Sunday, August 28, 2011

Present Your Bodies as a Living Sacrifice

In his exhortation “Verbum Domini”, the Holy Father reminds us that the “the liturgy is the privileged setting in which God speaks to us in the midst of our lives” (Verbum Domini, No. 52). He says this in the context of Sacred Scripture being most at home in the liturgy, because it is in the liturgy that we really encounter the Word of God.

This hit home for me in today’s Mass (22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time) in the Second Reading (Rom 12:1-2) and the Gospel (Matt 16:21-27).

In Rom 12:1-2, St. Paul tells us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God; and to be transformed in doing so. 
In the Gospel reading, our Lord tells us that if we want to be His disciples we need to take up our cross and follow Him (Matt 16:24). As Christians, we are called to suffer for the sake of Christ. But for Christians, suffering is not a bad thing because it leads us to glory (Rom 8:17; see also Jn 12:23-26 where Jesus uses similar language to that of Matt 16:24-25). Also, because we are members of the Christ’s Body the Church, we are able to offer our sufferings up for the Church to complete what was lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col 1:24).
We are no doubt familiar with the above passages of Sacred Scripture, but they really come alive for us when we relate them back to the liturgy.
In the liturgy of the Eucharist, we offer the gifts of bread and wine (the fruit of our hands) which are placed by the priest on the altar. We offer these gifts to God in thanksgiving (eucharistia) for all that He has done for us. But the fact that our gifts are placed on the altar signifies that what we are doing is far more than saying “thank-you”. An altar speaks of sacrifice. This means that when we offer our gifts, we are really declaring that we are offering ourselves, and all that has been given to us, as a sacrifice to God.

At the words of institution, the bread and wine are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ as the re-presentation (i.e. the presenting again) of the once-for-all Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. In this action, the sacrifice of ourselves is united with the Sacrifice of Christ, and thus becomes a sweet-smelling offering which is acceptable to God (Phil 4:18). [After all, nothing we offer to God has any value apart from it being united to Christ]. Then, as we receive our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, He slowly but surely transforms us into His own image (see here and here).

Perhaps one way of being reminded of this is to develop the habit of consciously offering our whole life – our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings – to God during the Presentation of the Gifts and the Offertory Prayer, remembering that as we do so we are offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God; which is our spiritual worship.  

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