[Like many of my posts, this is adapted from my part of a discussion with a friend.]
I think the element of sacrifice is insufficiently emphasized nowadays, even though the Sacrifice of the Mass is what our entire religion hangs on. The very purpose of the Church is to join people to Christ so that they can participate in his continual offering of himself to the Father, and thereby be saved.
This is what makes participation at Mass a participation in the Heavenly liturgy: The fact that we are participating in one and the same sacrifice on earth which Christ continually offers in Heaven. The whole life of the Church, including our individual lives, is one long, continuous offering to the Father, made acceptable by virtue of being united with Christ’s offering of himself.
Communion has no meaning aside from being a participation in the sacrifice offered on the altar. As St. Paul wrote,
“16Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? … 18Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? … 20 but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.” (1 Cor. 10:16ff.)
St. Paul’s point in this context is that Christians should not eat meat sacrificed to idols because when you eat of a sacrifice you are participating in the sacrifice — you are ratifying it, approving it and communing with the “god” to whom the sacrifice is being offered. As Christians we cannot commune with both God and demons.
You see the point: Communion is not simply a matter of all of us eating the same bread and thereby being united. The point of Communion, and the reason it unites us, is that each of us who eats it is thereby joining in the sacrifice in which the Body was offered — we are not merely united, we are united in sacrifice.
Thus referring to Mass as a celebration and a supper and a thanksgiving, without stressing the sacrificial element, overlooks the essential point. It’s not merely a supper, it’s a sacrificial supper; not merely a thanksgiving but a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
This is the primary thing that differentiates us from the Protestants: They have no priesthood and therefore no continual sacrifice, and absenting themselves from that continual offering is the main thing that makes Protestantism a danger to one’s soul.
I suspect that an effort to make Catholic doctrine palatable to Protestants, around the time of Vatican II, is what led to the de-emphasis of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and everything connected with it. Protestants have an aversion to the idea of continually offering sacrifice to the Father and thereby averting his anger and satisfying his justice, as if we were primitive people sacrificing oxen or virgins. But in fact that is what we are doing, the difference being that our sacrifice is truly efficacious and actually able to avert God’s anger and satisfy his justice, since it is a pure sacrifice offered by One who is God himself.
I feel that we must begin to re-emphasize this fact. The lack of understanding on this point is part of what makes our Masses so insipid and often ridiculous. When you realize that you are literally offering sacrifice to appease a living God who is offended by sin, it’s harder to take it lightly. (This is where the Traditional Latin Mass excels — not reverence and solemnity for its own sake, but in recognition of the gravity of what is taking place.) Conversely, if the mood at Mass is one of frivolity and fun, is that not insulting to Christ? If you were standing at the foot of the Cross, would you clap and dance and tell jokes?
We mustn’t continue softening this doctrine to avoid offending Protestants, at the cost of failing to instruct our people in the essentials of their own Faith, and watering down our liturgy.