” R. The Deacon Laurence was counted worthy to be a burnt-offering, and while he was burning he did not deny the Lord x Therefore he was made a sacrifice of praise.
V. When he was laid on the gridiron he did not deny god; and at the touch of fire he confessed Christ. Therefore he was made a sacrifice of praise. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Therefore he was made a sacrifice of praise.
~ Long Responsorie viii, Matins of St. Laurence, Monastic Breviary Matins.
It is sometimes assumed that “sacrifice of praise” is mere words. Words of prayer, certainly, but not an actual “sacrifice” at all. The Mass is therefore a sacrifice only as words offered to God in prayer. The Monastic Office proves this wrong. The Mass is a as real a sacrifice as St. Laurence’s was a real sacrifice. The Gregorian Canon – in which St. Laurence makes an appearance – also proves the Reformers of the 16th and 20-ieth centuries wrong. Though words of prayer are certainly sacrificial and even a sacrifice, they do not exhaust the concept of sacrifice.
Jesus, speaking of Himself in today’s Gospel reading, said that the corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die for it bring forth much fruit. It is precisely by the Sacrifice of the Mass that this corn is offered (with wine) to the Father as a sacrifice of praise and has brought forth much fruit. That is salvation is continuously brought to people all over the world through the preaching of the Gospel and the distribution of the Sacraments (especially the Mass).
But sacrifice is more than martyrdom, and more than the Mass. The Divine Office too is a sacrifice. The evening Psalm 141 (Thursday Vespers in the Monastic Office) tells us that the very prayer offered here is a sacrifice. In other words: the divine office itself is a sacrifice offered to God. But here too it is Jesus Christ (the Word of God) offering Himself (our prayers consist mostly of Scripture) to us, and we then in our prayers offer the Word (Psalms, chapters, antiphons, hymns) back to God (the Father).
May the blessed Levite Laurence give us a deeper and truer understanding of “sacrifice” !
Fr. Gregory Wassen