PART FOUR – THE CONSECRATION
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D., LL.D., Litt.D.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!”-Matt. 27:46.
THE Fourth Word is the Consecration of the Mass of Calvary. The first three Words were spoken to men, but the last four Words were spoken to God. We are now in the final stage of the Passion. In the fourth Word, in all the universe, there is but God and Himself. This is the hour of darkness. Suddenly out-of its blackness, the silence is broken by a cry-so terrible, so unforgettable, that even those who did not understand the dialect remembered the strange tones: “Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani.” They recorded it so, a rough rendering of the Hebrew, because they could never get the sound of those tones out of their ears all the days of their life.
The darkness which was covering the earth at that moment was only the external symbol of the dark night of the soul within. Well indeed might the sun hide its face, at the terrible crime of deicide. A real reason why the earth was made was to have a cross erected upon it. And now that the cross was erected, creation felt the pain and went into darkness. But why the cry of darkness? Why the cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was the cry of atonement for sin. Sin is the abandonment of God by man; it is the creature forsaking the Creator, as a flower might abandon the sunlight which gave its strength and beauty. Sin is a separation, a divorce- the original divorce from unity with God, whence all other divorces are derived.
Since He came on earth to redeem men from sin, it was therefore fitting that He feel that abandonment, that separation, that divorce. He felt it first internally, in His soul, as the base of a mountain, if conscious, might feel abandoned by the sun when a cloud drifted about it, even though its great heights were radiant with light. There was no sin in His soul, but since He willed to feel the effect of sin, an awful sense of isolation and loneliness crept over Him-the loneliness of being without God.
Surrendering the divine consolation which might have been His, He sank into an awful human aloneness, to atone for the solitariness of a soul that has lost God by sin; for the loneliness of the atheist who says there is no God, for the isolation of the man who gives up his faith for things, and for the broken-heartedness of all sinners who are homesick without God. He even went so far as to redeem all those who will not trust, who in sorrow and misery curse and abandon God, crying out: “Why this death? Why should I lose my property? Why should I suffer?” He atoned for all these things by asking a “Why” of God.
But in order better to reveal the intensity of that feeling of abandonment, He revealed it by an external sign. Because man had separated himself from God, He, in atonement, permitted His Blood to be separated from His Body. Sin had entered into the blood of man; and as if the sins of the world were upon Him, He drained the chalice of His Body of His sacred Blood. We can almost hear Him say: “Father, this is My Body; this is My Blood. They are being separated from one another as humanity has been separated from Thee. This is the consecration of My Cross.”
What happened there on the Cross that day is happening now in the Mass, with this difference: On the Cross the Savior was alone; in the Mass He is with us. Our Lord is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us. He therefore can never suffer again in His human nature. How then can the Mass be the re-enactment of Calvary? How can Christ renew the Cross? He cannot suffer again in His own human nature which is in heaven enjoying beatitude, but He can suffer again in our human natures. He cannot renew Calvary in His physical body, but He can renew it in His Mystical Body – the Church. The Sacrifice of the Cross can be re-enacted provided we give Him our body and our blood, and give it to Him so completely that as His own, He can offer Himself anew to His heavenly Father for the redemption of His Mystical Body, the Church.
So the Christ goes out into the world gathering up other human natures who are willing to be Christs. In order that our sacrifices, our sorrows, our Golgothas, our crucifixions, may not be isolated, disjointed, and unconnected, the Church collects them, harvests them, unifies them, coalesces them, masses them, and this massing of all our sacrifices of our individual human natures is united with the Great Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross in the Mass.
When we assist at the Mass we are not just individuals of the earth or solitary units, but living parts of a great spiritual order in which the Infinite penetrates and enfolds the finite, the Eternal breaks into the temporal, and the Spiritual clothes itself in the garments of materiality. Nothing more solemn exists on the face of God’s earth than the awe-inspiring moment of Consecration; for the Mass is not a prayer, nor a hymn, nor something said – it is a Divine Act with which we come in contact at a given moment of time.
