Father Answers Your Questions

Question I want to better understand “sacrifice” as it pertains to the Old and New Testament.  In the Old Testament there appear to be many animals sacrificed to include the sprinkling of blood. Why?  Also is this sacrifice somehow related to the Eucharist becoming the “living sacrifice” during the Mass?

Answer  The concept of sacrifice in the Hebrew world was strictly used to describe religious rites and objects. Sacrifice was a joyful, festive time of thanksgiving to God and the sacrifices performed were gladly offered as an expression of one’s attitude toward God.  The larger the sacrifices offered the greater the joy one is expressing towards God. The stress was on giving, not on the giving up.  Sacrifices were offered for favors and expressions of thanksgiving for favors received from God.  Sacrificial offerings represented the primary means of worship of God.  The Book of Leviticus is the primary document for types of sacrificial offerings to be made though throughout many of the books in the Old Testament we find sacrifices being offered.  The early Israelites offer sacrifices for many reasons; Noah for thanksgiving, Job was seen as a righteous and pious man because he offered frequent sacrifices, and Moses sealed the covenant at Mt. Sinai through the offering of the blood of an oxen.  The gifts offered usually reflected a nomadic (shepherds with flocks of animals) or agricultural (farmers offering the first fruits of grain or wine).  We also read of offerings of incense which sweetness of smell is pleasing.  The elements of sacrifice help us to understand the meaning and motivation.  Sacrifice was the way the human being could give a gift to God.  Sacrifice also was a way to show homage to God.  Sacrifices were offered to atone and expiate sin (make up for and release) for one’s offenses.  Sacrifice was a way to share communion with God.

Blood is essential to physical life.  Its critical role for sustaining life helped the Israelites elevate blood to a high status symbol.  We find in the Old Testament the prohibition against eating blood.  Blood was seen as bearer of life given to God in atonement for human sins.  The blood of the animal offered substituted for the blood of sinful humans.  When Moses sealed the covenant at Mt Sinai between God and his people he used the blood of an oxen sprinkled on the altar and the people as a sign of the covenant between them and God.  Since blood is a life giving force, this powerful sign states that the people of God are willing to give their lives for their faith in God and God in return will protect his people and make of them a great nation.

With the establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem the focus of sacrificial worship changed from a few of the earlier ideas of sacrifice.  The purpose of the Temple was to house God, to feed God in exchange for God’s protection.  The annual trip to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple to God became a primary responsibility of all the Jewish faithful.  The priest now had greater control of Temple worship until the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the destruction of the Temple.  With the destruction of the Temple the primary mean of worship shifted from sacrificial offering to prayer.

Relationship between the Eucharist and Sacrifice

Sacrifice becomes one of the key ways to understand both the death of Christ and the celebration of the Eucharist that he left us as his memorial. By participating in the Eucharist we participate in the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s dying and rising, which is made present for us in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.  In participating at Eucharist the community joins together in praise and worship of God.  We echo in our lives as St. Paul urged the Church in Rome (Romans 12:1), “ I urge you therefore, by the mercies of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,  holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”  The whole assembly of the faithful, from the hands of the priest, offers the sacrifice of Christ to the Father, the members of the assembly are called to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.  Our part is to offer ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice in the charitable works we do through our bodies united to the faith in our heart in the name of the love of God.  There is no need to substitute the blood of an animal for ourselves since it is the blood of Christ, his body and our bodies and lives as the actual sacrificial offering made to the Father.

Fr. Tom

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