Last week, one of the weekday readings was Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son, Isaac. After the Mass, one of the folks came up to me and asked: “Why is the Mass a sacrifice?”
Since I had to be available for confessions, I promised to write out a response to his question. Since I’m feeling lazy after a long holiday weekend, and since I was drawing a blank on the readings for July 12th, I decided to kinda replicate what I wrote.
In the olden days, people always sacrificed to the gods/ to God not just to thank the gods/God for blessings received, but also in order to obtain a favor or blessings. The material for sacrifice could be grains, animals, and often humans. You would offer what was precious to you in order to gain the desired blessing. In the time of Abraham, child sacrifice was common, so it would not have raised his eyebrows to be asked to sacrifice his son. What was the blessing Abraham received: God gave him back his son. He gave to God, God gave to him; we give to God, God gives to us. That’s the whole rhythm of the Mass.
We start the process by offering to God the bread and wine at the Offertory, and we ask God to accept this sacrifice for our good and the good of the Church. At the Consecration, God responds to our offering with an offering of his own: Take and eat, this is my Body. Take and drink, this is my Blood. From our simple gifts comes the majestic gift of Jesus’ own life.
Right after the Consecration, there is a prayer which represents another attempt on our part to offer something precious to God. The exact wording differs with each Eucharistic Prayer; let’s use the one from Eucharistic Prayer III: “we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.” Listen carefully for that prayer next time you’re at Mass.
So, we offer the bread and wine, God gives back his Son’s Body and Blood, we offer that back to the Father. And of course, God always reciprocates: he gives his Son back to us at Communion. OK, so how can we respond to that great gift? That comes with the last words of each Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” I liked the old translation better: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
And to help us love and serve the Lord, God gives us every blessing in the heavens (Sunday’s Second Reading would be a fitting conclusion to this notebe sure to listen to it).
Isn’t God’s generosity wonderful!?