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THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST: Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon) (9)
“Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord…”
The word “Therefore” makes everything that follows in the Roman Canon hinge on what has come before, but also salvation history. On the simplest level “Therefore” just refers to what we just heard in the Institution Narrative: that we are celebrating the Eucharist in memory of Our Lord, just as he instructed us to do on the evening of the Last Supper.
Why do we celebrate the Eucharist? Not just because Our lord instructed us to, but also to remember and be embraced by the Paschal Mystery that culminated in what we now celebrate during the Sacred Paschal Triduum (Holy Thursday to Easter Vigil). The Paschal Mystery extends from that night, to the present, and continues into the future. The “Therefore” is not just due to one command on one evening: we celebrate it because of the Lord’s Passion, death, and Resurrection. We also celebrate it due to his Ascension. As he ascended into Heaven Our Lord promised us he’d be with us until the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20). Matthew’s account doesn’t make specific mention of Ascension, but from the other Evangelists we know this was the moment. There’s no contradiction: Our Lord’s now in Heaven, but he is also with us through the Eucharist that he left us to celebrate in memory of him.
In Luke’s account (Luke 24:50-53) Our Lord begins to bless them as he ascends and continues blessing them all the way into Heaven. The disciples respond to his Ascension with worship and joy, returning to Jerusalem and “continually in the temple blessing God.” In this moment Our Lord continues to bless us through the Eucharist, and we remember with worship and joy not only what Our Lord has done for us, but that he is the Son of God and Our Lord.
“…we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, …”
It’s only in faith and in memory of the mysteries of Christ that lead us to this moment that we can look upon the Bread and Chalice on the altar and see them not just as food, but as a Victim to be offered. The age-old quandary of those trying to please someone they love is what to give the person who has everything. If we face that dilemma for a parent, a spouse, a child, it becomes an order of magnitude more challenging when we try to please the God who is everything, has created everything, and has need of nothing. If Our Lord hadn’t told us what to offer and become that offering we’d be eternally stuck, and not just metaphorically.
This pure victim is offered entirely as victim. He offers himself completely and unreservedly for that purpose: to be offered to God. In a news piece once on deceptive labeling someone noted that you could package sewage and label it, “100% pure”; after all, it is completely, authentically, and totally sewage. The real question to ask is, “pure what?” Our Lord in his self-offering is completely, authentically, and totally sacrificed for our sake.
This holy victim is something that would be pleasing to God, who is holy and expects nothing less. Our Lord taught his disciples not to throw pearls to swine (see Matthew 7:6), and the reverse is also true: you don’t throw something worthy only of a pig to God. It’s no coincidence that Our Lord also teaches the parable of the Pearl of Great Price when he describes the Kingdom of Heaven: this victim is so precious that he is priceless, and that makes him the perfect gift for Our Heavenly Father. Nothing pleases the Father more than holiness.
This spotless victim is not the black sheep of the family either. A pearl has value to the degree that it is perfectly formed and without flaw. Our Lord as the Son is perfectly formed and flawless, always has been, and always will be, but in his Incarnation he has also completely and perfectly grown and matured in manhood and done his Father’s will to the letter. No worthy Father would consider anything more precious than his own family. There’s nothing in this victim that would make the Father raise an eyebrow; he’s not only his precious Son, but a good Son in everything.
“the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.”
We’ve considered how valuable this victim is to God, but we must also remember how precious and priceless he is to us. God already has eternal life, and he is in no need of salvation. For us this victim is indispensable to achieve both. His perfection as victim also consists of how perfect an offering we consider him. A gift between two people who care about each other strengthens and establishes a bond between them. We’re offering Our Lord to Our Father, but in the offering Our Lord, who is with us until the close of the age, is also presenting us to his Father. We’re giving the greatest gift to Our Father that we’ve been given, and the bonds from that exchange should always fill us with love and devotion to Father and Son.