THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon) (10)

“Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them,…”

When you offer someone a gift, no matter how perfect and thoughtful it may be, the recipient is not obliged to accept it and may even be suspicious of why the gift was offered. A gift establishes or acknowledges a bond, but so does a bribe or a purchase. When we offer something to Our Father, he doesn’t just look at the offering, but at the heart that is offering it. It is the heart that determines whether the offering is a gift or an attempt at a bribe.

“…as once you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, …”

In the Roman Canon we try to express in what spirit we are offering the holy and spotless victim to Our Father using other figures from salvation history who really showed the love for God behind their sacrifice and also foreshadowed the sacrifice of God’s Son that is occurring in this moment of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Abel (see Genesis 4:1-10) offered the best of his possessions to the Lord: the choicest sheep from his flock, which was his livelihood, and their best portions. Genesis recalls that “the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering.” In contrast, his brother Cain, a farmer, simply offered the Lord some produce, not his best produce; the story doesn’t say that explicitly, but the Lord’s reaction confirms it: “for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” Cain becomes angry and dejected, and the Lord encourages him to do “well,” not just go through the motions, if he wants acceptance. Cain ignores the Lord’s advice and not only commits the first murder in salvation history by killing his brother Abel, but also becomes a pariah for doing so, unaccepted everywhere, simply because he didn’t think the Lord was entitled to the best. In the Roman Canon we recall “Abel the just”: a just man’s death directs our thoughts back to Christ, the most just man slain for being pleasing to God by those who weren’t.

Abraham was an old man with no property and no children, and the Lord revealed himself to him in a world full of “gods” and promised him a land to call his own and a great lineage (see Genesis 12:1–3). He set out from Haran at seventy-five years of age based on a promise. His faith in this promise had rocky moments, but finally the Lord made good on his promise and blessed him with his son Isaac. Abraham had waited twenty-five years (see Genesis 17:17–19) and suffered greatly waiting for his son. He was delighted, but the Lord saw a danger and decided to test Abraham by asking him to sacrifice the son for whom he had waited and suffered for so long (see Genesis 22:1–2). As he took his son up a mountain in Moriah Isaac asked him a question that must have cut him to the heart (see Genesis 22:7-8). Isaac knew they were going up the mountain to worship and sacrifice, but he didn’t know his role: “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responds with a profound act of fact and faith: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Abraham wasn’t exactly lying for two reasons. First, because his little son Isaac was provided by God, perfect in the eyes of his father, and the greatest sacrifice he could give, as blameless as a lamb. Second, because his response could also be an act of faith that the Lord, in the end, would not ask him to go through with sacrificing Isaac. In the end, the second reason prevailed, and the Lord provided another sacrifice and blessed Abraham for his obedience that was willing to sacrifice something so precious to him. The Lord spared Abraham’s son, but on the Cross he did not spare his own Son for our sake, a Son innocent, loved, and blameless, just like Isaac. Some Church Fathers see Jesus as being the real Lamb that was sacrificed instead of Isaac.

Melchizedek is an enigmatic figure in the Old Testament who seems to come out of nowhere, the king of Salem and “priest of God Most High” (see Genesis 14:18). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews notes that Melchizedek is literally translated as “king of righteousness,” and Salem is translated as “peace” (see Hebrews 7:2). So we’re faced with a king of righteousness and peace who is also priest. Is that starting to sound familiar? In the Letter to the Hebrews a connection is observed: “[Melchizedek] is without father or mother or genealogy, and has neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest for ever” (Hebrews 7:3). Notice that Melchizedek is like Christ, not the other way around. Christ is not only the victim being offered, he is offering himself as the victim: “when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come… he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11–12).

“…a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.”

As the author of the Letter of the Hebrews points out, sacrifices until Our Lord had been attempts of resolving something with God, but by substituting a lesser thing on behalf of a greater one: an animal, some food, wine poured out in libation. Only the best was acceptable, not just because of its objective merit, but because it was the best in the heart of the one offering it. In our case something much greater is being offered on behalf of something much lesser: Our Lord is offering a sacrifice that is meant to atone for our sins, sins that would have called for us to die in sin if Our Lord had not offered himself instead.

We can’t just think of Our Lord or his offering as our lucky day, finding a windfall for a big payoff, with that windfall only mattering to us to the degree that it gets us out of a jam. We can offer the most perfect, holy, spotless victim in the world, but if we don’t appreciate it as such, that offering will not be accepted kindly by God on our behalf, because to us it is not the best we can offer. The Lord put Abraham to the test because he was idolizing Isaac more than he was idolizing God. Do we love Our Lord for being our offering to the Heavenly Father? Do we offer him to the Father in love and as the most precious thing we possess? God is the only one whom we should truly idolize, to his glory and for love.

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