By Father Roch Kereszty
Special to The Texas Catholic
The liturgy of the Eucharist in the strict sense begins when the bread and wine are brought to the altar.
What, then, is the meaning of preparing these gifts for the sacrifice? Ultimately, the bread and wine come from the earth, which produces the grain and the grapes. Thus, they represent the whole material universe. At the same time the bread and wine also represent “the work of human hands,” — that is, all our efforts by which we build up a human civilization. In this enterprise individuals work together, each in his own way, sowing and harvesting, grinding the grain into flour, baking the hosts, packaging and mailing them and finally carrying the ready-made hosts to the altar. In a similar way many people cooperate in planting the vine stock, collecting the grapes, pressing out the grape juice and preparing the barrels in which the juice will turn into wine, ready to be served at the altar.
Those who prepare the bread and wine invest part of themselves in their work. We see now the rich meaning of the gifts. By placing bread and wine on the altar we intend to return to God his creation, as well as all the good things our human civilization has produced. Even more importantly, we symbolically give over to God our very selves, and all those people we want to offer at the altar along with ourselves.
Yet, all this is only preparation, anticipation, not the perfect sacrifice. The only perfect sacrifice, worthy of God the father, is the gift of self of his own son. In the ideal human family, the son knows the goodness of his father much more deeply than anyone outside the family and loves him in a uniquely intense way.
Regarding God, only the son knows fully his father’s goodness and thus only the son loves, worships and praises God as the father deserves to be loved, praised and worshiped. Moreover, only the most holy son can offer an overabundant atonement for our sins.
Briefly, only God can offer a perfect sacrifice to God. Even if we were sinless, we could not offer such a sacrifice, since we would not have the infinite love that the infinitely good Father deserves. But if this is indeed so, you may ask, then why bother? Why should we try to offer a sacrifice to God if only the son can do it?
We should, because God takes our effort of offering a sacrifice to him seriously: his son gave over to the church his own sacrifice so that we may unite ours to his. This is expressed on the level of sacramental signs by the fact that God wants us to bring the bread and wine to the altar. He does not set them aside or annihilate them but transforms our bread and wine into his son’s crucified and risen body and blood. He tells us: “Look, I accept your efforts to give me the cosmos and yourselves in sacrifice; I take the symbols of your gift and transform them into the perfect self-gift of my son.”
This change is traditionally called transubstantiation, because after the consecration the bread and wine are no longer ordinary bread and wine; they have become the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation, that is, the risen Christ’s sacrificed body and blood. This change of the elements aims at our change: we will not cease to remain human beings, but, if we cooperate, we become more and more conformed to the Son, and thus, an everlasting gift to the father through the son, with the son and in the son. In this way are we accepted by God with the same love with which he loves his own son.