Worthy is the Lamb that was slain

I have written at length now about what Jesus refers to as the weightier matters of the law: judgment (mishpat), mercy (chesed), and fidelity (emeth) (cf. Mt 23:23). This three inseparable covenant virtues provide us with a fuller meaning with the famous saying, I want mercy, not sacrifice. (cf. Mt 9:13, Hos 6:6) God does want the public, exterior worship of sacrifice, but he wants it as an expression of the self-offering of a worshipper whose life is a life of fidelity to the covenant through the practice of mercy in a spirit of right judgment.

This worship is impossible to the sinner who by his sin is separated from God. It is achieved perfectly in Jesus Christ who lived a life of mishpat, chesed, and emeth, which he brought to completion through his self-offering on the Cross.

There he reveals mishpat because the Cross is the judgment of condemnation against the devil, the prince of this world; (cf. Jn 12:31, 16:11) chesed because Jesus sheds his blood for the forgiveness of sins and promises paradise to the repentant thief; and emeth because on the Cross, Jesus does the will of the Father and completes his work and so is able to declare, It is finished. (Jn 19:30, cf. Jn 4:34)

Through faith in the blood of Christ, we are joined to the self-offering of Jesus first by exercising judgment on our own sins through repentance, then by receiving the mercy of God’s forgiveness, and finally by living in fidelity to the new and eternal covenant through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit communicated to the believer through faith and the sacraments gives him the power to offer to the Father, through, with, and in the High Priest, Jesus Christ a life of fidelity through the practice of the works of mercy in a spirit of right judgment. Through, with, and in Jesus Christ he is able to make the offering of a life of mishpat, chesed, and emeth.

 This self-offering of the faithful through, with, and in Jesus Christ does not take place in a pure, interior, private fashion, but is expressed exteriorly and publicly through union with the visible, sacramental re-presentation of Jesus’ own sacrifice in the Holy Mass.

So we can now return to my point of departure for this whole lengthy discussion of sacrifice when I wrote: “At the moment of the consecration at the Mass the people can offer themselves as victim by slaying their own egoism, as it were, and placing it on the altar with the Lamb of God.”

We slay our own egoism in a spirit of repentance, pleading with God to create in us a clean heart, while we offer him a humble and contrite heart. (cf. Ps 51:12,18-19)

We slay our own egoism in a spirit of gratitude for the mercy of God because Jesus Christ has already shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins. Thus we fulfill the words of the Psalmist: Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me. (Ps 50:23)

We offer not only our death in union with Christ, but also our life in Christ, a life that is nourished in us through the worthy reception of holy communion, a life of the practice of mercy in obedience to his commands. So we fulfill also the words, I want mercy, not sacrifice. (cf. Hos 6:6, Ps 50:23)

All of this is accomplished through the Lamb of God placed concretely and objectively on the altar by the hands and voice of the priest at the moment of consecration and through our offering the Lamb together with the priest, and ourselves together with the Lamb.

The offering of the Lamb is the worthy gift of tribute offered to God the Lord of all and at the same time the offering that seals and renews the marriage covenant between Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Bride.

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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