Why Sacrifice


#1

My niece went to a Catholic youth retreat through Couples for Christ, and she liked it. She learned a lot, but she has a couple of complicated theological questions that her mom couldn’t answer, so she asked me to email her with an explanation she can handle at 12 years old. Anyway, the questions are:

Why did God choose to sacrifice His only son if He loved Him so much? Why sacrifice at all? The sacrifice part has her confused because she is studying about Mayan and Aztec cultures right now and she’s learning about them sacrificing their children. Maybe she is concerned about Christians doing that too.

My wife gave her a limited explanation: That God loved us so much that that is precisely why He chose his own Son to sacrifice, and that at that time, people were sacrificing animals and sometimes other people, and God’s sacrifice ended their need to do all that.

Any ideas that would help a 12 year old girl? Thanks.


#2

You could point out that sacrifice was the universal form of worship in the ancient world. Beginning with Cain and Abel and when Abraham entersinto covenant with God he offers sacrifice. But unlike his Pagan contemporaries his offering is acceptable because it is directed to the one true God.

So in the bible some sacrifices were acceptable(Abel and the Patriarchs,Melchizedeks, Levites and others were not (those of Cain, Egyptians etc.).

God accepts sacrifice-Not because he needs our offering but because we need it. That’s why they offered food items, and things considered precious. The book of Leviticus starts with a list of sacrifices that are acceptable to god in the Old Covenant.

You could point out where in Hebrews ch 8-9 St. Paul points out that the old system of animal sacrifice was replaced with the once and for all sacrifice of His Son. Jesus instituted the Eucharist so that we could perpetuate that same offering of the Cross. Not because God needs it but because we do. Just as food items were necessary for life - so His Sacrifice is necessary for eternal life.

You could also counter the human sacrifice stuff with Gen 22 when God does not allow Abraham to slaughter Isaac.So human sacrifice was never acceptable to God. It would be insufficient anyway(just like animals humans are motal and finite.

IMO two reasons why Jesus’ sacrifice is no longer intelligible to modern Catholics…

  1. When taught in religion classes or CCD , Jesus’ sacrifice is taken out of the Old Testament system of sacrifice too often. Without an understanding of the Old Testament sacrifices Jesus’ sacrifice wouldn’t make sense as a ratification, thaksgiving, atonement, and as a communion with God.
  2. The emphasis of the Mass shifted to the meal aspect away from an emphasis of the sacrifice/real presence aspect.

#3

God asked the Israelites to sacrifice because in Egypt, the gods they had worshiped were animals (for example, the golden calf). Essentially, God says, “You love me? Then butcher your old gods. Prove your love.”


#4

Thanks for the replies. This is how I ended up answering her:

Hi Jenny, Uncle Vince here!

Aunt Carol forwarded me some questions you had about some things that occurred to you at a recent retreat. These are really good questions, a) because it shows you are thinking about important things and b) because the particular questions you asked are important for understanding religion in general and our Catholic Faith in particular. I think I have some answers for you. You’ll need your or your Mom’s Bible for this so I’ll wait here while you run and get it.

Hmm hmm hmmm hmm…

Are you back? Good!

Let’s take the question about sacrifice first: why sacrifice?

The basic definition of a sacrifice is something you give up out of love. People give up many things for the benefit of those they love: parents sacrifice their time and money for their children, soldiers and firefighters may sacrifice their lives for others. This kind of sacrifice is an act of love.

Sometimes a sacrifice is made to make up for something wrong that they have done. Suppose a girl breaks a window with a baseball. The girl is caught and confesses, but the person whose window it is forgives her. However, it is only fair (or just) that the girl work (time) or find some way to help pay (with money) for the window. This kind of sacrifice is known as reparation, or paying what is owed.

But what does that have to do with sacrificing and God?

People seem to have an inborn sense that they should worship and sacrifice to God. If you look in the beginning of your Bible in Genesis chapter 4, verses 1 through 7, you will see the story of Cain and Abel. These were the very first people after Adam and Eve and they are already making sacrifices to God. In ancient times, people usually sacrificed animals because, since they didn’t use money yet, animals like cows and sheep represented wealth, plus the shedding of blood represented life and death.

Also, if you look toward the end of your Bible in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans in Chapter 1 verses 18 to 23 (also see Wisdom 13:1-9 in the middle of the Old Testament), Saint Paul tells us that all people everywhere are searching for God, but since many of them did not know the God of the Bible, they began to try to worship God the best they could. However, this led to a lot of false religions in the world that, even though they may have had some good about them, led them into wrong ideas about God. Some of these false religions went horribly wrong like the parts of Aztec and other civilizations that had human sacrifice and other terrible practices.

The Christian idea about sacrifice came out of sacrifices of the Old Testament which was the beginning of God’s revealing himself to his people. The Catholic Church teaches us that Jesus Christ came to end all these sacrifices which were only kind of image or preparation for his one, true sacrifice. But why did God choose to sacrifice His only son if He loved Him so much? This is the most important question of all.

Ever since the time of Adam and Eve (the parents and representatives of mankind) and the Original Sin (see Genesis, chapter 3) mankind has been separated from God, not only because of our first parent’s sin but because of all the sins committed by every person who ever lived on the earth. God created us to live with him in heaven forever but since none of us ourselves could possibly make reparation for all this sin that separates us from God (since God is infinitely Holy), God in his great mercy and love found a way.

God loved us so much that that is precisely why He chose his own Son to sacrifice himself on our behalf. Since Jesus was fully man (so he could represent us) and fully God (so that he offer such an infinite sacrifice) he was the only one who could do it. That is why we call him our Savior. All that is left for us to do is to place our faith in him and his sacrifice, be baptized, and follow his teachings everyday. That is why we call him Lord. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

When we go to Mass every Sunday, it is this very same sacrifice of Jesus (not a new one, but the same one) that is being re-presented on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine and which we have the privilege of participating in offering our worship and our daily lives. Just think: we are participating in the greatest sacrifice there ever was!

Sorry this answer is so long, but it is a good and important question and I wanted to give you the best answer I could. Please keep asking those good questions—and I will try to be less long winded!

Love,

Uncle Vince


closed #5

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