Article 54 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
“I bring you good news of great joy . . . there has been born to you today … Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). Good news, indeed, for Christ is the only perfect Christmas gift!
I always love this time of the year because I am reminded of my childhood when my parents feverishly prepared for Christmas. With the final candle of the advent wreath ready to be lit at home, at school and at our parish church, we kids knew that Christmas was just around the corner. With toys being promoted on television by Mattel, Lego, Fisher Price and others (most beyond our means), my mom and dad would try 101 ways to keep the focus on the real meaning of Christmas by telling us stories of Jesus’ birth in word and in song. We sang Christmas hymns, made cookies for Santa Claus, prepared homemade Christmas gifts and cards for relatives and prayed that the infant Jesus and his Mother would watch over us and keep us safe.
Somehow we instinctively knew that the Baby whose heart beat in Bethlehem 2000 years ago would help aid our parents in their quest to remind us that Jesus came from heaven so he could lead us to heaven. As the Catechism tells us: “From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work’” (ccc 606).
The Catechism explains: “Christ offered himself to his Father for our sins” (ccc 607). This desire to give or to offer himself and “to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life, for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation” (ccc 607). It is the reason we celebrate Christmas.
Thus the theme of this section of the Catechism – Christ sacrificed himself – which means, not so much that he “gave up” his life, but rather he “gave” or “offered” his life. This desire to give or to offer himself and “to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired his whole life” (ccc 607). In the fourth gospel we hear him say “for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). And again, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Then, from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
A few years before, Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and said, “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In this act, John revealed that Jesus was both the suffering Servant mentioned in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (53:10-12), who silently allowed himself to be led to the slaughter and who bore the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover” (ccc 608). It is “out of love for his Father and for all humanity, whom the Father wants to save, that Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death” (ccc 609). Later we see Our Lord giving “the supreme expression of his free offering of himself at the meal shared with the twelve Apostles on the night he was betrayed” (ccc 610).
Jesus transforms this Last Supper with the apostles “into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of all humanity” (ccc 610). Thus we see that “the Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice” (ccc 611) which the apostles perpetuate. “By doing so, the Lord institutes his apostles as priests of the New Covenant” (ccc 611). The Catechism explains that “the cup of the New Covenant, which Jesus anticipated when he offered himself at the Last Supper, is afterwards accepted by him from his Father’s hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani” (ccc 612).
Later, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tell us “this sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices” (Hebrews 10:10). The Council of Trent reaffirms this teaching, emphasizing the unique character of Christ’s sacrifice as “the source of eternal salvation” (ccc 617). In his first letter to Timothy, Saint Paul comments on the cross as the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Saint Rose of Lima, a Spanish colonist in Lima, Peru and the first person born in the Americas to be canonized, is often quoted, as she is in the Catechism, saying, “apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven” (ccc 618).
No doubt Jesus’ offering himself on the cross could not have occurred without first offering himself to the world in the womb of his mother, and later on the day of his birth in Bethlehem.