Vol I No. 7
History & Theology

Third Friday in Lent: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary

by William J. Martin


A sacrifice properly so called is something done to render God the honour specially due to Him, in order to appease Him. St. Augustine teaches this, saying, Every work done in order that we may, in a holy union, cleave to God is a true sacrifice, every work, that is to say, related to that final good whose possession alone can make us truly happy. Christ in the Passion offered Himself for us, and it was just this circumstance that He offered Himself willingly which was to God the most precious thing of all, since the willingness came from the greatest possible love. Whence it is evident that the Passion of Christ was a real sacrifice.

Human life is intended to relate to God via or by way of sacrifice. The sacrifice of the self is necessary so that God might rule and govern human life. Self-sacrifice is the fruit of obedience and humility. Without the self’s sacrifice a man can never be moved rightly by the wisdom, love, and power of God. But this sacrifice is impossible for man perfectly without the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. So a man must pray that he might be incorporated into the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s living Body. In His Passion, Christ perfectly sacrificed and surrendered His human nature to the purposes of God’s will. He did so not out of onerous compulsion or bounden duty. He freely willed to give His life to God and to all men. He gladly chose to offer that sacrifice which alone could become the pattern and form of the new life that He desired to make in those who would follow Him back to the Kingdom of the Father. Christ Jesus sacrificed Himself for us because He loves the Father perfectly and He loves us perfectly. And so He desires to come alive in us that through His Holy Spirit His Passion might endure and persist until the end of the ages as what alone enables us to be sanctified and saved.

And, as He himself adds later, the former sacrifices of the saints were so many signs, of different kinds, of this one true sacrifice. This one thing was signified through many things, as one thing is said through many words, so that it may be repeated often without beginning to weary people. St. Augustine speaks of four things being found in every sacrifice, namely a person to whom the offering is made, one by whom it is made, the thing offered and those on whose behalf it is offered. These are all found in the Passion of Our Lord. It is the same person, the only, true mediator Himself, who through the sacrifice of peace reconciles us to God, yet remains one with Him to whom He offers, who makes one with Him those for whom He offers, and is Himself one who both offers and is offered.

Old Testament sacrifices made by the Saints were signs and types pointing to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ. They are ‘on the way’ to Calvary. They are kinds of sacrifice that desire the full and complete effect of Atonement. Atonement is restitution or satisfaction made for the sinful human condition. Atonement makes man one with God again, mends the breach, and reconciles sinful man to God. Perfect Atonement comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ offers to the Father His whole being on behalf of all men. What He sacrifices is any right to self-determination and self-rule. What He sacrifices is a self that might exist apart from God through self-knowledge and self-love. Thus He sacrifices His being, knowing, and loving to God. He becomes at once the offerer of the Sacrifice and the Sacrifice offered. He is both the priest and victim in the offering. He is the Giver and the Gift. He is both the love of God for man and the love of man for God perfectly united in one offering and sacrifice. He provides Himself as the Victim in order to swallow up the Sacrifice’s death into new life.

It is true that in those sacrifices of the old law which were types of Christ, human flesh was never offered, but it does not follow from this that the Passion of Christ was not a sacrifice. For although the reality and the thing that typifies it must coincide in one point, it is not necessary that they coincide in every point, for the reality must go beyond the thing that typifies it. It was then very fitting that the sacrifice in which the flesh of Christ is offered for us was typified by a sacrifice not of the flesh of man but of other animals, to foreshadow the flesh of Christ which is the most perfect sacrifice of all.

Old Testament sacrifices rightly used animals and not men to point to a perfection that they could not effect or actualize. As holy as God might have made the Old Testament Saints, their sacrifices could never fully reach the level of perfection found in the self-oblation of Jesus Christ the God-Man. And the same might be said for the Saints who live after the salvific events of Christ’s historical atonement. As men, the Saints can never sacrifice as Christ has done. Christ is the true Sacrifice. He is the reality of Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice of God for Man and Man for God. This is why it is essential that the Saints see that their Sacrifice comes only through the all-atoning offering of Jesus Christ. So the Saints must pray that they might ‘become very members incorporate in the Mystical Body of Christ’. In so doing, they pray that the Grace of Christ’s Holy Spirit might bring Christ alive in them that they through Him might die to the world, the flesh, and the devil and thus come alive to God the Father. His Sacrifice then becomes theirs as they partake of His power to continue the good work that He has begun in His Passion and Death. His Sacrificial Death becomes their own, as they become His own, and they become members of His suffering and dying Body.

Because since it is the flesh of human nature that is offered, it is a thing fittingly offered for men and fittingly received by men in a Sacrament.

It is ‘human flesh’ or ‘human nature’ that is sacrificed for all men in Christ’s ‘one oblation of Himself once offered.’ The whole of ‘human nature’ is brought to death in Christ’s death. In that death the old and fallen nature dies and a new and spiritual nature is being made alive. Fallen Human nature is what must die. But Christ alone can carry sin, death, and Satan to their proper ends and into death because they are nothing to Him and thus He alone has power to do so. Christ then invites us into His all sufficient-Sacrifice by offering us His Body and Blood in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. In this Sacrament His Sacrifice is given to us that we also may then ‘offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice’ to God.

Because, since the flesh of Christ was able to suffer and to die it was suitable for immolation.

Christ Jesus was truly man and so he identified perfectly with the human condition. Thus because He possessed two natures in His one Person, He could carry our flesh through to its natural end and by Grace transform and redeem its end into the spiritual beginning of the new life. Suffering and death become essential to the human nature and character that would be saved. Suffering and death become necessary habitual moments of conversion and sanctification in the salvation journey.

Because since that flesh was itself without sin, it had a power to cleanse from sin.

Because He did not commit any sin, Christ alone has the power in and through the flesh to cleanse it from all sin and uncleanness. In and to His flesh sin is dead, nothing, and thus meaningless and powerless. Thus Human Nature is on its way back to God through Jesus Christ. In and through the flesh He is the new Adam or the new Man whose progeny can come alive to God once again as His power rules and governs a new human nature and a new body of humanity. By way of choice and free will a man may say ‘Yes’ to God through Christ, and thus become part of the Body of Human Sacrifice to God.

Because being the flesh of the very offerer, it was acceptable to God by reason of the unspeakable love of the one who was offering his own flesh.

God gladly accepted Christ’s sacrifice because he offered himself completely back to the Father. He offered His whole Person back to the Father in loving obedience and with a desire that His sacrifice might open the door of Heaven to men once again through His faithful and pure flesh. He prays that others will come to the Father through His flesh. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (St. John vi. 53-57)

Whence St. Augustine says, ” What is there more suitably received by men, of offerings made on their behalf, than human flesh, and what is so suitable for immolation as mortal flesh ? And what is so clean for cleansing mortal viciousness as that flesh born, without stain of carnal desire, in the womb and of the womb of a virgin ? And what can be so graciously offered and received as the flesh of our sacrifice, the body so produced of our priest ?”

To suffer and die innocently, in and through all purity of intention, resolution, determination, and desire, is to die truly to the Lord. The self is dead to the judgment of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The self offers itself on behalf of others who, for the moment, envy and hate Him, reject, deny, betray, and abandon Him, and kill and crucify Him. And yet still He loves God so perfectly and men so earnestly that He will love them both to the point that He himself must die to their sin and come alive to God’s future for them. This He does, that through His death they might find life, light, and love. Through His death, when they awaken to perceive His love, they shall find new life through Him. Through Him they shall find the new life that loves God and all men always. Thus they will become members of that suffering and dying Body that alone can rise, ascend, and step into the Glory of the Father’s embrace.`