The Sacrifice of the Mass
The Eucharist is a true sacrifice, not
just a commemorative meal, as "Bible Christians" insist. The first Christians knew that it was a sacrifice and proclaimed
this in their writings. They recognized the sacrificial character of Jesus instruction, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Touto
poieite tan eman anamnasin; Luke 22:19, 1 Cor. 11:24-25) which is better translated "Offer this as my memorial offering."
Thus, Protestant early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes that in the early Church "the Eucharist was regarded
as the distinctively Christian sacrifice. . . . Malachis prediction (1:10-11) that the Lord would reject Jewish sacrifices
and instead would have "a pure offering" made to him by the Gentiles in every place was seized upon by Christians as a prophecy
of the Eucharist. The Didache indeed actually applies the term thusia, or sacrifice, to the Eucharist. . . .
"It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded
a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the
Last Supper. The words of institution, Do this (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones for
second-century ears; Justin at any rate understood them to mean, Offer this. . . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered
for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion, a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lords
body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection" (Early Christian Doctrines [Full Reference],
"Assemble on the Lords day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist;
but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow
is not to take part with you until he has been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice [Matt. 5:23-24].
For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am
a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations [Mal. 1:11, 14]" (Didache 14 [A.D. 70]).
Pope Clement I
"Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those
who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course,
and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release" (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4-5 [A.D. 80]).
Ignatius of Antioch
"Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common
Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar
of sacrifice-even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure
that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God" (Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]).
"God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor
prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord,
and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name
has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name
is great among the Gentiles . . . [Mal. 1:10-11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place
offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist" (Dialogue with Trypho the
Jew 41 [A.D. 155]).
"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.
He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand:
You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the
sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice;
for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty [Mal. 1:10-11]. By these words he makes it plain that the
former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a
pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles" (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]).
Cyprian of Carthage
"If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is himself the high
priest of God the Father; and if he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if he commanded that this be done in
commemoration of himself, then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ"
(Letters 63:14 [A.D. 253]).
"Accept therewith our hallowing too, as we say, Holy, holy, holy Lord
Sabaoth, heaven and earth is full of your glory. Heaven is full, and full is the earth, with your magnificent glory, Lord
of virtues. Full also is this sacrifice, with your strength and your communion; for to you we offer this living sacrifice,
this unbloody oblation" (Prayer of the Eucharistic Sacrifice 13:12-16 [A.D. 350]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
"Then, having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual hymns,
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, for whatsoever the Holy Spirit has touched is surely sanctified and changed.
Then, upon the completion of the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless worship, over that propitiatory victim we call upon God
for the common peace of the churches, for the welfare of the world, for kings, for soldiers and allies, for the sick, for
the afflicted; and in summary, we all pray and offer this sacrifice for all who are in need" (Catechetical Lectures
23:7-8 [A.D. 350]).
"Cease not to pray and plead for me when you draw down the
Word by your word, when in an unbloody cutting you cut the Body and Blood of the Lord, using your voice for a sword" (Letter
to Amphilochius 171 [A.D. 383]).
Ambrose of Milan
"We saw the prince of priests coming to us, we saw and heard
him offering his blood for us. We follow, inasmuch as we are able, being priests, and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of
the people. Even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. Even if Christ is not now seen
as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is he himself that is offered in sacrifice here on Earth when the body
of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer himself he is made visible in us, he whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered"
(Commentaries on Twelve Psalms of David 38:25 [A.D. 389]).
"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?" (The Priesthood 3:4:177 [A.D. 387]).
therefore, reverence this table, of which we are all communicants! Christ, slain for us, the sacrificial victim who is placed
thereon!" (Homilies on Romans 8:8 [A.D. 391]).
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not communion of
the blood of Christ? Very trustworthy and awesomely does he [Paul] say it. For what he is saying is this: What is in the cup
is that which flowed from his side, and we partake of it. He called it a cup of blessing because when we hold it in our hands
that is how we praise him in song, wondering and astonished at his indescribable gift, blessing him because of his having
poured out this very gift so that we might not remain in error; and not only for his having poured it out, but also for his
sharing it with all of us. If therefore you desire blood, he [the Lord] says, do not redden the platform of idols with the
slaughter of dumb beasts, but my altar of sacrifice with my blood. What is more awesome than this? What, pray tell, more tenderly
loving?" (Homilies on First Corinthians 24:1(3) [A.D. 392]).
