The last few Sundays we have been looking at different aspects of the Mass. First, we looked at how our community is called and formed by the Word of God, seen especially in the very fact of gathering. We also looked at some approaches to Sacred Scripture in relation to the Liturgy of the Word. And last week we looked at the hinge of the Mass: the Creed, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Offertory.
Last week, in particular, we looked at the Word of God as living because Jesus is alive. We saw this life in the activity of the Word of God. We considered especially two movements that are fundamental to the life of the Word of God, first, the movement from the Father; that is, the movement of the Word taking flesh; a downward movement, in a sense, from heaven to earth. Second was the movement of the Son to the Father, the Word offering itself up; an upward movement, in a sense, from earth to heaven.
We saw the downward movement both in the Gospel – the story about God becoming human – and in the Creed – our reception of that Good News. We saw the upward movement in the Prayers of the Faithful – our calling to God to help us – and the offertory we make of our lives to God, in placing the gifts on the altar.
As you can probably see, however, these movements cannot be separated from each other. They are equally part of who Jesus is. The Word is always coming from the Father and the Word is always returning to the Father. A good image of this, in fact, is Jacob’s famous dream in the Old Testament. He dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth on which angels are ascending and descending.
However, the best place to see this double movement of the Word – coming from the Father and returning to the Father – is the Eucharistic prayer. It is precisely when Jesus, in the person of the priest, offers a) himself and b) us up to the Father, it is precisely at this moment of offering that Jesus becomes incarnate for us on the altar in the Blessed Sacrament. And you can hear this in the actual prayer. Today we will look at and pray the Third Eucharistic Prayer.
The first part of the prayer calls to mind the creative power of God. It is God that gives life, and precisely because it is God doing this, all things are holy by the very fact of existence, their being created by God. In this part of the prayer, we can hear the Word coming from the Father.
What God does in gathering us together, God in fact does to all things at all times. The prayer reveals the Church as the consciousness of creation. The Church is creation remembering that it is created. It is the Church that remembers this, and, in fact, in the second half of the prayer, this knowledge, this memory of God’s action, becomes part of the offering, a holy and living sacrifice, a perfect echo of the first part about God’s creative work.
Immediately after this beginning, though, the prayer turns into an offering. The offering we make in Christ is one in which we ask God’s Word to sanctify our offering by sending the Holy Spirit down upon them. Here we see the two movements of the Word united. Our offering becomes part of Jesus’s offering because Jesus offers them and the Holy Spirit comes down upon them.
Our offering then becomes part of Christ’s offering, made once and for all time on the Cross. And so we have in the Eucharistic prayer, the memorial of the Last Supper, which instituted forever the pattern of life that Jesus gives us as food. Again, this pattern, this life who is Jesus, is given to us on the altar so that we can receive him. That is why we have the memorial acclamation; the act of faith, similar to the one that our Lady makes at the Annunciation.
After this, the prayer then switches. In Christ, the Word has come from the Father and returned to the Father. Creation has been saved. The offer of salvation has been made. Now, the focus switches to us. Will we participate or not? This is the drama facing creation: will those who are called truly become the Church? Will we really become the Word of God incarnate, by offering ourselves for the life of the World? We will look at this drama more next week.
So, we see in the Eucharistic prayer that double movement that makes up the Word of God is made incarnate in Jesus. Jesus extends this double movement in freedom to the church, who in turn extends it out into the world for the salvation of all. It is like a heartbeat that sends out ripples through creation, but ripples like soundwaves that invite all to the beating heart of creation who is Christ.
So, in our Mass today, let’s hear again the love of God that seeks to enter into our hearts. Let’s join our hearts to Christ and place our lives on the altar that he truly will make us an eternal offering to the Father. For the life of the world.
The prayer talks about God the Father looking on the offering we make in Christ and, because it is in Christ, seeing the face of his Son. We say that our offering is part of Christ’s offering, that our lives have become one with Christ, that we too intend to give our lives for our brothers and sisters. This is enormity of what we are saying when we say Amen. The Body of Christ dies out of love. We say yes to this, to your part in whenever we say amen. This is what we are asking for when we pray for Jesus to make us an eternal offering to the Father. It is only in becoming this that we gain eternal life. And it is only in doing this that we can bring peace to the world, which includes all those who have died. We ask God to confirm us in this faith and to help us in this offering which is what charity is.