Sunday Reflection: Fr. Joseph Briody, Professor of Sacred Scripture
If you glance through the album in the front parlor of Saint John’s Seminary—the D’arcy Room—you will find, among happy ordination photos, the souvenir card of a young Fr. D’arcy. It bears the words: “In memory of that day on which was given to me—what is not given to angels—that I should offer God to God.” These words capture the Eucharistic life of a priest. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice the priest renews Jesus’s offering to the Father—of God to God. In all his pastoral labors the priest hopes to draw many people to that life-giving Sacrifice.
I was reminded of this recently when a young man approached me after Mass in the parish. Father of a growing family, he had been active in the Church all his life. What he said stopped me in my tracks. He had learned (from a podcast) that the Mass is a sacrifice and there, most of all, we offer ourselves with Christ to the Father. It was news to him: he had never heard it before. This insight completely changed how he understood the Mass—and how he lived his life.
The Holy Eucharist is at the heart of our Catholic and seminary life. Some seminarians identify the first stirrings of a priestly vocation with an increased appreciation of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They were drawn by the Eucharistic Lord and the gifts he gives. This downward movement of gifts—from God to us—stirs something deep within, giving rise to gratitude and the desire to “give something back” to God. There is also an upward movement in the Mass. In this upward movement, we join ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice. We give God our love and will, joys and sorrows, fidelity and surrender. We give ourselves back to him.
Our most important active participation in the Mass is that we offer ourselves with Jesus. We place ourselves on the paten with the host; we place ourselves with the drop of water in the chalice. Bread and wine provided by the faithful carry echoes of human toil, sweat, tears, and generosity. Placed on the altar by a priest, gifts of bread and wine become offerings, set aside for sacrifice to God. These offerings then become the adorable Body and Blood of Christ, the complete and perfect Sacrifice in whom the Father delights. The most important thing we do at Mass is join ourselves with Christ in his loving self-offering.
Priests—men of Communion—seek to bring people to Christ’s Eucharistic Sacrifice which is also our sacrifice. It is “my sacrifice and yours.” The Mass is not just an event to be attended but a sacrifice to be offered and lived. It changes us. Saint John’s Seminary prepares priests who are with people in their lives, sorrows, and joys; priests who stand by people as John stood by the Cross; priests who give their lives to give Christ to others; priests who accompany people, leading them gently and gradually to the Eucharistic altar—and ultimately to heaven.
This weekend the Scripture readings present Jesus as the Priest-Servant whose sufferings render many pleasing to the Father. Through priestly hands, the efforts and loving acts of the faithful are gathered up into the one great Sacrifice of the Cross made present at every Mass. Joined to Christ’s perfect act of love, our sacrifices take on eternal significance. No wonder the news that we offer ourselves with Christ at Mass changed my young friend’s way of praying the Mass—and of living his life!