One of the most surprising truths that I learnt when I first started to study scripture was that there is no record of Christ going into the Temple to offer sacrifice. The reason was because he had come to set up a new Temple as he was to promise the Samaritan woman.(John 4:21-25)
A Temple Made by God
It was a Temple that would not be made by human hands but by the hand of God on the first Easter Day. Jesus himself had foretold its coming in his own person. “Destroy this Temple,” he said, referring to his own physical body, “and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:20-22). This New Temple would come to be called Christ’s mystical Temple or his Mystical Body because unlike his physical body it could not be seen. But every new Christian knew that just as on the first Easter Night when this New Temple was raised up, they too would be raised up. This would take place on their own personal Easter Night when after rising from the baptismal pool they would rise to enter into Christ, the new Temple, to worship God.
In the old Temple, this worship would be embodied in some form of physical offering like sheep, lambs or oxen, but in the new offering, it would be embodied in a spiritual offering which was nothing other than the offering of themselves. This was the offering Christ himself had made throughout his life on earth and that is why he never offered any physical sacrifice in the old Temple and why he promised this new form of worship to the Samaritan woman. In other words, a sacrifice in spirit and in truth that was nothing other than themselves.
A High Priest Made by God
That is why at their baptism, the first Christians were clothed in a white garment, similar to that which Christ wore at his Resurrection, to show they were now one with him in his new life and his new offering. They were led in procession to take part in the Mass to exercise their priesthood by offering the new worship in spirit and in truth, namely the offering of themselves in, with, and through Christ.
They would then see and experience that they were not just one with Christ’s human being, now the New Temple, but with his human action, suffused and surcharged with the divine, as the new High Priest, in, with, and through whom they would offer themselves to God the Father. Christ’s sublime mystical loving was like a supernatural superhighway over which the sacrifice of himself rose to God his Father, simultaneously enabling his Father’s love to descend into him. That is why Christ now became ‘The Way’, the spiritual superhighway, not just for his own journey back to his Father, but for those others too, who were reborn into his mystical body and into his mystical loving of his Father. In this way, their sacrifices would be joined with his and rise with his to receive in return the same love that he himself had received.
The bread and wine used at Mass was not just a symbol or a sacrament of Christ’s whole life, and afterlife, it was the real flesh and blood embodiment too, of himself and his supreme sacrificial action. This enabled all who received this sacred food and drink to enter into Christ, in the act of offering himself to the Father, in an act of pure mystical contemplation and therefore to receive the mystical fruits of contemplation in return. These fruits may well be mystical in themselves but when they began to possess the receiver then they would be made visible in the infused virtues and in the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit that would enable them to love others as Christ had loved them.
It was because Jesus was born like his mother without sin that there was nothing in him that could prevent his Father’s love continually pouring into him and remaining with him at all times during his life on earth and during his life in heaven. However, because we were not immaculately conceived our propensity to fall into selfishness and sin means that we cannot experience the love of God as he did at all times.
The Purification that Prepares us for Union
That is why we need the same Holy Spirit who drew us up into Christ’s risen glory to purify and prepare us for the permanent union with God to which we are called. The more we are purified then the more deeply we can enter into the New Temple, which is our Risen Lord, to be united with him. The closer this union and the more deeply we are united with him, then the more potent and the more powerful our prayer becomes, not just when we offer ourselves to God every time we come to Mass, but the more deeply we enter into him. By entering into him, I do not just mean at Holy Communion during the Mass but after we have returned to the weekdays that make up most of our lives after weekly Mass.
Back to the Morning Offering
Every morning when we wake up then we should remember what is in fact the literal truth, whether we feel it or not – and that is that we are within the New Temple which is Christ.
That is why the moment that we realise where we are and whom, we are within, we offer the forthcoming day to God through the New High Priest. He will always be close to us as we try to keep turning and offering ourselves to God directly whenever we pray in the forthcoming day. And also indirectly, through the conscientious way we work and in the quality of the love and compassion we try to show whenever we turn to God indirectly in the neighbour in need (Matthew 25:31-46). In this way, the morning offering which is the most important prayer that we make at the beginning of our day enables us to make the whole of our lives into the Mass. By this I mean we do what Christ did every day he was alive on this earth, and what our first Christian forebears did before us. We offer all we say and do to God and receive from him in return, the self-same love that Christ received.
It is in Giving that We Receive
We receive this love in return to the measure in which we are prepared to die with him to all that prevents his loving transforming us into the new High Priest so that the whole of our lives gradually becomes the Mass. In other words, it becomes the place where all we say and do is offered to God in Christ, the New Temple together with all Christians who are now, as St Peter put it, “A royal priesthood a nation set apart to give glory to God” (1 Peter 2:9). Or as St Paul puts it, “Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God” (1Corinthians 10:31). In short and in summary, in the words of perhaps the greatest ever liturgical historian Joseph Jungmann SJ, “The Mass should so form us that the whole of our lives should become the Mass, the place where we continually offer ourselves through Christ to the Father”.
That is why the first Christians were so aware of their priesthood that did not end at Mass, but continued outside of Mass, as all that was said and done was offered to God through Christ. That is why my mother told me that by saying my Morning Offering I would become a little priest turning ordinary commonplace things into acts of love, as Rumpelstiltskin changed straw into gold.
Perseverance in Prayer
Unless we want our faith to degenerate into at best, little more than pleasing liturgical practices, full of meaningful symbolism and aesthetic beauty, then we must realise something that has too often been forgotten over the centuries, and particularly in our century. It is something that St Paul saw so clearly, namely that unless we are prepared to take up our daily Cross, most particularly in our daily prayer life, then we will remain little more than nominal Catholics. No athletes will get anywhere without practising daily the event at which they want to excel.
When the Holy Spirit leads a person, who wants to progress into mystical darkness in their prayer life, it is the moment of truth. If they are prepared to keep practising the loving at which they want to excel, despite continual spiritual dryness and aridity and endless distractions and temptations, then their future will be determined. The quality of their love for God will be tried and tested and will if they persevere, guarantee their spiritual advancement. If ignorance, failure to find help or whatever else induces them to give up what seems to a bounty hunter to be purposeless, then they will not advance in the spiritual life. True love deepens through practice. It gradually becomes a habit, an infused habit if we are prepared to go on giving when we appear to receive nothing in return.
Our spiritual advancement will remain on hold until we learn to love by practising this selfless loving, in what St Angela of Foligno called the ‘School of Divine Love’. She was a mother herself, so she knows the difference between ‘cupboard loving’ and the sort of unconditional mother-loving that opens a person to receive the unconditional love of God that can alone radically change us. What she calls the ‘School of Divine Love’ is the only place on earth where this quality of unconditional loving is eventually learnt that can unite us with Christ.
When we are prepared to give daily time to practise this selfless other-considering loving in prayer, we are in fact following Christ’s call to take up our daily cross and follow him. This, as all the great saints and mystics have come to realise through experience, is the only way to come to know something of his Resurrection and the glory with which God crowned him on the first Easter Day. This does not just take place after we have died, but even in this life, enabling the Risen Christ to begin his reign on earth through those who are prepared to die and rise with him. In this way, we can come to embody, in some way, something of his glory even here on earth, so that in seeing, others may come to believe.
David Torkington’s blogs, books, lectures and podcasts can be found at https://www.davidtorkington.com/