Words on the Word
Homily given at a votive Mass to Christ the Eternal High Priest on the final day of a retreat to the clergy of the diocese of Copenhagen.
Heb 10.4-10: I have come to do your will.
Mt 26.36-42: Not as I will, but as you will.
In much current discourse about the Church, isn’t the presupposed image of Christ almost exclusively this-worldly? We hear of Christ the encourager, healer, consoler, and gentle friend. On this basis we wish for a Church that is inclusive, affirming, and comforting. The images are not false. The aspiration is not false. But the perspective is insufficient.
If we do not enlarge it, we fall into that ancient trap, designated by St Paul, of ’emptying Christ’s Cross of power’ (1 Corinthians 1.17). Had God’s intention been only to fix, affirm, and comfort us, there would have been no need for blood to be shed. The Cross would have been but a shameful scandal — equal to the judgement that caused the death of Socrates.
But it is not so. We glory in the Cross! The Christ we know and confess is Christ crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2.2), who sacrificed himself — fully human, fully divine — to atone for us and, in death, to destroy our death. What depth of meaning in the statement the Epistle to the Hebrews puts on Christ’s lips: ‘I have come to do your will!’
It points towards a total oblation.
In that oblation you and I find our exemplar, challenge, and joy. Our priesthood is not a job we do; it is the life we live, a life in which everything can come to have a priestly character. We are called to offer sacramental gifts. That is not all, though. We are called to offer ourselves, to the end.
We are not only presbyters and pastors; we are priests, whose function and raison d’être is the offering of Christ’s sacrifice for the saving of the world. Into this great sacrifice we are drawn as participants. We offer it as representatives of Christ whose action is present.
I am not making this up. The Church reminds us of it often. Consider the Offertory Prayer at this Mass:
Concede nobis, quaesumus, Domine, haec digne frequentare mysteria, quia, quoties huius hostiae commemoratio celebratur, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur.
Grant us, we pray, Lord, to participate worthily in these mysteries, for as often as the commemoration of this Victim is performed, the work of our redemption is accomplished.
We might recall the exhortations the bishop addressed to us when we were ordained. After anointing our hands with holy chrism, he prayed that we might ‘sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God.’ On giving us the paten and chalice, which will carry the holiest substance earth can contain, he said: ‘Imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.’ Our hands have been sanctified to bless; our lives have been configured to Christ’s passion. Is this obvious in the way we live?
We are to be an offering of praise. Sin and grace, God and man meet in us. Through us, God would pour out his redemptive, sanctifying grace. We are pierced by a vertical and by a horizontal axis. The structure that results is cross-shaped. The point of intersection is our heart.
This is daunting. It is also wonderful. As we sing on Good Friday: ‘By the wood of the Cross, joy entered the world.’ Let us thank Christ our God and the world’s just Judge for setting us apart (cf. Exodus 29.1) and for letting us be his utterly. Let us pray to be men who bear witness to the Cross in the fullness of what it signifies. Let us resolve to be such. After all, that is the point of us. Amen.
Christ the High Priest. Icon by Solrunn Nes.