Thursday, April 27, 2006

Alter Christus - Imitamini Quod Tractatis

In a previous recollection we considered how the devout celebration of holy Mass helps us to grow in the spirit of humility and compunction. Let us dwell today on another, yet more direct, fruit of our daily Mass: viz. the spirit of sacrifice and immolation. The holy altar is an eloquent pulpit, urging us to many virtues. Most pressing among these is the priest's duty to imitate Christ whose minister he is, by sharing the dispositions of the Victim he offers up in sacrifice. The solemn exhortation of his ordination day ought ever to ring in his ears: "Imitamini quod tractatis." Let us ponder again over its significance, and try to deepen its influence upon our life. This will help us also to live in the spirit of the liturgy of these days, commemorative of Christ's holy Passion.


How close to us holy Mass brings the sublime mystery of Christ's immolation. The thought may occur to us at times: "Had I been present on Calvary, when Christ died on the Cross for me, how my heart would have gone out to the Divine Victim, how I would have united myself to His im­molation!" But we are on Calvary every day when we stand at the altar: under our very eyes, nay through our consecrated hands, the same Divine Victim offers up the same Sacrifice of His death on the Cross, albeit in a different manner.

Who will ever fathom the depth of this mystery of love? When Christ was dying on the Cross, His divine vision em­braced all men of all times, His Sacred Heart throbbed with love for each one of them. And for them He would have liked (according to the expression of St Bonaventure) to remain on the Cross, immolating Himself, till the end of times. As this could not be, He instituted this admirable Sacrifice of the Mass, in which His death on the Cross would be perpetuated "a solis ortu usque ad occasum, in omni loco", and all men could be present at the Sacrifice of Calvary and participate in its merits. "Fulget crucis mysterium."

And so it comes to pass that, morning after morning, I, even I, am the instrument which Christ uses to bring to men the infinite merits of His immolation on Calvary. Though I do not behold Christ hanging on the Cross, yet I know that my Mass is "the perfect memorial of Christ's Passion" (St Thomas). Even externally I see His death represented by the separate consecration of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. And I am reminded of His Passion by the prayers of the Canon, by the liturgical gestures and the very vestments of the priest. Alas! even while I celebrate, there may be actual renewals of Christ's Passion by the outrages, the unworthiness or the indifference which Christ meets with in the Sacrament of His love at that very moment, in the world at large, perhaps round my very altar, perhaps (which God forbid) at this altar through my own faults. Christ foresaw it all when He instituted the sacrifice of the Mass, but He would not be deterred by it from becoming our Victim of Love on the altars. "0 mira circa nos tuae pietatis dignatio!"

* Is my daily oblation of holy Mass a daily communion with Christ's immolation on Calvary?

"As often as I do these things", am I doing them in conscious and loving remembrance of the crucified Saviour?

Do I behold with the eyes of the soul what lies under the "hostiam sanctam, hostiam puram, hostiam immaculatam" which I offer unto the infinite Majesty of God?

If I am but little affected by these sublime realities, is it not because I do not associate vividly enough my Mass with the Sacrifice of Calvary?

Do I think of this: in my preparation, whilst putting on the sacred vestments, when proceeding to the altar?

At the altar itself do I keep myself, in mind and even in body, united to Christ crucified?

Do I teach my Christians to assist at holy Mass as if they were witnessing Christ's immolation on Calvary?

The mother of Blessed Henry Suso told him at the close of her life that for thirty years she had never assisted at Mass without shedding tears at the thought of Christ's holy Passion. "Unde et memores tam beatae passionis."

The obvious consequence of these views of faith about holy Mass is that the offering priest must, like Christ, be a victim of love. Should he not share the dispositions of the High Priest whose minister he is? When Christ, for the love of him, offers Himself in immolation through his hands, would it not be intolerable if he did not join his own loving immola­tion to that of Christ? ... Moreover, that union of his self­ oblation with the one of Christ is called for by the very nature of the Mass: it is not the sacrifice of Christ alone but of all those who offer it with Him, and, chief among these, of the priest who celebrates the divine Mysteries.

At every Con­secration, the fervent priest deepens that union in immola­tion by lifting himself up with Christ Victim as a co-victim in sacrifice and self-surrender. And at each holy Com­munion, he seeks to share more deeply the self-sacrificing love which animates the Heart of Jesus beating now near his own heart...

What fruits of sanctification would not come thus to the priest, for himself and for his flock? He would go forth from the altar "Christo confixus cruci" : resolved "to conform his life to his ministry and to mortify his members from all vices and lusts", ready to bear generously all the trials and difficulties of the day's work, even desirous of and rejoicing in sufferings "to fill up those things that are wanting to the sufferings of Christ, for His body, which is the Church"...

* Does my daily Mass thus set the seal of sacrifice upon my daily life?

Am I aiming at it and longing for it?

­Do I live my Mass, by abiding in those dispositions of self ­oblation throughout the day?

Let me pray frequently for that grace: "Cor Jesu, caritatis victima, fac me tibi Hostiam viventem, sanctam, Deo placentem."

"Da nobis, Domine, perfectae caritatis sacrificium cum altaris oblatione coniungere...ut immaculatam hostiam offerentes, ipsi quoque in holocaustum tibi acceptum transeamus" (from the Mass of St Paulinus and the special Mass of St Vincent de Paul).
Adapted from Alter Christus, Meditations for Priests by F.X. L'Hoir, S.J. (1958)
Meditation 64.

Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood.

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