Now please listen to how I begin the next sentence because the first two words are really important…
BY GOD!!!—that ordinary bread, water and wine are really and truly joined, body, blood, soul and divinity, by the once-for-all crucified and risen Jesus who lives and reigns at God’s right hand. He is not (!!!!) re-sacrificed at the Mass. Rather, his once-for-all sacrifice is re-presented to God’s people in the sacrifice (the ordinary food and drink) they brought to him.
If it helps, remember your wedding day
When I married my wife almost 26 years ago, we both brought ourselves to a church in front of a couple hundred of our friends. We also asked our pastor to preside over our public offering of ourselves to one another. In that gathering, I said to MaryJo (in so many words), “I accept you as my wife, and I offer myself to you alone as your husband.” Then MaryJo said to me (in so many words), “I accept you as my husband, and I offer myself to you alone as your wife.” But that wasn’t the end of it! Nope, the pastor got in on all the action and said something amazing. He said (if you can imagine it!), “By the power vested in me as a minister of Jesus Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no man separate.” Then we kissed, and the pastor stepped around to the side of us and said something very amazing! He said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me be the first to present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Kenny and MaryJo Burchard.” Guess what—that is not who we were until all of this happened just as it did.
Now I’m really a husband, and that’s really Jesus!
Upon the legitimate offering of ourselves, and with the help of a legitimate set of words, and the assistance of a legitimate pronouncement by a legitimate minister with legitimate authority, I truly metamorphosized into something called a “husband” and MaryJo really, actually and truly metamorphosized into something called a “wife,” and we’ve been that ever since. (For help with this, read a bit about “speech-act theory” here.)
I get it. You may not be convinced because it’s true that if you look at a photo of us just before the pronouncement, and then just after, guess what—we look exactly the same! “How is that possible,” you might wonder after we had just been “pronounced” husband and wife? Shouldn’t we look different, weigh more or undergo some kind of change in our ordinary appearance? Answer: No. Because (here we go again)—by God, we truly and really became one flesh—a husband and wife (if you don’t like the word “became” check out Gen. 2:24)!
To put a really fine point on all this, I was not “just a symbol of a husband,” and she was not “just a symbol of a wife.” If after all that we were just symbols, then to hell with marriage! I didn’t want the symbol of a wife, and MaryJo didn’t want the symbol of a husband. And if the bread and wine are just symbols of the body and blood of Jesus, then in the words of Flannery O’Connor, “to hell with it.” I want the real Jesus—not just symbols of Jesus.
When the wedding was over, there was nothing left of the single, bachelor, individual “Kenny.” No un-married “MaryJo” remained either! We changed into something else! Though our ordinary appearance remained just as it was before the pronouncement, By God, we were both what God Himself said we were. So, when people saw MaryJo after the event, they could rationally say—“Look! A wife!” Or they could point to me and rationally, truly and honestly exclaim, “Look! A Husband.”
And because of what happens when Jesus answers our prayers at Mass, the priest can consecrate an ordinary piece of bread, and a cup of wine mixed with water, and say—
Behold, the Lamb of God!
Behold him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.
He can, in other words, say, “Look! Here is Jesus!” That’s because…(here we go again, but)…by God, that formerly-ordinary bread and wine become the real presence of Jesus! Though the appearance remains, ordinary bread and wine do not! There is nothing left of them. They are gone forever. Only Jesus remains, just like un-married Kenny and MaryJo were gone forever too. Only “one-flesh-Kenny-and-MaryJo” remained after the sacred oaths and pronouncements.