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Chapter 23: God’s Redemptive Work in the Lives of Christians

Appendix 1: The liturgical character of Christian moral life

God is not always pleased with sacrifices offered to him. “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” (Am 5.21). “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me” (Is 1.13). “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Jer 7.22).

“But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you’ ” (Jer 7.23). “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mi 6.8). “He who keeps the law makes many offerings; he who heeds the commandments sacrifices a peace offering” (Sir 35.1).

The authentic liturgy is the one to which good works are brought: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God,” as it is written of me in the roll of the book’ ” (Heb 10.5–7).

Unwanted gifts and useless service are not gifts and service at all. Unless it is the center of genuine Christian living, even the Mass, like the sacrifices which the prophets condemned, can become a hypocritical substitute for Catholic life, an anodyne which makes us forget our unfaithfulness to Jesus and his Church (see S.t., 3, q. 80, a. 4).

The Epistles sometimes introduce the theme of sacrifice when the transition is made from doctrinal topics to moral exhortation.19 For example: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.1–2). “Bodies” here means persons and lives as a whole, but perhaps especially connotes particular actions. One is to ignore whatever “new morality” happens to be current and judge instead by the standards of Jesus.

Jesus looked forward to a time when “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4.23). Since the Christian has died and lives a hidden life in Jesus, he or she should offer everything to God the Father in thanksgiving (see Col 3.3, 17). “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas 1.27).

“Like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2.5). The Mystical Body of Jesus is God’s living temple, and the sacrifice called for in this temple is the good lives of the priestly people united with their high priest, Jesus (see 1 Pt 1.22–2.10). In Jesus we are becoming “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2.22).

19. For an explanation of the sacrificial character of Christian life, by which the whole of it is to be rational worship: Raymond Corriveau, C.Ss.R., The Liturgy of Life: A Study of the Ethical Thought of St. Paul in His Letters to the Early Christian Communities (Brussels: Desclée de Brouwer, 1970). Also Robert J. Daly, S.J., The Origins of the Christian Doctrine of Sacrifice (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), 53–83; Christian Sacrifice: The Judaeo-Christian Background before Origen (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1978), 230–56, 493–95, for the evidence that the sacrificial aspect of Christian life is in living as one ought more than in martyrdom.