An imperfect illustration may be drawn from the radio. The air is filled with symphonies and speech. We do not put the words or music there; but, if we choose, we may establish contact with them by tuning in our radio. And so with the Mass. It is a singular, unique Divine Act with which we come in contact each time it is represented and re-enacted in the Mass.
When the die of a medal or coin is struck, the medal is the material, visible representation of a spiritual idea existing in the mind of the artist. Countless reproductions may be made from that original as each new piece of metal is brought in contact with it, and impressed by it. Despite the multiplicity of coins made, the pattern is always the same. In like manner in the Mass, the Pattern-Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary-is renewed on our altars as each human being is brought in contact with it at the moment of consecration; but the sacrifice is one and the same despite the multiplicity of Masses. The Mass then is the communication of the Sacrifice of Calvary to us under the species of bread and wine.
We are on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, for both are the sustenance of life; therefore in giving that which gives us life we are symbolically giving ourselves. Furthermore, wheat must suffer to become bread; grapes must pass through the wine-press to become wine. Hence both are representative of Christians who are called to suffer with Christ, that they may also reign with Him.
As the consecration of the Mass draws near our Lord is equivalently saying to us: “You, Mary; you, John; you, Peter; and you, Andrew-you, all of you-give Me your body; give Me your blood. Give Me your whole self! I can suffer no more. I have passed through My cross, I have filled up the sufferings of My physical body, but I have not filled up the sufferings wanting to My Mystical Body, in which you are. The Mass is the moment when each one of you may literally fulfill My injunction: ‘Take up your cross and follow Me.’”
On the cross our Blessed Lord was looking forward to you, hoping that one day you would be giving yourself to Him at the moment of consecration. Today, in the Mass, that hope our Blessed Lord entertained for you is fulfilled. When you assist at the Mass He expects you now actually to give Him yourself.
Then as the moment of consecration arrives, the priest in obedience to the words of our Lord, “Do this for a commemoration of me,” takes bread in his hands and says “This is my body”; and then over the chalice of wine says, “This is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal testament.” He does not consecrate the bread and wine together, but separately.
The separate consecration of the bread and wine is a symbolic representation of the separation of body and blood, and since the Crucifixion entailed that very mystery, Calvary is thus renewed on our altar. But Christ, as has been said, is not alone on our altar; we are with Him. Hence the words of consecration have a double sense; the primary signification of the words is: “This is the Body of Christ; this is the Blood of Christ;” but the secondary signification is “This is my body; this is my blood.”
Such is the purpose of life! To redeem ourselves in union with Christ; to apply His merits to our souls by being like Him in all things, even to His death on the Cross. He passed through His consecration on the Cross that we might now pass through ours in the Mass. There is nothing more tragic in all the world than wasted pain. Think of how much suffering there is in hospitals, among the poor, and the bereaved. Think also of how much of that suffering goes to waste! How many of those lonesome, suffering, abandoned, crucified souls are saying with our Lord at the moment of consecration, “This is my body. Take it”? And yet that is what we all should be saying at that second: I give myself to God. Here is my body – take it. Here is my blood – take it. Here is my soul, my will, my energy, my strength, my property, my wealth – all that I have: it is yours – take it! Consecrate it! Offer it! Offer it with thyself to the Heavenly Father in other that He, looking down on this great sacrifice, may see only, His beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. Transmute the poor bread of my life into thy divine life, swirl the wine of my wasted life into thy divine spirit; unite my broken heart with thy heart; change my cross into a crucifix.
Let no my abandonment and my sorrow and my bereavement go to waste. Gather up the fragments, and as the drop of water is absorbed by the wine at the offertory of the Mass, let my life be absorbed in thine; let my little cross be entwined with the great cross so that I may purchase the joys of everlasting happiness in union with thee.
Consecrate these trial of my life which would go unrewarded unless united with thee; transubstantiate me so that like bread which is now thy body, and wine which is now thy blood, I too my be wholly thine. I care not if the species remain, or that, like the bread and the wine I seem to all earthly eyes the same as before. My station in life, my routine duties, my work, my family — all these are but the species of my life which remain unchanged; but the substance of my life: my soul, my mind, my will, my heart – transubstantiate them, transform them wholly into thy service, so that through me all may know how sweet is the life of Christ. Amen