What then is the Mass? Is it a holy sacrifice or simply a memorial meal as claimed by Protestants?
The Catholic teaching on the Mass is often either grossly misunderstood or misrepresented by Protestants. It is therefore essential to first outline exactly what the Catholic Church does actually teach. The Second Vatican Council succinctly outlined the Churchs teaching on the Mass as follows:
"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."4
In the on-going controversy between Catholics and Protestants over the Mass debate initially centers around the meaning of Christs words "This is my body." In St. Luke 22 we have the following account of the Last Supper:
"Then he took a loaf of 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. And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (v. 19).
The Greek words used in St. Luke 22 for "This is my body" are Touto estin to soma mou. The verb estin can mean either "is really" or "is figuratively." The usual meaning is the former; Protestants, of course, insist on the latter meaning. However, to accept only a figurative meaning for estin would entail a rejection of the universal understanding held since Apostolic times and contradict directly the tenor of St. John chapter 6, where Christ first promises the Eucharist:
"...the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? So Jesus said to them, Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you...for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink...When many of his disciples heard it, they said, This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (vv. 51-60).
In the above passage the Greek word used for flesh is sarx, which only means physical flesh, while the Greek word for "eat" literally means "to gnaw."
Another argument revolves around the claim that in the language spoken by Christ, namely Aramaic, there was no separate word for "represents," and hence Christ only used "is" because He was inhibited by a limited vocabulary. This feeble argument, now outdated, was disposed of over a century ago by Cardinal Wiseman who showed that Aramaic has nearly forty different words for "represents." There was therefore no need for Christ to use "is" if He intended only to speak figuratively.
Protestant rejection of the Mass as a sacrifice is based on various verses in Hebrews, chapters 7, 9 and 10:
"He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself" (7, 27);
"He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (9, 12);
"And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (10, 10-11).
According to Protestants, Catholics, by claiming that the Mass is a sacrifice, are adding another sacrifice in addition to Christs. Therefore, Catholics must implicitly hold that Christs sacrifice was not sufficient, perfect or complete to atone for all sin. Further, by claiming that in the sacrifice of the Mass Christ is being offered to the Father again and again, Catholics "crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt" (Heb. 6, 6).
The Catholic Church, however, does not teach that the sacrifice of the Mass is another sacrifice in addition to Calvary or a recrucifixion of Christ. Rather, it is a re-presenting of Christ's original sacrifice, making it present to all Christians in all places and at all times. The sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same sacrifice, the manner in which they are offered is alone different. The Council of Trent put it in these terms:
"And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, Who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy synod teaches that this sacrifice is truly propitiatory, and that by means thereof this is effected that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different."
The sacrifice of Christ was accomplished once in time but to God it is an event eternally present before Him. This is gathered from St. Johns words in the Book of Revelation: "And all that dwell upon the earth adored him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world" (13, 8 [Douai]). In heaven, Christ still bears the appearance of a victim: "And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain" (Rev. 5, 6). The Mass slices through time and re-presents this eternal sacrifice before us so all Christians may eat the flesh of the Eternal Lamb after it has been slain.
To the contrary, it is argued that the words in St. Luke 22, 19, "Do this in remembrance of me," testify that Christ only intended to establish a memorial meal.whereby Christians throughout all ages would remember and give thanks for the "once and for all" sacrifice of Calvary. However, the word for remembrance in Greek is anamnesis, which means a remembering that makes something past become present. As ex-Protestant Max Thurian wrote before his conversion, "This memorial is not a simple objective act of recollection, it is a liturgical action which makes the Lord present which recalls as a memorial before the Father the unique sacrifice of the Son, and makes Him present in His memorial."6
The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would offer a true sacrifice to God in the form of bread and wine, that Jewish sacrifices would one day be brought to an end, and that in their stead the Gentiles would in every place offer a daily and pleasing sacrifice to Gods Name. In Gen. 14 we read that Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest, offered sacrifice under the form of bread and wine:
"After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King's Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said, Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand! And Abram gave him a tenth of everything"(vv. 17-20).
Psalm 110  foretold that the Messiah would be a Priest "after the order of Melchizedek":
"The Lord says to my lord: Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (vv. 1 & 4).
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews clearly identifies Christ to be this priest:
"For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, Thou art a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek"(7, 14-17).
"After the order of Melchizedek" means in "the manner" of Melchizedek. Melchizedek brought forth bread and wine and sacrificed them by offering them to Abraham to eat. Christ is a priest after this manner by offering His Body and Blood under the veil of bread and wine for us to eat.
