; that no one could take away His
Life; but He would lay it down of Himself.
If then Death
was the supreme moment for which Christ lived, it was therefore the one
thing He wished to have remembered. He did not ask that men should
write down His Words into a Scripture; He did not ask that His kindness
to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask that men
remember His Death. And in order that its memory might not be any
haphazard narrative on the part of men, He Himself instituted the
precise way it should be recalled.
The memorial was
instituted the night before He died, at what has since been called "The
Last Supper." Taking bread into His Hands, He said: "This is my body,
which shall be delivered for you," i.e., delivered unto death. Then
over the chalice of wine, He said, "This is my blood of the new
testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins." Thus
in an unbloody symbol of the parting of the Blood from the Body, by the
separate consecration of Bread and Wine, did Christ pledge Himself to
death in the sight of God and men, and represent His death which was to
come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a Victim
to be immolated, and that men might never forget that "greater love
than this no man hash, that a man lay down his life for his friends,"
He gave the divine command to the Church: "Do this for a commemoration
"Death is put before us in a symbol, by means
of that sacramental parting of the Blood from the Body; but death at
the same time already pledged to God for all its worth, as well as all
its awful reality, by the expressive language of the Sacred Symbol. The
price of our sins shall be paid down on Calvary; but here the liability
is incurred by our Redeemer, and subscribed in His very Blood"-Maurice
de la Taille, S.J.- Catholic Faith in the Holy Eucharist, p. 115 "There
were not two distinct and complete sacrifices offered by Christ, one in
the Cenacle, the other on Calvary. There was a sacrifice at the Last
Supper, but it was the sacrifice of Redemption; and there was a
sacrifice on the Cross, but it was the selfsame sacrifice continued and
completed. The Supper and the Cross made up one complete
sacrifice."-Maurice de la Taille, S.J., The Mystery of Faith and Human
Opinion, p. 232.
The following day, that which He had
prefigured and foreshadowed, He realized in its completeness; as He was
crucified between two thieves and His Blood drained from His Body for
the redemption of the world. The Church which Christ founded has not
only preserved the Word He spoke, and the wonders He wrought; it has
also taken Him seriously when He said: "Do this for a commemoration of
me." And that action whereby we re-enact His Death on the Cross is the
Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He did at the
Last Supper as the prefiguration of His Passion.
the Mass is to us the crowning act of Christian worship. A pulpit in
which the words of our Lord are repeated does not unite us to Him; a
choir in which sweet sentiments are sung brings us no closer to His
Cross than to His garments. A temple without an altar of sacrifice is
non-existent among primitive peoples, and is meaningless among
Christians. And so in the Catholic Church the altar , and not the
pulpit or the choir or the organ, is the center of worship, for there
is re-enacted the memorial of His Passion. Its value does not depend on
him who says it, or on him who hears it; it depends on Him who is the
One High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness; in a certain sense, we
lose our individuality for the time being; we unite our intellect and
our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so intimately
with Christ, that the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our
imperfection, but rather sees us in Him, the Beloved Son in whom He is
well pleased. The Mass is for that reason the greatest event in the
history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath of God from
a sinful world, because it holds the Cross between heaven and earth,
thus renewing that decisive moment when our sad and tragic humanity
journeyed suddenly forth to the fullness of supernatural life.
is important at this point is that we take the proper mental attitude
toward the Mass, and remember this important fact, that the Sacrifice
of the Cross is not something which happened nineteen hundred years
ago. It is still happening. It is not something past like the signing
of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the
curtain has not yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it happened
a long time ago, and therefore no more concerns us than anything else
in the past. Calvary belongs to all times and to all places.
is why, when our Blessed Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was
fittingly stripped of His garments: He would save the world without the
trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time, for they
localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in Galilee. Now that He was
shorn of them and utterly dispossessed of earthly things, He belonged
not to Galilee, not to a Roman province, but to the world. He became
the universal poor man of the world, belonging to no one people, but to
"He offered the Victim to be immolated; we
offer it as immolated of old. We offer the eternal Victim of the Cross,
once made and forever enduring.... The Mass is a sacrifice because it
is our oblation of the Victim once immolated, even as the Supper was
the oblation of the Victim to be immolated." ibid. p. 239-240.
Mass is not only a commemoration; it is a living representation of the
sacrifice of the cross. "In this Divine Sacrifice which takes place at
the Mass is contained and immolated, in an unbloody manner, the same
Christ that was offered once for all in blood upon the Cross . . . It
is one and the same Victim, one and the same High Priest, who made the
offering through the ministry of His priests today, after having
offered Himself upon the cross yesterday; only the manner of the
oblation is different" (Council of Trent. Sess. 22).
express further the universality of the Redemption, the cross was
erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central point between
the three great cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, in whose names
He was crucified. The cross was thus placarded before the eyes of men,
to arrest the careless, to appeal to the thoughtless, to arouse the
worldly. It was the one inescapable fact that the cultures and
civilizations of His day could not resist. It is also the one
inescapable fact of our day which we cannot resist.
figures at the Cross were symbols of all who crucify. We were there in
our representatives. What we are doing now to the Mystical Christ, they
were doing in our names to the historical Christ. If we are envious of
the good, we were there in the Scribes and Pharisees. If we are fearful
of losing some temporal advantage by embracing Divine Truth and Love,
we were there in Pilate. If we trust in material forces and seek to
conquer through the world instead of through the spirit, we were there
in Herod. And so the story goes on for the typical sins of the world.
They all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was therefore a
kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion. Men who were free to sin
were also free to crucify.
As long as there is sin in the world the Crucifixion is a reality. As the poet has put it:
"I saw the son of man go by,
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
'Was it not finished Lord,' said I,
'And all the anguish borne?'
"He turned on me His awful eyes;
'Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'"
were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already
completed as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not
yet been unfolded to all men and all places and all times. If a motion
picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know the
drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater would
not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen. In like
manner, our Lord on the Cross saw His eternal mind, the whole drama of
history, the story of each individual soul and how later on it would
react to His Crucifixion; but though He saw all, we could not know how
we would react to the Cross until we were unrolled upon the screen of
We were not conscious of being present there on
Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our presence. Today we know
the role we played in the theater of Calvary; by the way we live and
act now in the theater of the twentieth century. That is why Calvary is
actual; why the Cross is the Crisis; why in a certain sense the scars
are still open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood like
falling stars is still dropping upon our souls. There is no escaping
the Cross not even by denying it as the Pharisees did; not even by
selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him as the
executioners did. We all see it, either to embrace it in salvation, or
to fly from it into misery.
But how is it made visible?
Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed,
re-enacted, re-presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one
with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is
the same Priest and Victim. The Seven Last Words are like the seven
parts of the Mass. And just as there are seven notes in music admitting
an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations, so too on the Cross
there are seven divine notes, which the dying Christ rang down the
centuries, all of which combine to form the beautiful harmony of the
Each word is a part of the Mass.
The First Word, "Forgive," is the Confiteor; the Second Word, "This Day
in Paradise," is the Offertory; the Third Word, "Behold Thy Mother," is
the Sanctus; the Fourth Word, "Why hast Thou abandoned Me," is the
Consecration; the Fifth Word, "I thirst," is the Communion; the Sixth
Word, "It is finished," is the Ite, Missa Est; the Seventh Word,
"Father, into Thy Hands," is the Last Gospel.
then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven for the
altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of our human
nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of priesthood, the
chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral; the rock of Calvary is
the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary and
John are the living side altars; the Host is His Body; the wine is His
Blood. He is upright as Priest, yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass
is about to begin.