We started talking about what our Lord meant when He said of the Eucharist “Do this in remembrance of me”. Her background, like my own, is Protestant and the common argument amongst Protestants against the Catholic notion of the Mass as Sacrifice, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation, is that when our Lord said “This is my Body...this is my Blood” He meant for it to be understood figuratively...based on His instruction to do it “in remembrance” of Him.
Well, what did our Lord mean when He said this? What would the notion of “remembrance” have for a Jew of Jesus’ day? For the Jewish people, the idea of celebrating the Passover as a “remembrance” was one in which the people celebrating the remembrance would consider themselves as if they were present in the actual historical event – as if by the power of God they had transcended space and time and the Passover events were made present to them thousands of years later.
Even Keith A. Mathison – a respected Protestant scholar, and also the assistant editor of the ESV Reformation Study Bible – recognises this when he states:
“Understood within the Passover context, this phrase [“Do this in remembrance of me”] points to the idea that the congregation becomes contemporary with Christ’s act of redemption.”
“...remembrance is not merely mental recollection...”
“Those who reduce the Lord’s Supper to an act of mental recollection are imposing modern modes of thought on the text of Scripture.”
– Given for You by Keith A. Mathison
St. Augustine spoke of the same concept in the context of the liturgy. Referring to the Easter liturgy, he reminds us that although the Lord has died for our sins once for all, yet “we have the liturgical solemnities which we celebrate as, during the course of the year, we come to the date of the particular events. The historical truth is what happened once for all, but the liturgy makes those events always new for the hearts that celebrate them with faith. The historical truth shows us the events just as they happened, but the liturgy, while not repeating them, celebrates them and prevents them from being forgotten...we say that Easter happened once only and will not happen again, but, on the basis of the liturgy, we can say that Easter happens every year.”
It is in this context that the liturgy of the Mass is a Sacrifice. It is not repeating the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary – rather, it is the once-for-all Sacrifice of God the Son being made present for us today. This is possible because God is not bound by time – He transcends time and space. This is one reason why Catholic churches have a Crucifix in the Sanctuary – it is a reminder that in the Mass, we are really present at the foot of the Cross.And when the priest elevates the Host and the Chalice, the Lamb of God is being lifted up and drawing us to Him for our redemption. Our only reasonable response then is to kneel in humility before Him and acknowledge that we are not worthy to receive Him, but if He only says the word, we will be healed.