Want to know the secret of happiness? The secret is that there is no secret. Happiness is love, communion, and fellowship. Happiness is meaning in the context of relationship. We all know this. Scientific research confirms it. Every great religious and philosophical tradition has taught it. So why do we find it so difficult sometimes? And what if there were a sure-fire way to overcome our difficulties and finally embrace love?
The difficulty is that we don’t do what we know we should. Catholic faith says there are at least two reasons for this. One is that our intellect has been darkened somewhat by the effects of original sin. (Darkened, not destroyed.) That is to say, the abstract truths of practical reason (do good, avoid evil, love your neighbor, prefer mercy to pleasure, and so forth) are more obscure to us than the immediate inclination of our sensitive nature, which is quite noticeable and quite insistent. A second reason is that our will is weak and we find it difficult to submit our passions to the control of reason, even when we know clearly what reason dictates.
So why would this make it difficult to love, if love brings happiness? My pastor Msgr. Muller is fond of saying, “Sacrifice is the language of love,” and I think he is exactly correct. The love-that-brings happiness is precisely that kind of love that says no to my own immediate pleasures and looks to the good of another. “Greater love hath no man,” says Scripture, “than that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Love (and therefore happiness) is difficult because it requires sacrifice. This is why, I suspect, God has made sacrifice the central act of worship. At each pivotal moment in salvation history, the people of God have entered into covenant, communion, love, and fellowship with God through sacrifice. (Genesis 8:20, Genesis 15; Exodus 24, 1 Chronicles 16 & 17) The Psalm says, “Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” (Ps. 50:5)
This act of sacrifice is both a ritual act of worship and an interior disposition, a willingness to give up something of value for the sake of another. King David typified this when he said, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” The mere ritual act, apart from the interior disposition, is not what God desires. “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it,” says David, “you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)
So how do we lay hold of that disposition? How do we acquire that supernatural habit of mind that embraces the arduous good? The good of sacrificial love? How do we overcome the effects of original sin? The Catholic faith offers us the most sublime means, the most awesome mystery. It proposes for our faith the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By entering the mystery of the Mass we enter the domain of supernatural charity, of sacrifice-made-present, of the perfect act of worship. Speaking of the Mass, Malachi says, “In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 1:11)
Consider the Sacrifice of the Mass. First, the Mass is the perfect ritual offering. (Romans 8:3; 1 Peter 1:19) Second Jesus, the High Priest, made the perfect interior act of sacrifice, voluntarily laying down his life in love. (John 10:17-18). Third, the Mass establishes a covenant of communion between God and his people. Jesus calls the Mass, “The chalice of the New Covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22: 20).
All of this is made present for us by the minister of the Eucharist, the ordained priest. As lay people, we do not make Christ present on the altar. We do not effect the sacrifice. But we can lay hold of that sacrifice and make it our own. Christ is the head and we are the members. What the head does for the sake of his body, we have a right to call our own. (Colossians1:18) And in being present to that sacrifice, we can offer ourselves along with it. (Romans 12:1).
The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the perfect sacrifice, the perfect demonstration of love. Devout attendance at Mass, intentional, recollected attendance at Mass creates a habit of mind that is infused with supernatural grace. We become a Eucharistic people. We become able to say, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24)