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The Purpose and Meaning of Sacrifice

Homily for Tuesday in the 8th Week of Ordinary Time

The notion of sacrifice in the Book of Sirach draws our attention to the true purpose of sacrifices or oblations. The Jewish ritual sacrifices offered in the Temple carries three underlying concepts.

The first of these is the concept of gift or giving. Gifts must be made from something that belongs to the giver. One offers something possessed. Offering something which is not yours would be rejected by God.

The second concept is the notion of substitution; i.e. the things that are done to the offering are things that should have been done to the person making the offering. The offering is in some sense "punished" in place of the one making the sacrifice. It is interesting to note that whenever the subject of sacrificed is addressed in the Torah, the name of God used is the four-letter name indicating God's mercy.

The final concept is the idea of coming closer; in other words, the essence of sacrifice is to bring a person closer to God.

All too often we think of Jewish sacrifices as being a means of expiating sins. This is a very narrow way of looking at sacrifice. Notice that the Book of Sirach gives us a host of other kinds of sacrifice: keeping the law, works of charity, and refraining from evil. Sirach describes such offerings or sacrifices as pleasing, cheerful, and generous.

These concepts are also a very definite part of our own notion of sacrifice, particularly the concept of drawing nearer to God through sacrifice. As St. Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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