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A version of this was published in the Pittsburgh-Catholic on March 11, 1994

Beginning to Understand the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass         

This summer at a talk I was startled by a comment made by the speaker, Fr. George Rutler, Anglican convert to Catholicism and a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. When once asked by another priest whether he thought it was appropriate to tell jokes from the pulpit during mass, Fr. Rutler asked the priest to consider how much joking Our Lady and the apostle John did at the foot of the cross.
Fr. Rutler, himself witty, was not, I think, against priests' making an occasional humorous remark in a sermon, but against the purported practice of some priests to turn the Mass into a kind of talk show.
But that critique, though appreciated, wasn't what forcefully affected me. I was startled by the suddenly clear picture I had of the Mass as a sacrifice. I was startled that, 13 years after returning to the Catholic Church of my childhood, I had never heard that teaching in my adult life.
As I came into an adult understanding of the Mass in recent years, I was versed in it as a "banquet table" of thanksgiving and community, but heard little about its sacrificial aspects. I had to look to my own reading to learn that the fervor of thanksgiving and the authenticity of community depend on participation in the Sacrifice.
I need not read tomes written on the necessity of sacrifice. The most persuasive proof hangs in the homes of most Catholics: our Lord on the crucifix. But in my heart, a sometimes quiet, sometimes vociferous, struggle ensues. Though I know sacrifice is required of me, I have so many reasons to not do it, to complain about its demands, or to say I've done enough. 
Sacrifice means simply, "Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). If I do all for the glory of God, than my own glory is no longer a goal. If I do His will, not mine, than my worldly desires and comforts are left in the dust. One way follows St. Rose, the other, Marie Antoinette. Admittedly, the road to the Versailles has a lot of appeal!
In the season of Lent, a more inviting season--the Olympic season--competes for our time and affection. How many more are caught up in the glamour and the human drama of this slickly packaged television extravaganza than in the hard message of Lent? Compared to the nightly viewing of fabulous athletes in their human glory, what allurement have repentance, sacrifice, solitude and prayer? Their glories are "hidden in Christ."
Thus, the only allurement powerful enough to hold us to the path of sacrifice is Jesus Christ. His love, beckoning and transforming us, took him to His death and resurrection. Fr. Rutler's bulls-eye image--our crucified Lord present on the altar of our churches--deepened my participation in the Mass because I know the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist must be answered by my own "dying to self." 
In a world that seems to promote nothing else but each person's material fulfillment, the Mass fortifies my resolve to offer up my life and gives me the grace to do so. 
No wonder the saints were daily communicants. They poured out themselves in one continuous extravagantly generous stream of love for God and His people. But their material lives were full of strenuous labors, sufferings, sorrows and deprivations. I am like them in one way: I must live my long exile in the same wilderness before I come to the Promised Land. From the Bread of Life I receive the strength I desperately need to not turn back to Egypt. I have it on the best of authorities: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." (John 6:54)

Copyright © Rosemary Fielding, 2011

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