Definitions

ATONEMENT. The satisfaction of a legitimate demand. In a more restricted sense it is the reparation of an offense. This occurs through a voluntary performance that outweighs the injustice done. If the performance fully counterbalances the gravity of the guilt, the atonement is adequate. And if the atonement is done by someone other than the actual offender, but in his stead, it is vicarious.

Applied to Christ the Redeemer, through his suffering and death he rendered vicarious atonement to God for the sins of the whole human race. His atonement is fully adequate because it was performed by a divine person. In fact, it is superabundant because the positive value of Christ’s expiation is actually greater than the negative value of human sin. (Etym. Middle English at one, to set at one, to reconcile; of one mind, in accord.)


COMMUNION. In Christian parlance the most sacred expression for any one of different forms of togetherness. As communion between God and the human soul in the divine indwelling; between Christ and the recipient of the Eucharist in Holy Communion; among all who belong to the Mystical Body in heaven, purgatory, and on earth in the Communion of Saints; and among those who belong to the Catholic Church as a communion of the faithful. (Etym. Latin communio, sharing unity, association; participation.)


CONSECRATION. The words of institution of the Eucharist, pronounced at Mass by which is accomplished the very sacrifice that Christ instituted at the Last Supper. The formula of consecration is uniform for all the approved canons of the Mass and reads, in literal translation: "Take and eat of this, all of you; for this is my body which will be given up for you . . .Take and drink of this, all of you; for this is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament, which will be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. Do this in commemoration of me." (Etym. Latin consecratio; from consecrare, to render sacred.)


EUCHARISTIC PRAYER. The central portion of the Eucharistic liturgy. There are eight parts to this prayer, namely the Preface, Acclamation, Epiclesis, Consecration, Anamnesis, Oblation, Intercessions, and Doxology. Its ritual history goes back to apostolic times.


LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST. The most solemn part of the Mass, from the Presentation of the Gifts to the Postcommunion included. The Church has arranged this part of the Mass so that its several parts correspond to the words and actions of Christ at the Last Supper, and specifically in three stages: in the Presentation of the Gifts are brought the bread, wine, and water, even as Christ took these elements into his hands; in the Eucharistic prayer God is thanked for the whole work of redemption and the gifts become the body and blood of Christ; in the Breaking of the one Bread the unity of the faithful is signified, and in Communion they receive the same Christ who gave himself on Holy Thursday to his Apostles.


LITURGY OF THE WORD. The second part of the Mass, during which the faithful are instructed in the revealed word of God. It consists of readings from Sacred Scripture and the songs occurring between them. The homily, profession of faith, and the prayer of the faithful develop and conclude the Liturgy of the Word.


MASS. The Sacrifice of the Eucharist as the central act of worship of the Catholic Church. The "Mass" is a late form of missio (sending), from which the faithful are sent to put into practice what they have learned and use the graces they have received in the Eucharistic liturgy.

As defined by the Church at the Council of Trent, in the Mass, "The same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, is present and offered in an unbloody manner." Consequently, the Mass is a truly propitiatory sacrifice, which means that by this oblation "the Lord is appeased, He grants grace and the gift of repentance, and He pardons wrongdoings and sins, even grave ones. For it is one and the same victim.

He who now makes the offering through the ministry of priests and he who then offered himself on the cross. The only difference is the manner of offering" (Denzinger 1743).

The Mass cannot be understood apart from Calvary, of which it is a re-presentation, memorial, and effective application of the merits gained by Christ.

The re-presentation means that because Christ is really present in his humanity, in heaven and on the altar, he is capable now as he was on Good Friday of freely offering himself to the Father. He can no longer die because he now has a glorified body, but the essence of his oblation remains the same.

The Mass is also a memorial. Christ's death is commemorated not only as a psychological remembrance but as a mystical reality. He voluntarily offers himself, the eternal high priest, as really as he did on Calvary.

