Prayer & Sacrifice:

Definition of Terms:

  • Veneration:  the act of showing deep respect and honor towards a person or object. It involves a high level of reverence, but it does not imply worship. It recognizes that any supernatural gifts possessed by the object or person being venerated are ultimately gifts from the one true God.
  • Dulia: a specific form of veneration that refers to the honor and respect given to saints and angels.
  • Latria:  the highest form of worship and adoration, reserved exclusively for God. It involves the act of worshiping and giving ultimate devotion to the divine in recognition of God as the ultimate source of being.

Throughout history, within the Judao-Christian tradition, prayer has often been interpreted as a means of reflection or communication with the divine, aiming to seek guidance, express gratitude, or to align the believer’s will with that of God’s. In modern times, there might exist a misconception among certain individuals that prayer is the exclusive form of worship. While prayer is an integral part of worship, it’s important to recognize that worship encompasses a broader range of actions and attitudes.

Worship involves engaging in acts of reverence, adoration, submission, and humility towards the divine. These expressions can take various forms beyond prayer, but frequently involve sacrificial acts. The notion of sacrifice might conjure images of ritualistic animal slaughter, but authentic devotional sacrifice predominantly centers around the believer willingly giving up or relinquishing something of personal value as a testament to the greater worth found in their relationship with God.

Prayer as Worship:

When exploring the theological nuances between “worship” and “prayer,” it’s essential to delve into their etymological roots and historical significance. This understanding is crucial due to the loaded connotations these terms carry in modern English, particularly in America. In the context of Christianity, the term “worship” often invokes thoughts of offering honor and praise exclusively to God. However, throughout most of history, this wasn’t always the case. The term “worship” traces back to Old English “weorþscipe,” meaning worthiness or honor. For centuries, this word simply indicated showing respect or reverence to someone deserving of honor, such as kings or royalty, who were addressed as “Your Worship.”

The concept of worship could also be understood in various degrees. If directed solely to God, expressing absolute, supreme worship, it was termed “worship of adoration.” In romance languages, words for “worship” in relation to God often translate to “adoration” (Spanish= adoración, French= l’adoration, Italian= le adorazione). The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in AD 787 introduced the term “latria” (Greek= λατρεία, Latin= adoratio) for adoration solely offered to God. The Greek root “latria” appears in Galatians 5:20 in reference to idolatry (idol-latria, literally meaning “idol-adoration”) and in Hebrews 9:6 referring to ritual duties. Latria signifies true worship and is sacrificial in nature, exclusively reserved for God. It also emphasizes the internal disposition of the worshipper rather than any external practices like bowing, kneeling, or kissing, which could be used in deference to earthly figures like royalty.

The term “latria” was reserved for adoration to God alone. Scripture, however, instructs that honor should be given to those deserving respect due to their extraordinary relationship with God (Ex. 20:12, Rom. 13:7, 1 Pet. 2:17, 1 Tim. 5:17). The Church thus differentiated between the honor shown to a creature and the reverence due solely to God. The term “dulia” (Latin= veneratio, Greek= δουλεία) was used to refer to veneration or respect given to saints and holy individuals whose sanctity was evident. This term implies that their service to God entitles them to veneration.

This distinction acknowledges the interior disposition of an individual who is performing an act of of worship. Worship isn’t just external acts; it’s internal adoration expressed through external gestures. Prayer is also part of this distinction. While prayer can be a form of worship directed towards God, it can also simply mean “to ask.” Context and intention determine whether prayer is an act of worship or communication.

While prayer, specifically when directed towards the exclusive praise of God, can indeed serve as a mode of worship, its historical significance lies in its role as an edifying act performed by the worshiper. Throughout history, prayer has frequently been perceived as a means for believers to align their intentions more closely with the divine will. This notion of conforming one’s will with God’s is reflected in the Lord’s Prayer; “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

See Treatise on Prayer in St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue.

Sacrifice as Worship:

The idea of sacrifice has been integral to worship across various religious contexts, symbolizing devotion and a deep commitment to a higher power. This concept is also rooted in the Old Testament, where sacrifices were offered to God as an act of devotion and atonement (Leviticus 1:1-4).