The Book of Daniel chapter 9 speaks of the end of the Jewish priesthood and its sacrifices:
"After the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing, and the troops of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. He shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall make sacrifice and offering cease; and in their place shall be an abomination that desolates, until the decreed end is poured out upon the desolator" (vv. 26-27).
The Jewish priesthood and sacrifices would be replaced by Gentile ones as predicted by the Prophet Malachias:
"I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts: and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun, even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 1, 10-11 [Douai]).
Malachias words found fulfillment in the worship of the early Christians:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2, 42);
"Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts" (Acts 2, 46);
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10, 16);
"For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11, 26).
The early Christians were also warned that for those who do not partake of this sacrificial bread and wine worthily dire consequences await them:
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 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" (1 Cor. 11, 27-30).
Where is the prophecy of Malachias fulfilled today? James Cardinal Gibbons answers as follows:
"We may divide the inhabitants of the world into five different classes of people, professing different forms of religion - Pagans, Jews, Mohammedans, Protestants and Catholics. Among which of these shall we find the clean oblation of which the prophet speaks? Not among the Pagan nations; for they worship false gods, and consequently cannot have any sacrifice pleasing to the Almighty. Not among the Jews; for they have ceased to sacrifice altogether, and the words of the prophet apply not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Not among the Mohammedans; for they also reject sacrifices. Not among any of the Protestants sects; for they all distinctly repudiate sacrifices. Therefore, it is only in the Catholic Church that is fulfilled this glorious prophecy; for whithersoever you go, you will find the clean oblation offered on Catholic altars. If you travel from America to Europe, to Oceania, to Africa, or Asia, you will see our altars erected, and our Priests daily fulfilling the words of the prophets by offering the clean oblation of the body and blood of Christ."7
In October 1529 Luther and Zwingli met in Marburg, Germany, to resolve their differences concerning the Eucharist. The two leaders failed to reach an agreement. Ever since, Protestantism has been a house divided over the issue with hundreds of different interpretations of the words "This is my Body" appearing. How ironic that the very gift God gave to the world as a sign of the visible unity of Christians has become the source of so much dissension and division. St. Alphonsus de Liguori comments that Satan, through heretics and blasphemers, tries to deprive the world of the Mass and thus also the Eucharist, making them precursors of the Antichrist, who, before the coming of Christ will succeed in abolishing the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar as a punishment for the worlds sins, according to the prophecy of Daniel: "And strength was given him against the continual sacrifice, because of sins..." (Dan. 8, 12 [Douai]).
The Didache 14, 1 (C. 90 - 150 AD):
"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...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 (Malachias 1, 11,...)."
St. Clement of Rome, Letter to the Corinthians 44, 4 (C. 98 AD):
"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."
St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7, 1 (C. 110 AD):
"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes."
St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 66 (C. 155 AD):
"For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus...The Apostles, in the Memoirs which they produced, which are called Gospels, have thus passed on that which was enjoined upon them: that Jesus took bread and, having given thanks, said, Do this in remembrance of Me; this is My Body. And in like manner, taking the cup, and having given thanks, He said, This is My Blood. And He imparted this to them only."
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 4, 17, 5 (C. 180 AD):
"He took that created thing, bread, and gave thanks and said, This is My Body. And the cup likewise, which is part of that creation to which we belong, He confessed to be His Blood, and taught the new oblation of the new covenant, which the Church, receiving from the Apostles, offers to God throughout the world concerning which Malachy, among the twelve prophets thus spoke beforehand: From the rising of the sun to the going down, My name is glorified among the gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to My name and a pure sacrifice indicating in the plainest manner that in every place sacrifice shall be offered to Him, and at that a pure one."
St. Hippolytus of Rome, Commentary on Daniel 22 (220 AD):
"For when the Gospel is preached in every place, the times being then accomplished the abomination of desolation will be manifested, and when he (the Antichrist) comes, the sacrifice and oblation will be removed, which are now offered up to God in every place by the gentiles."
Origen, Homilies on Numbers Hom. 7, 2 (Post 244 AD):
"Formally, in an obscure way, there was manna for food; now, however, in full view, there is the true food, the flesh of the word of God, as He Himself says: My flesh is truly food, and My Blood is truly drink."
St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle to Caecilius on the Sacrament of the Cup of the Lord 4 (253 AD):
"In the priest Melchizedek we see prefigured the sacrament of the sacrifice of the Lord, according to what divine Scripture testifies, And Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine For who is more a priest of the most high God than Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered a sacrifice to God the Father, and offered that very same thing which Melchizedek had offered, that is, bread and wine, to wit, His body and blood? In Genesis therefore, that the benediction might be duly celebrated, the figure of Christ's sacrifice precedes as ordained in bread and wine; which thing the Lord, completing and fulfilling, offered bread and the cup mixed with wine, and so He who is the fullness of truth fulfilled the truth of the image prefigured."
