Father Matthew Buettner: Paschal Mystery: the three parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist
As we begin to examine the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are reminded that the drama of our redemption is accomplished by Christ in three distinct acts: His passion, death, and resurrection; Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday; The Last Supper, the crucifixion and death on the Cross, and the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. These three acts of our redemption compose what we call the Paschal Mystery. It is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that invites us into the Paschal Mystery and unites us with the means of our salvation.
Within these three acts, the passion, death and resurrection, there are three movements in the Mass that perpetuate the effects of our redemption and apply them to our individual souls. These three movements – the offertory, the Eucharistic Prayer with the consecration at the heart, and the reception of Holy Communion – compose the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Together, they unite us with the mystery of the cross, continue to bring about our salvation by applying the fruits of our redemption today, and ultimately, express God's divine love and mercy.
To apply the merits of redemption to our souls, each of us must renew the death to sin which was brought about by Christ on the cross. Christ died once and for all on the cross 2,000 years ago. In imitation of His perfect sacrifice and in union with His self-offering to the Father, we offer ourselves in union with Christ.
In the early Church, this was accomplished by offering the same elements that Christ Himself offered at the Last Supper: bread and wine. Some of each was used by the priest to offer the sacrifice.
Today, we substitute money for these elements. The donated money purchases the bread and wine sacrificed at the Mass, but it also represents ourselves, since we receive money as recompense for our labor, our time and our talent. The material sacrifice that we make is still a symbol of our spiritual incorporation into the death of Christ. Through the free offering of ourselves to God in union with Christ, we find salvation.
The Eucharistic Prayer
The offertory leads us to the Eucharistic Prayer. The consecration of the Mass does not mean that Our Lord dies again, for He can never die again in His own individual human nature. But He prolongs His death in us. In the offertory we present ourselves for sacrifice with Christ; in the consecration we die and rise with Him. We apply His death to ourselves, so that we may share in His resurrection.
At the consecration, the eternal sacrifice of Christ punctures the time barrier, heaven dawns upon earth, and Emmanuel comes again to meet man. By the words of Christ speaking through a priest, the Holy Spirit changes the substance of bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. This is known as transubstantiation (from the Latin for "change in substance").
This is not simply a recited prayer, but a divine act which enables us to apply the merits of the cross to ourselves; the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ is brought into the present and relived in us. Why? The sacrifice is re-presented by divine command to receive Him as spiritual nourishment and as an antidote for sin and death.
In the offertory, we are like lambs led to the slaughter. In the Eucharistic Prayer, we are the lambs who are slaughtered in our old sinful selves. And in Holy Communion, we find that we have not died, but that we have come to life. In a certain sense, the substance of bread and wine must be sacrificed, must die, so that it may become the Body and Blood of Christ.
In the same way, our old habits of sin must also be sacrificed so that we might have new life in Christ. Chemicals must be sacrificed that plants might live. Plants must perish that animals might live. Chemicals, plants, and animals must be sacrificed that man might live. And our old sinful selves must perish for God to live in us. That is why we "receive" Holy Communion: we receive Christ, we receive divine life. But perhaps more importantly, it is Christ who receives us, incorporating us into His divine life.
In upcoming columns, we will discuss in detail each of these three parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Father Matthew Buettner is the pastor of St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton. This is excerpted from "Understanding the Mystery of the Mass – Revisited," available for purchase online at www.tedeumfoundation.org. Previous columns are archived online at www.catholicnewsherald.com.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy