Comments on Eucharistic Sacrifice

Well, after all that, I want to congratulate all of you on a thorough and gentlemanly (or lady-like in your case, Christine) discussion of the matter raised by Pastor McCain below. An exemplary example of discussion without recrimination. And for the most part the facts are right too. (I would want to point out that one anonymous comment said Luther rejected the real presence as well as the sacrifice–he didn’t).

To that, I think we can probably concluded the discussion by saying to Paul McCain that the Novus Ordo, while differing in some significant ways from the 1962 edition of the “Tridentine” Mass, still contains the sacrificial prayers that were so objectionable to Luther in his time, and so the wider use of the earlier mass is not likely to cause any difference in this regard–except perhaps to remind more “modernist” Catholics that the Eucharist we celebrated today is still the Sacrifice of the Mass.

However, dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics has established a new understanding of what each confesses and condemns in this regard and have found that the 16th Century Reformation condemnations do not always address the true doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass. That is to say, that Catholics also would condemn any understanding that the priest was “re-sacrificing” Christ, or that the Church were offering “bread and wine” as a sacrifice for sins.

According to the Compendium of the Catechism:

1) The Eucharist is “the very sacrifice of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus” which he instituted

2) that it perpetuates the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages

3) that it makes present and actual the sacrifice which Christ offered to the Father on the cross, once and for all.

4) that the sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice

Thus much, perhaps the Lutherans would share with Catholics. Because we agree on the Real Presence, and because we both agree that what is present is the very Sacrifice of Calvary, we can all agree that the Eucharist is a Sacrifice–an as such, that it is more than simply the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” which characterises all worship. We could probably also agree that this sacrifice on our altars is the same once for all sacrifice that Christ continually presents to his Father in heaven as a propitiary sacrifice for the sins of all people.

Where we would probably part company is on the extent to which (or even if at all) we as the Church, being both representative of the human race and the Body of Christ, participate in offering this sacrifice as a propitiary sacrifice to Father.

The Catholic Church asserts that we do participate in this offering. The Compendium describes it in these terms:

1) that the Sacrifice of the Mass differs from the Sacrifice of the cross only in the manner of its offering (bloody on the cross, unbloody on the altar)

2) that since the Faithful (in heaven and on earth) are the One Body of Christ, their lives, suffering, prayers, work and praise are united to the life, suffering, prayer, work and praise of Christ, and therefore Christ’s Sacrifice to the Father becomes the their sacrifice to the Father

3) since the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is a propitiary sacrifice for the whole human race, and for all the faithful living and the dead, and since it was offered to obtain for us all spiritual and temporal blessings of God’s grace, the Sacrifice of the Mass (being the same sacrifice) is offered in reparation for the sins of all these and as an act of prayer to obtain the same spiritual and temporal benefits from God.

For the life of me, I cannot see what is problematic with this. I see it as naturally following from our belief in the Real Presence and our belief in the identification of the Church as the Body of Christ. Both these seem to follow from the passage in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians about “discerning the presence of the body” in the Eucharist–a wonderful phrase charged with both the Christological and Ecclesial meanings.

Perhaps it might be useful to quote from the Australian Lutheran Catholic Dialogue statement “Sacrament and Sacrifice” (1985):

62. Catholics in the dialogue have been able to assure Lutherans that when Catholics speak of ‘offering Christ’ in the sacrifice of the Mass they do not deny or undermine the once—for-all nature of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. They have pointed out that the offering of Christ by the eucharistic community is not a new offering. Rather, in the Eucharist the community, already one with Christ in Baptism, affirms his unique sacrifice in faith, participates in his self—offering to the Father, and pleads to God for mercy on the basis of his sacrifice on the Cross. In this sense, ‘to offer up Christ’ is an application of Christ’s sacrifice in our own time.

While Lutherans acknowledge the significance of the incorporation into Christ as a vital dimension of eucharistic faith, they have continued to ask Catholics whether this view of the offering of Christ by the Church is not in danger of undermining Christ’s self-offering on behalf of the Church. In turn, in the light of our eucharistic incorporation into Christ, Catholics have asked Lutherans to consider whether a radical distinction can be made between our offering of praise and thanksgiving in Christ and the Eucharistic offering of Christ to the Father.

I also find it significant that later on, the Lutherans add the comment:

Lutherans will continue to stress the gift of Christ’s unique work on the Cross given to the believer in the Eucharist, without seeing any need to reflect further on the anthropological implications of this emphasis. Thus Lutherans will continue to remain reserved towards the concept of our offering up of Christ in the Eucharist because they do not consider that faithfulness to the scriptural witness necessarily demands this thrust and because they are concerned to uphold the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone.

I find it rather bizarre that anyone should speak of whether there is a “need” to reflect upon any particular aspect of the Eucharist–surely the Eucharist is a mystery upon which God graciously invites our reflection? I also think it is interesting that they would preclude themselves from reflecting upon a certain implication of the scriptural witness because it conflicts with their predetermined understanding of the scriptural doctrine of justification. And for the record, Catholics also believe in “justification by God’s grace alone”, and cannot for a moment imagine how our doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass does anything other than uphold this doctrine.

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3 Responses to Comments on Eucharistic Sacrifice

  1. William Weedon says:

    On the topic of the sacrifice in the Eucharist, this may or may not be of some interest:

  2. 318@NICE says:

    They way that I always look at the sacrifice of the Mass is the same way that I view Baptism, which I think would also be agreeable to Lutherans.
    In Baptism (according to Romans 6), one is truly buried with Christ in his death and rises to new life for real by the resurrection of Christ.
    The offering of Christ’s sacrifice and his glorious resurrection actually take place again for the baptized, even though it was done only once by our Lord, yet it happens again in the sacrament for our salvation at every baptism.


  3. Past Elder says:

    Well, 318, I am in no position to say whether this is agreeable to Lutherans, but it’s nice (no pun intended!) to hear someone sound recognisably Catholic here.

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