Although Christ performed most of the religious practices that his parents taught him, there is no evidence that he offered sacrifices in the Temple. Why? Because he came to introduce the new sacrifice ‘in spirit and in truth’ that he promised to the Samaritan woman. It was the sacrifice of himself. This was the sacrifice that he offered to God throughout his life on earth and which he taught his new followers to practise in their lives too. That is why his followers were so aware of their priesthood, because only they could offer themselves, no one else could do it for them. And they knew that God would accept their offering if made in the new Temple and, in, with and through the new High Priest which is Christ. This is what happened sacramentally each time they went to Mass as it still is each time we go to Mass today.
Into the redeeming action of Christ
When Christ was dying on the Cross, a lifetime of selfless sacrificial loving was drawn together as one sublime action, in the final most testing, most agonising act of selfless sacrificial loving that he had ever made. At Mass he was, and still is, made present to his faithful followers in the act of performing this selfless sacrificial action, in the redemptive action that was first brought to completion on Calvary. In this way all who are called to follow him are drawn up to share in his redeeming action for themselves and for the world, that he now reaches out to through them. That is why St John quotes Christ as saying, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
The Bread of Life
At their weekly Mass Christ was not just present as someone who had played a part in their history in their past, but as someone who was playing a part in their history in the present. The mutual divine loving that was uniting him with his Father was simultaneously overflowing onto and into all those present who were open to receive him. As they received him, as the bread of life, his love would draw them up and into his mystical body and into his mystical loving of his Father. What came to be called the Morning Offering would enable the first faithful to offer themselves each day to God, in, and through their Risen Lord. In doing this day after day in their lives, as Jesus did in his life, their whole lives would gradually be transformed into the Mass. The great Jesuit liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann put it this way. “The Mass should so form us that the whole of our lives become the Mass, the place where we continually offer ourselves through Christ to the Father”.
St Justin and St Jerome
That this profound realisation perfectly sums up the mystical spirituality that inspired the early Christians, can be demonstrated by two quotations, one from St Justin and the other from St Jerome. St Justin was writing about a hundred years after the Crucifixion. He said that at the end of the great Eucharistic prayer when the congregation joined with the priest at the altar in reciting the ‘Amen’, the sound nearly took the roof off the church where Mass was being celebrated. Why? Because they knew and experienced daily that the offering made at Mass summed up the whole of their lives that was being offered, in, with and through Christ to God. Over two hundred years later St Jerome wrote that in his day the sound of that same ‘Amen’ said by the congregation and the celebrant had not diminished one jot or one iota. It sounded, he wrote, “like a mighty clap of thunder that resounded around the Basilica”.
An Unprecedented Crie de Coeur
This sound that resounded week after week, year after year, century after century, embodied their affirmation of the God-given Spirituality that Jesus Christ had first lived himself before bequeathing it to the Church that he founded. That one word, the great ‘Amen’ was a crie de coeur that pronounced their profound faith in their Risen Lord who was not only alive and loving them continually as he had promised, but the One in whom they lived and moved and had their being. Through him they offered themselves to the Father not just on the day they came together at Mass, but on every day, through all they said and did.
Red and White Martyrdom
If this meant that they would have to give their lives for their belief through a bloody martyrdom, then so be it. If not, then it was another form of martyrdom called white martyrdom that they would willingly embrace. It involved the daily carrying the Cross that would enable them to die again and again to what St Paul called the ‘old man’ in them so that the ‘new man’ full of his Father’s love would be fully formed in them. This would not only enable Christ to continue transmitting this love to others who lived in those first Christian centuries through them, but to those in subsequent centuries too, like us, down to the present day.
True tradition means allowing true love to be handed on. That is what the word tradition means. This handing on is symbolised by the laying on of hands through which the love of Christ continues to be transmitted to his people. The person whose hands touched you when you were baptised, for instance, received Christ’s loving power from the Bishop, who laid hands on him at his ordination. That ‘tradition’ can be seamlessly traced back, from Bishop to Bishop, to the first Apostles and to the loving touch of Christ himself. This is true in all the sacraments, but most especially it can be seen in the sacrament of marriage, when love is communicated by touch by the ministers of this, the sacrament of love, many times over each day.
But love is not magic, and that is why it is only those who, in imitation of Christ, daily practise an ever-deepening prayer life, who can receive and assimilate the love that is given by this sacred touch. Then the more they pray, the more that love will, not just enter into them, but suffuse and surcharge their own weak human loving with divine loving. That is how true tradition is established and continues to be communicated by Christ to the world that he now wants to continue redeeming with his love, through us.
In order to develop the prayer that can continually help us to raise our hearts and minds to God as we practise the asceticism of the heart please follow the Podcast on prayer on this web-site entitled The Hermit – Wisdom from the Western Isles