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Preface I of the Most Holy Eucharist
For more information on the Preface in general, see The Eucharistic Prayer (2) and The Eucharistic Prayer (3)
This preface is used for the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, but also for other celebrations showing our devotion to the Eucharist, including Corpus Christi.
The Sacrifice and the Sacrament of Christ
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sacrament as “An efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit” (see “Sacrament” in the Glossary). A sign implies something visible or perceivable (objects, gestures, speech), while grace involves something invisible (spiritual, often only recognizable in faith). “Efficacious” is a word not often used today, but the correct one for describing a sacrament: one definition is “having the power to produce a desired effect” (see “efficacious” in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th edition). A sacrament is not just a static sign of something, like a traffic light; it is a sign that produces an effect beyond simply communicating information. We may perceive objects, gestures, and prayers while a sacrament is celebrated, but what we believe is that through those objects, gestures, and prayers the Holy Spirit is actively offering us divine life, because Christ taught us those objects, gestures, and prayers (albeit not down to the last detail) and promised they would bring us new life.
Case in point: the Eucharist. At the Last Supper the Lord instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. He showed bread and wine to his Apostles and said, “this is my Body…this is my Blood…do this in memory of me.” The Apostles saw bread and wine, but they believed that in some mysterious way it was the Body and Blood of Christ that they needed for eternal life. Our Lord had taught them that, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53–55).
In the Eucharist this teaching is explained: his actual body and blood were not really a morally acceptable food, which is why he insisted that his body and blood were “food indeed”: with the words, actions, and bread and wine in the celebration of the Eucharist (the sign), we eat the Lord’s flesh and drink his blood (a grace, invisible but present), so that we may have eternal life (the efficacy). We see bread and wine, but with the words of consecration that bread and wine transubstantiate into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. It’s no longer bread and wine, although it appears to be, and every scientific test would say nothing has changed, but in faith we know it is now Christ himself, body, blood, soul, and divinity, sacramentally present among us.
“For he is the true and eternal Priest, who instituted the pattern of an everlasting sacrifice and was the first to offer himself as the saving Victim, commanding us to make this offering as his memorial. As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us, we are made strong, and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us, we are washed clean.”
Our Lord, Our High Priest, offered himself to the Father on our behalf on the Cross and he continues to do so in the Eucharist. Bishops and priests today participate in his priesthood; he reopened the floodgate of pleasing offerings after eons of failed and fruitless attempts due to sin and the Fall. Man was not right with God, and, as much as he tried, he could not offer a sacrifice perfectly enough to make expiation for what he and the rest of the human race did by turning their backs on God. Our Lord came to resolve the dilemma: perfect Son, born of the Virgin Mary, and offering himself perfectly, once and for all, to the Father for our redemption.
His sacrifice was built to last: historically he may have sacrificed himself on Calvary, but sacramentally the fruits of that sacrifice reach us in every celebration of the Eucharist. We may partake of a small host and sip a bit of wine, but in faith we know we’re partaking of a heavenly feast. Let’s remember that every time we receive Holy Communion.
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