At the end of the third hour that our Blessed Lord hung on the cross, He died. The moment in which He died is an eternal moment in that it TRANSCENDS time because His love is eternal, redeeming everyone who has ever lived or will live. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in # 616:
“It is LOVE ‘to the end’ that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now ‘the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.’ No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all.”
That eternal moment also remains IN time as the Eucharist. The Mass is the moment of His death brought into our lives in a concrete and physical way. It is physical in so far as the bread and wine are physical. When they become His Body and Blood, they become sacramental. This means that they are truly His Body and Blood, made available to our senses under the appearances of bread and wine. The event by which Christ’s priest transforms bread and wine into His Body and Blood is called the consecration. It provides us with a link to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross two thousand years ago. When His priest holds up the host and chalice and says: “Through Him and with Him and in Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is your Almighty Father, forever and ever,” the people gathered there answer with the Great Amen. At this point that prayer becomes theirs as well. The fact that the bread and wine are separate signifies His death. A body separated from its’ blood is a dead body. So at Mass, the experience of His loving sacrifice on Calvary becomes our personal experience thousands of years later. It is the act of His sacrificial love that we celebrate at Mass. The Eucharist is our link with the sacrifice on Calvary. Through it that sacrifice becomes our personal experience.
When the Protestant reformers dropped the understanding to the sacrifice of the Mass, it wasn’t long before they began to see the Eucharist as merely a symbol and nothing more. It is the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist that demands belief in the Sacrifice of the Mass! We can’t have one without the other.
As for your concern about receiving a dead Christ, we can only receive the living Christ. He died once and will never die again. Remember that He died only in His human nature. As God, He couldn’t die. It is His sacrificial love that transcends time. The fruit of that love is His death as evidenced by the Eucharist.
Since Christ’s love is eternal, so is His sacrifice. At Mass we experience this eternal love as His sacrificed Body and Blood!
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P;