The Meaning of Sacrifice - Homily Notes for February 1st, 2009
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Novus Ordo)
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany (Tridentine)
from Nicholas Gihr
-- Sacrifice is an act which most greatly manifests the four facets of the virtue of religion: adoration, thanksgiving, petition, satisfaction.
= St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol. Ia IIae, q.102, a.3 ad 10) Maxime obligatur homo Deo propter ejus majestatem, secundo propter offensam commissam, tertio propter beneficia jam suscepta, quarto propter beneficia sperata… Man is bound to God, chiefly on account of His majesty; secondly, on account of the sins he has committed; thirdly, because of the benefits he has already received from Him; fourthly, by reason of the benefits he hopes to receive from Him.
= every sacrifice has in itself this fourfold signification, but one is usually intended above the others
-- Sacrifice is the offering of a visible object, and that object gets transformed, or even destroyed, in order to acknowledge the absolute majesty and sovereignty of God, and man's total dependence on Him.
-- The most precious object of all is human life
= thus the most perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross, according to the Father's will
= although the Father desired no other sacrifice of human life
= Father accepted the interior offering of the human heart
= Father also accepted the offering of irrational creatures, creatures upon which man depended for his existence; these items also represent the life of man
= lambs, heifers, doves; bread, wine, oil, salt, incense
= needed to be the best of these things in the OT
= Eusebius, Demonstr. Evang., 1, chap. 10:Cum Patriarchae … quasi divino spiritu illustrati viderent, magno sibi opus esse obsequio ad suorum humanorum delictorum purgationem, pretium pro salute sua ei, qui vitam atque animam praebuisset, se debere putabant. Sed cum nihil praestantius aut pretiosius anima sua haberent, quod dicarent, pro hac interim brutorum animalium vitam offerebant; pro sua anima sacrificia suae vitae vicaria offerentes…. With the Fathers… as if they could see enlightened by the divine spirit, considered an obligation for the purpose of purging their human defects by the great service which served as payment to him for their salvation. With nothing higher or more precious to consider than their soul, for the interim the life of brute animals they offered, a vicarious offering of the sacrifice of their life.
= a tangible material object is destroyed in place of the human life
= the greater the gift, the greater manifestation of proper sentiment of the heart
-- if the gift is not liturgically transformed (destroyed), it is not a "sacrifice", but an "oblation"
= liturgically destroyed symbolizes its being given to God, no longer useful to man
= animals slain, blood poured out, incense consumed by fire, wine poured out
= sacrifice: sacrum (holy/sacred) + facere (do/make)
[= oblation: from oblatus, the perf pass partic of offerre, i.e., to offer]
-- By sacrifice man expresses absolute dependence on God and readiness to dedicate entire life to God
-- Exterior rite -- in order to be acceptable worship to God – must also be expression of interior and spiritual sacrifice
-- St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol. IIa IIae, q.85, a.2) Oblatio sacrificii fit ad aliquid significandum. Significat autem sacrificium, quod offertur exterius, interius spirituale sacrificium, quo anima seipsam offert Deo, quia exteriors actus religionis ad interiors ordinantur. Anima autem se offert Deo in sacrificium sicut principio suae creationis et sicut fini suae beatificationis. Secundum autem veram fidem solus Deus est creator animarum nostrarum; in solo etiam eo animae nostrae beatitudo consistit. Et ideo sicut soli Deo summo debemus sacrificium spirituale offerre, ita etiam soli ei debemus offerre exteriora sacrificia…. A sacrifice is offered in order that something may be represented. Now the sacrifice that is offered outwardly represents the inward spiritual sacrifice, whereby the soul offers itself to God, since the outward acts of religion are directed to the inward acts. Again the soul offers itself in sacrifice to God as its beginning by creation, and its end by beatification: and according to the true faith God alone is the creator of our souls, while in Him alone the beatitude of our soul consists. Wherefore just as to God alone ought we to offer spiritual sacrifice, so too ought we to offer outward sacrifices to Him alone.
