You don’t have to look beyond the pope’s introduction to Caritatis Sacramentum to see the treatment of this balance. Without explicitly labelling it “sacrifice,” we see the pope’s lucid description of the meaning of sacrifice in the Christian context:
The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest that “greater” love which led him to “lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). Jesus did indeed love them “to the end” (Jn 13:1). In those words the Evangelist introduces Christ’s act of immense humility: before dying for us on the Cross, he tied a towel around himself and washed the feet of his disciples. In the same way, Jesus continues, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, to love us “to the end,” even to offering us his body and his blood. What amazement must the Apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper! What wonder must the eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts! (CS 1)
The introduction continues under the heading “The food of truth.”
In the sacrament of the altar, the Lord meets us, men and women created in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:27), and becomes our companion along the way. In this sacrament, the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom. Since only the truth can make us free (cf. Jn 8:32), Christ becomes for us the food of truth. (CS 2)
This line of thinking leaves behind the simple-minded beer commerical arguments (1) too often parroted in the St Blogosphere. Sacrifice is inseparably linked with the quality of love. Christ loves us, and how can Christians not be inspired with “wonder” in response to Christ’s Paschal Mystery? That response to which we Christians are invited is far more than a passive awe at mysteries too great for comprehension. Of necessity, responding to the Eucharistic sacrifice involves “doing,” an active and expressive love in the world around us, directed toward our sisters and brothers.
Likewise we see the importance of the Sacrament as food. In the mortal experience, living things consume food as fuel for life. In the spiritual realm, we also consume food. But in this context, it is a product not of human labor, but of God’s grace. As such, the nnotion of “meal” in Benedict’s context of truth and freedom (not to mention holiness) beggars any simplified notion of a meal as only a ritual reenactment that also happens to put a piece of bread and a sip of wine into our stomachs.
(1) “Tastes great/less filling”