Why is the Mass called a sacrifice?

04-10-14-babickOne of the most consistent descriptions of the Mass through the centuries is to call it “the holy Sacrifice.” The sacrificial nature of the Mass has never been denied.

Sacrifice was integral to the spiritual life of our Jewish ancestors. In promising an heir to Abram, God asks him to sacrifice an animal. Abram cuts them in two parts. In the evening a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch are seen passing in between the parts of the animal. This same fire pot and flaming torch later lead the Israelites through the parted Red Sea.

This is God’s presence, who later speaks to Moses in a burning bush. Both God and Abram walk in between the animal halves. This was the ancient form of signing contracts: the same fate as the slain animal was called down upon the people in the contract should they fail to meet their part of the agreement.

This is how much God loves us! He indicates that He should suffer the same fate as a split animal should He fail to fulfill the promises He makes to those who follow Him faithfully.

01-29-15-bourdonWhen John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” those who heard him thought of Jesus as the lamb God asked Abraham to offer instead of his son Isaac. “Lamb of God” was also evocative of the Passover lamb God asked the Israelites to sacrifice before fleeing Egypt.

After going through the Red Sea, the Israelites offer a sacrificial lamb each year to make present again God’s fidelity to His people. Their own fate in life should suffer as the unconsumed animal should they fail to love God in faith.

To remember God’s actions in Jewish thought is not to see them in the past. Instead they believe that in sacred gatherings they are taken to the moment in which God acts.

The same is true for Catholic Christians as we offer the sacrifice of bread and wine the Messiah asked us to offer in His memory. Jesus told us bread and wine would re-present His Body and Blood in divine memory.

If that memory is living, then the Mass makes Christ’s sacrifice present again and again. How easy we have it now. We no longer need to obtain and slay animals to mark our agreement with God, yet simple bread and wine sacrifice seems to be too hard, with only 30 percent of Catholics in the U.S.A. attending Mass each Sunday.

In France, where today there are over 700 “no-go zones” too dangerous for citizens to enter, less than 5 percent attend the sacrifice weekly. Sometimes the further away we veer from the Lord’s commands, the more like the slain animals of old we become.

The sacrifice of the Mass is like the chill we get when a vivid memory is brought back to us by something we hear, see, or experience. This is the love God has for us if we return that love to Him in sacrifice.

FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: bbabick@catholic-doc.org.