Blog # 317 Catholic Theology #4
THE ACTION-PRAYER OF CALVARY
The definition of sacrifice I am using here is not that applied by way of analogy to 'giving up something you love' as for example someone might 'give up' eating chocolate candy or
smoking for Lent. Rather the definition of sacrifice I am using is a technical theological one that identifies sacrifice as an offering to God alone, by an official representative of the people, of some material thing, with the change or destruction of what is offered identified as an act of love in response to God's supreme dominion and our complete dependence upon God.
The action-prayer of Jesus on Calvary fulfilled all the conditions of that definition. In His claim and identity as the sole redeemer of all mankind Jesus was not laying down His life as a
private individual nor by the will of Pilate but in obedience to the Father (Jn. 19: 11), and consequently was constituted an official representative of mankind. Not His other prayers, good works, nor His sinless moral life , but the crucifixion was the official redeeming action of our Savior. Not merely motivated by love, the action of dying, freely chosen, constituted the greatest love that He or anyone else of us could perform. (Jn. 15: 13). In His death. Jesus responded to a call for unconditional trust and total love. "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend." (Jn. 15: 13).
All that went before, His birth and rearing in Nazareth, His ministry of preaching and good works, His private prayer life and His participation in the public prayer of His fellow Jewish believers were all part of the total whole of the life Jesus offered the Father on Calvary. There is no other way such total love could be achieved than by giving all in obedience to the Father's will, in death.
THE GOAL OF CALVARY
Recognizing the four ends or goals of prayer mentioned above in blog # 315, and applying this to the experience of Jesus on Calvary we see two separate goals for His action-prayer of sacrifice.
A first goal was for it to be an act of atonement for the sins of .all mankind. This
universality of the atonement won by Jesus on the Cross is possible and realized because in Jesus and in the Word of God, in the absolute mystery of the Incarnation of the second person of the Blessed Trinity we have one person. As a result, the life of Jesus on earth was truly human yet also of infinite value in the Father's response to it.
Since the existence of sin in the story of creation given in the Book of Genesis goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, any question about whether or not, if sin had not been committed there would have been some other way for humans to express their total love for our Creator than by dying is a hypothetical question and need not concern us here. With the existence of sin in the picture, the unique opportunity for unconditional trust and total love offered in the experience of death can be clearly seen as fitting atonement for sins that have distorted or betrayed that love.
In view of this insight applied to the crucifixion, I think a good number and perhaps a majority of people regard atonement as the major if not the primary and most important goal we give to the suffering and death of Jesus. "See what our sins have done and repent." is a common response to the crucifixion. It is a valid response. However there is more. "Where sin abounded grace did more abound." (Rom 5: 20).