VATICAN CITY, MARCH 12, 2010 (Zenit.org).- What makes Christ the Priest unlike any other priest, either from the Old Testament or from any other cult, is that his priestly sacrifice is he, himself.
But that uniqueness is also the calling shared by priests and laity, to “imitate that which is celebrated” every day at Mass.
This was the reflection offered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the Pontifical Household, in his second Lenten sermon of the year, given in the presence of Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. The Capuchin is focusing his homilies on the priesthood in this Year for Priests. In Advent he meditated on the priest as servant of Christ, in the power and the unction of the Holy Spirit. During Lent, he is looking at the priest as steward of the mysteries of God.
“To be a priest ‘according to the order of Jesus Christ,’ the presbyter must, like him, offer himself,” Father Cantalamessa said. “On the altar, he does not only represent the Jesus [who is] ‘high priest,’ but also the Jesus [who is] ‘supreme victim,’ the two things being, moreover, inseparable. In other words he cannot be content to offer Christ to the Father in the sacramental signs of bread and wine, he must also offer himself with Christ to the Father.”
The preacher shared his own experience of this sacrifice: “As a priest ordained by the Church, I pronounce the words of the consecration ‘in persona Christi,’ I believe that, thanks to the Holy Spirit, they have the power of changing the bread into the body of Christ and the wine into his blood; at the same time, as member of the body of Christ […] I look at the brethren before me or, if I celebrate on my own, I think of them whom I must serve during the day and, turning to them, I say mentally together with Jesus: ‘Brothers and sisters, take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood.'”
Father Cantalamessa clarified that this mutual offering is necessary.
“The offering of the priest and of the whole Church, without that of Jesus, would neither be holy nor acceptable to God, because we are only sinful creatures,” he said, “but Jesus’ offering, without that of his body which is the Church, would also be incomplete and insufficient: not, be it understood, to procure salvation, but because we receive it and appropriate it. It is in this sense that the Church can say with St. Paul: ‘in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.'”
And the preacher offered a simple example to illustrate his point.
“Let us imagine,” he said, “that in a family there is one child, the first born, most devoted to the father. He wishes to give him a present for his birthday. However, before presenting it to him he asks all his brothers and sisters secretly to add their signature on the gift. It then arrives in the hands of the father as the indistinct homage of all his children and as a sign of the esteem and love of them all but, in reality, only one has paid its price.
“And now the application. Jesus admires and loves the heavenly Father. He wishes to give him every day, until the end of the world, the most precious gift he can think of, that of his life itself. In the Mass he invites all his ‘brothers,’ who we are, to add their signature on the gift, so that it reaches God the Father as the indistinct gift of all his children. […] But, in reality, we know that only one has paid the price of such a gift. And what a price!”
Father Cantalamessa proposed that laypeople, too, are called to offer themselves with Christ in the Mass.
“Let us try to imagine what would happen if also the laity, at the moment of the consecration, said silently: ‘Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood,'” he proposed. “A mother of a family thus celebrates her Mass, then she goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. But what she does is not nothing: It is a eucharist together with Jesus! A [religious] sister also says in her heart at the moment of consecration: ‘Take, eat …’; then she goes to her daily work: children, the sick, the elderly. The Eucharist ‘invades’ her day which becomes a prolongation of the Eucharist.”
The Pontifical Household preacher called for two categories of people to particularly take to heart his message: workers and young people.
“Do we teach the Christian laborer to offer in the Mass his body and his blood, that is, his time, sweat and toil,” he reflected. Work in this way, he said, will not be confined to a Marxist focus on the product, but rather becomes sanctifying.
And youth, Father Cantalamessa said, have a special need to offer themselves at Mass.
He explained: “Suffice it for us to think of one thing: What does the world of boys and girls want today? The body, nothing else but the body! The body, in the mentality of the world, is essentially an instrument of pleasure and exploitation. Something to be sold, to squeeze while it is young and attractive, and then to be thrown out, together with the person, when it no longer serves these ends. Especially the woman’s body has become merchandise of consumption.
“Do we teach Christian boys and girls to say, at the moment of consecration: ‘Take, eat, this is my body, offered for you.’ The body is thus consecrated, becomes something sacred, it can no longer be ‘given to eat’ to one’s concupiscence and that of others, it can no longer be sold, because it has given itself. It has become Eucharist with Christ.”
“The Apostle Paul,” Father Cantalamessa reflected, made this exhortation to the Christians of Corinth: “The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord. … So glorify God in your body.