Years ago, I sent out some "catechesis emails" to interested friends and family. They, like me, never really learned much in Catholic religious education and CCD classes (I was catechized in the 1970s and '80s). What I wrote was pretty basic stuff, and I thought some of the Bubble readers might like the overview.
Previously, we talked about how painful it is for a soul to be separated from God, and that all of life is really a search for union with the Trinity (even though many souls are not consciously aware of what they are longing for).
From the beginning, God’s people have tried to “make things right”, attempting to heal the rift that has existed between God and man since that first sin in the Garden of Eden. The primary means to that end has been offering sacrifice.
Sacrifice is, by definition, a giving up or offering of something precious. In Old Testament days, before Jesus came, the people offered sacrifices to God in order to show them that they loved Him, to thank Him for His many gifts, and in order to make up for their sins. The thing being offered was always burnt or destroyed, to show that it was being given back to God completely. It was also the best that the person had to offer; for example, farmers would offer God the “first fruits” of their harvests, and a shepherd would give his best lamb.
Then, as today, the sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God was one offered with a pure heart, out of true love.
We've talked earlier about the nature of love, about how love must be freely given and freely received, how love must have an object, and how love is always fruitful. I will now add that true love is always sacrificial. Think of our own relationships with our family members and loved ones: We sacrifice for them, i.e., offer ourselves and our lives for them, out of love.
In the Old Testament, we often see the people offering the bloody sacrifice of animals, where the blood of an animal would be shed, then its body burnt. After a while, in Moses’ time, priests were appointed to offer the sacrifices on behalf of all God’s people.
Note: While God’s chosen people (the Hebrew people, also known as the Israelites) were offering all those sacrifices to God, the pagans were busy offering sacrifices to their false gods as well. This is natural, not surprising. Remember we said that God has left His “thumbprint” on each person’s soul, a distant “echo” of Himself? Everyone, on some level, knows that we are separated from God, and that sacrifice is needed in order to make up for our sins. Unfortunately, there were occasions when the pagans sacrificed human beings to their gods, which of course the true God never requires!
But getting back to the Hebrew people, the purpose of all these elaborate, bloody, ritualistic sacrifices was a deep longing to make up for Adam’s sin and to “build a bridge” back to God. In reality, all those millions of sacrifices were pointing to, or foreshadowing, the only Sacrifice which actually could build a bridge back to God, namely Jesus’ own offering of Himself on the Cross.
Think about it, and try to follow my logic here: To make up perfectly for the sin of Adam (i.e., to reconcile God and man perfectly), man’s sacrifice would have to be perfect. Yet, how could sinful man offer a perfect sacrifice when he himself is imperfect, and when the gift, no matter how good, is imperfect as well? The answer is that he couldn’t; it is simply impossible. Only God, Who is perfect, could provide a perfect sacrifice. So we humans really had a problem. Those millions of animal and other sacrifices just couldn’t reconcile us completely, perfectly, with God. We were still lost.
But remember! God had a plan for reconciliation all along. “In the fullness of time,” the Second Person of the Holy Trinity -- the Beloved Son -- came down from Heaven and became man. He became one of us, while remaining fully divine (thus, sinless).
Jesus alone could represent both sides!
Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross was the perfect offering, the likes of which no other man could present to the Father. As true man, Jesus is able to act on behalf of all mankind. As true God, the Sacrifice is utterly perfect, therefore completely acceptable to the Father. Jesus, as both Priest and Victim, offered Himself, out of pure love, in atonement for all of our sins.* His Sacrifice of love was so powerful, so beautiful, so complete, that it unleashed a torrent of grace upon the earth, which washed away the sin of Adam and redeemed the whole human race, reopening the gates of Heaven.
Perfect Love reconciled Heaven and earth, God and man.
*Why yes, this does sound like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!
Next, read Part V: Jesus as the "Lamb of God"