In John 4:19-24, during his conversation with the Samaritan woman about the location of true worship, Jesus draws a distinction between the Temple and the mountain where worship takes place. Both the Temple and the mountain are associated with sacrificial offerings. Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t mention synagogues. The Greek word synagogue is translated from the Hebrew term bet tefila, meaning “house of prayer”. Synagogues were gathering places where Jews could congregate to engage in communal prayer and read Scripture. The temple, on the other hand, is something more than a synagogue. It’s there, and only there, that the Jews could offer sacrificial worship.

The interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well highlights the difference between the concept of sacrifice as true worship and the practice of prayer. By comparing the Temple and the mountain, Jesus indicates that He and the Jews considered sacrifice to be a central aspect of genuine worship. Sacrifice symbolized a deep commitment and devotion to God. In contrast, prayer and reading Scripture were seen as edifying practices that helped align the worshiper’s will with God’s, but they were not the primary expressions of worship involving sacrifice.

It was not the animal, however, that God was interested in (Psalm 51:16-17), but rather a willingness to give something of great value in recognition of the greater value of a relationship with God. The greatest sacrifice that one could offer is that of one’s self. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for salvation because, as the Son, it was a total gift of self in perfect love and obedience to the Father and, as a man, his sacrifice was also an act of worship.

This concept is reflected in Romans 12:1, where Paul urges believers to offer themselves as living sacrifices, which he describes as their true and proper worship. This implies an act of complete devotion and dedication, signifying that believers are to offer their entire lives in service to God. Peter refers to believers as a “holy priesthood” who offer “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5) indicating Christians offer sacrifices of a different nature. In Hebrews 13:16, the concept of sacrifice is linked to good deeds, indicating that acts of personal sacrifice are considered offerings of worship.

The Church Fathers understood this sacrifice of self as culminating in the offering of the Mass, where the believer becomes united with the Body of Christ through the Eucharist. Although Christ’s death on the cross was a one-time event, He continues to offer Himself to the Father as both Lamb (Rev. 5:6) and High Priest (Heb. 4:14, 5:6). By uniting themselves with the Body of Christ, Christians can offer themselves along with Christ.

When the Protestant Reformation denied the sacrificial nature of the Mass and dispensed with the notion of sacrifice as a form of worship, prayer became, by default, the only form of worship. This, however, misses the broader historical context of worship encompassing sacrifice, both external and internal, in service to God.

return to top ⇑

Bible Verses:

John 4:19-24:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Psalm 51:16-17:
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Romans 12:1:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

1 Peter 2:5:
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Romans 13:7
“Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due”.

1 Peter 2:17:
“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor”.

1 Timothy 5:17:
“Let the presbyters [priests] who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching”.

return to top ⇑

Church Father Quotes:

Irenaeus of Lyons
“He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood.” -Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 34

Hippolytus of Rome
“By the offering of His own body and blood, Christ has proved to be the life-giving sacrifice, and has changed into eternal life the bodies of believers who partake of it.” -Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, Section 61

Tertullian of Carthage
“The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul also may fatten on God.” -The Resurrection of the Dead, Chapter 8

Origen of Alexandria
“The Father himself purifies, sanctifies and absolves the soul that has placed all its hopes in him, by that unbloody sacrifice of the word which he offers up every day.” -Homilies on Leviticus, Homily 9, Section 6

Cyprian of Carthage
“How shall we be able to live with Christ, if we disdain to die with Him? … He [Christ] offered Himself for us, that we might be made the friends of God. … Embrace this precious gift, and, mindful of the price paid for it, have no desire to be set free.” -Letter 63, To the Martyrs and Confessors, Section 4

Cyril of Jerusalem
“Since then He Himself has declared and said of the bread, ‘This is my body,’ who shall dare to doubt any longer? And since He has affirmed and said, ‘This is my blood,’ who shall ever hesitate, saying, that it is not His blood?” -Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 22, Section 1

“Recognize in this bread what hung on the cross, and in this chalice what flowed from His side… Whatever was in many and varied ways announced beforehand in the sacrifices of the Old Testament in favor of mankind, all this Christ has decreed should be fulfilled in the perfection of time, offering Himself for us once and for all.” -Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 22, Section 3

“We beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him, that He may make the bread the Body of Christ, and the wine the Blood of Christ.” -Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, Section 6

