Father Jacques Hamel died as a priest, doing what priests do | Giles Fraser: Loose canon

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The sacrifice of the mass is the non-violent absorption of human violence. This is what Father Jacques was celebrating as he was murdered in Rouen

When I was first ordained a priest, I would say my prayers every morning in front of three undistinguished stained-glass windows. And every morning, I would argue in my head with the theology those windows were promoting. On the left, Abraham held up a curly knife, preparing to cut the throat of his son who is strapped to an altar. In the middle, Christ hanging on the cross, dripping blood. On the right, a priest, in full liturgical kit, stood behind an altar, hands outstretched over bread and wine. The coloured glass was insisting that these three scenes were intimately connected, that the mass/holy communion/eucharist, whatever you call it, is essentially a sacrifice – and not just some stylised community get-together.

As Pope John Paul II put it in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the eucharist is “the sacrifice of the cross perpetuated down the age. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ … left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there”. Catholic Christianity, like that of temple Judaism before it, is a religion of blood and altars.

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