1. The fundamental sacrifice of Jesus is his obedience to the Father’s will (22‑B). This leads him to the Last Supper. In celebrating this Supper, he freely accepts the death which reconciles humankind to God and merits the divine work of renewal that commences with his own resurrection.
2. In celebrating the Last Supper, Jesus also empowers the apostles—and priests of all times and places—to act on his behalf in expressing and making present his redemptive sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice is thus present for us in every Mass. The unity of Christians with Jesus, initiated in baptism, is expressed and perfected by their participation in the Mass (23‑B).3
3. An important point clarified by Vatican II is the universal priesthood of the faithful, insofar as all are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (see PO 2). Of course, the ordained priest has a unique role and dignity, for through his ministry “the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is made perfect in union with the sacrifice of Christ, the sole Mediator” (PO 2; cf. S.t., 3, q. 82, a. 1). But the priest also offers Mass in the name of the people, and in this respect his celebration of the Mass would be pointless if the Christian life were not lived by the faithful. The offering must be the living sacrifice of “all those works befitting Christian men” (LG 10).
4. In speaking of the laity, the Council teaches that Jesus gives them the Spirit and urges them on “to every good and perfect work” (LG 34). If done in the Spirit, all the activities of life “become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2.5). During the celebration of the Eucharist, these sacrifices are most fittingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus, as worshippers whose every deed is holy, the laity consecrate the world itself to God” (LG 34; translation amended). This is, of course, true of all members of the Church, not just the laity.
5. Every Christian’s life, to the extent it is truly Christian, not only contributes to the growth of the eternal kingdom and continues Jesus’ redemptive work but completes his perfect sacrifice. Jesus offers the Father his obedience; we must share in this offering and live it out in our own lives. Such is eucharistic worship as sacrifice: the living of Christian life (see Rom 12.1–2). “Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2.5).4
Jesus’ free acceptance of death as the will of the Father is the sacrifice which seals the new covenant in blood—that is, in life, since blood is life (see Ex 24.8; Dt 12.23; Mt 26.28; Heb 9.11–22). Jesus’ sacrifice is once and for all (see Heb 10.12); he offers this sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary (see Heb 8.1–6; 9.24).
Central to this unique sacrifice is Jesus’ perfect obedience to the will of the Father: “I have come to do your will” (Heb 10.9). Jesus’ righteous act displaced Adam’s sin as the principle of humankind’s relationship with God and “leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Rom 5.18). Through and in Jesus, God reconciles the world to himself (see 2 Cor 5.18–19). The gift of himself which Jesus makes by his obedience to the Father is neither of himself alone nor for himself alone. It seals the covenant of love for all humankind, and includes all who ever will be united with Jesus as members of his Mystical Body.5
Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice was explained (22‑G) as a human act carried out both in the Last Supper and in the Mass (see S.t., 3, q. 73, a. 5). An essential point to remember is that Jesus’ human act is not what is done to him, but rather what he does in choosing to eat the Passover with his friends, knowing that in doing so he is freely accepting suffering and death. This human act is not a passing event, it is a lasting self-determination.
This clarifies the sense in which the Eucharist is done in remembrance of Jesus and is received to preserve his memory and proclaim his death (see 1 Cor 11.26; S.t., 3, q. 82, a. 1; q. 83, a. 1).6 There is no question here of recalling to mind a past event as past. Jesus’ redemptive act is not something apart from him; it precisely is the human fulfillment of his earthly life. That fulfillment, a gift of obedience to the Father on behalf of all of us, exists in Jesus, accepted and sealed with glory. Its remembrance is a reexpression of an inherently atemporal, existential reality, much as the remembrance of a wedding anniversary is the reexpression of the reality of the bond of marriage itself.
What Jesus first actually does outwardly to carry out his redemptive commitment, he does in the Last Supper (22‑G). But in doing what he then does, he commands others to carry out further performances of the same type to keep his redemptive act present. The consecrations of all Masses, carried out as executions of this command, were included in the single act of Jesus at the Last Supper. For this reason, the central moment in the Eucharist is the consecration.7 In consecrating, the priest speaks in the very person of Christ, doing Jesus’ own act—an act only Jesus personally can do—for him (see DS 1321/698), much as a proxy in a marriage ceremony acts for (not in place of nor as a mere delegate of) the absent party who alone can give marital consent.
The Council of Trent, in its teaching on the Mass, does not say that the sacrifice of the Mass precisely is the same sacrifice as that of the cross, nor does it say that the offering is the same offering. Rather, it holds that the unity of the Mass and the cross is in this: Jesus offered himself in a bloody manner on the cross, and now offers himself in an unbloody manner (see DS 1743/940). But Vatican II says: “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which ‘Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed’ (1 Cor 5.7) is celebrated on an altar, the work of our redemption is carried on” (LG 3). To suppose that the two councils disagree, however, would be a mistake.
The sacrifice of the Mass and of the cross is one, yet they are many; the offering is unique, yet it is repeated. The central redemptive choice, by which Jesus as man is our saving Lord, is one and unique. The performances which express this choice are many. The first performance of it was in the Last Supper, which carried out Jesus’ choice in which he freely accepted what he knew would be done to him—namely, arrest, mistreatment, and murder. The performances since then of what he commanded to be done in his memory also carry out that same choice. The unity of the sacrifice is primarily in the unity of the self-determining act of Jesus and secondarily in the ordered unity of the performances. The multiplicity of the sacrifice is in the multiplicity of the outward expressions of the same personal reality.
This situation is common in our experience. It is not unlike the multiplicity of performances which execute the marital commitment. In the rite of marriage, it is carried out by verbal expressions of consent; in subsequent consummating sexual intercourse, it is carried out in fitting bodily communion; in faithful abstinence with respect to any other potential sexual partner, the marital commitment also is outwardly realized and manifested. Even the wearing of a wedding ring is an act which expresses the same commitment. The fundamental marital act is the commitment which inherently lasts; the many expressions are not so many additional marriages.
It is similar with the offering of Jesus which marries humankind to God. It is one lasting act with many and somewhat varied outward expressions. Among these, the performances which are consecratory acts in Masses are special, for they were specifically included in the Last Supper, they continue that same sacred banquet, and they make Jesus in glory bodily present among us.
The making present of the redemptive act in the Eucharist provides us with a visible sacrifice, which we need in order to be able to participate as men and women in our Lord Jesus’ human act (see DS 1740/938). As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states: “The celebration of Mass, as the action of Christ and the people of God hierarchically structured, is the center of the entire Christian life for both the universal and the local Church, as well as for each of the faithful” (cf. SC 41; LG 11; PO 2, 5, and 6; CD 30; UR 15).8 The Eucharist, therefore, is our sacrifice, too.
3. For relevant exegesis: F. X. Durrwell, C.Ss.R., The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), 35–77, 136–50, and 319–32; In the Redeeming Christ: Toward a Theology of Spirituality, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), 54–63.
4. See Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1955), 76–78; Robert J. Daly, Christian Sacrifice: The Judaeo-Christian Background before Origen (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1978), 498–508.
5. See St. Augustine, City of God, x, 6.
6. See Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), 103–5.
7. See Pius XII, Allocution to the International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy (22 September 1956), 48 AAS (1956) 711–25.
8. The New Order of the Mass, introduction and commentary by J. Martin Patino et al., trans. Bruno Becker, O.S.B.; Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, trans. Monks of Mount Angel Abbey (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1970), 69.