Forgiveness at Mass

If someone tells me about something they’ve suffered and says, “It’s alright Father, I’ve forgiven them and forgotten all about it.” I feel like saying, “Then why are you telling me about it?”

Thing is, if we’ve been hurt really badly–or even worse–our loved one has been hurt badly, and if that injury is unjustified, and if we are really a victim, then I don’t think we can actually forgive. In our own power, that is, I don’t think we can forgive. The Pharisees were right when they said, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

You try forgiving a wrong and you just can’t get rid of it can you? No. But Christ forgives, and the only way we can forgive is by tapping into his forgiveness. We have to plug into the power source for forgiveness which is the cross of Christ. See, there the forgiveness of the world was won. It is only as we plug into that power source of forgiveness that we can hope to have that forgiveness channel through us to others.

This is one of the reasons why I become irritated with the concept of Mass as fellowship meal being made the main image of understanding the Mass. It’s not. It’s a secondary image. The primary understanding of the Mass is now, and always has been, a re-presentation of the cross of Christ. The once for all sacrifice of Calvary is brought into the present moment through the action of the Mass and applied to our needs here and now.

This means that the forgiveness that Christ has won is present here. Present now when we go to Mass, and that’s why it is so important to attend Mass every week, because we need that forgiveness infusion every week. We need to connect with the one, full, final sacrifice. There we are forgiven and find the strength to forgive. There the forgiveness of Christ covers us and flows from us to those who we need to forgive.

This really, actually works, and I wouldn’t be a priest unless I believed it. When we come to Mass and understand the whole action of the Mass as an offering for sin and an offering up of our sin and a transaction of forgiveness, then suddenly the Mass takes on its full and mystical meaning. It is not just a fellowship meal and a time for us to gather and be inspired about how we are going to go out and change the world and be nicer more middle class people.

Instead something visceral and primitive is here. Here we offer sacrifice and we connect with a primal level of humanity that still throbs within our seemingly sophisticated selves. Here we lift up the chalice of salvation. Here the bread becomes the flesh of God. Here we dine on the death that wins our forgiveness. Here we connect with the dark threads woven through humanity’s terrible and wonderful story. Here Christ hangs suspended in the cosmos as the arch linking heaven and earth; linking my mortality with immortality.

Here we touch the dark.

But here also we glimpse the light.

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  • Athanasius contra mundum

    Thank you for this Father L.Its beautiful how you've tied together the two commandments to love our God and love our neighbor.

  • Alli R

    Wonderful post. I know that there is no possible way for me to forgive without God doing it. I tried long and hard to do it on my own.

  • walter

    i just finished his book praying the rosary for inner healing..nicely written on forgiveness.

  • AliceS

    Father, thank you SO much for this piece! I hold a deep hurt within me, put there by my father and sister, which I cannot forgive. I pray all the time for the power to think about, thinking about forgiving someday. Mass in all its beauty helps me draw ever closer to God's healing light.

  • Brad

    AliceS, sister, you must forgive others if you wish to receive God's own forgiveness for your offenses, which are legion, against not only others, but Him as well. I will not deluge you with the many verses on this uncomfortable point, but please recall the stark warning in the Pater Noster as well as the warning in Mat 5:23-24 regarding receiving communion while harboring unforgiveness. I am trying to help you and hope you will realize that while your feelings tell you you "cannot" forgive, your will must forgive.

  • jayeverett

    How can we forgive?–thats rather simple–God works through us and if we forgive then God says "Well done" and the forgivness is complete from God through us…..

  • Gail F


  • Gail F

    Brad: Don't rag on poor AliceS! I think she made it pretty clear that she prays constantly to be able to forgive. You can't forgive by an act of will; all you can will is to try to forgive — to try for the rest of your life if you have to — and then pray for God to give you the grace to do so. There is a big difference between not forgiving on purpose, and not being able to forgive YET, but trying.