During one of our regular Sunday night phone calls, my mom reported her encounter at mass with a song she’d not before heard, “Sacrifice of Praise” by Michael Joncas. Beyond the loveliness of the song’s setting, she was struck by the seeming dissonance of the title: how can “praise” be a “sacrifice”?
As I struggled to shed some theological light, I found my sense for the phrase difficult to explain (despite Fr. Joncas himself teaching me about it in Christian Worship at University of St. Thomas). At any rate, I found myself stuck in that troubling boundary between “getting” something and expressing it to another.
Since then my thoughts on “sacrifice of praise” have been percolating, and I’ve come up with a few dots that I think are connected. This post is an open invitation to help connect the dots—and to draw some new ones.
Dot #1: When all is said and done, what is really mine to give? All that I have, all that I am is God’s gift. In the Eucharistic liturgy we re-present God’s gifts of bread and wine to be transformed into Christ’s body and blood; and we present ourselves for transformation as well. I give myself away in the Eucharist, losing my life in order to find it. And, yet, what is at the core of that life? What is the center of my being?
Dot #2: It seems that the one thing that may be mine to give or withhold is praise of God, my willingness to acknowledge, in the words of Michael Himes, that “I am not God—and that is a good thing.” Recognition of the goodness of not being God, but rather of being a part of God’s beloved creation, is what I offer to God in awareness of who and how I am: a creature loved into being.
Dot #3: The phrase “sacrifice of praise” is found in the Letter to the Hebrews 13: 15: “Through [Christ], then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” What is the “fruit of lips that confess his name”? As The Interpreter’s Bible points out, the key to understanding this verse may lay in the next: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (v. 16). So Verse 16 seems to illuminate the meaning of “sacrifice of praise” by linking it with good actions and others’ well-being.
Dot #4: Doing the good and sharing my possessions with others might come a little closer to the typical sense of sacrifice—giving something up. I wonder, though, which type of sacrifice is harder? Is it more difficult to feed the hungry or to acknowledge joyously that I do not cause myself? In the end, I think it’s not necessarily an either or question, but rather, in good Catholic fashion, a both/and situation. J. Harry Cotton points out that praise to God for my creation and contributing to others’ flourishing are intertwined:
“The man who owns no compassion, who looks upon life as a cluster of grapes to be squeezed into his own cup and drained for his own enjoyment thereby denies his God” (The Interpreter’s Bible p. 759).
The more I embrace my own creation, the more I can share with others. I need not feel rivalry, and resources need not be a zero-sum game. Conversely, the more I give, the less I grasp, the greater my capacity for giving praise to God for all creation and my place within it.
Those are my dots so far . . . what others would you add?