Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is the Mass a Sacrifice?

Do Catholics believe that the Mass is a Sacrifice?  Not just a sacrifice in the sense of praise and worship, but a true and real sacrifice?  What is meant by the Sacrifice of the Mass?

The Sacrifice of the Mass has been a part of our Christian Heritage from the beginning.  Not from the beginning of any particular denomination, but from the beginning of Christianity as a whole.  Why do Catholics consider the Mass a Sacrifice?  Because, our earliest Christian leaders considered it to be just that as well.

Clement of Rome, was ordained into the clergy by St. Peter himself.  This means that he didn't read the Gospel, like us today, he heard it from the lips of the Apostles who were with Christ, definitely Peter but most like Paul as well.  It is also suspected that he may even be the same Clement that is mentioned in Phillipians 4:3, but that is not for certain.  During his time as Bishop of Rome (making him the 4th Pope), he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth.  In this letter, he mentions the sacrifices being offered on the altar by the ministers of the church.

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]). 

Do you remember where the term Christians was first used?  Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch was born around the year 50 and was martyred somewhere between 98 - 117.  Ignatius served as the Bishop of Antioch.  He also, was most likely made the Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter as well.  He was also friends with St. Polycarp.  Ignatius is also one of the first people to use the term katholikos to describe the Church instituted by Jesus Christ.  This is where the term Catholic came from.  On his way to martyrdom, he wrote many letters.  (If you are interested, you can visit Joe McClane's site in order to get all of these letters in MP3 format so that you can listen to them.)  In his letter to the Philidelphians, he mentions the sacrifice and the altar as well.

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]). 

Justin Martyr was one of the first apologists.  His work had a very big influence on me and is part of the reason why I am joining the Catholic Church.  Born around 100AD, he was a philosopher and relied heaviliy on logic.  He wrote some great works to the Emperor explaining to him the Christian faith.  If you are ever interested in knowing what exactly the Early Christians believed and how they practiced their faith (this practice given to them by the Apostles, and their successors), Justin's First and Second Apologies would be a great resource to consider reading.  He also wrote Dialogue with Trypho.  In chapter 41, he clearly expresses and explains the Sacrifice of the Mass.

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]). 

Irenaeus of Lyons was a great champion of the faith.  He spent most of his life battling heresies.  So much so that his greatest work is titled Against Heresies.  Born between 115-125, he most likely did not have a chance to meet the Apostles face to face.  He could have been one of the first leaders of the Church that would have been more than 2 degrees of seperation between himself and Christ.  However, the Spirit of the Lord was definitely with him when he was battling the different schims that were challenging to tear the Church apart at the time.  In his work Against Heresies, he shares again the common theme that is placed on what we know as the Sacrifice of the Mass.

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]).

Do Catholics believe that the Mass is a Sacrifice?  Yes, because that is what Christians have believed since the beginning of Christianity.  God bless...

[1] The Sacrifice of the Mass
[2] One True Faith - Church Fathers

1 comment:

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

I have many non-catholic friends that are confused by this. The most common question I hear is "Isn't Jesus's sacrifice enough / sufficient? Do we have to keep repeating this sacrifice?"

The answer is that yes, it is sufficient and that the Sacrifice of the Mass is the same Sacrifice, not some new and different Sacrifice. We participate in the Sacrifice in our participation in the Mass.