I don’t know if anyone else notices this, but the next part of Eucharistic Prayer I hits me like a bombshell. Here we’re just moseying along through Mass, singing somewhat happy and uplifting music and surrounded by pretty candles and vestments, praying, “Graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered FROM ETERNAL DAMNATION!!!” It’s somewhat unexpected, and pretty intense, isn’t it? I find myself sometimes trying to run this line together with the next to lighten the blow to you, my unsuspecting parishioners!
Sometimes, we like to avoid the topic of heaven and hell because we want to avoid the topic of judgment. The phrase that governs our whole approach to this reality is “Well, who am I to judge?” And this is true, we certainly are called to love others and leave judgment to God, but that’s the thing, we almost want to avoid judgment from God as well! We need to remember that as much as God is Love, God is our Judge as well – a just judge, and a loving and merciful judge, but a judge nonetheless.
How does God judge us? Actually Matthew 25:31-46 gives us the basics. Jesus speaks about sorting the sheep from the goats, thus our cries in the next line of EPI that we be “counted among the flock of those [He has] chosen.” Jesus will judge us according to how we treat him in our neighbors: he was hungry and we gave him food, thirsty and we gave him drink, and all the other charities that we’re so familiar with in this passage.
Most of us, if we’re honest, know that we’re not as good at doing these acts of love for our neighbors as we should be. And it’s in this realization that we find another realization: we are totally dependent on God’s mercy and love. That truth gives purpose to our celebration of Mass: just as the ancient Jews offered sacrifices and oblations in the Temple to atone for their weaknesses, we offer this one sacrifice of Jesus as the true and final sacrifice for all of ours. There is a prayer in the Divine Mercy Chaplet that I like to pray before Mass: “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world.”
It’s a fitting prayer before Mass and it pairs well with this section of the Eucharistic Prayer because we are reminded that Mass is about a sacrifice, an oblation offered for all of us. When we approach Mass, let’s call on that mercy that we all need for our failures, and ask for the grace we need to become better followers of Christ. Let’s pray that we can be the sheep, not the goats, and be called to the “flock of those He has chosen.”