Nothing if not a sacrifice

[Like many of my posts, this is adapted from my part of a discussion with a friend.]

I think the element of sacrifice is insufficiently emphasized nowadays, even though the Sacrifice of the Mass is what our entire religion hangs on. The very purpose of the Church is to join people to Christ so that they can participate in his continual offering of himself to the Father, and thereby be saved.

This is what makes participation at Mass a participation in the Heavenly liturgy:  The fact that we are participating in one and the same sacrifice on earth which Christ continually offers in Heaven. The whole life of the Church, including our individual lives, is one long, continuous offering to the Father, made acceptable by virtue of being united with Christ’s offering of himself.

Communion has no meaning aside from being a participation in the sacrifice offered on the altar.  As St. Paul wrote,

“16Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? … 18Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? … 20 but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons.”  (1 Cor. 10:16ff.)

St. Paul’s point in this context is that Christians should not eat meat sacrificed to idols because when you eat of a sacrifice you are participating in the sacrifice — you are ratifying it, approving it and communing with the “god” to whom the sacrifice is being offered. As Christians we cannot commune with both God and demons.

You see the point:  Communion is not simply a matter of all of us eating the same bread and thereby being united. The point of Communion, and the reason it unites us, is that each of us who eats it is thereby joining in the sacrifice in which the Body was offered — we are not merely united, we are united in sacrifice.

Thus referring to Mass as a celebration and a supper and a thanksgiving, without stressing the sacrificial element, overlooks the essential point. It’s not merely a supper, it’s a sacrificial supper; not merely a thanksgiving but a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

This is the primary thing that differentiates us from the Protestants: They have no priesthood and therefore no continual sacrifice, and absenting themselves from that continual offering is the main thing that makes Protestantism a danger to one’s soul.

I suspect that an effort to make Catholic doctrine palatable to Protestants, around the time of Vatican II, is what led to the de-emphasis of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and everything connected with it. Protestants have an aversion to the idea of continually offering sacrifice to the Father and thereby averting his anger and satisfying his justice, as if we were primitive people sacrificing oxen or virgins. But in fact that is what we are doing, the difference being that our sacrifice is truly efficacious and actually able to avert God’s anger and satisfy his justice, since it is a pure sacrifice offered by One who is God himself.

I feel that we must begin to re-emphasize this fact. The lack of understanding on this point is part of what makes our Masses so insipid and often ridiculous. When you realize that you are literally offering sacrifice to appease a living God who is offended by sin, it’s harder to take it lightly. (This is where the Traditional Latin Mass excels — not reverence and solemnity for its own sake, but in recognition of the gravity of what is taking place.) Conversely, if the mood at Mass is one of frivolity and fun, is that not insulting to Christ? If you were standing at the foot of the Cross, would you clap and dance and tell jokes?

We mustn’t continue softening this doctrine to avoid offending Protestants, at the cost of failing to instruct our people in the essentials of their own Faith, and watering down our liturgy.

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20 thoughts on “Nothing if not a sacrifice

  1. I have a question for you. This is going to come off as a “gotcha” question with a proof-text, but it isn’t. You say that the sacrificial nature of the mass should be emphasized, and I agree. It may be the most important dividing line between Rome and Geneva. My question is this: When Christ was giving his sacrifice and said “It is finished” to what did “it” refer? What was it that was finished?

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  2. I would think “It is finished” meant that the sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross was finished.

    Now a question for you: What does Hebrews 7:17 mean: “For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec”; as well as 7:24: “But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood”?

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  3. I ask because your question was apparently intended to imply that the sacrifice of the mass was superfluous. I think the fact of Christ’s eternal priesthood implies that he makes a continuous offering of some kind.

    Heb. 8:3 says, “For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.” What then is his offering?

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  4. His offering is his death on the cross. It is not his offering which goes on perpetually. It is his intercession on behalf of his people, which he can make because of his perfect offering. Hebrews 7:25 says: “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”
    The sacrifice is over. The new High priest according to the order of Melchisedec is the one who sat down:
    Hebrews 10:12:
    “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God”.
    Why do I make a point of this? The author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to differentiate between the Levitical priesthood and Christ’s priesthood. One of the differences is that the Levitical priesthood offered sacrifices continually. Christ’s sacrifice is offered once. When you read the OT you will find that there was no place for the priests to sit in the temple. They couldn’t rest from their work of sacrifice because it couldn’t perfect anyone (Heb 10:1). Christ’s one offering does perfect the conscience of the believer (Heb 9). Christ’s perfect atoning work is finished. He is no more to be immolated whether it be “in an unbloody manner” or not. I am sorry, my friend; but your priests are carrying out a blasphemy when they consecrate the bread and wine. He is not a victim anymore. He is the conquering king (Rev 19:11).

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  5. Andrew:

    So you’re saying he’s already made his offering, it’s over and done with, and he will never again make any offering. To put it another way: he’s a high priest in the heavenly sanctuary, possessing an eternal and unchanging priesthood — but a priest who has nothing to offer. Right?

