Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"HE DID THAT ONCE FOR ALL."


Homily for January 19th, 2017: Hebrews 7:25-8:6.

          We have a high priest, we heard in our first reading, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.” The words refer, of course, to Jesus Christ. The author of that first reading contrasts Jesus with the Jewish priests of his day, who offered sacrifices “day after day” in the Temple at Jerusalem. Those Temple sacrifices needed to be repeated daily because, as Israel’s prophets said many times over, they did not truly take away the sins of those for which they were offered.

Since God was the creator of everything, the prophets said, and thus their true owner, he did not need the material things offered to him in sacrifice. God wanted the givers. Yet this was the one thing people could not offer. And to the extent that people did try to offer themselves to God in a spiritual manner, they were offering something tainted by sin, and hence unworthy of God. God, being all-holy, deserved an untainted and perfect offering.

The perfect, undefiled sacrifice which God desires has been offered, the Letter to the Hebrews says, by Jesus, God’s divine Son, at the Last Supper and on Calvary. He did that, our first reading says, “once for all.” But this raises a question. How can we call the Mass a sacrifice? We do so because the Mass makes Jesus’ perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice spiritually present – just as, for observant Jews today, the celebration of Passover makes God’s rescue of his people from bondage (an event even more distant in time than the Last Supper and Calvary) spiritually present.

          Whenever, therefore, we gather to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “do this” with the bread and the wine, we are there! We are in the Upper Room with Jesus’ apostles. We are there with the Beloved Disciple and Mary, along with his other female followers – more faithful than the men – beneath the cross. We are there with but one difference: we cannot see the Lord with our physical eyes; but we do perceive him with the eyes of faith.

          Do we realize that when we come to Mass – and truly worship?