The Mass is, moreover, a sacred banquet or paschal meal. The banquet aspect of the Mass is the reception of Holy Communion by the celebrant and the people, when the same Christ who offers himself to the Father as a sacrifice then gives himself to the faithful as their heavenly food. It was this fact that inspired the Holy See, after the Second Vatican Council, to restore the practice of receiving Communion under both kinds for all the faithful: "The entire tradition of the Church teaches that the faithful participate more perfectly in the Eucharistic celebration through sacramental Communion. By Communion, in fact, the faithful share more fully in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In this way they are not limited to sharing in the sacrifice by faith and prayer, nor to merely spiritual communion with Christ offered on the altar, but receive Christ himself sacramentally, so as to receive more fully the fruits of this most holy sacrifice. In order that the fullness of the sign in the Eucharistic banquet may be seen more clearly by the faithful, the Second Vatican Council prescribed that in certain cases, to be decided by the Holy See, the faithful could receive Holy Communion under both species" (Sacramentali Communione, June 29, 1970).

Finally the Mass is the divinely ordained means of applying the merits of Calvary. Christ won for the world all the graces it needs for salvation and sanctification. But these blessings are conferred gradually and continually since Calvary and mainly through the Mass. Their measure of conferral is in proportion to the faith and loving response of the faithful who unite themselves in spirit with the Mass.

It is in this sense that the Mass is an oblation of the whole Mystical Body, head and members. Yet, among the faithful, some have been ordained priests and their role in the Mass is essentially different from that of the laity. The priest is indispensable, since he alone by his powers can change the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Nevertheless the role of the participants is of great importance; not as though there would be no Mass without a congregation but because the people's "full, active and conscious participation will involve them in both body and soul and will inspire them with faith, hope and charity." The more active this participation, the more glory is given to God and the more grace is bestowed not only on the Church but on all the members of the human race. (Etym. Latin missa, from mittere, to send; so called from the words of dismissal at the end of the service: Ite, missa est, "Go, [the congregation] is dismissed.")


OBLATIONS. The offering of the bread and wine for consecration at Mass, expressed by the offertory procession of the faithful and the offertory prayers of the priest. Also applied to any other gifts presented by the people at Mass, either symbolically on special occasions or actually when the gifts are offered for the use of the clergy, the Church, or the poor. (Etym. Latin oblatio, offering.)


OFFERTORY. That part of the Mass in which the unconsecrated bread and wine are offered to God. The prayers said by a priest in the new ritual are taken almost verbatim from the first-century liturgical document the Didache, discovered at Constantinople in 1873. The celebrant says, while separately offering the bread (on a paten) and the wine (in the chalice): “Blessed are you Lord God of all things, because we have received bread [wine] from your bounty. We offer this fruit of the earth [wine] and of men’s labor, that it may become for us the Bread of Life [Spiritual Drink].”


SACRIFICE. The highest form of adoration, in which a duly authorized priest in the name of the people offers a victim in acknowledgment of God's supreme dominion and of total human dependence on God. The victim is at least partially removed from human use and to that extent more or less destroyed as an act of submission to the divine majesty. Thus a sacrifice is not only an oblation. Where an oblation offers something to God, a sacrifice immolates or gives up what is offered. In sacrifice the gift offered is something precious completely surrendered by the one making the sacrifice as a token of humble recognition of God's sovereignty. (Etym. Latin sacrum, holy, sacred + facere, to make, do.)


SACRIFICE, OLD TESTAMENT. As described in the books of the Old Law, sacrifice essentially meant honoring God by offering him some of the creatures that are precious to human beings, in acknowledgment of God's sovereignty and human dependence on the Creator. Two kinds of sacrifice are recognized and required of humanity, the bloody and the unbloody. Four kinds of bloody sacrifices are described: 1. holocaust was the most perfect, also called the whole-burnt offering; the animal or other object was completely consumed by fire, and as the "perpetual sacrifice" it was offered twice daily, morning and evening; 2. sin offering was to expiate misdeeds committed through ignorance or inadvertence; the kind of victim depended mainly on the dignity of the person offended; 3. guilt offering was especially prescribed for sins demanding restitution; 4. peace offerings were either in gratitude or in fulfillment of a vow, or simply voluntary; part of the ceremony of this kind of sacrifice was that part of what was offered was returned to the one offering, to be eaten in a sacrificial meal.

Unbloody sacrifices were really oblations and, with the exception of incense, were offerings of articles of solid or liquid food. These food offerings accompanied every holocaust and peace offering, but never sacrifice for sin or guilt, except at the cleansing of a leper.

Modern Catholic Dictionary by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.