Throughout all of salvation history, from Cain and Abel to the Mass today, have we offered sacrifices to God. But why do we do that?
Well, the first thing we need to understand is that God doesn’t need us to sacrifice. God doesn’t need anything.
God gives us the opportunity to sacrifice as a tangible way to express our love for him and show how grateful we are for all that he has provided us.
Why would he do that? Why would he make sacrifice available to us?
Because God knows how we’re wired. He did the wiring. He knows, as our creator, how humanity works. He knows that, when we’re in a loving relationship we feel compelled to convey our affections in a physical way, through actions, not just words. We want to DO something.
For example, we may want to get that special someone a gift they always wanted or we’ll offer our time and talents to give them a life they always wanted. Just thinking about someone we love is not enough. We must turn that affection into a selfless act in order to properly illustrate our true feelings.
So, by giving us the opportunity to sacrifice to God, he’s giving us a tangible outlet for us to actually DO something real for Him, to physically express our love for him.
WHAT SHOULD WE SACRIFICE?
That’s a good question. To answer it correctly, we first need to put everything in perspective. You see, all that you have right now is either God’s creation or a creation from his creation (us). For example, the paper from the money you have came from God’s trees. The plastics used in your phones, computers and cars came from God’s oil. The clothes that you wear contain God’s cotton.
So we need to realize that everything that we have in our life is already God’s. We’re just temporarily holding it for him. Once we understand that, then we can properly decide, out of all of his stuff we’re using, what should we give back to him in sacrifice?
To put it simply, we should offer God the best that he has given to us. That’s showing God just how grateful we are for his generosity.
If you had child and you gave them everything… unconditional love, shelter, clothes, food and money, how would you feel if they spent it all on themselves and only gave whatever they had left to you?
You’d feel under appreciated. Taken for granted. You’d feel they are selfish. Self-centered. You may even wonder if they really understand all that you’ve done for them and just how much you love them.
Now, let’s say on the way home from work you stop by and see their house is on fire. You rush in just in time and save that child from death. You pull them from a burning building, suffering wounds of your own, so they could live.
Do you think that person would suddenly be more grateful to you for saving their life? Don’t you think you would now be their first priority, not their last, and they would sacrifice whatever they needed to in order to pay you back?
Everyone would see by their actions how much they love you and appreciated you.
The same goes for God. Does he not provide us with everything?
Did he not save us from death by suffering wounds on the Cross?
Is he our first priority?
HOW WE SACRIFICE – FIRST FRUITS
Does what we offer to God matter? Yes. Since God gives us all things, including our own lives, he deserves the best we have to offer, not whatever‘s left.
He deserves the first fruits of our labors, not the last.
We can see this in the story of Cain and Abel. Abel took care of the animals and sacrificed to God the best of the animals, because without God he wouldn’t have any of them. Cain, on the other hand, took care of the trees and their fruit, and he only gave God what was left after he had taken the best for himself.
God rejected Cain’s offering because his heart was focused on himself, not God.
What type of sacrifice are we offering? Would God reject ours as he did Cain’s?
Later the Jews offered sacrifices to God for a variety of different reasons, such as seeking atonement for their sins, or for the submission to God’s will, or as a peace offering expressing thanks to God.
And all of these sacrifices had to be performed by priests on an altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. They offered animals to God in the same way as Abel did, by giving God their best. And even though these animals were critical for their survival and livelihood, they gave them back to God in order to show God how important he was to them.
We need to take the best we have and bring it to the altar of God and offer it up in thanksgiving, just as Abel, just as the Jews.
Out of all of the first fruits we can offer God, the greatest sacrifice we can offer is our own life. As Jesus said, there is no greater expression of love than to lay down one’s life for a friend. This statement not only prefigures Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and in the Eucharist, but also foretold the sacrifices the Apostles would make for the faith.
Those who die for the faith are called martyrs. Along with the Apostles, followers for generations after them died for the faith and did so gladly because they believed that, as Jesus said, the servant is not greater than the master. And if suffering and dying was good enough for Jesus, then how could they possibly believe they deserved any less suffering?
Sadly, people are still martyred for the faith even today. They can offer God nothing greater than their life.
THE MASS – A PERFECT SACRIFICE
The amazing thing is that, as wonderful expressions of love, gratitude and faith all of our sacrifices are and have been, they are burdened by one thing: they are offered by a sinful people.
That is why the Mass is so special. After the fall of the Temple around 70 A.D., the Catholic Church is the only church since then to offer continual, physical sacrifices in the world. And not just any sacrifice, the perfect sacrifice.
Like the Jewish priests before Christ, on the altar at every Mass the Catholic priests offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice to God for the atonement of our sins. Yet, unlike the Jewish sacrifices and all of the other sacrifices since Cain and Abel, this one is perfect because it is the sacrifice of a perfect Jesus Christ, God the Son, to a perfect God the Father.
So, why do we sacrifice to God?
Because without him we have nothing and are nothing. Our sacrifices are an expression of our love for him and for all he has done and we should continue to offer God our first fruits in gratitude for his unending love and mercy.
But, remember that, because God’s own sacrifice in the Mass is perfect and greater than all of our sacrifices combined, we should go to Mass as often as we can, and participate in this holy, miraculous and divine offering. There is no greater gift.