He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6: 56)
It all happens here at the altar. For those who want to know God, here he is. For those who want to be assured of his presence, here he is. For those who want to share the life of God, here he is. These wonderful graces are granted to those who, with honest intention and purity of heart, seek God in the most holy sacrament of the altar. Jesus promises that those who come to him here will know him and abide in him – and he never disappoints.
These are bold claims and as such something needs to be said about our presence here and our intentions (in the general sense). There is inevitably a familiarity about the matter because our celebrations are regular and many of us have been participating for decades. It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. There is some truth in that, but as an attitude contempt will not do – and indeed would be sacrilegious. To avoid that, it would be helpful to remind ourselves of the intentions of the Church gathered at the altar. What are we actually doing?
Before we begin we must remind ourselves that the sacrifice of the altar is the same as the sacrifice of the cross so the intentions which follow are properly those of our Lord, which we make our own as the baptised who meet in his name.
The first intention is adoration. As we come into the presence of our Lord we should be struck by his awesome majesty and this should bring us to our knees. As we recognise Jesus in his sacramental presence we are also invited to perceive his humility and to bow our heads in wonder. The Word is made flesh, and as a faithful servant he gives his life that we might live. William Temple wrote that adoration is the most selfless emotion of which human beings are capable. If we approach the altar in a spirit of purity and trust we will know that to be true.
The second intention is thanksgiving which could almost go without comment. We are granted an opportunity to give thanks for our being and for all that we have received in the incarnation of our Lord. Remember the obsecrations in the Litany.
By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By thine Agony and bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.
We give thanks for all these sacred events and then for those graces that we have received through the working of the Spirit, for specific gifts and for growth in virtue.
The third intention is propitiation. At the altar we are dealing with sacrifice. Jesus gave his life that we might live. His death was the perfect offering to the Father, an offering which takes away the sins of the world. Coming faithfully to the altar we offer ourselves and allow ourselves to be joined to the perfect sacrifice. When we receive the sacrament we know that we are forgiven and renewed.
The fourth intention is the impetration of grace. We all have needs whether spiritual or physical and recognising those needs and making them part of our prayerful intention as we come to the altar, we gain grace for ourselves. When we have received the sacrament and walk away from the altar we can be confident that we are no longer the same person because God has acted within us for our benefit and for his glory. There are so many graces that it would be impossible to list them all, but commonly the faithful are strengthened in faith, granted a renewed sense of belonging to the Lord and his Church, touched by the healing power of the Holy Spirit or granted a vision of the Kingdom of God and role they are called to play in it. Indeed the list is endless.
After such a list it would be churlish to ask what difference it makes being here, but there are three specific fruits that the priest has in mind at each celebration. First, there are the general fruits as the intention is made for the good of the whole Church, living and departed. This is a reminder that we gather as part of the Body of Christ and, as such, we are all in this together. Foremost in our minds might be the unity of God’s people and protection from the snares of the Devil.
Secondly, there are special fruits based on the individual intentions of those taking part. The priest brings many intentions held in the mind and on the heart. Particular ones may have been rehearsed silently during the preparation for the mass and then there are those many things and people commended to his prayers. I trust that you bring your own intentions as well.
Thirdly, the priest may ask for some special grace for himself. He stands at the altar ‘in persona Christi’ which is a great privilege requiring charity and humility, a thankful spirit and a special attention to the meaning and actions of the rite. At the very least he should ask for more of these virtues.
So it all happens here at the altar and it is indeed glorious. We celebrate the greatest of sacrifices and bring ourselves into God’s presence. We are fed with holy food and are changed into the people God wants us to be. What a privilege it is to be here! What a joy it is to find ourselves united to Jesus in this Holy Sacrament!
Father Andrew Burton SSC
Corpus Christi 2021