Each time I pray the mass there is one line that strikes me more than any other. It is when the priest prays over the chalice and says ‘this is the cup of my blood... it will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.’ This phrase is what sums up the whole celebration of the mass. The blood of Jesus was shed so that sins could be forgiven. This forgiveness is offered to us until the end of time. It is up to us whether we accept it or not.
The flip side of this is that it means we have sinned, and we sin continually. That is what God has taught us. If you think you haven’t sinned, or don’t sin, remember these words from the first letter of St. John: He says, ‘If anyone says they have not sinned, they are calling God a liar.’ Pretty strong words, but he meant it. And you can see why, because if we say we have not sinned then there is no reason for the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then there is also no reason for the mass. If we haven’t sinned, then the mass is meaningless. In each mass we become present to the death and resurrection of Jesus and then we can actually receive his body and blood, so that we can be united to the Son of God in the most intimate way possible, receiving his body into our own body.
Now I know that most people will acknowledge that they are sinners. That is a good start, but God also asks us to confess our sins to a priest, the sins that we are aware of. Why? So that we can be reconciled to God in a very concrete way, through another human being, one who is specially appointed to do just that. God acts through the priest in a unique way, offering his forgiveness, guidance and encouragement. Do you want to know why God does this through a priest? I don’t know; ask God! But we believe this is what he did. This is what Jesus said to his Apostles:
'If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven;
If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained' (John 20:23).
'Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me' (Luke 10:16).
Why is it so important that we are reconciled to God? Because only in God will we find complete fulfilment. God knows that, but the difficult part is that we cannot see that properly. In fact we are even suspicious of it. If we could see what being fully united to God meant, we would do everything to stay as close to God as possible. Sometimes people are given a particular grace to see the importance of this, and they go to the ends of the earth to make this known to others as well. One such person was St. Paul. In the second reading he says:
'I believe that nothing can happen which will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him' (Phil 3:8-9).
After he had this profound encounter with Jesus who appeared to him, he was completely changed and he spent the rest of his life telling people that this man Jesus, who had been killed, had risen from the dead and was the Son of God; and boy did he suffer for it. He was put in prison several times; many attempts were made on his life; five times he received the 39 lashes, three times he was shipwrecked, etc. But nothing could stop him because God had allowed him to see that everything was worth being united to God.
‘So what are we supposed to do', you might say. 'We can’t see how important this is.’ Even though we do not see this so clearly ourselves, we listen to the accounts of those who have experienced it—because God is speaking to us through them—and we push on in the same direction. But we would be foolish to ignore the way that is pointed out to us and one of the most important ways to be reconciled to God, is to confess what we have done wrong; not just to acknowledge it, but to actually confess it.
Remember this beautiful Gospel today; the woman caught in adultery. There was no condemnation on Jesus’ part, only compassion. According to the law they were entitled to stone this woman to death, and they believed that the law came from God. But Jesus turned the situation around and showed them that they were in no position to condemn someone else. Neither are we.
So going back to what I said at the beginning. The blood of Jesus has been shed so that our sins may be forgiven. How do we accept that forgiveness, by asking for it through confession. This is God’s gift to us, so that we can be healed. It is not something forced on us or inflicted on us. Rather, it is an extraordinary gift that God has given to us, so that we may be healed and so that we may draw closer to the only One who can fulfil us.
‘This is the cup of my blood... It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.’