Supra Quae

Supra Quae – English

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

Supra Quae – Latin

Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris: et accepta habere, sicuti accepta habere dignatus es munera pueri tui iusti Abel, et sacrificium Partiarchae nosti Abrahae, et quod tibi obtulit summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech, sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam. 

Supra Quae, Part 1

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

In the preceding prayer, the Unde et Memores, we have come to understand that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass truly makes present once more the Saving Action of Jesus Christ: passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. We have come to understand that it is Jesus Himself, our great High Priest, who is offering Himself to the Father, in the Spirit, and that we are entering into and taking part in this Saving Action.

Now, we are entreating God to look upon the holy offerings with serenity and kindness, sure in the hope that, of course, He will do so. This Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is perfect and was willed by our Heavenly Father. The Son is pleasing to the Father. The Son is the perfection and fulfillment of all that came before in the Old Covenant, the Old Testament.

In the Supra Quae, Abel, Abraham, and Melchizedek are mentioned by name. It is worthwhile to walk through these three figures to better understand why they are mentioned in such a powerful and central prayer in the Holy Mass.

God’s servant Abel the just is the first to be mentioned. He is the son of Adam, the father of mankind. He is also the brother of Cain. We hear in Genesis chapter 4 that God had “regard for Abel and his offering” of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. But God had no regard for Cain’s offering. Cain became angry and killed his brother.

Jesus Himself is compared to the innocent shedding of Abel’s blood in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51. Besides shedding his blood and being innocent, Abel was a shepherd, foreshadowing Jesus who is the Good Shepherd.

Further on in the New Testament, we hear why God had greater regard for Abel’s offering. The mystery of Genesis is revealed. In Hebrews, we read, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks (Heb. 11:4).” It was Abel’s faith that God regarded, not necessarily the offering itself. This final line is extremely beautiful: “through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” The blood of Abel cried out to God for justice from the ground. Yet, how much more powerful and effective is the Blood of Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, “and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24).” In Jesus’ Blood, the righteous are made perfect.

Also, in the First Letter of John we read, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 Jn. 3:11-12).” This is the essence of Abel the Just: he is righteous. Infinitely more perfect and righteous is Jesus Christ, our great High Priest and Mediator between God and man. It is Jesus, the New Abel, who perfects us through the Mass. In faith and in the righteous of God, given to us in Baptism, we offer ourselves as a gift, as Abel offered His gift, united to the Perfect Gift of Jesus Christ Himself.

Supra Quae, Part 2

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

There is great depth to the short phrase referring “the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith.” Abram is called out of his home by God and goes forth in obedience. “Abraham’s heart is entirely submissive to the Word and so he obeys (CCC 2570).” To obey is to hear and to follow. Abraham is our father in faith because he models faith preeminently. The Catechism also lifts up Mother Mary as a model of faith, in particular.

In Genesis 15 we hear the promises that God makes to the great Patriarch. Then childless, God tells Abram to go outside and “‘look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5).” He also promises the land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates River to Abram (cf. Gen. 15:7, 18-20). Abram is to be a “great nation.”

To reflect that he will be the father of many nations, God changes his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude). This is when God establishes his covenant with Abraham, including the practice of circumcision. Abraham is to be the “father of many nations.” Finally, God promises to bless all nations through Abraham and his offspring (this is anticipated in Gen. 17 and ratified in Gen. 22).

The Lord then reveals that Sarah, who is past childbearing years (90 years old according to Genesis 17:17), will produce a son. Abraham falls to the ground and laughs at the thought that a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman would have a child. The child was born and his name was Isaac meaning “he laughs.”

Abraham is shown by Sacred Scripture as a man of hospitality. At the oaks of Mamre, God Himself appeared near Abram’s tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing before him. As soon as he saw the Guest, he runs to the door of his tent to meet them, bows to the earth, and offers food and water (cf. Gen. 18). As an aside, this account is fairly odd to one in the Old Covenant. The Lord appears as three men. And throughout the narrative, the pronouns used to describe the Guest switch arbitrarily between singular and plural. Certainly, this is a foreshadowing of the Trinity.

The sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, is the offering of his son Isaac in Genesis 22. It is worth taking a moment to get out your Bible and read the chapter in full and then return for some commentary here… The first thing to point out in this passage is that Isaac is the promised son who is to give Abraham the multitude of offspring and many nations. Yet, God is asking him to sacrifice his only son! Further, Abraham is an old man. Isaac assuredly was the one carrying the wood for the altar up to the top of Mount Moriah and he certainly realized that they were not bringing a lamb to sacrifice. So, father and son, obedient to God, went up Mount Moriah in faith.

Of course, we know that God stayed the hand of Abraham and provided a lamb for sacrifice. Nonetheless, in faith, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own progeny if God required it. So great was his faith. Around two thousand years later, the Father provided His Son for Sacrifice and followed through. And what is more, Mount Moriah went by another name in the time of Christ: Mount Calvary. 

Supra Quae, Part 3

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them, as you were pleased to accept the gifts of your servant Abel the just, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek, a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

Melchizedek is a mysterious figure. His name sounds odd to the English-speaker’s ear. In fact, it is one of the few biblical names that is identical in English, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and almost every other language. Melchizedek is the king of Salem (which means “peace”) but he is also a priest.

Abraham heard that some of his kinsmen had been taken captive. He went with some of his allies and did battle to win his brethren back. After the battle, Abraham came across the King of Salem, Melchizedek. Genesis specifically identifies Melchizedek in this way: “He was a priest of God Most High (Gen. 14:18).” He offered a sacrifice of bread and wine for Abraham. After the offering and blessing, Abraham tithed to him, giving him one tenth of all he had (Gen. 14:20).

This small interaction is all that we see of Melchizedek in the Old Testament until one mention in Psalm 110:4: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4).” Melchizedek is mentioned at numerous points in the New Testament letter of Hebrews.

Though we often think of the Jews in the Temple offering burnt offerings of animals or cereal offerings, there was another sacrifice that was prevalent called the todah sacrifice. Todah means “thanksgiving” and is synonymous with the Greek word eucharistia. In fact, the Passover is a type of the todah sacrifice. Many rabbis, even before the time of Christ, believed that when the Messiah came, only the todah sacrifice would persist. So, what is used to offer the todah? It is the same as Melchizedek used with Abraham and Christ used at the Last Supper: bread and wine.

The classic movement of the todah from lament to praise is exemplified by Psalm 22, which Jesus uses in Mark 15:34 before expiring on the Cross. He shouts out the first words of the Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a common practice where the first phrase of a psalm is given in place of the entire psalm. In this case, the psalm goes from lament to praise.

The todah sacrifice was offered by a person who had been delivered from some great danger. He would give thanks to God by celebrating a sacrificial meal with family and friends. The temple priest would sacrifice a lamb and consecrate bread which were then brought home with wine. There would be songs of thanksgiving which began with lamenting the original state of affairs, told of crying to the Lord for deliverance, showing how the Lord answered, and then giving praise to God and thanks.

The todah requires a narrative. In the context of Christ we have His holy sacrifice who is Himself the spotless Victim. The todah of the New Testament is the Paschal Mystery and the Eucharist which makes it present. We have the passage from lament to praise, from passion and death to resurrection. This link of the todah sacrifice to the New Passover, reaching all the way back to Melchizedek, was important enough for our High Priest, Jesus Christ, with his last labored breaths on the Cross.

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