The Eucharist as an Offering

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matthew 5:17)

In my last post I reviewed a Catholic understanding of the words said by Christ at the Last Supper —  “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance (anamnēsin) of me.”  (Luke 22:19).  That understanding is rooted in the way twelve Jewish men would have understood those words in the context of celebrating the Passover liturgy.   The Jewish people understand they do not simply “reflect back” on the events of the Exodus during the Passover liturgy.  That past event is made present and they actively participate in the Exodus as though they were there.   As Catholics we understand that in the Mass the Passover liturgy is fulfilled, and we actively participate in the great events of our salvation – the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ, our Passover Lamb.

The Greek word used in the text for “remembrance” is anamnēsin, which corresponds to the Hebrew term zecher. Both refer to the use of ritual to make the past a lived present reality.  Another aspect of the Greek word anamnēsin is its association with a sacrificial offering.  Anamnēsin is used quite sparingly within Sacred Scripture.   We see it used in the Last Supper narrative.  St. Paul also uses it when describing the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.   And the book of Hebrews uses it when describing the sacrifices of the Old Covenant and how they can never perfect us – “ But in these sacrifices there is a reminder (anamnēsin) of sin year after year.” (Hebrews 10:1-3). 

 We also see it used a few times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) that was in use at the time of Christ.  And in all of these instances it is associated with a sacrificial offering:

  • Leviticus 24:7  And you shall put pure frankincense with each row, that it may go with the bread as a memorial (anamnēsin) portion to be offered by fire to the Lord.
  • Numbers 10:10  On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; they shall serve you for remembrance (anamnēsin) before your God: I am the Lord your God.”
  • Psalm 38:1 A Psalm of David, for the memorial (anamnēsin) offering.  O Lord, rebuke me not in thy anger, nor chasten me in thy wrath!
  • Psalm 70:1  To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, for the memorial (anamnēsin) offering.   Be pleased, O God, to deliver me!  O Lord, make haste to help me

It is clear from the examples in Sacred Scripture that anamnēsin is much more than a looking back and reflecting on an event.   It is a sacred memorial offering that Christ is instructing the apostles to celebrate.  He gives us his body and blood as a sacrificial offering.   And this offering “brings to perfection all human attempts to offer sacrifices.”  (CCC1350).   Also from the Catechism: “Jesus gave the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles ‘on the night he was betrayed’. On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men: ‘This is my body which is given for you.’ ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (CCC610)

There is a prophecy from Malachi 1:11 that should sound very familiar to Catholics as it’s part of one of our Eucharistic prayers – “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.”  “The nations” is a reference to a time when the Gentiles will also be brought into the covenant people of God.  As the Mass is offered throughout the world, a pure offering is certainly made.  As the Catechism says, “The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father’s love and for our salvation. By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.” (CCC2100) and “The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is ‘the pure offering’ of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name and, according to the traditions of East and West, it is the ‘sacrifice of praise.’” (CCC2643)

But it is not Christ alone who is offered during the Mass.   As the Church is the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 12:27, Colossians 3:15) we are united to him in his offering to the Father.  We unite ourselves to his intercession with the Father for all people.  As we celebrate the Offertory during the Mass we see the gifts brought forward from the congregation – our financial support and the bread and wine for the consecration.  But we should also understand that we ourselves are coming forward to unite our lives with Christ and become part of his offering.  The Catechism says that “The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.” (CCC1368)

There is never a moment of time when the Mass is not being celebrated somewhere in the world.  “From the rising of the sun to its setting” a pure offering is made and are lives are united to this pure offering as Christ intercedes for the world.   Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:9)

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