A Sacrifice for the Liturgy
The celebration of the Eucharist, the Mass, is described, among other ways, as a sacrifice. The liturgy is the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice. The liturgy is not a repetition of Christ’s death, but it makes present the sacrifice of Christ which still goes on. In celebrating the liturgy, the sacrifice of the cross - Christ’s saving activity on our behalf - presented so vividly and dramatically on Calvary, is represented (re-presented) each time the community gathers to celebrate the sacred rites.
But Christ does not continually offer this sacrifice on his own. His sacrifice becomes the sacrifice of all of us, the Church, we who are now the Body of Christ. This means that our personal and corporate lives, along with the whole range of experiences that we have of good days and of sufferings, will now take on new meaning and value. All the parts of our lives are joined with the similar experiences of Christ’s life, and thus become a part of his total offering.
We might think of sacrifice as something that we give up, and it is indeed a good exercise in spirituality to contemplate the various and complex dimensions of our lives that we join to Christ’s offering of himself. Romano Guardini (1885-1968) was one of the most influential leaders of the liturgical movement in the first half of the last century. In his writings and reflections he pointed out that one of the sacrifices we offer in union with Christ is the personal adjustments we must make in order for the liturgy itself to work well. People coming to the liturgy must bend a little, sometimes a lot. He wrote that people who are individualistic - who may want “to do their own thing” - must sacrifice that particular disposition, and become accustomed to worshiping as a group or as a family. Other people are more socially disposed, preferring the joy of living and acting in groups. These people, Guardini wrote, “must learn to subscribe to the noble and restrained forms which etiquette requires in the House and at the Court of the Divine Majesty. In each case, the adjustment required is a part of the sacrifice that we join to Christ’s sacrifice.
The sacrificial adjustment is not necessarily easy. It is not easy for an individualistic person to renounce his or her own ideas and way of life, to surrender personal independence, to follow the lead of the liturgy and pray with others, never alone. It is not always easy to divide our existence with others, even for an hour. Likewise, people who are more socially directed may want the liturgy to be too much of a human celebration, and the fellowship of the liturgy may appear to them too frigid and restricted. In either case some self-surrender is necessary, and self-surrender, after all, is at the heart of Christ’s sacrifice.
Liturgy is an act of the believing community, and Guardini describes the two thing that the liturgical assembly exacts from the individual: “The first is sacrifice, which consists in the renouncement by the individual of everything in him which exists merely for itself and excludes others, while and in so far as he is an active member of the community: he must lay self aside, and live with, and for, others, sacrificing to the community a portion of his self-sufficiency and independence. In the second place he must produce something; and that something is the widened outlook resulting from his acceptance and assimilation of a more comprehensive scheme of life than his own - that of the community.”