Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees,
James Tissot, 1886–1894

Translation of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

At that time Jesus said to His disciples: Except your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment and whosoever shall say to his brother: Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say: Thou fool, shalt be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother; and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.

A Message From Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily for Dedication of the New Altar in Cathedral of Albano, Sept. 21, 2008.

Altar in the Catacombs of St. Peter’s Abbey,
Salzburg, Austria

On [the] altar [Christ continues] to sacrifice himself in the sacrament of the Eucharist, for our salvation and for that of the whole world. Jesus makes himself truly present in the Eucharistic Mystery, which is renewed on every altar. His is a dynamic presence that takes hold of us to make us his, to liken us to him. He attracts us with the force of his love, bringing us out of ourselves to be united with him, making us one with him.

The Real Presence of Christ makes each one of us his “house” and all together we form his Church, the spiritual building of which St Peter speaks. Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; the Apostle writes, and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5). St Augustine remarks, developing, as it were, this beautiful metaphor that through faith people are like the wood and stones collected in the forests and on the mountains for building; then through Baptism, catechesis, and preaching they are rough-shaped, squared, and polished; but they become houses of the Lord only when they are put together with love. When believers are interconnected in accordance with a specific order, mutually close and cohesive, when they are joined by love, they truly become a dwelling of God that is in no danger of collapsing (cf. Sermons, 336).

Thus the love of Christ is the love that never ends (1 Cor 13:8), the spiritual energy that unites all who share in the same sacrifice and are nourished by the one Bread, broken for the world’s salvation. Indeed, how is it possible to communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with one another? How can we present ourselves divided, distant from one another, at God’s altar? May this altar on which the Lord’s sacrifice will shortly be renewed, be a constant invitation to you, dear brothers and sisters, to love; you will always approach it disposed to accept love in your hearts, to spread it and to receive and grant forgiveness.

In this regard the Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed offers us an important lesson for life (cf. Matt 5:23-24). It is a brief but pressing and incisive appeal for brotherly reconciliation, a reconciliation that is indispensable if we are to present the offering at the altar with dignity; an appeal that takes up the teaching already clearly present in the preaching of the prophets. Indeed, the prophets also forcefully denounced the uselessness of acts of worship that are not accompanied by a corresponding moral approach, especially in relations with others (Isa 1:10-20; Amos 5:21-27; Mic 6:6-8). Thus, every time you approach the altar for the Eucharistic Celebration, may your soul be open to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, ready to accept the apologies of those who have injured you and ready, in turn, to forgive others.

In the Roman liturgy, when the priest has made the offering of the bread and the wine, he bows to the altar and prays quietly: Lord God, we ask you to receive us and be pleased with the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts. In this way, together with the whole assembly of the faithful, he prepares to enter into the heart of the Eucharistic Mystery, into the heart of that heavenly liturgy to which… Revelation refers. St John presents an Angel who offers much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne of God (cf. Rev 8:3). The altar of the sacrifice becomes in a certain way the meeting point between Heaven and earth; the centre, we might say, of the One Church that is heavenly yet at the same time a pilgrim on this earth where, amidst the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, disciples of the Lord proclaim his Passion and his death until he comes in glory (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). Indeed, every Eucharistic Celebration already anticipates Christ’s triumph over sin and over the world and in the mystery shows the radiance of the Church, the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb. It is she whom Christ loved and for whom he delivered himself up that he might sanctify her (ibid., 6).

In practice, it is a question of witnessing with your lives to your faith in Christ and to the total trust that you place in him. It is also a question of fostering ecclesial communion, which is first and foremost a gift, a grace, a fruit of God’s freely given love, something, that is, which is divinely effective, ever present and active in history, over and above anything that might appear to the contrary. Ecclesial communion, however, is also a task entrusted to the responsibility of each person. May the Lord grant that you live an ever more convinced and active communion in collaboration and co-responsibility at every level: among priests, consecrated men and women and lay people, among the different Christian communities in your territory and among the various lay associations.

Pontifical High Mass, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 2023