Sacrifice – A Spiritual Reflection
If one was paying even a modicum of attention, one would have heard the expression, “The Sacrifice of the Mass” at some time. We also hear the phrase the “Un-bloody sacrifice of the Mass” as well. Concerning this, I was recently asked a question: “If God is totally content and needs nothing, why would God want or demand or need a sacrifice?” It was actually a question that had been in the back of my mind for many years. Now I had a providential reason to investigate.
Brother Andre Marie is the Prior of St. Benedict Center in Richmond, New Hampshire. He is also a member of the Congregation of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Before entering religious life, he studied music at Louisiana State University and later studied Humanities with a minor in Philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, receiving a Master of Arts in Theology, Summa cum Laude (in other words, a rather smart guy).
He wrote a good article on this topic for Catholicism.org entitled, Does God Want Sacrifice or Not? First he looks at Psalm 50:8-11 – “I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly offer. 9 But I do not need the bulls from your barns or the goats from your pens. 10 For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.” So it would seem that God certainly does not need sacrifices (or anything else) from us.
It’s not that God needs something from us. It’s that we owe something to God. He created us. He provides for us. Thus we “owe” God a debt of gratitude. The highest form of gratitude that a person can offer God is some type of of “divine service” which we also call “worship.” Within the context of worship, Father Nicholas Gihr (in his work, The Sacrifice of the Mass) writes that “in its strict and proper sense, ‘Sacrifice is a special act of divine service, and, as such, differs essentially from all other acts of worship.” How so? If you love someone, you are willing to put yourself out for that person and “offer” something to them, either for their benefit or as an expression of your affection for them or in thanks for something that they have done for you. The trouble with an “offering” is that you could conceivably take it back. The only way that you could fully prove to that person is to offer them something in such a way that the other person would be absolutely sure that you would never take it back. One way you could do that is to destroy it.
Here is where Brother Andre begins to explain the distinction between offering a “religious gift” (or oblatio in Latin) to God and a real “sacrifice” (or sacrificium). Brother Andre explains, “Not every gift offered to God is a sacrifice. It greatly depends on the way and manner of offering. Whatever has not been transformed, e.g. destroyed, cannot be a real sacrifice (sacrificium), but is only a religious gift (oblatio). By sacrifice we understand the offering of a visible object, effected through some kind of change, transformation or destruction thereof. Thus, the entire destruction of the gift and its outward form or (liturgically) morally equivalent, pertains essentially to the idea of sacrifice. In this way, we totally acknowledge the absolute Majesty and Sovereignty of God as well as our total dependence and submission to God as well.
Thus, any “oblation” or gift or service that we could ever offer to God might be a nice gesture, but it will never reach a level that is appropriate to the what is owed to the Majesty and Sovereignty of God. The only exception would be something that is not only offered but also sacrificed to God, which is “on his level” – like God Himself. Hence the “sacrifice” of Jesus Christ – the “un-bloody sacrifice” offered in Holy Mass.
What is kind of cool is that the liturgy provides us with the opportunity to make our “offerings” just as worthwhile to God the Father as well. Consider the part of the Mass when the gifts are brought forward. During this time, think of all of the good things you have received, all of the bad stuff that is in your life, all of the mundane and magnificent aspects of your life as well as your life itself. Mentally place all of that stuff on the “gifts” that are brought forward by the parishioners. They are the liturgical representative of each one of us. By mentally and prayerfully “placing” you and your stuff on those gifts, they are joined with that bread and wine and become the material which is destroyed and “sacrificed” to God the Father. You and your life become an “acceptable sacrifice.” Neat, huh?
In closing, consider several Scriptural references concerning this idea: St. Paul writes in Romans 12:1 – “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship. Later in Romans 15:16, St. Paul writes that that he was appointed to be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles “so that they presented as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit.” Not to be outdone, St. Peter (in 1 Peter 2:5) writes that, “You yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Hopefully you have found this investigation into our liturgy as interesting as I did. I also hope that it enhances not only your understanding, but also your experience of the Mass. It certainly has for me.