Thomas Merton, for many years was interested in finding out what Eastern teachers of mysticism would teach young men and women from our Western culture. Shortly before his tragic death by electrocution, he had a long conference with Dr. Bramachari, who at that time was one of the foremost Hindu authorities on spirituality and theology among the Eastern religions. Merton asked him what he told the students from America to do after they returned from their studies of Buddhism, Hinduism, and the various other theologies. Dr. Bramachari answered, "I ask the American student of college years to do three things. First, I ask to study the confessions of St. Augustine. Secondly, I ask to study the real spirituality in the imitation of Christ. And thirdly, I ask to spend the rest of their lives learning what the sacrifice of the Mass should mean to them."
I would like to share a few ideas with you on what the sacrifice of the Mass should mean to all of us. It is much easier to talk about virtues, morality or causes rather than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These are concrete, tangible topics that make up the bread and butter of our every day living. But the Mass seems abstract, remote and intangible. Yet, if you are really trying to grow in love of God, the Mass is the heart of our religion. It is the bread and butter of all our beliefs and theologies.
When you get right down to it, what is the Mass? The Mass is a reaching back to Calvary. It is a representation of what took place on Calvary. It is more than just a drama. It is more than just a liturgy. It is the most powerful reminder we have of what God's son did for us. It is the most powerful love story in all of literature, because this love of God was not to stop flowing on Calvary, but was to be experienced every time Mass was celebrated. The Mass is more than just a pageant or a banquet. It is that which reminds us, more than any other teaching in the Church, just what life and death are all about.
A few centuries ago in the Old Testament, men would come upon the scene as leaders and prophets. They would offer the sacrifice of an animal to God in the form of a lamb, a sheep, a goat or a bullock. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of Christ at Mass is not an offering of a sheep, a goat or a bullock, but of a person...a person who happened to be the son of God. And that person offered that sacrifice of himself so that you and I could have the opportunity of living with God for all eternity.
When Christ on Holy Thursday told his apostles to "do this in memory of me," he was reminding them that through the Mass they were bringing love into the lives of others. In the same fashion, he was bringing love into their lives.
At each Mass we have repeated what took place at Calvary. We have the offering of a person, the consecration of a person, and the communion of that person with God in a most intimate way. At Calvary centuries ago, the same scene took place. Christ offered his body and soul to God, his Father. There was a total consecration of the mind and will of Christ to his Father that was summed up in the words, "into thy hands I commend my spirit."
This all sounds a little abstract, doesn't it? The Mass is the way that Christ devised by which you and I could have Christ live within us. When a person comes to communion with the Christ of Calvary that is the most solemn and spiritual moment of the week. At that moment of communion, you are incorporated into the spirit of Christ. You are a recipient of the love of Christ in a most personal way. You are the Christ-person who has made a sacrifice for God. You are, at that moment, most lovable and most perfect in the sight of God. When you are at communion with God you have offered yourself thus making a sacrifice. Because you have done this, Christ says to you, "you give me your time, I will give you my eternity. You give me your death, I will give you life. You give me your nothingness, I will give you my all." This is the most solemn moment. This is your finest hour. It is to be understood in the word "sacrifice." The sacrifice of the cross is the sacrifice of the Mass.
In the realm of nature we find that the plants have to make a sacrifice of their plant life to that of the animal life. The animal life has to give itself to humans. Humans have to make the final sacrifice of their lives to Christ. It is through dying that each one rises to a higher order. It is through the death of Christ that each one of us has the Resurrection of Christ and ourselves together.
You can never understand the Mass unless you understand the meaning of sacrifice. Christ offered himself for us at Mass. Now when we attend, he asks us to offer ourselves in union with his sacrifice. Christ suffered to be united with us. He asks us to unite our sufferings with him. And this concept of sacrifice seems to be so easily forgotten when we talk about Mass. How often have you heard people say, "well, the reason I don't go to Mass is I don't get anything out of it." Just think of that comment. You have to have an awareness of sacrifice if the Mass is to have any meaning. If you don't have a feeling for art, then the treasurers of the Louvre will be lost on you. If you don't have a sense of history, then a trip to Europe will not totally impress you. If you don't have a sense of music, then a night at the opera is almost a waste. If you don't have an understanding of Sacrifice, then the sacrifice of the Mass will be less valuable to you. Many people who say they do not get anything out of Mass are the same people who have nothing to give. When you come to Mass you are asked to make a sacrifice, a commitment to Christ. When the offerings of bread and wine are brought up, they symbolize all the sacrifices and the crosses and the acts of love that the people in this congregation are offering to God through Christ at this time. When the true purpose of the Mass is to offer something of ourselves to God, how can we say that we don't get anything out of it? We aren't there to get. You don't come to Mass just to see the banners. You come to bring your all, your total self to God through the Mass.
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