The First Sunday of Lent (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Lord Jesus answers one of the temptations of the devil, saying, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). Our Lord’s response raises an interesting question: what does it mean to worship God?
The word worship is a contraction of worth-ship, which, in former days, had the meaning of giving someone his or her worth. In the United Kingdom, for example, judges are still addressed as “Your Worship,” though no one pretends to worship a civil judge as a god. In the United States, of course, we refer to a judge as “Your Honor.”
Regardless of the form of address, both attempt to ascribe to one who has legitimate authority the dignity properly accorded to the office he or she holds. We seek to recognize their worth in other ways, as well, such as through their salary and the giving of places of honor at formal settings.
When it comes to God, however, how are we to determine his worth? What can we give to him that equals his worth? We can, of course, and should, give him thanks and praise for his many gifts which he so freely lavishes upon us, but can any of our words of gratitude or praise ever come close to equaling his worth? The answer is, without doubt, no; nothing we say can ever come close to approximating the majesty of God.
How is it, then, that we can worship God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23)? How can we give him what he is worth?
The only thing that can equal God is God himself. This is why Christ Jesus – who is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God – offered himself on the Cross to the Father. He offered God to God; he gave to God what he is worth and so made the perfect act of worship. This is why the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
When he offered himself to the Father on the Cross, Christ Jesus “showed himself [to be] the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.” And because his offering of himself was perfect and complete, his worship of the Father is not repeated; rather, his worship of the Father is continuous throughout all time; it does not end and we are called to enter into to it (cf. Hebrews 7:28).
This is an important aspect to consider because it very much concerns what we do here at the Lord’s altar. We do not have to wonder how to worship the Father correctly, because the Lord has given us the form of worship he desires. At the Last Supper, that first Eucharistic celebration, the Lord Jesus commanded his Apostles to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).
When he gathered in the Upper Room with his disciples and instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Jesus “anticipate[d] and [made] present the sacrifice of the Cross and the victory of the resurrection.” What is more, in the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Church “presents to the Father the offering of his Son which reconciles us with him.” Jesus gives himself to his Church in this way so Christians in every time and place may offer him to the Father and so worship him in spirit and truth.
Faithful to his command, we gather each week on the Lord’s Day. We listen to the Word of God. We pray for the needs of the world. We offer bread and wine to the Father, just as Jesus did at the Last Supper. But we also seek to offer ourselves to the Father, with the gifts of bread and wine
In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering.
The Lord transforms these humble gifts into his own Body and Blood, which we offer to the Father on this altar as Jesus offered his Body and Blood on the Cross. We seek to offer ourselves with the bread and wine so that we might be joined to Jesus’ self-offering to the Father. When we remain united to Jesus, our own self-offering to the Father is made complete and we worship God in spirit and in truth.
In these days of Lent, let us beg the Lord to “give us the right dispositions … to make these offerings” of bread and wine - and of ourselves. If we make these offerings with the right dispositions in mind and heart, the Lord will truly create a clean heart for us; he will open our mouths, and we will proclaim his praise for we will have rightly honored his worth (cf. Psalm 51:12, 17). Amen.