Rev. Donald Rooney is the Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the Pastor at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, Va. Below is his latest message from the office. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact his office.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Lately as we prepare to receive the new texts of the Mass, certain phrases come to mind repeatedly, all very similar to the texts we’ve used for the past forty years. From the third Eucharistic Prayer, “May this sacrifice of reconciliation, we pray, O Lord, advance the peace and salvation of all the world…” From the fourth:
“…we offer you his Body and Blood, the sacrifice acceptable to you which brings salvation to the whole world. Look, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice which you yourself have provided for your Church, and grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of your glory."
“Therefore, Lord, remember now all for whom we make this offering: especially your servant, Benedict, our Pope, our bishop and the whole Order of Bishops, all the clergy, those who make this offering, those gathered here before you, your entire people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart.”
It occurs to me that there are several groups considered here, and all held in the communion of the heart of Christ. There are firstly those gathered together into one by the partaking of the one Eucharist, clearly the purpose of which is to become the sacrifice itself. The purpose of offering the merit of Christ’s salvific act united with our own intentionality is the leaven by which unity of the Church will be restored: for the clergy as well as those making the offering, but also all of his people (present and not present, presumably) and all who seek him with a sincere heart.
Key here is the fact of offering that lies at the heart of active participation in the Catholic Tradition. Once I was at the consecration of a Catholic bishop and some ecumenical clergy friends were present. I felt torn: for a moment I felt I might not receive Communion in solidarity with those who were not able, but I came quickly to my senses. It would be like denying what resources you have to those in need. So I said to the pastor next to me, “Today I will offer the benefit of my reception of Communion for you.” He looked back at me, a bit blankly, and said, “What do you mean?
I tried to explain. Making the offering, we become the sacrifice poured out for the Church: it forms us as Church but also makes us (in Christ) the catalyst by which reconciliation is found for those not yet in communion. I explained how Masses are offered for intentions. How we can even offer up daily prayers and life experiences for the intention of others and the salvation of souls. I was fascinated to realize that, somewhere in the story of ecclesial communions as it has played out over the centuries, this foundational understanding of participation seems to have been lost. It is the cornerstone of our priestly identity in Christ, head and members, as the common priesthood of Christ into which all are anointed at Baptism.
Was making the offering the baby that was thrown out with the bathwater following the abuse of indulgences at the time of the Reformation?
If you boil it down, it could be as simple as saying that there is something real to be offered here, and it is salvific, and it is given to us as our primary ministry as followers of Christ. Certainly, we listen and live and proclaim his Word.But we also become sharers in the central ministry of Christ which, deeper even than his ministry of charity and healing, was his ministry of offering himself for us and for our salvation. It is the ultimate self-help program ordained from before the commencement of time.
It might be easy to say, “I dedicate my life to the unity of Christ in his Church,” but it is still my life. It is entirely another thing to say, “I offer my life.” The nature of sacrifice adds a dimension of finality. There is not anything left. This is the new covenant of Christ with us at Calvary, this is the covenant of a wife and husband in the sacred bond of sacramental marriage, this is the dying to self that takes place also when a man lies prostrate on the floor of the cathedral and the Church sings the litany with all the saints. The man stands, is anointed, and is priest, no longer who he had been. I have actively decided to offer my life, as the prayers of the Mass say, for Pope and bishop, for all those present and not present, and all those others “who seek God with a sincere heart” in union with that perfect and acceptable sacrifice of “the one Bread, and one Chalice,” “a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of glory.” And we should let our sisters and brothers in Christ know that they are included in our offering every day. Consider offering the Mass for the Christian church down the street. I’ve suggested that a husband or wife offer their reception of Holy Communion entirely for their spouse who may not be Catholic so that, through them as instrument, the full power of the presence of Christ might truly be theirs. We believe in what we have, we need to use it and offer it for the benefit of all.
As children, one of the most familiar things my mom would say to us is “offer it up.” When we were confronted with something difficult, boring or tedious, or painful, we were accustomed to this spiritual interpretation of experiencing life. It was clear that we were to offer it up for a particular intention: for someone, even if it was the souls in purgatory. It is a very different thing from saying “get over it.” In our faith we are challenged to follow the example of Jesus who didn’t avoid suffering and go around the Cross, but went right through it and by making it offering brought about the salvation of the world. This aspect of offering now needs to make its direct entrance to our understanding of “Spiritual Ecumenism,” which has been so prevalent in the writings of the Church these past twenty years. It is the exercise of who we are, at its best, in the common priesthood of Jesus Christ. And I believe it is the key to moving ahead in our work of unity among all who seek him with a sincere heart.
Hope your summer is refreshing, and fruitful.
Rev. Donald J. Rooney,
Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs