The Sacred Sacrifice

One of the universal practices of humanity around the world in ancient times is the ritual of sacrifice. The reasons and methods of sacrifice are complex and varied, but what remains is that in virtually every religion in every part of the world in one way or another a sacrifice was offered.

Sometimes the sacrifice was linked with the scapegoat idea–the terrors and trials and problems and fears of the people were projected onto the sacrificial victim, and as it was killed the problems and sins were done away with. The sacrifice was sometimes simply a ritualistic way to get rid of the tribe’s enemy. In battle the enemy was captured and then ritually sacrificed. Another element of the sacrificial system was an attempt to placate the gods so they would provide the necessary weather conditions for a good crop. Sacrifices were also offered as a way of giving the gods a gift of something precious. There were also identifications with the mysteries of life and death, the underworld, redemption, release and the idea of an exchange of victims to effect justice and peace.

As I celebrated Mass today what hit me was how amazingly unusual it is that the one religion in the modern world today that still offers a sacrifice is the Catholic faith. I believe Hindus still offer sacrifices at a low level of making offerings, but the Catholic Church is the only religion that still maintains a full sacrificial system through the mystery of the Mass.

Why is this? Why have sacrifices pretty much died out everywhere, yet it remains within Catholicism? Because the cross of Christ is the “one, full, final sacrifice”. On the cross the sacrificial systems of the world were fulfilled. All was completed. The Mass is the daily remembrance of that one, full, final sacrifice. Through the mystery of the Mass we bring that completed sacrifice into the present moment and apply it’s graces to our needs today.

This is why the concept of the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ must not be minimized or lost. The Mass is not primarily the “family fellowship meal”. It is not primarily the “gathering”. It is not just a time to sing hymns, hold hands and hear a homily about how to be nice people and make the world a better place. Instead it is a solemn ritual. It is the one full final sacrifice alive again and again and day after day–presented to God in an unbloody manner.

Once we realize the depth of this mysterious exchange our appreciation for the Mass and our appropriation of its benefits will increase.

 

  • Simon D

    I wrote a lengthy paper on this very subject just recently as it happens: http://simondodd.org/blog/?p=1074.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      Thanks for the link.

  • David Philippart

    As I
    celebrated Mass today what hit me was how amazingly unusual it is that
    the one religion in the modern world today that still offers a sacrifice
    is the Catholic faith. I believe Hindus still offer sacrifices at a low
    level of making offerings, but the Catholic Church is the only religion
    that still maintains a full sacrificial system through the mystery of
    the Mass. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/06/the-sacred-sacrifice.html#sthash.GNBA61lk.dpuf
    As I
    celebrated Mass today what hit me was how amazingly unusual it is that
    the one religion in the modern world today that still offers a sacrifice
    is the Catholic faith. I believe Hindus still offer sacrifices at a low
    level of making offerings, but the Catholic Church is the only religion
    that still maintains a full sacrificial system through the mystery of
    the Mass. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2013/06/the-sacred-sacrifice.html#sthash.GNBA61lk.dpuf
    What about the Orthodox churches. They have valid eucharist. Is their eucharist not a sacrifice?

  • Joshua Gonnerman

    René Girard is always interesting on this.

  • Pat Schwarz

    Maybe young people who say they don’t go to Mass because it is “boring” really mean that they don’t “experience” the inspiration, sights, sounds, actions of reverence, of the sacred that has been stripped away. On top of that, having to listen to the “songs” that belong only at prayer meetings, puts the icing on the cake.

  • Don

    The Orthodox Churches also maintain “a full sacrificial system” through their divine liturgies (aka Masses). Hopefully one day the schism can be healed and both lungs will breath as one again.

  • D. Morgan

    Thank You Father. This needs to be repeated from every ambo in the United States. Often.

  • John R

    Is there any reason not to include the Eastern Churches as still maintaining a sacrificial system through their Mass?

    • Bill

      I just think he forgot about them

      Eastern Christianity isn’t a needle-mover in the Western Hemisphere. I think there are probably about as many Hindus here today as Orthodox Christians in the US.

  • vox borealis

    Thank you, Father. This is such a hugely important point. So often these days the Mass becomes the one stop shopping for all Catholic life (it seems like every week at my parish some other special rite or sacrament is incorporated into the Mass, such as a baptism or the commissioning of catechumens or whatever, or a special announcement is made, or we take note of and applaud some or other “ministry”), that we lose track of what is actually going on at the Mass. Most Catholics (myself included, I imagine) see the Mass, as you imply, as primarily the place to hear a nice sermon, or to “get” something (Eucharist, ashes, palms), rather than as a sacrifice. Great piece!

  • Craig

    Excellent point-and the perfect image of the Traditional Sacrifice portrayed.

  • Eve Fisher

    I respectfully remind everyone that the Orthodox, Coptic, and Anglican churches all offer the Sacrifice.

    • Nan

      But the Anglicans don’t have valid Holy Orders.

    • Gary

      Not Anglican, Anglicanism rejected the sacrificial nature of holy communion. BTW Anglican orders are not valid.

    • AnneG

      Orthodox, yes. I don’t know that much about Copts, but the Catholic ones, yes. The Anglicans specifically repudiated the sacrificial system several times, although some Anglicans borrow from our theology.

  • Sam Zabotney

    One word of caution here: This is all true. Christianity without the Cross is just another religion, just another philosophy, or just another bunch of do-gooders. As someone once put it, it becomes a “dangerous counterfeit” of the real thing.

    The word of caution regards the tendency of some to turn the Mass into just another form of cheap devotionalism and religiosity. A “shaman” doing magic with the bread and wine.

    Rightly understood, the Eucharist is not a “thing” or a source of a mysterious “stuff” called “grace”, but it is God broken and poured out for a hurting world, and we as participants in the mystery are called to be broken and poured out for that same world.

    As you state “Through the mystery of the Mass we bring that completed sacrifice into the present moment..”, it is through living the pattern of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the power of the Holy Spirit in and through our own lives that redemption indeed comes to God’s creation that he loves so dearly.

    Devotionalism and religiosity fold before postmodernism like a cheap tent in a windstorm. A Eucharistic Lifestyle is indeed the answer to the great postmodern question of “So What?”


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