Sacrifice-supper

Critiques of the Novus Ordo point continually to its self-description as a common meal to the exclusion of calling it a sacrifice. The self-description was an attempt to advance the idea of liturgy as a public activity, and it is clearly not meant to deny the sacrificial character of the Mass, but all take for granted that these two descriptions compete with one another.

Here’s a strong thesis: Failure to get that the Mass is a supper-sacrifice misses the whole point of Christianity. 

But why not? The paschal lamb is a supper-sacrifice, and Christian passover is a meal consummated in death. But the main point is more basic. Sacrifices are essentially offered to God e.g. we kill the dove and burn it to send it up to the infinite. To eat the sacrifice is to say that man consumes that which is God’s own, that is, what is offered to God is now offered to the human person. This is the whole point of Christianity: God sharing his life with man through a grace that makes the person a participant in the divine nature.

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7 Comments

  1. dpmonahan said,

    March 10, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    Not all ancient sacrifices were holocausts. Usually only a small (inedible) part of the animal was burnt and the rest shared among the people preforming the sacrifice: the sacrifice creates an ordered community among men and the god being honored. You see it not only in the OT but also in Homer. Paul spends quite a bit of time dealing with Christian scruples about eating meat sacrificed to idols because attending a barbecue in the ancient world usually implied a pagan sacrifice. Even meat bought at the butcher shop had probably come from the temple, which was often right next store.
    The inescapable link between sacrifice and meal would have been obvious to 1st century Christians.

    • March 10, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Right. The same bull that was sacrificed could also be eaten. But As far as I can tell, the temple priest did not think “I’m eating that which is offered to God” but “I’m eating this and God got that” even where they came from the same animal.

      If i’m wrong and the temple priests thought that they were eating exactly the same thing that is God’s own then that’s fine too. Supper-sacrifice is the whole point. But I thought both Homer and the Temple priests understood it differently; especially since the proper logos of a sacrifice is what is given up, not what is given to us for use.

      • Lucretius said,

        March 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

        I always thought the difference between the pagans and the Jews/Christians is that they thought that they were adding something to the God, while for us we see the sacrifice as adding something to us?

        Christi pax.

      • John Biddle said,

        March 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm

        I am under the impression that the sacrifice was supposed to be, in a certain sense, a meal shared between the god and the worshipers, and that the priest and whoever else partook was indeed thinking that they were eating what had been offered to the god.
        So, is “that which is given up” a good account of the logos of sacrifice? Certainly that’s how we use the word in modern English. But we quit doing animal sacrifices a long time ago, and my guess has always been that because of that, the word’s meaning ended up mutating toward something more limited, and that a better understanding might be something more like “that which is set apart for holiness/sacred use/divine use” (and therefore off limits for any other kind of use, and in that sense given up). Come to think of it, you might say that the only thing that survives in our culture that is anything like a sacrifice in the sense that the ancients would have done it is the Mass. So saying “the Mass is a sacrifice” is saying that it’s part of this genus with which we have no other experience, and that’s a situation ripe for confusion.
        As I understand it, though, one thing that is very different in the Mass than in ancient sacrifices is the identification of the victim with the god, or in the case of the Mass, God. The ancients saw themselves as partaking in a holy meal with a deity, but not consuming their deities. And none of this contradicts the central thesis of the original post, which was that understanding the mass as a sacrifice-supper is central to Christianity. If anything, it strengthens it.
        A final note: Philip K. Dick wrote a short story in which aliens try to give a dying Christian astronaut an appropriate near-death experience. But they find the idea Eucharist in her brain and think that it must be scrambled by lack of oxygen, since clearly (to them) it should be the higher that consumes the lower, the god that consumes the worshiper. So they have her hallucinate that Jesus shows up and starts eating her and her companions.

  2. Kristor said,

    March 10, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Yes. In the ancient world, sacrifice was just the way that slaughtering and butchering was done. Likewise, every round of alcoholic drink was shared first with the gods; that’s why we raise our glasses, and the host sometimes still pours out a bit of his own as a libation for the gods.

    Then also, having been consumed by the god via the sacrifice, the victim was taken to have become integral with him; so that the humans eating the meat of the victim were then eating the body of the god.

  3. Kristor said,

    March 10, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    “… the humans eating the meat of the victim were then eating the body of the god.”

    This being why Paul was so concerned about Christians eating the flesh of demons. The god eats the victim, and so the victim becomes a salient of the god; the worshipper eats the victim, and so the flesh of the victim – the flesh now of the god as well – becomes the flesh of the worshipper.

  4. Paul said,

    March 10, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    Hindus still do this: the term is prasāda.


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