"In ancient times, because men were very imperfect,
God did not scorn to receive the blood which they were offering . . . to draw them away from those idols; and this very thing
again was because of his indescribable, tender affection. But now he has transferred the priestly action to what is most awesome
and magnificent. He has changed the sacrifice itself, and instead of the butchering of dumb beasts, he commands the offering
up of himself" (ibid., 24:2).
"What then? Do we not offer daily? Yes, we offer, but making remembrance of his death; and
this remembrance 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. This sacrifice is a type of that, and this remembrance a type of that. We offer always the same, not one sheep
now and another tomorrow, but the same thing always. Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is
offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here,
complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice"
(Homilies on Hebrews 17:3(6) [A.D. 403]).
"In the sacrament he is immolated for the people not only on every
Easter Solemnity but on every day; and a man would not be lying if, when asked, he were to reply that Christ is being immolated.
For if sacraments had not a likeness to those things of which they are sacraments, they would not be sacraments at all; and
they generally take the names of those same things by reason of this likeness" (Letters 98:9 [A.D. 412]).
when he says in another book, which is called Ecclesiastes, There is no good for a man except that he should eat and drink
[Eccles. 2:24], what can he be more credibly understood to say [prophetically] than what belongs to the participation of this
table which the Mediator of the New Testament himself, the priest after the order of Melchizedek, furnishes with his own body
and blood? For that sacrifice has succeeded all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, which were slain as a shadow of what
was to come. . . . Because, instead of all these sacrifices and oblations, his body is offered and is served up to the partakers
of it" (The City of God 17:20 [A.D. 419]).
Sechnall of Ireland
"[St. Patrick] proclaims boldly to the [Irish] tribes the
name of the Lord, to whom he gives the eternal grace of the laver of salvation; for their offenses he prays daily unto God;
for them also he offers up to God worthy sacrifices" (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 13 [A.D. 444]).
Fulgentius of Ruspe
"Hold most firmly and never doubt in the least that the
only-begotten God the Word himself became flesh [and] offered himself in an odor of sweetness as a sacrifice and victim to
God on our behalf; to whom . . . in the time of the Old Testament animals were sacrificed by the patriarchs and prophets and
priests; and to whom now, I mean in the time of the New Testament . . . the holy Catholic Church does not cease in faith and
love to offer throughout all the lands of the world a sacrifice of bread and wine. In those former sacrifices what would be
given us in the future was signified figuratively, but in this sacrifice which has now been given us is shown plainly. In
those former sacrifices it was fore-announced that the Son of God would be killed for the impious, but in the present sacrifice
it is announced that he has been killed for the impious" (The Rule of Faith 62 [A.D. 524]).
The Institution of the Mass
Many non-Catholics do not understand
the Mass. Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart wrote, "The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Mass is an expiatory
sacrifice, in which the Son of God is actually sacrificed anew on the cross" (Swaggart, Catholicism and Christianity).
The late Loraine Boettner, the dean of anti-Catholic Fundamentalists, said the Mass is a "jumble of medieval superstition."
Vatican II puts the Catholic position succinctly:
"At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior
instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross
throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his
death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed,
the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47).
a modestly informed Catholic can set an inquirer right and direct him to biblical accounts of Jesus final night with his disciples.
Turning to the text, we read, "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This
is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).
The Greek here and in the parallel
Gospel passages (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22) reads: Touto estin to soma mou. Pauls version differs slightly: Touto
mou estin to soma (1 Cor. 11:24). They all translate as "This is my body." The verb estin is the equivalent of
the English "is" and can mean "is really" or "is figuratively." The usual meaning of estin is the former (check any
Greek grammar book), just as, in English, the verb "is" usually is taken literally.
Fundamentalists insist that when
Christ says, "This is my body," he is speaking figuratively. But this interpretation is precluded by Pauls discussion of the
Eucharist in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and by the whole tenor of John 6, the chapter where the Eucharist is promised. The Greek
word for "body" in John 6 is sarx, which can only mean physical flesh, and the word for "eats" (trogon) translates
as "gnaws" or "chews." This is certainly not the language of metaphor.
