Why I Don’t Agree With the Concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass”

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.”

8 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Agree With the Concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass””

  1. Don, I’m going to post this here now, and possibly on my blog, later:

    Here’s the problem, Don. The witnesses to the Tradition, going back to the very first, when they address the question, are unanimous in maintaining that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Abu Daoud has written about this in the Didache; the Didache also refers to the leaders of the Christian community, the “prophets” and “bishops”, as the “high priests” of the Church. The Didache also quotes Malachi 1:11 as applying to the Eucharist: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and A PURE OFFERING; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” (Emphasis added).

    You are now engaged in a project of posting early Eucharistic Prayers, or Anaphorae, here on your blog. As you do, you will note that they all either contain a section which speaks of “offering” or “lifting up” “the bread and cup” or they speak of what is being done as a sacrifice (or both).

    BTW, as something of a digression, Malachi 1:11 is not the only passage in the Hebrew prophets which speaks of ongoing sacrifice, or purified sacrifice, being offered after the coming of Messiah, and an ongoing Messianic priesthood. Another is Malachi 3:4, which we read yesterday at Qurbana. Yet another is Isaiah 66:18-21. Another is Joel 2:14, remarkable in a couple of different ways, especially its explicit mention of a “grain and drink” offering. Also, the New Testament never denies that the Eucharist is a sacrifice and, in I Corinthians 10, implies that it is a sacrifice by comparing and contrasting it with pagan sacrifices.

    Back to the fathers: Clement of Rome does not explicitly address the issue, but uses the practice of worship within Judaism to buttress his own arguments and in so doing, as AD has pointed out, draws and analogy between Christian leadership with the Jewish priesthood. We also find the Eucharist called a sacrifice in Ignatius of Antioch and in Irenaeus. Then, in the early Third Century, Cyprian baldly states: “the sacrifice we offer is the passion of Christ.” This is the doctrine, not only of the Roman Catholic Church, but also of both types of Orthodox (Byzantine and Oriental) and of the Assyrian Church of the East. In short, it is the teaching of all the Churches who are in direct, unbroken descent from the ministry of the Apostles. This common teaching also sees the sacerdotal priesthood of the Church as, yes, replacing the Aaronic priesthood, but of not simply replacing, but transcending. The Christian sacerdotal priesthood is the priesthood of Christ Himself “after the order of Melchizadek” and not the priesthood of Aaron.

    So what of the book of Hebrews? This document argues that the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all on the cross, is the definitive and final BLOODY sacrifice for sin, the end of all sacrifices which involve the actual taking of biological life. As such, Christ’s sacrifice is foreshadowed by the animal sacrifices in Judaism, which it replaces and infinitely transcends. Hebrews is not a critique of the traditional doctrine of the Eucharist as sacrifice. Indeed, quite the opposite: leaving aside Hebrews 6:4, which is not directly relevant here, the only references to the Eucharist of which I am aware in Hebrews are found in Chapter 13, specifically verse 10: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat” and verse 16: “But of doing good and OF COMMUNICATING (“koinonias”) be not forgetful, for with such SACRIFICES God is well pleased.” The first implies that the Eucharist is a sacrifice be referring to “the altar” and the second explicitly states that the Eucharist, the Communion, is a sacrifice. Therefore, far from being a critique of eucharistic sacrifice, it is exactly the opposite: we have the Eucharist, “the heavenly gift,” by which we participate in the definitive sacrifice of Messiah Jesus, the one sacrifice which alone reconciles us with God and frees us from sin. Given that, it would be quite wrong, a step backward, to return to the offering of the biological blood of mere animals.

    However, the Eucharist, even while making present the sacrifice of Christ, is not offered for sin in the same way that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is. Those who participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice are already regenerated and purified by baptism and the sacrament of reconciliation, if needed. This is why the Eucharist can be withheld. St. Paul tells us that if one receives “unworthily”, he or she may be setting themselves up for judgment, even physical death. Think about this in terms of the practice of medicine. If I am addicted to, say, morphine, is the physician helping or hurting by giving me the prescription I seek? Likewise, “the Holy Gifts are for the Holy”. It is the Apostles and their successors in the Christian priesthood, the bishops and presbyters, who are charged with “binding and loosing” in this regard. See John 20:21-23. And, apart from the cross (or more broadly, Christ’s entire human life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession before the Father, and his return in glory), the Eucharist would have absolutely no meaning or efficacy, and Christ certainly would not be present in the consecrated bread and wine.

    So what, then, is the purpose of the Eucharist? Much of what you have written about the Eucharist as sacrament applies also to Eucharist as sacrifice in terms of what we human, as humans living in time, need. In short, it is how we as Christians participate in the self-offering of Christ, in terms of Romans 12:1. It is how we unite our intercession with that of Christ. It is how we, in union with Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, glorify the Father. And, of course, it is how we were fed with the flesh and blood of the Messiah. The Eucharis is, quite literally, “orthodox,” or “right worship”.

  2. As mentioned above, see John 20:21-23 for the nature of the priesthood. I think it pretty clearly backs the RC position over yours here.

    Other than than, you seem to be hung up on the notion of sacrifice of the mass somehow separating the sacrifice of the cross and the eucharist, more than other terms do. Why, though? Obviously Maundy Thursday and Good Friday were separate days and separate events. Yes, it all ties into one act of redemption, centred on the cross, but I don’t see how “sacrifice of the mass” is any less participatory in Calvary than “eucharist”, “communion”, or any other term is.

    The first comment lists a number of arguments why it is a good and useful concept, so I won’t argue them here.

  3. Jon, the verses you cite relate more to the nature of the church rather than the subject (the Eucharist) at hand. (They’re certainly related, as I noted earlier, but they’re not identical.) That’s a subject I deal with elsewhere on this blog, particularly here:

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/2009/08/08/we-may-not-be-a-church-after-all/

    My main argument isn’t as much to avoid separating the institution of the Eucharist from Good Friday as much as it is to emphsise the unique, eternal nature of Christ’s sacrifice, as opposed to the idea that each time the Mass is celebrated the sacrifice is done all over again.

  4. When I asked a priest why the MASS is a “Blood-LESS” Sacrifice, when the BIBLE is clear that, “WithOUT the Shedding of BLOOD there is NO FORGIVENESS.” in Hebrews 9:22 — he FINALLY Admitted that it was a tradition taken from the Old Testament — Jeremiah 7:18, where the BAAL worshipers “baked cakes to the queen of heaven” (aka ‘mother of god’, or ‘mother of the gods’).

    Why are Catholics asked to partake of a BloodLESS Sacrifice, when the BIBLE says “BloodLess” === “NO Forgiveness”!!!!?

    Should I be Confused?

  5. The Church has never taught that during the Mass Christ is sacrificed again. It is the ONE, perpetual sacrifice re-presented at Mass as an offering to which the universal Church unites herself, so as to restore the New Covenant with God the Father through His Son. If you do not uphold authentic Church teaching, I must ask, in the name of Christ’s true Bride — the Catholic Church — to not call yourself a Catholic, until you have done proper research and acknowledge her infallible teachings. Your personal interpretations cannot triumph doctrine. Our Church is an all or nothing deal.

    1. I am very much aware of the “take it or leave it” nature of Catholic theology.

      However, I’ve never represented myself to currently be Roman Catholic.

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