The Most Holy Eucharist: As Sacrament and Sacrifice

By Rev. Fr. Oliver Onah

The Holy Eucharist is that Sacrament and Sacrifice in which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, under the forms of bread and wine, is truly, really and substantially present, with His Body and Blood, in order to offer Himself in an unbloody manner to the heavenly Father, and to give Himself to the faithful as nourishment for their souls.

This places the Holy Eucharist over and above all other Sacraments of salvation. The 'Matter' for the consummation of the Holy Eucharist is (wheaten) bread and wine (from vine) {Denz., 877, 884}. The 'Form' of the Holy Eucharist is Christ's words of the Institution, uttered at the consecration.

Each time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist on the Altar, we do that which Christ did once and for all on the Cross, but with the very words of Jesus Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, we offer sacramentally the Body and Blood of our Lord under the elements of bread and wine.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, these natural elements, fruits of the earth and the work of human hands, are truly, really and substantially transformed (GS., 38) into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Holy Eucharist is both a Sacrament and a Sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of the Altar is not in concurrence with the Cross, but it renders it present and actualizes for us today the event of the life of Jesus, especially on the Calvary. Our Lord with the sacrifice of His Body and Blood has obtained for us the remission of sins and the salvation of the human family.

It is the living faith of the Church of God that the Holy Mass is a true and proper sacrifice. A distinction between Sacrament and Sacrifice is necessary here. The Holy Eucharist is a Sacrament insofar as in it, Jesus Christ is partaken of as nourishment for the soul; and it is a Sacrifice insofar as in Jesus Christ is offered a sacrificial gift of God.

In this sense, the Holy Eucharist has the nature of a Sacrifice in that it is offered up, and it has the nature of a Sacrament in that it is received, and hence it has the effect of a Sacrament in him who receives it and the effect of a Sacrifice in him who offers or in those for whom it is offered.

As a Sacrament, the Holy Eucharist is directed immediately to the sanctification of human persons, and as a Sacrifice, it is directed to the glorification of God. Unlike other Sacraments, the Holy Eucharist is a permanent Sacrament. Its beginning, its being and its reception diverge in time.

The words of the Institution attest to the sacramental and the sacrificial characters of the Holy Eucharist: "This is my Body, which shall be given up for you". "This is my Blood which shall be shed for you". There is therefore a true relation between the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of the Cross.

In the Mass, the Sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary is made present, its memory is celebrated and its saving power is applied. While the Sacrifice on the Cross is an absolute Sacrifice, as it is neither the commemoration of a past Sacrifice nor the archetype of a future Sacrifice; the Sacrifice of the Mass is a relative Sacrifice (representation) as it is essentially linked to the Sacrifice on the Cross.

The relation between the two is that of "renewal". That of the Mass draws its power, fruits of remission of sins and salvation of soul from the Sacrifice on the Cross. That of the Mass is a commemoration of that of the Cross.

In synthesis, in either case, whether that on the Cross or that on the Altar, the important thing is that a sacrifice is involved. That is why the priest literally feels tired after celebrating the Most Holy Mass and the Church thus, legislates only two Masses per Sunday per priest.

The consecration words: "This is my Body, .my Blood ." is not mere empty grammatical construction. Real physical and spiritual energy is dissipated due to Sacrifice. That is also part of why the priest does not make offering in the Church.

(Some Christians who feel that priests are doing nothing and so must attend to them at any time are crassly getting it wrong even if it is only the Holy Mass that the priest celebrates).

But it is not understandable that many Christians participate in the reenactment Sacrifice of the Mass without making any offering. Yet they could be the first to receive the Holy Communion. If they will offer at all, they will like to give anything less than five naira if there is.

They frown at tithe as an evil to be avoided. Religion or worship without Sacrifice is empty. Little wonder King David unequivocally said, "I will not offer to my God a sacrifice that costs me nothing" (2 Sam 24:24).

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