Mass Celebrates Our Union In God
Thoughts on the First Readings –Joe
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 31:7-9

Among people whose livelihoods depend on thinking about such things there’s a long-standing argument about whether the Eucharist is a meal or a sacrifice. It’s a memorial meal of Jesus’ union with his disciples in the saving love of God, says the one side. It’s a continuation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, says the other. Ah, but it’s actually both, says a third group trying their best to sound open-minded and reasonable. Everyone whose paycheck isn’t embossed with the name of a church says, Can’t we just get through to Communion time and pep up the music while we’re at it.

In the old days (i.e., when I was a child), people in the pews knew the Mass was a sacrifice because Father and Sister told them it was. After Vatican II those same people began to think of the Mass as a meal. They liked that idea because they understood meals and often used them to bring family and friends together. Now instructions from the Vatican on how to celebrate the Eucharist again refer to the Mass as simply a sacrifice. There are many problems with this whole discussion but a central one is the word sacrifice itself. Sacrifice has so many religious and secular meanings that it’s often more trouble than help.

The essence of religious sacrifice is establishing or strengthening a relationship with God.

If we can focus on this essence of sacrifice rather than imagining it as some suffering or distasteful situation that somehow satisfies God, I think we can avoid the pointless meal/sacrifice argument and experience the Mass a renewal of the promise that everything we do to make the world loving is part of God’s work of making the world loving. This was the promise of Jesus’ life.

Luke’s and John’s gospels are particularly helpful in seeing Jesus as united to God’s work of fulfilling the world’s promise. Jesus and we together with him are building something good with God.

Being Christian and celebrating Eucharist together isn’t about placating anybody.