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  6. No, he certainly has something to offer. It’s just that he has offered it already. His sacrifice, says Hebrews, is the basis upon which he intercedes for his people; and the basis upon which he perfects them. There is a distinction drawn between the OT priesthood and the NT priesthood of Christ based on the fact that the repeated, imperfect sacrifices of the OT could not perfect, and the perfect sacrifice of Christ can. It is interesting to me that the RCC offers a repeated sacrifice that doesn’t perfect. If I were RC I could go to mass everyday for decades, live a good holy life, confess faithfully, commit a mortal sin the day before I die, and end up in Hell. That is not a perfect sacrifice, but the one presented in Hebrews is.

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  7. Some more thoughts on this issue:

    Can one be a priest perpetually without having a perpetual offering to make?

    Suppose you knew a mechanic who is retired. You could say that he is still a mechanic, in that he still possesses the skills of a mechanic, although he no longer works as a mechanic, not even as a hobby. However, you can’t say that he continues to *act* as a mechanic unless he continues to do actual mechanical work.

    By the same token you can say that Christ is still a priest, since he has the capabilities of a priest and once made the supreme priestly offering. But you can’t say that he perpetually *acts* as a priest unless he perpetually has a priestly offering to make, since making offerings is what priests do (per Heb. 8:3).

    So then, is Christ a retired priest? One who once made a priestly offering but is no longer in that line of work?

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  8. You asked: “Can one be a priest perpetually without having a perpetual offering to make?”

    According to Hebrews Christ is the high priest who offered a perfect sacrifice which is able to perfect those who draw near by faith. One of the things the author of Hebrews points out is the imperfect nature of the OT sacrifices and the perfect nature of the NT sacrifice of Jesus. One of the marks of that imperfect OT sacrificial system was the need for repeated offerings, including the priest making an offering for himself. This is no longer the case. In order to be a priest you must have a sacrifice; but Christ’s was perfect and therefore is over. He can now intercede on behalf of His people on the basis of that once for all perfect sacrifice.

    I think your mechanic analogy is flawed. I do not hold that Christ is a retired priest. He is a priest who has made the perfect sacrifice. That’s my point. There is no need for another offering. Repeated offerings were a characteristic of the imperfect OT sacrifices. At the risk of becoming unbearably redundant: He is able to perpetually intercede (intercession being the other primary role of a priest. Which you left out, but Christ still does) based on his perfect sacrifice. Maybe you can tell me something. What was insufficient in Christ’s offering that brings about the necessity of more offerings?

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  9. Your question assumes something I don’t agree with: Who says I believe anything was insufficient in Christ’s offering?

    As you know, since I’ve explained it to you before, we believe that it’s only the superabundant merits and graces flowing from Christ’s the sacrifice on the Cross that give the Mass any efficacy whatsoever. Where we differ is in how those merits and graces are applied to individual believers.

    Now your turn.

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  10. I mean, you say he makes “intercession” for us perpetually.  But what exactly does “intercession” refer to?  Is it verbal intercession?  Such as, “Please, please, please don’t damn them, please don’t damn them, please, please, please, please”, all day long, day after day, forever and ever?  Or if it’s not verbal, then what kind of intercession is it?

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  11. I submit that “mediation” and “intercession”, when performed by a priest, refers to the offering of sacrifice.  How else does a priest mediate or intercede for people than by offering sacrifice on their behalf, which they are unable to offer for themselves?

    Yes, a priest may offer oral or verbal intercession in the form of pleading on their behalf, which is basically what “prayer” consists of.  But anyone may do that, it is not peculiar to a priest, not part of the priestly role specifically.  What a priest does specifically, *as* a priest, that is, in fulfilling his priestly role, is offer sacrifice.  Therefore *priestly* mediation or intercession consists of sacrifice, and *perpetual* priestly mediation or intercession must consist of perpetual sacrifice.

    This doesn’t have to mean *repeated* sacrifice.  It can mean offering one sacrifice perpetually.  In the earthly sanctuary it had to mean repeated sacrifices, because nothing on earth may be offered perpetually since at some point it is consumed or decays, and priest dies and has to be replaced.  But in the heavenly sanctuary a single sacrifice may be offered once for all by an immortal priest. (Heb. 7:23-24)

    In my opinion this is what most clearly explains the meaning of the verses which say that Christ is a priest forever according to the order of Melchisidek, that his priesthood is an eternal, unchanging priesthood, and that he perpetually makes intercession for us.

    You may find the idea of his perpetually offering the same sacrifice repugnant on the ground that he offered it once for all and sat down. But it strikes me as equally repugnant, if not ridiculous, that his perpetual intercession is verbal.  Does he perform his verbal intercession on his knees with hands clasped as though in prayer?  If so, what happens to the idea that he has “sat down” since his work is all done?  (Or does he do his intercessory pleading from a seated posture?)

    My answer would be that his sacrifice on the Cross is perpetually present to the Father, and his perpetual intercession consists in his perpetually offering this one sacrifice.  The sacrifice is done, it is finished.  He’s not perpetually being immolated on the Cross, not perpetually suffering and dying.  But his past sacrifice is placed before the Father’s gaze in some mystical manner; as Revelation says, the Lamb stands before the Father’s throne “looking as though he had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).

    Mass is the way he instituted so that we can be present at and participate in that one offering, so that its merits and graces may be applied to ourselves as members of his Body.

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  12. Pingback: The Mass: Nothing if not a sacrifice, part 2 | Agellius's Blog

  13. Pingback: Mass roundup | Petty Armchair Popery

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