“Salt on your Sacrifice (Job 6,6)”

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series in the New Leader, 1 February 1976; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 1 February 1976

“Can tasteless food be taken without salt or is there flavour in the white of an egg?” (Job 6, 6)

The need of salt to make food palatable is proverbial even in our Indian languages. “Curry without salt is worthy of the dungheap”, we say. Jesus referred to this when teaching that there is no substitute for inner virtue. “If salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored ?” (Lk 14, 34). A Christian who has lost his spiritual fibre has become a good-fornothing, like saltless salt. “Men throw it away” (Lk 14, 35). “Men trample it under foot” (M t 5, 13).

Christ’s words are so well known to us that we may overlook other implications of Scripture’s teaching on the need of salt. The Eucharist sacrifice, for instance, is a meal, nourishment, a strengthening food. Does’ it not need the taste of salt? It is worth Our while to read the Bible on this point.

Whenever the priests in the temple at Jerusalem offered an oblation of food, they always added salt. It was a general law. “You must salt every oblation that you offer. To every offering you have to join an offering of salt to Yahweh your God” (Lev 2,13). This custom was considered so important that in latter times priests would even sprinkle salt on bulls and rams that were offered as a burnt-offering (Ez 43, 24). The meaning of this rite was obvious to any Jew. Surely, when offering food to God it should be presented in a palatable form. It would have been an insult to offer something that even a human being would not like to taste!

There was, however, another meaning rooted in nomadic culture.’ When two parties concluded a covenant by sharing a common meal, the exchange of salt was considered to seal the pact. An agreement was called “covenant of salt” to indicate that it was firm and could not be revoked (Num 18, 19; 2 Chron 13, 6). Adding the salt to the sacrifice carried the meaning of making the offering partake in the covenantal exchange. The law says it explicitly. “You must never fail to put on your oblation the salt of the covenant with your God” (Lev 2, 13b). By sprinkling salt on the offering it became a sign of the firmness with which the person dedicated himself to God.

God likes the taste of saIt. It is a thing we may well remember when planning or taking part in Holy Mass. Much too often Mass has become a lifeless and boring experience. Its weekly performance will be dull, flat and entirely predictable. It often lacks “kick”, excitement and the kind of thing that makes people sit up straight. Especially our teenagers may find it difficult to pray in such an atmosphere of boredom and monotony.

Those who lead the celebration should serve the Eucharist meal in a palatable form. The priest should exploit all the opportunities given in the liturgy to make the Mass relevant to his people. The lector should present the readings as a truly living word. The choirmaster should select songs that will stir the people to involvement. The Vatican Council prescribed a dynamic and meaningful liturgy, not a routine performance staged on the altar, but a community celebration involving the body of the church.

Our laity too should realize the pointlessness of passive attendance. God tells us to add the salt to our covenant to each offering. If we cannot even say a firm “Amen” to a simple prayer, what is the “Amen” we will say to our resolutions of life? And why are we so slow to take the initiative, or to step forward when volunteers are asked for tasks in the assembly? Why are we so reluctant to give testimony to our faith by formulating a personal prayer and saying it aloud when such prayers are called for? Of course, much of this is a hang-over of our former liturgical habits, but is there not also a lack of stamina, of backbone, of personal involvement? It could be that God, observing us at Mass, is more reminded of the white of an egg, than the taste of salt.