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 23, 15 (C. 350 AD):
"Give us this day our supersubstantial bread. The bread which is of the common sort is not supersubstantial. But the Bread which is holy, that Bread is supersubstantial, as if to say, directed toward the substance of the soul. This Bread does not go into the belly, to be cast out into the privy. Rather, it is distributed through your whole system, for the benefit of body and soul."
St. Athanasius, Sermon to the Newly Baptized [Ref. Unknown] (C. 373 AD):
"Let us approach the celebration of the mysteries. This bread and this wine, so as long as the prayers and supplications have not taken place, remain simply what they are. But after the great prayers and holy supplications have been sent forth, the Word comes down into the bread and wine - and thus is His Body confected."
St. Ambrose of Milan, Commentaries on Twelve of Davids Psalms 38, 25 (Inter C. 381-397 AD):
"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. And even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. For 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 to us, He whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered."
St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon Against the Jews, 9, 13 (Post 425 AD):
"From the rising of the sun even to its setting My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place sacrifice is offered to My name, a clean oblation; for My name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty. What do you answer to that? Open your eyes at last, then, any time, and see, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the sacrifice of Christians is offered, not in one place only, as was established with you Jews, but everywhere; and not to just any god at all, but to Him who foretold it, the God of Israel Not in one place, as was prescribed for you in the earthly Jerusalem, but in every place, even in Jerusalem herself. Not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchizedek."
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):
The doctrine thus defined is a natural inference from the words of Scripture. When instituting this Sacrament, our Lord Himself said: This is my body. The word this expresses the entire substance of the thing present; and therefore if the substance of the bread remained, our Lord could not have truly said: This is my body.
In St. John Christ the Lord also says: The bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The bread which He promises to give, He here declares to be His flesh. A little after He adds: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. And again: My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Since, therefore, in terms so clear and so explicit, He calls His flesh bread and meat indeed, He gives us sufficiently to understand that none of the substance of the bread and wine remains in the Sacrament
We therefore confess that the Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same Sacrifice as that of the cross, for the victim is one and the same, namely, Christ our Lord, who offered Himself, once only, a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the cross. The bloody and unbloody victim are not two, but one victim only, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of our Lord: Do this for a commemoration of me.
The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the ministers who offer Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their own person, but in that of Christ, as the words of consecration itself show, for the priest does not say: This is the body of Christ, but, This is my body; and thus, acting in the Person of Christ the Lord, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the true substance of His body and blood.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992):
No. 1333: At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christs Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lords command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: "He took bread..." "He took the cup filled with wine..." The signs of bread and wine become, in a way surpassing understanding, the Body and Blood of Christ; they continue also to signify the goodness of creation. Thus in the Offertory we give thanks to the Creator for bread and wine, fruit of the "work of human hands," but above all as "fruit of the earth" and "of the vine" - gifts of the Creator. The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who "brought out bread and wine," a prefiguring of her own offering.
No. 1336: The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalised them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?": the Lords question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life" and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.
No. 1364: In the New Testament, the memorial takes on new meaning. When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christs Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. "As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out."
No. 1367: The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner."
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Haddad has been actively involved in catechetical and apologetical work since 1990.
Graduating from Sydney University with a Bachelor's degree in Law Robert took up an opportunity to work with a new high school established by the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks, (St. Charbels College, Punchbowl). Since 1990 he has acquired a Graduate Certificate in Religious Education (Catholic) from Charles Sturt University and set up a Religious Education course for Years 7-12 of uncompromising soundness in doctrine and orthodoxy.
Because of his position as Religious Education Co-ordinator in the school, Robert has been called upon regularly by both students and parishioners to publicly defend and / or explain the Faith. These numerous encounters are the reason for this work.
In 1996, Robert co-founded Lumen Verum Apologetics, an apologetical lecture group meeting and working in south-west Sydney on Friday nights. As well, Robert lectures in Apologetics at the Center for Thomistic Studies based in central Sydney and conducts catechism classes in various parishes around the Sydney metropolitan area. Robert is also a Board member of the Association of Religious Educators, established in 1997 by teachers, parents and friends concerned with the current state of Catholic education. In 1999, Robert plans to commence Theological Studies at Charles Sturt University. This is his first work.
"Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus."
© Robert Haddad 1998
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Catholic Apologetics - Holy Eucharist, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass