Cardinal Barbarin on What Is a Sacrifice

“An Offering Given to Someone Out of Love”

QUEBEC CITY, JULY 11, 2008 ( Here is an excerpt from the July 17 catechesis given by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon, at the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec. The June 15-22 congress reflected on the theme: “The Eucharist, Gift of God for the Life of the World.”

The full address titled “Memory and Offering” is available on the ZENIT Web site.

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Many expressions are used to speak about the Eucharist. Some bring to mind the meal of Holy Thursday (the Last Supper, the synaxis), others evoke Easter Day (the banquet of the Kingdom, sacrament of the real presence), and still others place us at the foot of the Cross (the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass). In different eras, the Church Fathers and the theologians, and various spiritual families have emphasized one or another of these three principal moments, but the important thing is that we keep a certain balance among them, and that the Resurrection is always expressed as most important, because it is the heart of our faith.

We must also delve into each panel of this triptych, and, in this catechesis, ask ourselves the question, “But what is a sacrifice?” We have often introduced and sometimes confined this word to suffering and deprivation. However, sacrifice does not exclude joy; it evokes an interior attitude of offering that is lived as much in moments of light as in hours of darkness. In the Bible and the liturgy, we encounter just as often expressions such as “the sacrifice of the broken and contrite heart”� or “the sacrifice of praise,” “the offering of our lips,” which indicate that praise and sacrifice do not necessarily belong to two different universes.

The characteristic of sacrifice, in reality, is love. It is about an offering given to someone out of love. People initially offered to God in the Temple sacrifices and holocausts as a sign of worship. Certainly, at times, the prophets became angry against these formalistic and demonstrative practices, emptied of the purity of their origin: “I hate, I spurn your feasts. … Your cereal offerings I will not accept. … But let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). This warning from the prophets is also addressed to us. We cannot be sure of avoiding hypocrisy or the demonstrative spirit in our manner of offering the Eucharistic sacrifice. Our guarantee is that the great priest, the sole celebrant, is Jesus himself who presents to God the perfect sacrifice.

In following Christ, let us look at the logic of this love to better understand it: It is like an inner and free obligation that moves us to seek how to express our trust and our recognition in him to whom we owe everything. Here, the obligation certainly has nothing to do with a constraint. In French, as in several other languages, the words of duty and obligation (“I am obliged to you”�) have kept this interior implication of gratitude. We do not hesitate to sacrifice time or money to bring joy, “to make the sacrifice” of an activity we enjoy in order to provide a service to someone of whom we say, according to the beautiful expression of present day language: “I owe him that much.”

It is like a debt of love and recognition, giving thanks. All of that, even if it costs us much, seems little to us compared to what we have received, and works to increase our joy. A characteristic of this offering is freedom. Jesus offered himself because he wanted to do so. “In oblations,” St. Irenaeus states, “appears the distinctive mark of freedom.”

This offering of love is sometimes lived in joy, but suffering does not stop it. Allow me to offer a moving example, which I witnessed in my priestly life. A mom had organized a beautiful birthday party for her son’s fifth birthday. She had dedicated to it, we could say sacrificed, much time, attention and money. Many children had been invited. They played, sang and danced. The treats were wonderful, and everyone understood without difficulty the maternal love behind such a celebration. A life given, a life offered for a child’s happiness leads obviously to all these acts of caring and tenderness.

Then, six months later, the child was stricken with leukemia. And we saw the same mom taking a leave of absence from her work, giving up all of her usual activities, her friendships and her recreation, exhausting herself running to consultations with doctors to fight like a lioness concerning her child. She gave up and sacrificed everything, especially a good part of her sleep, to be with the child in his fight, to be constantly at his side and to try to win against the disease. Was this a sacrifice? She did not even think about it, and it was still the proof of her motherly love that led her to be there, present to the point of exhaustion. From a human standpoint, it was madness, or at least excess, but there was no question of stopping her, or even reasoning with her.

Clearly, it was with the same inner attitude of love that she lived the sweetness and joy of that birthday celebration and that final fight that, unfortunately, she did not win. In watching her in those dramatic hours, when a priest never knows well enough how to be with someone, but he must remain there, I thought of the verse that solemnly begins the account of the Pascal Mystery: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end,”� to the extreme, to madness (John 13:1).

What the Lord lived among us is nothing other than the expression in a human heart of the offering that he, the eternal Son, lives within the Trinity while returning to his Father all that he receives from him. The Eucharistic sacrifice has its source in the Trinity. It is this same movement that we live in turn by making our offering in the thanksgiving: “To you, Lord, belongs this life that we received from you.”�

[Translation used with permission of Teresa Polk, author of Blog by the Sea]

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