The Substance of Addresses Given by Two Members of the Oxford Mission Brotherhood of the Epiphany, at the Students Conference of the Syrian Christian Church, Held at Kottayam, May 1st--5th, 1916
Chapter VII. The Eucharistic Oblation of Christ with His Church
THE Sacrifice of Christ is offered to God in the Holy Eucharist. The Catholic Church has in all ages from the first been of one mind about that. But as to the meaning and purpose of the offering of Christ's Sacrifice there has been a great diversity of opinion, and alas! in many ages and in many parts of the Church the great mistake has been made of regarding Christ's Sacrifice as one which we can offer instead of our own. It has frequently been supposed that sinners who are not offering themselves for the service of God or man can offer Christ's Sacrifice instead, and that God will be pleased to accept it, and will graciously, for Christ's sake, overlook the fact that the sinner's own sacrifice is not being offered! No mistake could be greater. The whole object for which Christ offered Himself is that all men may at last through the power of His offering be able to give themselves to God and live for Him. So far as they do not do so, the Sacrifice of Christ does not avail for them. To think of it, therefore, as something which does instead of man's offering is to misunderstand completely the object for which Christ came and the nature of God's love for man. Yet, as I say, this error has been, and is, very frequent, and it leads to many grievous and most harmful superstitions which go far to prevent Christ's work for men having its due effect.
How far the error has prevailed in your Church [67/68] I do not know; but it is quite certain that we must all beware of it. It is the kind of error into which selfish man very easily falls. False religions without exception, so far as our knowledge goes, have always fallen into it. Men instinctively feel that some sacrifice is required of them, and they eagerly grasp at such religious systems as enable them to make it in the easiest possible way. The Jews on the whole were as bad as other nations about this, in spite of the teaching God gave them. They came to look on the Mosaic system of sacrifice as enabling them to offer sacrifices of animals, etc., which cost them little, but which would suffice to please God instead of the offering of themselves for His service! And, alas! it must be said that even the sacrifice of the Mass has been regarded by Christians in many parts of the Church and in many ages in much the same light
Lest we fall back into a like error and thereby fail to grasp God's great purpose of love for us, let us consider--
What the Sacrifice of Christ is and why God requires it.--Christ's Sacrifice is the perfect offering of Himself which He made, and makes ever, in our nature for the salvation of all men. To understand why God required this offering we must go back to the beginning of man's history. God made man "in His own image," i. e. made him a self-conscious being with the power to act as he chose, in order that the whole race of men might give themselves to God, and might live for and with Him for ever, sharers in His own glorious life of love which is perfect self-oblation. God could not have manifested His love more completely than in making a race of beings that they might be sharers in His own life and joy for ever, except indeed in what He has done since to make men still the sharers in His life although they had refused Him. And if man had from the first fulfilled God's purpose, true sacrifice or giving of himself to God would not have [68/69] been a painful one. On the contrary, he would have given himself most joyously and lovingly, as a bride gives herself to the husband she loves. No doubt Christ would have become Man to enable the race, as He does now, to share in His own perfect life of son-ship, which consists in the eternal act of joy and love by which He gives Himself to the Father in the Godhead.
But, alas! man refused to give himself to God and chose to live for himself instead. And this refusal brought into the race all the confusion, pain and sinfulness which have had such awful manifestations ever since. The whole race became so selfish--there was such an overwhelming tendency to sin in the whole of humanity--that no man could give himself to God perfectly, and no one could give himself at all without much struggle and pain. Then Christ became Man; made Himself part of this sinful race; put Himself at the head of it that He might conquer all the sinful tendency that was in the race; might, in spite of it all, offer Himself in human nature perfectly to God, i. e. fulfill all His will in perfect obedience, and so recreate human nature; and that He might then impart this re-made, holy human nature to all the other members of the race. The effect of this is to be that at last all men can offer themselves whole-heartedly to God, and so be sharers in His life of love for ever, that God's original purpose of love for mankind may be fulfilled in spite of man's refusal and the appalling wickedness which has resulted therefrom. The sole purpose, therefore, of Christ's Sacrifice of Himself in our nature is that all men may sacrifice or give themselves in like manner to God. So long as there is one man who does not do this, God's heart cannot be satisfied. He must go on working and pouring out His life for men till they have all been brought to be sharers in His own glorious life. For God cannot love men only a little. He must go on giving Himself to them till [69/70] they have attained to the highest possible condition of life and joy.
Let us now go on to consider--
How Christ's Sacrifice is offered in and through the Eucharist.--Through the Eucharist the Sacrifice of Christ which is offered to God becomes extended, i. e. it embraces the sacrifice of more people. Let me try to make this clear. On Good Friday when Christ's Sacrifice became, as in a true sense it did, complete on the Cross (i. e. when He had offered Himself in all parts of His human nature completely to His Father and so made the salvation of the whole of humanity possible), it was the offering of Christ Himself alone and no other members of the race shared in it. But since the time that our Lord began to impart His ascended human life to His disciples until this day, His offering has included the offerings of more and more disciples who, through the power of His life, have been able to offer themselves whole-heartedly to God. Think what is included now in the Sacrifice of Christ which is offered in the Eucharist all over the world. It includes the perfect self-oblation of all the Saints in heaven--already "a great multitude which no man could number out of every nation, and of all tribes, and peoples, and tongues." It includes the offerings of all the members of the Church in Purgatory, who are gradually realizing what living for Christ means, and are coming to do it more and more perfectly. It includes also the self-oblation of all Christ's faithful disciples on earth who, amid much temptation and many failures, are trying to live for Him. And as year succeeds year Christ's Sacrifice becomes more and more extended, more and more people give themselves to His service here, and then pass into the next world where they learn quickly, we may be sure, how to make their offering perfect. Thus gradually Christ works His way, as men will let Him, towards the final consummation to which the whole Church looks forward [70/71] when His Sacrifice will be complete, i. e. when it will include the whole redeemed race of man; when all who were opposed to Him shall have been subdued by His love; when death, the last enemy, shall be abolished. Then the whole purpose of God for man, for which He sent His Son to suffer and die, will be accomplished. Then Christ our Saviour will see the whole result of the travail of His soul, and will be satisfied. Then He, who on Good Friday committed Himself alone, as the first-fruits of Humanity, into His Father's hands, will deliver up the whole kingdom, the whole redeemed race with Himself as its Head, to God, even the Father, "that God may be all in all" (see I Corinthians xv. 20-28). That will be the final, perfect Eucharist, the joyous and altogether loving "sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving" of the whole race.
Meanwhile we are all called to give ourselves for God's service so that we may do all we can to bring about this glorious consummation. What, then, is the sacrifice we are to offer in each Eucharist? It is to include the sacrifice of ourselves. Otherwise we are not truly offering the sacrifice of Christ at all. St. Augustine taught this centuries ago, but the exposition of the Church's teaching which he gave in this matter has been strangely disregarded. In the Prayer of Oblation in our English Liturgy this truth is made plan. The priest says in the name of the congregation "and here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable holy, and lively sacrifice unto Thee. . . ." If we not only say that but also do it, then Christ's Eucharistic Gift to us has its destined fruit. If we do not offer ourselves along with the sacrifice of Christ, then we are but trying to offer something that may do instead of our offering of ourselves, which is, as I said, to defeat God's purpose for us. Let us ponder over this till we realize the reason [71/72] why Christ gives us Himself in Holy Communion--till we realize our true part in the great all-embracing Eucharistic Sacrifice. When we do, then we shall be ready to offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, for the service of God and our fellow men, relying on the life-giving power of Christ to enable us to persevere in our offering.