Better still is mercy with right sacrifice

There is a bit of a refrain in the readings today.  It is explicit in the first reading and the responsorial and in the background of the Gospel: “For it is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice.”

Some have had a tendency to read these texts anti-ritual, which they are to a certain extent.  And, from that, they have proceeded to taking anti-ritualistic stance in general.  But, this is only a partial reading.

It is not that some Old Testament authors were necessarily anti-ritual.  They were anti-ritual if the rituals were divorced from moral living and showing mercy to one’s neighbor.  This meaning is explicit in the responsorial reading for today.  The responsorial does, in fact, say “For you are not pleased with sacrifices; should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it” from Psalm 51:18.  However, we read a bit further on in Psalm 51:21 “Then shall you be pleased with due sacrifices, burnt offerings and holocausts.”  Thus, it would appear that God is not totally against sacrifice, but rather against sacrifices as the people were practicing at the time that the author was writing.

As Catholics, some on the outside have a tendency to take verses like those that denounce ritual in the Old Testament as legitimation for saying that we are wrong for practicing rituals today.  But, this is not a complete picture.  We are, indeed, wrong for practicing rituals today, but in the same way that the Ancient Israelites were.  We are wrong when we practice rituals divorced from moral living and showing mercy to all.

Despite the abuses to which ritual can be sujbect, we are still commanded to offer sacrifice.  I believe these commands are in the New Testament in seminal form, and then become much more clear in the writings of the early Church, like this one:

But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”

The Didache, Chapter 14


About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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