A sacrifice pleasing and acceptable

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6th in a series of short homilies on the Mass

What do you give to the God who has everything?

In my last homily, we considered how Christ is the perfect, eternal high priest—unsurpassable in bringing us closer to God, and God closer to us. And as soon as we speak of a priest, we quickly speak of sacrifice, which is, fundamentally, giving something to God. As with any gift, we can ask an obvious question: What should you give to God? What does he want or need?

As with other gifts, if you’re not sure what he wants, you can start by giving something that is valuable to you. And so, throughout history, people have sacrificed living animals; different kinds of food and drink; spices and incense; silver and gold; and more. Some cultures have even sacrificed human beings, as the most valuable of all.

And clearly, in order for this gift to be valuable to you, it is not your leftovers, but your first fruits. Not a weak or crippled animal, but one that is strong and spotless. Not something rotten or corrupted, but pure.

And we find almost all of these laid out in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers as kinds of sacrifice that the People of Israel were to offer to the Lord.

But the risk is to fall into thinking that the Lord actually needs these things and is dependent on you to supply them; when he doesn’t. Or to think that it is okay to follow false gods, or live immorally, or exploit and mistreat other people—just as long as you keep on offering your sacrifices. And so the Lord had to correct these errors through the prophets:

  • “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” (Hos 6:6)
  • “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” (1 Sam 15:22; cf. Ps 40:7, Eccl 4:17)
  • “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills… If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world and all that is in it is mine… Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.” (Ps 50:10-14)

Expressed with some hyperbole by the prophets, this message was not a rejection of sacrifices but a clarification of them: they were not to be a contradiction of the life you lived, but a tangible, outward expression of it.

So in order to give the Lord a sacrifice pleasing to him—a gift he actually wants—we need to turn the focus upon ourselves—our hearts, our lives, our actions. And that actually makes it much more difficult. For who among us is spotless, strong, and pure? How many of us do not have great, foolish sins from our youth, before we turned back to God? Or, even now, who always gives him the first fruits—of time, resources, and attention? Who is always perfectly just and loving to those around us, in thought, word, and deed? Who could ever give him a gift worthy of his infinite goodness? Who could ever give him the sacrifice that he asks for?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest, offered himself as the one perfect sacrifice, pleasing to God the Father.

  • For he was completely without sin, pure and spotless.
  • He lived out a life of perfect obedience, always doing the will of the Father; never disobeying, never doing his own will.
  • He lived out a life of perfect love at every moment, love for the Father and for every human being, with every beat of his Sacred Heart.
  • And he brought the offering of his life to completion in his passion and death upon the cross. “Embracing… the Father’s love for all men, Jesus ‘loved them to the end.'” (CCC 609) Neither striking back in anger and vengeance, nor being defeated in fear and pain, he laid down his life freely. (John 10:18)
  • He offered this sacrifice as true man; and because he is true God, every drop of his sacrifice was of infinite value and merit.

Thus this sacrifice of Christ is unique, completing and surpassing all other sacrifices as he was able to offer himself as a sacrifice for all (CCC 614, 616). Just as his priesthood is perfect and unsurpassable, so the sacrifice he offers is perfect and unsurpassable. And it is in this one perfect sacrifice that he is made present upon the altar at every Mass, infinitely pleasing to the Father.

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