“As often as the commemoration of this sacrifice is celebrated, so often is the work of our redemption carried on.” -Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, Section 7

“Christ died once for all; and it is not possible that His sacrifice should be slighted. How then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making a commemoration of His death, and this commemoration is one and not many. How is it one and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies.” -Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, Section 8

Ephrem the Syrian
“Just as bread and wine are mixed together, Christ has mingled Himself with our nature. … So when you approach to partake of the mysteries, make yourself also a sacrifice.” -Homily on Our Lord, Section 3

Aphrahat the Persian Sage
“Before all things, let the brethren give thanks to the Lord and offer oblations for themselves and for the peace of the whole world, the welfare of the holy churches, the conversion of the nations, and for the kings, and those that are in authority.” -Demonstrations, Demonstration 4, Chapter 13

Athanasius of Alexandria
“For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death. And thus He, the incorruptible Son of God, being conjoined with all by a like nature, naturally clothed all with incorruption, by the promise of the resurrection.” -On the Incarnation, Section 9

Gregory of Nyssa
“In the figure of bread is given to you as the Word of God, He Who was begotten of God in an unutterable way before all ages; in the figure of wine is given to you the blood which He shed for you, for the remission of sins.” -Sermon on the Baptism of Christ

John Chrysostom
“When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over that sacrifice praying, and all the people empurpled by that precious blood, can you think that you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?” -Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82, Section 4

“When you behold the Lord sacrificed and lying there, and the priest standing and praying over the victim, and all the people empurpled with that precious blood, do you think you are still among men and on the earth? Or do you not imagine you are altogether transported to Heaven?” -Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82, Section 4

“The priest stands there, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but calling down the Holy Spirit. By the priest’s invocation, God descends on the altar, not by the burning of tongues but by the grace of the Spirit.” -Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82, Section 4

“The table is the altar, and the priest offers the sacrifice as he stands by the side of the table.” -Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82, Section 4

Ambrose of Milan
“This victim Moses formerly offered in the wilderness in figure, saying: ‘The Lord commandeth you to offer a sacrifice.’ That sacrifice was the image of what was to come. This is the true sacrifice: ‘The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.'” -De Sacramentis, Book 5, Chapter 4

“This bread is bread before the words of the Sacraments; when the words have been added, it is the Body of Christ.” -De Sacramentis, Book 4, Chapter 4

“How is it possible that what is offered on earth is consumed by fire in heaven unless it has first descended from heaven? … He Himself, therefore, accomplishes everything through the ministry of priests, although He is offered as a victim by us, because we offer His body and blood.” -De Sacramentis, Book 4, Chapter 5

Augustine of Hippo
“The sacrifice of the Christians is the body of Christ, ‘for many are one body in Christ’ (Romans 12:5), the Church. She answers ‘Amen’ to that which she is.” -Sermon 227, Section 3

“He was carried in His Own hands when, referring to His Own Body, He said, ‘This is My Body.'” -Sermon 227, Section 4

“The Lord is sacrificing for us even now, so that we may learn to sacrifice.” -Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 3

“If it is asked how it is that bread is His body, I reply: ‘He appointed the use of this visible sacrament as a sign of His body.'” -On the Gospel of John, Tractate 80, Section 1

Cyril of Alexandria
“The mystical bread is set forth having been sanctified by the prayer of invocation. Then it is that it is named the Body of Christ. So also the wine having been sanctified by prayer of invocation, is called the Blood of Christ.” -Commentary on John, Book 4

John Damascene
“And as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ.” -On the Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Chapter 13

return to top ⇑

Non-Catholic Quotes:

Martin Luther
“I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.” -Personal Prayer of Martin Luther

John Calvin
“Let us then labor to dedicate our souls and bodies to God, with an ardent desire of glorifying Him, and aspiring to our end, namely, to live and die in His service.” -Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 7, Section

John Knox
“O Lord, for Thy mercy’s sake, move my heart to obey Thy blessed will. O Lord, let my will agree with Thy will, and both that and my heart follow Thy will in all things. And of Thy great mercy, grant that I may ever be thankful for Thy good gifts, and also that I may offer up my free will to Thee.” -The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, Prayer Before Sermon

return to top ⇑