The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross
~St Thomas Aquinas
Sacrifice is not merely giving up something pleasurable or desirable like eating fish instead of meat or giving up that second glass of wine, that is not sacrifice, that is mortification or self-denial. The real essence of Sacrifice entails giving up something, usually a part of yourself (or maybe your entire self) or something that benefits you for the sake of a higher or more noble purpose. The mass is first and foremost a sacrifice because it entails Christ giving up Himself for the higher purpose of our salvation, the ultimate form of love.
It seems however that for Catholics, this essence has been lost. The approach to mass in many places these days is that of a banquet or a feast (which explains the dancing, swaying and clapping). Certainly one could argue that because Christ has resurrected and has opened the possibility of heaven to all, that the memorializing of that sacrifice in mass is akin to a rejoicing in what it wrought, our salvation, hence a cause to celebrate. However, that result is only possible if we first recognize what event it is originally premised on. That action, which allows us to celebrate or rejoice, is the self-sacrifice of Jesus in Calvary, His pouring out of His blood for us.
This is precisely why Christ commanded us to memorialize His passion and death in the mass and not just go straight to the resurrection. We memorialize the sacrificial act daily and we celebrate the benefits of what that act gives us. What happens when we over-emphasize the feast rather than the propitiatory act is we lose the very essence that a Catholic is called to a life that shares in Christ’s sacrifice, His cross!
We underestimate the effect of losing this essence of the mass in our daily lives (a good reason to go to mass everyday). For example, the current discussion over Catholic families and the number of children they might have, has focused on methods of regulating, spacing and limiting births by moral methods. However in Humanae Vitae (2013 is its 45th year since its release), this admonition of finding natural and moral ways of regulating birth is premised on Paul VI’s emphasis on the obligation of Catholic parents to raise a family responsibly and limit the size only out of grave reasons.
Humanae Vitae: If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained…
We Catholics, who are involved in these discussions, are losing Catholic lay support in favor of artificial contraception because we have allowed the other side to set the tone of this discussion from one that should have emphasized the higher and more nobler purpose of self-giving love (sacrificing) in raising a good number of children, to the monetary advantages of limiting or, in the case of secular ideology, doing away with children altogether. These are issues which, while HV does not ignore, are not central to the argument and yet we treat it like they are. In Our discussions with fellow Catholics, we must be able to explain the reasons why it is in the nature of marriage to raise a family and why it is immoral to hinder this natural order for no good reason or allow it to be hindered by anyone like the state.
Responsible Parenthood (HV)
Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood…
With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions…
With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.
With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time…
…From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.
I chose to start this short commentary by emphasizing the mass as sacrifice because to forget this central tenet of our faith is to fail to relate it to all aspects of our Catholic life including desiring and actually raising the number of children we can responsibly support. Unfortunately, the term, “responsibly support”, to many Catholics these days, means to be able to afford the vacation home, the third car, take trips abroad every year or worse, be able to devote more time for work!
I think that one of the biggest missteps that Catholic parents have done was to accept the media-induced psychobabble of self-entitlement and self-gratification that has created a generation or two of Catholics who think that to sacrifice means having to just give up meat on Fridays of Lent or skipping the weekly shopping sprees. Perhaps if Catholic schools start re-emphasizing the real meaning of the mass and focus on the Cardinal Virtues and how it is applied to daily life, rather than spending all their energy on academic and sports excellence, the future generations of Catholics may yet regain what we have lost.
The cardinal virtues (CCC)
1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.”65 “Keep sane and sober for your prayers.”66 Prudence is “right reason in action,” writes St. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle.67 It is not to be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation…
1807 Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.” Justice toward men disposes one to respect the rights of each and to establish in human relationships the harmony that promotes equity with regard to persons and to the common good…
1808 Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. “The Lord is my strength and my song.”70 “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”71
1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion
(HV) Humanae Vitae
(CCC) Catechism of the Catholic Church