No "figurative presence"
The literal meaning cant be avoided except through violence to the text-and through
the rejection of the universal understanding of the early Christian centuries. The writings of Paul and John reflect belief
in the Real Presence. There is no basis for forcing anything else out of the lines, and no writer tried to do so until the
early Middle Ages. Christ did not institute a Figurative Presence. Some Fundamentalists say the word "is" is used because
Aramaic, the language Christ spoke, had no word for "represents." Jesus just had to do the best he could with a restricted
vocabulary. Those who make this feeble claim are behind the times, since, as Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman showed a century ago,
Aramaic has about three dozen words that can mean "represents."
The Catholic position
The Church teaches that the Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary,
which also is invariably misunderstood by anti-Catholics. The Catholic Church does not teach that the Mass is a re-crucifixion
of Christ, who does not suffer and die again in the Mass.
Yet, it is more than just a memorial service. John
A. OBrien, writing in The Faith of Millions, said, "The manner in which the sacrifices are offered is alone different:
On the cross Christ really shed his blood and was really slain; in the Mass, however, there is no real shedding of blood,
no real death; but the separate consecration of the bread and of the wine symbolizes the separation of the body and blood
of Christ and thus symbolizes his death upon the cross. The Mass is the renewal and perpetuation of the sacrifice of the cross
in the sense that it offers [Jesus] anew to God . . . and thus commemorates the sacrifice of the cross, reenacts it symbolically
and mystically, and applies the fruits of Christs death upon the cross to individual human souls. All the efficacy of the
Mass is derived, therefore, from the sacrifice of Calvary" (306).
"Once for all"
The Mass, of course, does not re-crucify Christ. The Catholic Church specifically
says Christ does not die again-his death is once for all. It would be something else if the Church were to claim he does die
again, but it doesnt make that claim. Through his intercessory ministry in heaven and through the Mass, Jesus continues to
offer himself to his Father as a living sacrifice, and he does so in what the Church specifically states is "an unbloody manner"-one
that does not involve a new crucifixion.
The Language of Appearances
Loraine Boettner mounts another charge. In chapter eight of Roman Catholicism,
when arguing that the meal instituted by Christ was strictly symbolic, he gives a cleverly incomplete quotation. He writes,
"Paul too says that the bread remains bread: Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread and drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy
manner. . . . But let each man prove himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup (1 Cor. 11:27-28)."
part of verse 27 represented by the ellipsis is crucial. It reads, "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." Why
does Boettner omit this? Because to be guilty of someones body and blood is to commit a crime against his body and blood,
not just against symbols of them. The omitted words clearly imply the bread and wine become Christ himself.
the Eucharist was so serious that the stakes could be life and death. In the next two verses (29-30), Paul states, "For any
one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak
and ill, and some have died."
Boettners omitted statements reveal that when Paul uses the term "bread," hes using
the language of appearances, what scholars call "phenomenological language." In this form of speech, something is described
according to how it appears, rather than according to its fundamental nature. "The sun rose," is an example of phenomenological
language. From our perspective, it appears that the sun rises, though we know that what we see is actually caused by
the earths rotation.
Scripture uses phenomenological language regularly-as, for example, when it describes angels
appearing in human guise as "men" (Gen. 19:1-11; Luke 24:4-7, 23; Acts 1:10-11). Since the Eucharist still appears
as bread and wine, Catholics from Pauls time on have referred to the consecrated elements using phenomenological language,
while recognizing that this is only description according to appearances and that it is actually Jesus who is present.
are not merely symbolically commemorating Jesus in the Eucharist, but actually participating in his body and blood, as Paul
states, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is
it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16).
The Manner of Melchizedek
The Old Testament predicted that Christ would offer a true sacrifice to God
using the elements of bread and wine. In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, the king of Salem (that is, Jerusalem) and a priest,
offered sacrifice under the form of bread and wine. Psalm 110 predicted Christ would be a priest "after the order of Melchizedek,"
that is, offering a sacrifice in bread and wine. We must look for some sacrifice other than Calvary, since it was not under
the form of bread and wine. The Mass meets that need.
Furthermore, "according to the order of Mel-chizedek" means
"in the manner of Melchizedek." ("Order" does not refer to a religious order, as there was no such thing in Old Testament
days.) The only "manner" shown by Melchizedek was the use of bread and wine. A priest sacrifices the items offered-that is
the main task of all priests, in all cultures, at all times-so the bread and wine must have been what Melchizedek sacrificed.
Fundamentalists sometimes say Christ followed the example of Melchizedek at the Last Supper, but that it was a rite
that was not to be continued. They undermine their case against the Mass in saying this, since such an admission shows, at
least, that the Last Supper was truly sacrificial. The key, though, is that they overlook that Christ said, "Do this in remembrance
of me" (Luke 22:19). Clearly, he wasnt talking about a one-time thing.
