Kim Dwyer took strong exception to my statement in “Think Before You Convert” that “(t)he Catholic view of the Mass as a sacrifice–which is tied up with their view of the church–is unbiblical.” Given that this is an important subject (Abu Daoud also dealt with it recently) I think some elucidation is in order.
Side note to my evangelical friends: I am one of those people who hold to the Biblical view that Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. I deal with this subject at length in Reflections on an Orthodox View of the Eucharist and will not discuss that further here.
First, let’s allow her idea that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is “a perpetual sacrifice, ever present till the end of time when he will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This is because all things are perpetual in God: his knowledge, his love, etc. God is above time, and moreover anything attributed to God is essential to him. (I won’t get into the dispute about the nature of attributes in God, i.e., Moses Maimonides vs. Aquinas et.al.) That sacrifice was, as she goes on to point out, “the reason he came into time and space from eternity.”
Tying the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist and the perpetuity of all things in God, the question remains: is the Mass a sacrifice in and of itself, or it is the re-enactment and/or extension of the original sacrifice? The scripture makes that answer clear:
But, this priest, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, which should serve for all time, ‘took his seat at the right hand of God,’ and has since then been waiting ‘for his enemies to be put as a stool for his feet.’ By a single offering he has made perfect for all time those who are being purified. (Hebrews 10:12-14, TCNT)
Given that there is only one sacrifice, and that the nature of this sacrifice is unique, the Mass must be an integral extension of the original sacrifice.
Roman Catholicism’s presentation of the concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass,” however, is at best confusing and at worst misleading.
Part of the problem is unwittingly pointed out by Kim herself:
…Our Saviour did sacrifice Himself once on the cross, but also on the night of the last supper, made a new covenant which is Himself, in the sacrifice of His Sacred body and blood…
Are we talking about one sacrifice or two? Our Lord’s institution of the Eucharist must be seen in totality and in unity with his sacrifice on the Cross. The whole core of the salvific history, starting at the Upper Room and going through the Passion and death to the Resurrection, must be seen from a theological standpoint as one event. The making of the New Covenant not only refers to the Last Supper but to the Cross itself. Pushed to its limit, calling the Mass a sacrifice per se implies that Jesus Christ is sacrificed on the Cross again each time, and this is unacceptable. Putting the emphasis on the relationship (which certainly exists) of the Mass and the Last Supper doesn’t solve the dilemma.
And that leads us to the next problem, which I alluded to in the original article: the nature of the Catholic priesthood and the church itself. The Catholic Church regards its priests as successors of the Jewish priests who ministered in the Temple (which is, BTW, the origin of replacement theology.) Moreover the Church regards itself as the active dispenser of God’s grace through the sacraments, with the possibility of withholding same if the occasion calls for it.
Tying the two together, however, runs into this problem:
This was the High Priest that we needed–holy, innocent, spotless, withdrawn from sinners, exalted above the highest Heaven, one who has no need to offer sacrifices daily as those High Priests have, first for their own sins, and then for those of the People. For this he did once and for all, when he offered himself as the sacrifice. The Law appoints as High Priests men who are liable to infirmity, but the words of God’s oath, which was later than the Law, name the Son as, for all time, the perfect Priest. (Hebrews 7:26-28, TCNT)
To put the priesthood on the level that Roman Catholicism does certainly leads one to conclude that the “Sacrifice of the Mass” is more akin to those in Judaism than the one complete sacrifice effected by Our Lord Jesus Christ, which leads one to wonder what advantage was gained by Our Lord’s saving work on this earth.
It is these two reasons why I have difficulty with Roman Catholicism’s concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass.”