Today’s 1st Reading uses vocabulary associated with priest, sacrifice, offerings and forgiveness of sin. How are all these ideas connected?
The point of the 1st Reading is to compare the priests of the Old Covenant with the priesthood of Christ. This is the essential difference between the two: the priests offered animal sacrifices; Jesus offers a self- sacrifice.
On the Cross, Jesus gave his all: body, heart and soul; life and death. He held nothing back! He allowed his divinity to be humiliated. There was nothing more for him to give us! Since Jesus is God made flesh, we can definitively say that it is God who died on the cross for our sake. This sacrifice proves that God’s heart is full of unlimited, unending and unchanging love for us. After such a gift, it is impossible for us to be estranged from God.
As sinners, we stood condemned before God. However, on the Cross, Jesus took our place. Having shed his blood for us, how can God possibly reject us? As a result of Jesus’ self-donation, our sins are totally forgiven, and we are reconciled to God.
The animal sacrifices of the priests brought no such forgiveness of sin. They were imperfect. The people were still alienated from God. Thus, the priests’ sacrifices were constantly repeated. Since Christ’s sacrifice restored our relationship with God once and for all, it is perfect and needs never to be repeated. Sin has been dealt with for all time. Forgiveness from God has been truly achieved. There is no longer any need for further offering for sin.
The point is that Jesus’ single offering is superior to the many offerings made by many priests. Since the priests’ sacrifices occur on a continual basis, the letter to the Hebrews states that they “stand day after day at their service”. However, Christ’s sacrifice is completely finished. Consequently, he has the privilege to “sit at the right hand of God”.
This is the same sacrifice that the Church continues to offer each time that the Eucharist is celebrated. That’s the reason for which the Eucharist is referred to as the “Sacrifice of the Mass”. The greatest sacrament of forgiveness is not the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. The greatest sacrament of forgiveness is the Mass. (We have to do a better job of teaching this truth.) The vocabulary used during the Mass stresses this central idea that Jesus is the perfect priest who offers the perfect sacrifice that gives total forgiveness for all of humanity’s sins.
At three different times during the Mass, we refer to Christ as “seated at the right hand of the Father”. During the Penitential rite, one of the invocations is: “You are seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us; Lord, have mercy”. During the Gloria, we recite: “You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us”. During the Creed, we pray: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty”.
Jesus’ love is so infinite that, not only did he die for us, he rose from the dead for us, and seated at God’s right hand, he pleads our cause before God. Jesus eternally advocates for us, the people for whom he gave himself up to death.
It’s important to point out that, at the Mass, Jesus does not die again. But his sacrifice, his total gift of self, is present once more in an unbloody manner. During the Mass, Jesus is present with the same mind, heart and attitude that he had when he walked to Calvary. Through the bread and wine, he gives himself totally to us. He becomes intimate with us. He literally immerses himself within us and shares his own divine life with us.
Since a God who has shown such profound love is in command, how can there be anything but a happy outcome for those who accept him? Our past has been marked by God’s limitless love; our present is marked by that same love. Our future will surely be marked by God’s perfect love.
This good news is the reason for which our hope is genuine and real. We have nothing to fear. There is no need to be worried or anxious about the future, even in the midst of a deadly pandemic. The only way to live is to live fully today and fully every day by following the example of Jesus – to offer the gift of ourselves through our love and forgiveness.
Pope Francis has emphasized this same message in one of his Palm Sunday homilies: “Jesus comes to save us. We are called to choose his way: the way of service, of giving, of forgetfulness of ourselves”.
As our Mass continues, let us ask for the grace to turn to Jesus with great confidence and trust when crises, upheavals or struggles occur in our personal lives or in our life as a community. In those moments, may we allow Jesus’ perfect love to strengthen us and to do the only thing that matters – to live as his faithful disciples and to place the rest in the hands of him who is seated at God’s right hand!
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
January 27, 2021