"Do this in remembrance of me" can also be
translated as "Offer this as my memorial sacrifice." The Greek term for "remembrance" is anamnesis, and every time
it occurs in the Protestant Bible (whether in the New Testament or the Greek Old Testament), it occurs in a sacrificial context.
For example, it appears in the Greek translation of Numbers 10:10: "On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed
feasts, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices
of your peace offerings; they shall serve you for remembrance [anamnesis] before your God: I am the Lord your God."
Thus the Eucharist is a remembrance, a memorial offering we present to God to plead the merits of Christ on the cross.
disbelieve claims about the antiquity of the Masss sacrificial aspects, even if they think the Mass, in the form of a mere
commemorative meal, goes all the way back to the Last Supper. Many say the Mass as a sacrifice was not taught until the Middle
Ages, alleging Innocent III was the first pope to teach the doctrine.
But he merely insisted on a doctrine that had
been held from the first but was being publicly doubted in his time. He formalized, but did not invent, the notion that the
Mass is a sacrifice. Jimmy Swaggart, for one, goes further back than do many Fundamentalists, claiming, "By the third century
the idea of sacrifice had begun to intrude." Still other Fundamentalists say Cyprian of Carthage, who died in 258, was the
first to make noises about a sacrifice.
But Irenaeus, writing Against Heresies in the second century, beat
out Cyprian when he wrote of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and Irenaeus was beaten out by Clement of Rome, who wrote,
in the first century, about those "from the episcopate who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices" (Letter
to the Corinthians 44:1).
Furthermore, Clement was beaten out by the Didache (a Syrian liturgical
manual written around A.D. 70), which stated, "On the Lords Day . . . gather together, break bread and offer the Eucharist,
after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure. Let no one who has a quarrel with his neighbor join
you until he is reconciled, lest our sacrifice be defiled. For this is that which was proclaimed by the Lord: In every place
and time let there be offered to me a clean sacrifice. For I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among
the gentiles [cf. Mal. 1:11]" (14:1-3).
It isnt possible to get closer to New Testament times than this, because Clement
and the author of the Didache were writing during New Testament times. After all, at least one apostle, John, was still
Fundamentalists are particularly
upset about the Catholic notion that the sacrifice on Calvary is somehow continued through the centuries by the Mass. They
think Catholics are trying to have it both ways. The Church on the one hand says that Calvary is "perpetuated," which seems
to mean the same act of killing, the same letting of blood, is repeated again and again. This violates the "once for all"
idea. On the other hand, what Catholics call a sacrifice seems to have no relation to biblical sacrifices, since it doesnt
look the same; after all, no splotches of blood are to be found on Catholic altars.
"We must, of course, take strong exception
to such pretended sacrifice," Boettner instructs. "We cannot regard it as anything other than a deception, a mockery, and
an abomination before God. The so-called sacrifice of the Mass certainly is not identical with that on Calvary, regardless
of what the priests may say. There is in the Mass no real Christ, no suffering, and no bleeding. And a bloodless sacrifice
is ineffectual. The writer of the book of Hebrews says that apart from shedding of blood there is no remission of sin (9:22);
and John says, The blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Since admittedly there is no blood in the
Mass, it simply cannot be a sacrifice for sin" (174).
Boettner misreads chapter nine of Hebrews, which begins with an
examination of the Old Covenant. Moses is described as taking the blood of calves and goats and using it in the purification
of the tabernacle (Heb. 9:19-21; see Ex. 24:6-8 for the origins of this). Under the Old Law, a repeated blood sacrifice was
necessary for the remission of sins. Under the Christian dispensation, blood (Christs) is shed only once, but it is continually
offered to the Father.
"But how can that be?" ask Fundamentalists. They have to keep in mind that "Jesus Christ is the
same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb. 13:8). What Jesus did in the past is present to God now, and God can make the
sacrifice of Calvary present to us at Mass. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lords
death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).
Jesus does not offer himself to God as a bloody, dying sacrifice in the Mass, but
as we offer ourselves, a "living sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1). As this passage indicates, the offering of sacrifice does not require
death or the shedding of blood. If it did, we could not offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. Jesus, having shed his
blood once for all on the cross, now offers himself to God in a continual, unbloody manner as a holy, living sacrifice on