-- Offering of sacrifice aims at glorifying God as absolute Lord of all creatures; that is to adore Him
-- St. Augustine (Contra Faust. XX, chap. 21) Illo cultu, qui graece latreia dicitur, latine uno verbo dici non potest, cum sit quaedam proprie divinitati debita servitus, nec colimus nec colendum docemus nisi unum Deum. Cum autem ad hunc cultum pertineat oblatio sacrificii, nullo modo tale aliquid offerimus aut offerendum praecipimus vel cuiquam martyri vel cuiquam sanctae animae vel cuiquam angelo…. By that worship, which in Greek is called latreia, in Latin no one word can express it, which is a definite service owed to the divinity alone, we neither promote nor teach that it be promoted, except to God alone. Since however to this worship pertains the oblation of sacrifice, in no way do we offer such, nor instruct the offering to any martyr or any holy soul whatsoever or any angel….
-- thanksgiving and petition are naturally combined in this offering… acknowledging Him as the source of the material item, and asking for future provision
-- atonement is made, because God’s honor was offended by sin…. And now the honor of His Majesty is acknowledged by the worship
= the killing of the animal acknowledged the deserved death of the offender of God’s Majesty
= St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol Ia IIae, q.102, a.3 ad 5) Per occisionem animalium significatur destructio peccatorum, et quod hominess errant digni occisione pro peccatis suis, ac si illa animalia loco eorum occiderentur ad significandam expiationem peccatorum… Moreover the slaying of the animals signified the destruction of sins: and also that man deserved death on account of his sins; as though those animals were slain in man's stead, in order to betoken the expiation of sins. Again the slaying of these animals signified the slaying of Christ.
-- Sacrifice in public worship must be positively instituted by a legitimate authority
= St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theol. IIa IIae, q.85, a.1 ad 1) Oblatio sacrificii in communi est de lege naturali; sed determinatio sacrificiorum est ex institutione humana vel divina… The offering of sacrifice belongs generically to the natural law, but the determination of sacrifices is established by God or by man.
= in OT God set the details for sacrificial service
= in NT the essentials elements proceed from Jesus Christ (who is God)
-- No sacrifice without priesthood, no priesthood without sacrifice… priesthood is required by the very nature of sacrifice
-- The word “sacrifice” is sometimes used figuratively, more broadly, to include other actions
= acts of charity (Heb 13:16)
= alms giving (Phil 4:18)
= ascetic lifestyle (Rom 12:1)
= prayer and praise (Hos 14:2; Psa 49:14; Heb 13:15)
Pertinent Scripture Passages
1 Corinthians 15:28 “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.”
Genesis 22:13 “And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
Psalm 50:14 “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High”
Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
Amos 5:21-25 "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. "Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?”
Hosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 14:2 “Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept that which is good and we will render the fruit of our lips.”
Isaiah 1:10-20 “Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats. 12 "When you come to appear before me, who requires of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies -- I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. 18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Matthew 9:13 “Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Hebrews 5:1 “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”
Hebrews 9:13-14 “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Hebrews 13:15-16 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Philippians 4:18 “I have received full payment, and more; I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
1Pet 2:5 “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; 5 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.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church
901 "Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."434
434 LG 34; cf. LG 10; 1 Pet 2:5
2099 It is right to offer sacrifice to God as a sign of adoration and gratitude, supplication and communion: "Every action done so as to cling to God in communion of holiness, and thus achieve blessedness, is a true sacrifice." 16
16 St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 10, 6.
2100 Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit. . . ."17 The prophets of the Old Covenant often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor.18 Jesus recalls the words of the prophet Hosea: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."19 The only perfect sacrifice is the one that Christ offered on the cross as a total offering to the Father's love and for our salvation.20 By uniting ourselves with his sacrifice we can make our lives a sacrifice to God.
17 Ps 51:17
18 Am 5:21-25; Isa 1:10-20
19 Mt 9:13; 12:7; cf. Hos 6:6
20 Heb 9:13-14
Points to Ponder
- What is sacred will often look useless to the naked eye: a very feeble or sick person near death, the fetus in the womb, a church sanctuary that has no other use than the worship of God, hosts that are not reserved for our physical nourishment – but for worship, Sunday morning time in church that seems not to make us profit materially/financially
- We cannot allow that the external offering of sacrifice in the Mass remain merely external. We must internally worship Him.
- The internal disposition desiring to offer Him worship in true sacrifice at Mass can be consistent with the disposition throughout the rest of our life where there is at least the oblation, the offering, of all life to Him for His glory.