In the 1950s a television show entitled You Are There, dramatizing historical events, was hosted by Walter Cronkite. The historical sketches were presented as if the television viewer was an eyewitness. Cronkite would conclude each show with the comment, “all things are as they were then then, and you were there.”
If you could witness just one historical event what would it be? Some might choose Christmas with the shepherds in Bethlehem, others perhaps a sports event, or a military victory such as that of Constantine in taking Rome, which led to the exercise of religion free of government coercion seventeen hundred years ago, but it did not last.
What about the one event which effected the salvation of all people, the sacrifice of Calvary? Oh, oh! We cannot only witness it, we can participate in it any day, most notably on Sunday.
I was so impressed with a homily that I recorded the date of its presentation, the second Sunday of ordinary time, January 17th 1999. The theme was taken from the gospel of the day (Jn 1:29), \”Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world\”. Fr. Paul Bonacci prefaced these words with, \’In every Mass\’. Several times he declared, \”In every Mass, behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world\”.
It is true. In every Mass we behold the Lamb of God in the very act by which He takes away the sin of the world, the very act by which He accomplishes his work of saving sinners, his self-sacrifice as God and man. His sacrifice, having removed the impediment of union with God, enables us to complete our participation in the sacrifice through Holy Communion.
We don’t have to go back in time 2000 years ago to witness the sacrifice of salvation. That very event is present to us now. It is the source and summit of Christian life (CCC 1324). We participate by bringing the bread and wine, which will become the Lamb of sacrifice. We participate by offering ourselves with the Lamb through repentance for our sins. We participate by receiving the Lamb of sacrifice in Holy Communion.
Usually at Sunday Mass the lector asks us to sing a hymn ‘while the Lord’s table is prepared’. I think we would be more cognizant of reality if it was said, ‘while the altar of sacrifice is prepared’. It is the Lord’s table because we partake of the Lamb who gives himself in sacrifice on the altar.
To think of the Mass exclusively as a banquet is to paint a picture solely of sunshine and joy. Indeed it is sunshine and joy, a banquet of Communion, because the Lamb offers himself in an unbloody manner on the altar of sacrifice on our behalf (CCC 1367). Our Lord assures us that it is his personal sacrifice, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own” (Jn 10:17-18).
Pope Francis has recently stated, “When we celebrate the Mass … it is really to live once more the passion and the redeeming death of the Lord…It is a theophany: The Lord is made present on the altar to be offered to the Father for the salvation of the world.”
The singular sacrifice in which the Son of God redeems us from sin, the impediment to union, is present before our very eyes in every Mass. Our personal participation in the sacrifice is consummated in Holy Communion. The Mass is the Divine Life of the Trinity in which we can cooperate because of our baptism. It is the incarnational life of the Blessed Trinity in which the Son offers himself eternally to the Father. We will only fully appreciate it when we experience its fulfillment in the Beatific Vision in heaven (CCC 1402). Yet, at Mass in a veiled way, both at Calvary and in Heaven at the resurrection, we are there.