Less than ten years before Constantine granted religious tolerance to all in the Roman Empire, one of the last of the Christian Martyrs, St Euplius, was tortured and scourged like Christ before him, and finally beheaded. All this took place in Catania in Sicily by the order of the prefect Calvisanus in the reign of Diocletian. In his interrogation, St Euplius was asked why he would not offer sacrifices to the gods. He said he did, but his God was the Father of Jesus Christ. Nor did he need to go to a temple to offer sacrifice, for his whole life was a sacrifice to God, as it had been for Jesus Christ before him.
Two hundred years before Euplius, Christians used to insist that they had no temples, no altars nor for that matter did they have priests, as the pagans did. The same was true of their founder Jesus Christ. Although he was brought up and practised his faith in every other respect like a good orthodox Jew there is no evidence that he ever offered any physical sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem. His mother and foster father did, like all his friends, relatives, and disciples, but he never did. Why? Because he had come to introduce a new form of worship that he had promised to the Samaritan woman. It was a form of worship that would come from the heart, and entail the complete and unreserved offering of oneself to God, just as he had offered his all to God his Father every moment of every day of his life, to his death on the Cross.
After Christ’s glorification, St Peter taught that Jesus himself was the new temple, a spiritual temple, and every Christian was built into him as spiritual bricks and mortar to offer themselves in, with him and through him to God the Father (1 Peter 2:5, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 3:21). Furthermore, they were not only to do this on Sundays, but on every day too, and at every moment of every day, as Jesus did throughout his life on earth.
The precise nature of the offering that God wanted in the future was made abundantly clear so that there could be no misunderstanding. Before the Resurrection, it was “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). However, this love could not lead to union with God because in the Old Testament the very idea that we could be united with God was unthinkable, no matter how desirable it might be. Why? Because he was infinitely above us and dwelt in light inaccessible.
After the Resurrection, however, the Old Testament commandment was given a new meaning and new power and efficacy that made what was impossible before, possible. That is because the new worship ‘in spirit and in truth’, could unite us with God in a profound and mystical union. That is because the offering of ourselves was not just made alone but, in, with and through Jesus Christ. For, after the first Pentecost day, those who received his love were drawn upward, as it were, not just into his mystical body but also into his mystical loving of his Father.
After his glorification then Christ became not only the New Temple, but the new High Priest; not just for himself, but for all those who were drawn up and into him. That is why in the early days of the Church, the word priest was only used for Christ and for every member of the Christian community who offered themselves daily to the Father through him.
The first thing the early Christians would do each morning, therefore, was to renew the offering that they had made at their Sunday Mass. For over a thousand years daily Mass was hardly practised at all, it was certainly never the norm. So for the early Christians, daily Mass was the daily offering they made to God through Christ of all they said and did each day. Perhaps the greatest liturgist who ever lived, Josef Andreas Jungmann, SJ put it this way “The Mass should so form us that the whole of our lives becomes the Mass, the place where we continually offer ourselves through Christ to the Father.” Since earliest times the simple Catholic faithful have been trying to practise this profound spiritual truth by beginning each day with what came to be called ‘The Morning Offering’.
On the day when Pope Benedict first used the Internet to tweet, he was asked by one of his respondents how married people living such busy lives could find time for prayer? He replied, “By offering everything that is said and done each day to God.” First thoughts on waking each morning, he said, should be to offer the forthcoming day to God, not just together with, but in and with Jesus Christ Our Lord. It was my mother who first taught me to say the Morning Offering. She told me that by offering all that I said and did to God in the day ahead of me I would be able to transform ordinary little things into precious gifts for God, just as Rumpelstiltskin had turned straw into gold.
My mother owned a very old prayer book handed down to her from her Recusant forebears who had suffered imprisonment, torture, and death for the faith that we can take so easily for granted. In the front, it had listed the dates of many of my ancestors going back several generations. It also had their age when they died so I was able to find out where and when they were born. I did not, therefore, need a genealogist to trace my forebears back to penal times and beyond, but that is another story.
The story that I want to tell you concerns something I found in the middle of the book. It was the text of an ancient Morning Offering that they had all used for generations, my mother included. It was written on a well-thumbed card and in an archaic form of English. I have put it into a more modern version similar to the Morning Offering that my mother first taught me. It still gives me quite a thrill when I say it to realise that it was said by my ancestors going back for generations to penal times. Perhaps it was said by my direct ancestor, Sir Nicholas Tempest who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in 1539 with the Abbot of Fountain’s Abbey, by Henry VIII for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37). This was a peaceful rising to protest against the ransacking and dissolution of the monasteries and the rejection of Henry making himself head of the Church in England. This is my modern rendering of this ancient prayer.
Father, I offer you the prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, in union with the offering that Jesus made and continues to make in the Holy Mass. I offer them with all who are alive in you, whether they are living or dead. May I draw strength from those who have already proved their faith and become the instrument of giving strength to those who have not.
When our family went to Mass each Sunday, they saw their mother totally absorbed in what they took all too easily for granted. Their selfishness meant that they had too little to offer, while she was offering a thousand and one acts of self-sacrifice made for them during the previous week. This meant that she received the measure of her giving. Without any formal theological education, she discovered for herself that the Mass is not only a sacrifice, the place where we offer ourselves, in, with and through Christ to the Father but something more. It is also a sacred sacrificial meal where we receive the love that he is endlessly pouring out, onto and into all who are open to receive it, beginning most especially with Holy Communion.
Although those precious moments of peace and tranquillity that can enthrall us after Holy Communion may delight us with holy joy, they may also deceive us. That is because Christ does not just come as a sunbeam to spiritually sedate us, but like a flash of lightning to wake us up and fill our being with his being, our loving with his loving. With this new inflow of divine loving throbbing within us then, we leave the Church to share what we have received with all whom we love and hold dear. But even more than that, for it strengthens and supports us to love those who do not love us, and even our enemies and those who would destroy us. For this is the only way for God’s Kingdom of love that already rules and reigns in heaven, to rule and reign on earth through those who are called to be viceroys of Christ the King. In this way we make our whole lives into the Mass – the place where we continually offer ourselves to God, directly whenever we try to love him in prayer and indirectly whenever we try to love him in the neighbour in need, with whom he identifies himself on earth. (Mathew 25:31-46)
Each day my mother reminded herself of this, her sacred calling, by making her morning offering, as her ancestors had done for hundreds of years before her. If ever I forgot to say mine she used to say that the Curé d’Ars would say, “All that we do without offering it to God, is wasted,” and he was right.
So that I would never forget, my mother continually reminded me to say my morning offering the moment I woke up. But above all, she showed me how to put it into practice by her own example. Lessons learnt in this way are never forgotten. They indelibly stain the memory and determine the way you think and act for the rest of your life, for better or for worse. But what moves me most is to realise that when I say this prayer that she first taught me I am still saying it with her because she, like all whom I love and hold dear are in Christ now in his mystical body praying to the Father. For as Josef Andreas Jungmann puts it –
Christ does not offer alone. His people are joined to him and offer through him. Indeed they are absorbed into him and form one body with him by the Holy Spirit who lives in all.