Human Sacrifice and the Eucharist

The Christian sacrifice

It is sometimes thought that, as a civilization progresses and gains a more “spiritual” understanding of God, sacrificial offerings should become a less important part of religious life until religion itself is more or less reduced to poetic exhortations to philanthropy.  This is not inevitably the case.  The period 0-1000AD was marked in Europe by the replacement of paganism by the most intensely sacrificial of all religions, namely Christianity.  Christianity is the most sacrificial religion?  That may not be obvious, especially to the post-Vatican II crowd, but let’s think about it.

People of all religions believe that the offering of oneself to God—in prayer, sacrifice, asceticism, charity, or martyrdom—is the noblest of human acts.  According to the doctrine of the Trinity, offering of self to God is also a divine activity.  God offers Himself to God:  the Father in “begetting” gives the Son His full divinity, and the Son [the “lamb of God” (John 1:29)] offers His life back to the Father through perfect obedience (c.f. John 5:30, Luke 22:42).  Thus, the Christian believes that self-offering to God does more than establish a relationship with the Creator.  It can “atone” in a more perfect sense by allowing one to share in God’s own inner life.  Glorifying God and being united with him are not only related (as in paganism); they are essentially the same thing.  When God’s grace allows us to participate in the sacrificial act which defines God the Son, we become ourselves “sons” of God the Father.  Thus, for Christians, the benefit of Christ’s sacrificial death is not that we are able to get out of paying the debt of our sins, but that we are made able to do so.  St. Paul insists that the baptized share in Christ’s death and in His resurrection (Col 2:12).  On its own, Christ’s life and death would be enough to redeem humanity in a corporate sense:  even if every other human being were in league with the devil, Christ would “tip the scale” so that mankind’s overall response to God would be one of obedience.  On its own, Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect expression of God’s nature, “translated” into the condition of fallen humanity for us to see, understand, and relate to.  None of this, however, will save the individual soul if it does not appropriate Christ and share in His work.  This is done through faith and the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist.  In the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrifice on the Cross is sacramentally re-presented, so that the Church may join herself to Christ’s offering.  By the natural symbolism of blood, the presentation of Christ’s flesh and blood means a sacrifice to God.  By the natural symbolism of food, to consume the host means to join oneself to the offering.  By natural symbolism and divine efficacy, the Sacrament makes a statement to God.  It means something like the following:  “By taking the body of the Savior, I join myself to Him, and I join myself to His sacrifice.  As He eternally offers Himself to You, heavenly Father, so now He offers me as well, since I am taken up into Him.  Everything I have and everything I am is Yours.”   Of course, a given Christian who takes Communion may or may not be thinking these things, but they are what his actions mean regardless.  That’s what is meant by natural or objective symbolism, such as Christians believe that acts like sex and the Eucharist possess.  Given the weight of meaning Christians attach to the Blessed Sacrament, it is not surprising that its reception is treated with such seriousness.   Those engaging in grave sin are told they must not participate in it, since for such people the above prayer would be a lie.

I conclude with a quote from St. Augustine of Hippo, that great exemplar of religious conservatism, which perfectly expresses what I, in my more cumbersome way, have tried to express in this essay on the nature of sacrifice.

Thus a true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed…For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it “sacrifice” meant to indicate.  Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God…in order that, being inflamed by the fire of His love, [his soul] may receive of His beauty and become pleasing to Him, losing the shape of earthly desire, and being remolded in the image of permanent loveliness…it follows that the whole redeemed city, that is to say, the congregation or community of the saints, is offered to God as our sacrifice through the great High Priest, who offered Himself to God in His passion for us, that we might be members of this glorious head, according to the form of a servant…This is the sacrifice of Christians:  we, being many, are one body in Christ.  And this also is the sacrifice which the Church continually celebrates in the sacrament of the altar, known to the faithful, in which she teaches that she herself is offered in the offering she makes to God.

                –The City of God, X

3 Responses

  1. […] and Isaac By bonald From my Human Sacrifice and the Eucharist (also called In Defense of Human Sacrifice): Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac is a perfect […]

  2. […] relevance here is my discussion of the symbolism of blood in Human Sacrifice and the Eucharist: A religious ritual is a symbolic act, and as such it makes […]

  3. […] to the profound meaningfulness of the offering of body and blood, what I have called the “symbolism of blood“.  He pointed to the boyhood ritual (which he’s seen in several cultures) of two […]

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