In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He called forth light and darkness, waters and dry land, plants and trees, and all living creatures. He then formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. He planted a garden in Eden, and put the man there “to ābad and šāmar”. These Hebrew words in Genesis 2 are usually translated “to till and keep”. But these same words are also used later in the Torah (and also in the Prophets) to describe the ministry of priests in the tabernacle. There they are often translated “to serve and guard”. The point is that in the beginning, man was given a priestly vocation. Eden was God’s temple – for it was there that God walked with man and sought communion with him. Man was given a commandment to obey and was entrusted with the task of serving and guarding this temple God had made. He was stamped with the very image of God – making him a kind of vicar or mediator of God on earth. But this mediation would work both ways. Not only was man created to mediate God to the rest of His created works, but man was also made to go to God on behalf of the rest of creation. Created with a rational soul, he alone could serve in this way among the rest of God’s creatures. While man was entrusted with the task of “serving and guarding” God’s temple of creation, of cultivating and developing it, and reflecting God’s glory in the world He had made, man was also to serve as a priestly mediator and laudator (one who gives praise and offers thanksgiving) on behalf of his fellow creatures. As a rational creature made in God’s image, only man could fulfill this vocation of giving to God what was truly right and just – a sacrifice of praise.
This vocation of man was forfeited when, instead of making a thanksgiving offering from the gifts God had entrusted to him, he instead cast aside God’s commandment and sought to claim God’s gifts as entitlements. This is why some theologians have said that the failure of our first parents to obey God’s commandment was preceded by a failure to give thanks to the Lord our God – which was the only right and just response to God’s benevolence.
To rectify this, God sent His Son in the likeness of human flesh in order that he might offer a supreme sacrifice on behalf of all mankind. Of course, it is this sacrifice – the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross – that is re-presented on our altars in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. It is this sacrifice that is the perfect act of praise and thanksgiving offered to the Father, for it is nothing less than the sacrifice of God made man. He alone has offered and continues to offer what is right and just. We assist in this offering by joining our praise and thanksgiving to that of our Lord. But this sacrifice is to reach beyond the Mass, to touch every square inch of our existence. This is why, in His eternal wisdom, Christ has provided for His Church the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours. This prayer is the means by which we can pray without ceasing and offer a continual sacrifice of praise here and now , thus restoring fallen man to the true vocation for which we were made and rightly ordering our days to be a holy offering unto the Lord. This has also become the way in which we can live out our priestly call to give glory and praise to God on behalf of all creatures. This is most evident in the Canticle of Daniel, which the Church prays at Lauds every other Sunday in the first and third week of the Psalter. When we pray this canticle the Church gathers her children into one voice and calls all of God’s creatures to bless God. “Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord. Praise and exalt him above all forever… Sun and moon, bless the Lord. Stars of heaven, bless the Lord…
Mountains and hills, bless the Lord. Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord… All you birds of the air, bless the Lord. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord.” When the Church sings this canticle, she lends her voice to all creatures and begs God to receive their praise through her lips. While these creatures offer a manner of praise by virtue of their God given existence, left to themselves they cannot give God rational praise. For this, they have need of man. They have need of a priest. Blessed Columba Marmion thus says, “In order that it [creation] may consummate its adoration, man must be its mediator. He must lend a voice, an understanding, and a heart burning with love, to all visible nature that it may love, in man and through him, the invisible beauty of the Creator… because although the world contains him, he has a mind and a heart greater than the world; in order that contemplating the whole universe and gathering it up in himself, he may offer, sanctify, and consecrate it to the Living God.” This is all made possible only in and through Christ our Lord, the true and eternal High Priest. But when the Church, united with her Head, takes up these great benedictions, she fulfills not only her own purpose, but that of the whole created order. In doing so, she anticipates the day when all God’s sons will be revealed and creation itself “will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). In the end, this is man’s vocation – to be a son of God who not only mediates God’s presence to the rest of His creatures, but also offers right praise to God on their behalf. Yes, this is truly right and just. It is our duty and our salvation.