‘Sacrifice’: A Confused and Problematic Word

Nov 5, 2022 | 0 comments

Dr Thomas O’Loughlin

So varied and even contradictory are the contexts in which we use the word ‘sacrifice‘ that the term is almost useless. The medieval origins of much of our theology, and the frequent use of the word in the context of the nation state and international conflict – and the commemoration of the many millions who have died in such conflicts – have a lot to do with this confused picture. The meaning of the term ‘sacrifice’ in the context of Christian theology and worship is therefore far from easily agreed or definable.

These were some of the themes developed by Dr Tom O’Loughlin in a Zoom presentation for ACI on Thursday Nov 3rd, 2022.

The audio for the talk can be accessed by clicking here.

Stressing especially the mistake of attributing to God anything we would find unworthy of any human being, Professor O’Loughlin especially deprecated any theological attribution to God the father of any need or desire for the shedding of the blood of Jesus – a tendency associated especially with the medieval theology of St Anselm of Canterbury.

That this mistake may have originated in the fourth century origins of Christendom – the long alliance of church and state beginning in the fourth century – was touched on in the discussion that followed. The need to somehow separate the ‘sacrifice’ of the Mass from any association with violent sacrifice – and to associate it instead only with peaceful mutual service – the giving of ourselves – was discussed.

In the end Dr O’Loughlin’s initial prediction – that the task of resolving the useful meaning of ‘sacrifice’ in a Christian context could not be completed in just one talk – was verified. That we use the word so frequently without resolving the question of how to use it without overtones of violent propitiation of an angry God – who was not the God of Jesus – speaks of the continuing impact of the medieval past and the violence of recent centuries upon our understanding of the Gospel.  As St Paul put it, we still see through a glass darkly.

An audio recording of Dr O’Loughlin’s talk can be accessed here.


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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