A sacrifice to God consists in a lawful priest offering some befitting gift to God, as a victim in the name of the people, in order to acknowledge God’s absolute sovereignty over creation.
In a sacrifice, man gives to God something of his own property; this surrender occurs through real or symbolic destruction, whereby the gift is removed from its usefulness to man. In this manner, man recognizes that God is the Lord of everything he has. This homage is worship (the act of adoration). A sacrifice may also express one’s thanks to God for His blessings and implore Him to continue His goodness.
The sacrifices of the Old Testament are divided into bloody and unbloody offerings. The material of the bloody sacrifices was the animals of the herd, such as cattle, sheep, and goats. According to the reasons for the offering, sacrifices were divided into holocausts or burnt offerings, sin offerings, and peace offerings. Holocausts, the burning and offering up of an entire victim to God, served to remind the ancient Hebrews of God’s supreme dominion over His creatures and of the need for inner purity and complete self-surrender to His will. Sin offerings were made in atonement for sin. A peace offering was a thanksgiving or praise offering.
Just as the burnt offering and sin offering were types (foreshadowings) of Christ’s sacrificial Death on the Cross, likewise, the peace offering was a type of the Blessed Sacrament.
The Passover was one of three major feasts of ancient Judaism that was celebrated every year, the others being the feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles. It was obligatory at the Passover for every male Israelite to appear before the sanctuary of the tabernacle (or Temple) at Jerusalem. Before sunset on the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, an unblemished lamb was to be slaughtered in the court of the Temple, and after sunset, this lamb, which was roasted, was eaten with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine. During the meal various psalms were recited or sung.
The Passover was a memorial commanded by God, in memory of and in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. At that time, the angel of the Passover “passed over” the homes of the Israelites which were marked with the blood of the lamb that had been sacrificed. But the angel put to death the first-born son of each Egyptian family as a punishment from God. It was the most terrible of the ten plagues which God sent to the Egyptians for refusing to release the Israelites from slavery.
The lamb sacrificed for the feast is taken by St. John and St. Paul as a type (figure) of Jesus Christ as the Victim. Indeed, Jesus is called the Lamb; this term refers to His innocence.
When John the Baptist caught sight of Jesus coming toward him, he exclaimed: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
St. Paul told the Corinthians: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8).
The Passover lamb was a real sacrifice, a combination of the sin and peace offerings; similarly, our Lord died for us as a sin offering on the Cross, and gives Himself to us as a peace offering in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
It was during the Passover meal which Jesus ate with His Apostles that He instituted the Holy Eucharist. He is the true Lamb of God, sacrificed on the Cross and offered again in an unbloody manner at Mass; He is also the food of our souls in Holy Communion.
What is the most perfect and most pleasing sacrifice that we can offer to God?
Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world, is the most perfect and most pleasing sacrifice we can offer to God.
Indeed, any other sacrifice we offer is pleasing to God only when we, being in the state of grace, offer it in union with the supreme sacrifice of His Son.
How can we offer Jesus to God on our behalf?
When we worship God at Mass, we baptized Catholics, as sharers in Christ’s priesthood, are privileged to participate in His eternal sacrifice of Himself to the Father on our behalf. As members of the priesthood of the faithful, we offer not only ourselves to the Father, along with our intentions, but especially that which is most precious and acceptable to Him, namely His Divine Son, the perfect Victim Who takes away the sins of the world.