April 9, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The virtue of religion, explains St. Thomas Aquinas, is the habit of justice by which we give to Almighty God what we owe Him as our Creator and Lord: His right to proper worship, both in our external actions (e.g., praising Him with the lips, bowing before Him) and internal acts (such as the humble submission of mind and heart in adoration). Since He is our Creator and Sovereign Lord, on whom we depend for our being, our life, our activities, our happiness, we owe Him everything: every bit of ourselves, body and soul.
This return is not something we can make as completely as it deserves to be made, but we can give it as well as is possible for a creature. For unfallen man, this virtue would have taken the form of a “rational sacrifice,” in which he not only offered up to God his adoration, praise, and thanksgiving, but also presented to Him the silent homage of all creatures. By doing this at set times each day while remaining always in a communion of trustful love and confidence, unfallen Adam and Eve would have lived perfect religious lives.
The Fall changed everything. Now man has acted against what he owes to God — has acted, indeed, as far as he can, against God Himself, for the Lord is present in His laws, and He is loved when they are obeyed, despised when they are broken. Adam and Eve now live in a world that has turned against them, as they have turned against their Creator and Lord. They must labor to get by, laboring at work, laboring at birth. They will be fatigued, frustrated, and feeble. Worst of all, when they do turn to God, it is not with the intimate familiarity of a child, but with the stricken conscience of a renegade trying to make amends for an offense of quasi-infinite gravity.
For the fallen sons of Adam, therefore, the virtue of religion must necessarily take the form of a sacrificial worship by which God is honored and placated. The shedding of blood symbolizes the death of one’s own selfish will: pouring out one’s life, painfully, to restore what has been lost and to show that it belongs to One alone. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
God gave the Old Law to Israel as a system for offering a set form of worship that would strongly bring out the need for a Mediator and a Redeemer, one who in Himself could offer to God a worship truly worthy of His rights over all creation. One might call the entire Old Law the great “Offertory rite” by which the Victim was prepared in the foreknowledge of God, in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God. The consecration corresponds to the slaying of this Lamb on the altar of the Cross. Communion signifies our entering into the salvation purchased for us by His precious Blood.
Only by Christ, then, is the virtue of religion perfectly exercised, and we have the inestimable privilege of being inserted into His worship. The traditional Latin Mass expresses this truth in a poignant moment that is hidden from the layman’s sight, yet not hidden from his knowledge if he reads the prayers in a hand missal.
When about to receive the Precious Blood, the priest utters the verse from the Psalm: Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus, quae retribuit mihi? (Ps. 115:12). “What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He hath rendered to me?” He takes up the chalice with two more verses: Calicem salutaris accipiam, et nomen Domini invocabo. Laudans invocabo Dominum, et ab inimicis meis salvus ero (Ps. 115:4, Ps. 17:4). “I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord. Praising I will call upon the Lord, and I shall be saved from my enemies.”
Thereupon he blesses himself with the chalice in the form of a cross and, holding the paten under the chalice, receives the Precious Blood with the words Sanguis Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam meam in vitam aeternam. Amen. “May the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting.”
In the Summa theologiae IIa-IIae, q. 80, a. 1, Saint Thomas quotes Ps 115:12 — “What shall I render to the Lord for all that He hath rendered to me?” — as a scriptural witness to the virtue of religion, whereby we give what we can to the Lord but can never give enough, never give a gift equal to what He has given us. The placing of that verse at the climactic point when the Lord’s Blood is drunk emphasizes the aspect of justice in the Mass. Man strives to make a return, but the best return he can make is actually to receive Jesus Christ into his own body and allow Jesus to thank the Father in and through him.
That is why the priest immediately continues: “I will take the chalice of salvation, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord.” The just and holy One comes, in mercy, to dwell within, so that man might be able to offer himself, joined to Christ, as a worthy oblation to God. The Christian incorporated into Christ has “God from God, Light from Light” within him, and between the Father and Son is found the exemplar of the most exalted love and the most sublime justice, as if each were eternally giving to the other His perfect due. The Father not only generates the Son, but is pleased with the Son and receives Him in the eternal reciprocal love of the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion places one into this circumincessio or mutual indwelling of the Divine Persons. That is why the chalice is spoken of as “calicem salutis perpetuae,” the chalice of everlasting salvation.
It is as if this little ritual is telling us: Yes, O Man, for you it is impossible to make a just return to the Lord for all He has given you — but “with God, nothing will be impossible” (Lk. 1:37).
As Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament (1614–1698) teaches:
The Mass is an ineffable mystery in which the eternal Father receives infinite homage: in it He is adored, loved, and praised as much as He deserves; and that is why we are advised to receive Communion frequently, in order to render to God, through Jesus, all the duties we owe Him. This is impossible without Jesus Christ who comes into us in order to accomplish in us the same sacrifice as that of the Holy Mass. (The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love: The Eucharistic Message of Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, forthcoming from Angelico Press)
The sequence of psalm verses at the drinking of the chalice fittingly concludes: “Praising I will call upon the Lord, and I shall be saved from my enemies.” What a cause of praise — to receive the Lord himself, the very one upon whom we are calling! What a cause of protection from our enemies! The Lord will save us, for, in Holy Communion, He has come to dwell within us, to apply to us the merits of His death, and to increase our share in His risen life.
The sorrow of Catholics at not being able to assist at Mass and receive our Lord sacramentally should intensify our spiritual longing for the Holy Sacrifice and for an ever more fruitful participation in it, whenever the Lord wills that we should once again have the happiness of attending His banquet. We are called upon to do what we can and to yield ourselves into God’s hands, using the words of our Savior on the Cross: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”