GLEN COVE, NY —Offering sacrifice is the oldest religious observance
of man. Cain and Abel both made sacrifices. In Abraham’s time,
sacrifices were an established religious practice. Sacrifice came before
the law given to Moses and before whatever law may have been given
to Noah. It is quite probable that sacrifice was the main way of worshiping
God for over 50,000 years.
A sacrifice is an offering to God. Acts of self-denial and almsgiving
can share important attributes with sacrifice, but they can also simply
be observance of the law. Not all sacrifices are pleasing to God. Cain’s
was not. Psalm 50 tells us that a humble and contrite heart is more
pleasing to God than burnt offerings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus
tells us that if we have offended our brother, we should leave our
sacrifice before the altar, go and reconcile ourselves to our brother,
and return and make our sacrifice.
Sometimes the sacrifice most pleasing to God does not involve giving
anything up. Most people remember that Abraham was willing to sacrifice
his son, but they often overlook the important fact that what he actually
sacrificed was a ram provided to him by God on the spot. Since everything
is a gift to man from God, man deludes himself when he believes he
is making a gift to God. God is more pleased with the ram sacrificed
by Abraham than he is by birds and lambs offered by those who are proud
of their supposed generosity to God. There is no danger of pride when
God himself provides the victim.
The most pleasing sacrifice of all was, of course, the sacrifice
of our Lord on the cross. If the sacrifice of Abraham prefigured the
crucifixion in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, it
also prefigured it in that the ram, like our Lord, was a pure gift
By the time of the Crucifixion, the Jews had persuaded themselves
that the only place they could make sacrifices was in the Temple. The
Samaritans worshiped the same one true God as the Jews, but they did
not do so in the Temple. The Samaritan woman who met our Lord at the
well protested that her fathers adored God on the top of a mountain,
but the Jews adored God in Jerusalem. His response was prophetic, “Woman,
believe me, that the hour cometh when you shall neither on this mountain,
nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father.” Within the lifetime of Saint
John and other Apostles, the Temple was destroyed.
After the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisees, the legal rigorists
of that time, rescued Judaism from extinction. The product of their
work was a religion of many and strict laws, subject to highly technical
interpretation, and without sacrifices. Jews were scattered around
the world, and nowhere did they return to sacrifice. Today, there are
several branches of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, and
Reconstructionist — but none advocates sacrifice. Judaism became all
law and no sacrifice over 1,900 years ago.
Only one form of sacrifice is widespread in today’s world,
and it is the perfect sacrifice, the Eucharist. The central act of
worship of the ancient Christian churches founded by the Apostles is
the Mass or Eucharistic Liturgy. The Priest, acting as the representative
of Christ, repeats the words of Jesus at the Last Supper over bread
and wine; by virtue of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, the body,
blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus become present in the bread and
wine, which cease to be bread and wine as their substance is changed
to Our Lord’s body and blood. The Eucharist is the sacrifice
of the cross made present on thousands of altars every hour of every
day. It is offered by God and so is perfectly pleasing to God. God
no longer wants rams, doves, or lambs.
Almost 2,000 years ago, the sacrifices of the Old Testament disappeared
and the new and perfect sacrifice appeared. Man has continued to offer
sacrifice to God in an unbroken chain.
Protestantism is a Christian religion that began in the Fifteenth
Century. Most Protestants deny that the Eucharist is a sacrifice and,
with insignificant exceptions, they have no priests to celebrate the
Eucharist. Calvinism, one of the most rigid forms of Protestantism,
rejects the idea that its Eucharistic-like ceremonies involve anything
more than a mere commemoration of the Last Supper.
The Church founded by the Apostles is not united. Almost all of it
is the Catholic Church, but small parts of it in the East are outside
the Catholic Church. Protestants have never been in the Apostolic Church
but belong to a church formed almost 1,400 years after the death of
the last Apostle.
Today, unfortunately, ignorance about the sacrificial nature of the
Eucharist has even spread within the Catholic Church. Part of this
is due to so-called Catholic writers who say bizarre things like Christ’s
life, not his death, was his central redemptive act. Part is due to
the failure of contemporary Catholic catechesis, which has left a shockingly
high proportion of nominal Catholics unaware of the supernatural character
of the Eucharist. Part may also be due to the decline of solemn benediction
and of Eucharistic processions, which involve adoring God in the Eucharist.
Part may be due to the Puritan and Calvinist forces in our culture
that encourage a stark and austere form of religion without mystery,
ceremony, or beauty.
Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel knew that there was one God, that man had
sinned, and that man needed to atone. Noah knew this, Abraham knew
this, and Moses knew this. The practice of sacrificing birds and animals
to God endured from Adam’s time to Christ’s time. About
2,000 years ago everything changed, and the perfect sacrifice replaced
the old sacrifice. The sacrificial nature of the Eucharist needs to
be proclaimed. Its real nature needs to be taught. Its adoration needs
to be reinvigorated.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2009
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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