Posted by: Joe of St. Thérèse | November 27, 2008

Sacrifice part I

In this series on Sacrificial Theology, I make an attempt to relate the Catholic understanding of Sacrifice with the OT , NT and the Mass. It is my goal by the end of this series that you have a better understanding of the importance of Sacrifice as well as why the Liturgy as structured is the very foundation on which all else is based.

The first thing that we must understand is the term Sacrifice. Deriving from the Latin Sacrificium, which derives from the two verbs Sacer-to be holy, and facere-to make. So, literally the word means to make holy. The question becomes, what are we making holy? This question we will tackle a bit later in the series….The first question I must answer is what parts of sacrifice are there?

It is oftentimes said that Sacrifice is split into two parts. The first part is the offering of the victim. The 2nd part is the eating of the Sacrifice. Of course this is a real specific form of Sacrifice. All forms of Sacrifice relate to this fundamental part of Sacrifice.

Let us first take a look at the Sacrifices in the OT and our understanding of them as Catholics.

The First Sacrifices mentioned specifically in the Bible are that of Cain and Abel.

Gen 4, 1-6: And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God. And again she brought forth his brother Abel. And Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman. And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings. But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is thy countenance fallen?

Some of you ask, why in the world is this important? Well, if you read the previous verses you find that Eve bore Cain and Abel and then it immediately skips to their Sacrifices when they are older. The Bible does not go into detail about their childhood but focuses on Sacrifice, this is not a coincidence, as we’ll find out later.

Now what the Latin text doesn’t get here, but the Greek does in 4, 3: και εγενετo μεθ ημεραs ηνεγκεν καιν απo των καρπων τηs γηs θυσιαν τω κυριω

Breaking the verse down

και-means and

εγεν&epsilonτo-means to become, to be made,

μεθ-means, with, behind, after

ημεραs-the day, the age

ηνεγκεν-to carry, to carry a burden, to bear, to bring forward

καιν-Cain

απo- of separation, departing, fleeing, state of separation by temporal, physical, spiritual, origin of cause

των-the, this, that, these

καρπων-fruit of the tree, work, act, deed, praises offered as a thank offering

τηs- the, this, that, these

γηs-arable land, the ground,

θυσιαν-a sacrifice, victim

τω-the, this, that, these

κυριω-Lord

To translate the verse literally: and it came to pass after the age Cain brought forth of separation by spirit, the fruit of the land as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Two phrases to zoom in on are sacrifice and separation by spirit. Sacrifice which is the whole point of this series we shall undertake at a later time.

Separation by spirit. This is not evident in most English translations of the text (it’s not even in the Latin translation of the text: factum est autem post multos dies ut offerret Cain de fructibus terrae munera Domino) This is important to understanding why Cain’s sacrifice was NOT accepted by God. Cain’s heart was “half there” so to speak when he was offering the sacrifice of the fruit. It wasn’t that the fruit wasn’t acceptable, the heart wasn’t there….(As we’ll come to understand later).

This is why intention is so important in the essence of validity. I guess you can say this is the first invalid sacrifice that occurred in the Bible. None of us have the ability to judge hearts (as you see God did here with Cain), therefore it is practically impossible for us as lay Catholics to prove the intent of a priest unless he blatantly comes out and says that Mass isn’t a Sacrifice. (Though I swear I’ve been to a few Masses that I’ve almost walked out of because I thought the priest was attempting REALLY hard to take the Sacrificial element out of the Mass).

At this point the requirement of sacrifices hasn’t been established. We do see however already sacrifice from the beginning of time. (It should be concluded that if Cain and Abel were offering sacrifices, that they learned from their father Adam). (In case you’re wondering why the sacrifices haven’t been partaken of yet….that you shall find out next week…when we learn about the Sacrifices of Noah and Job…and the Law of God being enscribed on man’s heart)

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