Sunday, December 24, 2017

Simbang Gabi 4: The Priest and the Sacrifice

DECEMBER 19, 2017

Jesus I trust in you!

The calculation of the date of the birth of the Lord is really based on the story told by the Gospel today. The Angel Gabriel announced the birth of St. John the Baptist to Zechariah as he was fulfilling his temple duties during the evening sacrifice on Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, which normally is offered in the month of September. Zechariah was serving in the temple because he was a priest. He came from the tribe of Levi which was the priestly tribe of Israel. Because he was a priest, Zechariah performed duties related to worship.

This is basically the work of a priest. In every religion, there are priests tasked to offer the highest act of worship, and that would be the offering of a sacrifice to the deity. The offering of the sacrifice was a sublime task because it was and continues to be the highest act of worship. The sacrifice is the highest act of worship because it involves the killing of an animal or a human victim in acknowledgment of the deity’s dominion over life and death.

Before the Levites were appointed as the priestly tribe, the offering of the sacrifice was the work of the head of the household, a work that was later passed on to the first-born son. After the worship of the golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai, the offering of the sacrifice was given as the task of the sons of Levi who were the only tribe that did not take part in the idolatrous worship.  And so the sons of Levi took turns in their temple duties and that was what Zechariah was doing when the angel appeared to him.
Christ’s offering of himself on the wood of the Cross is the most perfect sacrifice because what was offered to God was not the blood of any animal nor that of any human being but that of God’s only begotten Son. This perfect sacrifice of Jesus nullified all other sacrifices because nothing else will be as worthy of Divine Majesty as the offering of God’s Son. Thus, at the death of Jesus, the temple curtains were rent into two, marking the end of all sacrifices to give way to the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus.

Jesus perpetuated his sacrifice by establishing the Holy Mass during the Last Supper. On Holy Thursday, he established the Holy Eucharist and in order to perpetuate it, he ordained his apostles as priests. He had to ordain priests because only priests can offer the sacrifice. “God, who alone is the holy one and sanctifier, has willed to take men as allies and helpers to become humble servants in his work of sanctification. The purpose for which priests are consecrated by God through the ministry of the bishop is that they should be made sharers in a special way in Christ’s priesthood and, by carrying out sacred functions, act as his ministers who, through his Spirit, continually exercise his priestly function for our benefit in the liturgy.” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5.)
The offering of the Eucharist is the center of the life of the Church. “The other sacraments and all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself our Pasch and the living Bread which gives life to men through his flesh – that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit.” (PO, 5.)

Because of the supreme importance of the Mass in the life of the Church, the work of the priests is so important. Without priests, the sacrifice cannot be offered. Without the sacrifice, God cannot be worship in a way he rightfully deserves. “The Eucharistic celebration is the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides.” (PO, 5.) Let us assist at the most perfect Sacrifice. Let us teach our children to love the Mass. Loving the Mass, we will love God all the more because through the hands of the priest, we offer God the one whom he loves the most: Jesus Christ his Son.

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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