How do The
Sacraments Function in the Life
of a Catholic Believer? -- Part 3
by Dr. John
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
Holy Eucharist (The Mass)
Roman Catholicism teaches that in the Mass, the sacrifice
of Jesus Christ Himself is actually re-presented to the faithful and its
benefits applied to them.
Although the Catholic Church maintains that the Mass
in no way detracts from the atonement of Christ, it still believes that
it is principally through the Mass that the blessings of Christís
death are applied to believersóand therefore the blessings of Christís
death are not procured solely by faith alone.
But one must ask how credible this claim is to not
detract from the atonement. The Mass is defined throughout Catholicism
as being "truly propitiatory." Further, because it pardons sins, it is
held to be necessary for salvation. From a Protestant perspective, the
natural question is this: If Christ died for all sin on the cross and
faith alone procures this benefit, is the sacrifice of the Mass really
Catholics and Protestants agree that sin is an affront
to Godís holiness calling forth Godís condemnation. They agree
propitiation is an offering that is made to God in light of His offended
justice so that He becomes favorable to the sinner. But Protestants
disagree with the following: "Hence the Mass as a propitiation is
offered to effect the remission of sins."1
The Catholic Church has always emphasized the fact
that Christ is resacrificed in the Mass (Catholics use the term
"re-presented") as propitiation to God. The authoritative Council of
Trent affirmed that the sacrifice of the Mass is propitiatory both for
the living and the dead:
And inasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the
Mass is contained and immolated [offered] in an unbloody manner the
same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar
of the cross, the holy council teaches that this is truly
propitiatory.... For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the
grace and gift of penitence and pardons even for the gravest crimes
and sins... it [the Mass] is rightly offered not only for the sins,
punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who
are living, but also for those departed in Christ, but not yet fully
purified [i.e., those in purgatory].2
Of course, underlying the Mass rests the doctrine of
transubstantiation claiming that the bread and wine actually become the
body and blood of Christ. This doctrine was codified in its present form
by Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Nevertheless, this doctrine cannot be
Catholic theologians make much of such passages as John 6:48-58,
Matthew 26:26, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 in an attempt to teach that
Christ and the apostles taught this doctrine. But the evidence is not
as one-sided as might first appear.... That our Lord was using highly
figurative language is evident from the fact that both the Jews and
His disciples were interpreting His words literally [John 6:] vs. 52,
60, 61 and He deliberately went out of His way to contradict such a
literal interpretation: "The words that I am speaking to you are
spirit and they are life: the flesh does not profit anything" (vs.
Our Lord clearly taught that belief in Him was the metaphorical
equivalent of "eating" His flesh and blood (vs. 35, 36) and as we have
seen He expressly stated that the words "bread," "flesh," "blood," and
"eat," in a fleshly or literal interpretation, profited nothing.3
In other words, Jesus was telling His disciples to
"eat" (ingest and digest) His words, not literally His physical
flesh and blood. (Regardless, if Christ were speaking literally, why
does the Catholic Church prohibit the laity from partaking of the wine
when Christ clearly told all His disciples to drink His blood?)
Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei
reaffirmed the Council of Trent when he stressed that the sacrifice of
the Mass was not a "mere commemoration" of the passion and death of
Christ, as Protestants teach, but "is truly and properly the offering of
a sacrifice wherein by an unbloody immolation [again, an immolation is
something offered as a sacrifice], the High Priest does what He [Jesus]
had already done on the Cross, offering Himself to the Eternal Father as
a most acceptable victim."4
Vatican II continued this view of the Mass also reaffirming the
position of Trent: "One... and the same is the victim, one and the same
is He Who now offers by the ministry of His priests, and Who then
offered Himself on the Cross; the difference is only in the manner of
As a result, Vatican II teaches that at the Mass, "the faithful
gather, and find help and comfort through venerating the presence of the
Son of God our Savior, offered for us [now] on the sacrificial altar."6
As noted elsewhere, according to Karl Keating in Catholicism and
Fundamentalism, "...The Church insists that the Mass is the
continuation and re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary."7
Emphasizing it is not a recrucifixion of Christ where Christ
suffers and dies again, he cites John A. OíBrien who says, "The Mass is
the renewal and perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross in the sense
that it offers anew to God the Victim of Calvary... and applies the
fruits of Christís death upon the Cross to individual human souls."8
In essence, the real problem between Catholics and Protestants is
this: Catholicism teaches that Christ is still offering Himself today in
thousands of Masses conducted regularly throughout the world.9 We stress
that the Mass is not merely the symbolic offering of the
Eucharist or the thanksgiving of the faithful, "It is the supreme moment
in the Churchís worship when the priest claims to offer Christ as a
sacrifice for the living and the dead."10
Thus, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, "We may
establish that the Eucharist is a true sacrifice.... The true nature of
a sacrifice is realized in the Mass. By declaration of the Council of
Trent, Christ is recognized as the offering Priest, the Victim offered,
and the immolation in the sacramental order. These essentials of the
sacrifice are present in the three main actions of the Mass: the
Offertory, the Consecration, and the Communion."11
But a continual resacrificing of Christ is not the
picture we arrive at from the Bible. In the Bible, Christ is pictured as
having accomplished His work and having sat down at the right hand of
the Father (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1). The finality of Christís sacrifice stands
in stark contrast with the Catholic conception of the constant "renewal"
of that sacrifice in the Mass.
Consider the book of Hebrews. Hebrews repeatedly uses
terms such as "once," "once for all" and "forever" to emphasize both the
perfection and the finality of Christís death on the cross (Hebrews
9:12,26,28; 10:12, 14; 12:2).
If Christ offered one sacrifice for sins
forever and thus obtained eternal redemption for us (Hebrews
9:12; 10:10-14), what is the need for a perpetual "bloodless sacrifice"
of Christ over and over again literally millions of times? How can the
Mass apply a forgiveness of sins that was already fully earned by Christ
on the cross and applied to the believer at the very point of saving
faith (John 5:24; 6:47)?
The Scripture is clear: "one sacrifice for sins
forever"; "once for all"; "It is finished," etc. (Romans 6:9; Hebrews
7:27; 9:26-28; 10:10-14; 1 Peter 3:18; John 19:30). Thus, in the book of
Hebrews the "once for all" sacrifice of Christ is clearly contrasted
with the perpetual offerings of the Levitical priest. In Hebrews 9:25-28
we are told that Christ was not to offer Himself repeatedly, for
then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the
Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again,
the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with
blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many
times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once
for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the
sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after
that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take
away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to
bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Thus, Jesus appeared "once for all" to put away sin by
the sacrifice of Himself. This final sacrifice is further contrasted
with the levitical priestly sacrifices which "can never take away sins"
(Hebrews 10:11). Indeed, it is the very idea of a repetition of
sacrifices which proves their insufficiency. Otherwise, they "would not
have ceased to be offered" (Heb. 10:2).
When the Bible teaches that "but when Christ had
offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at
the right hand of God.... For by a single offering He has perfected
for all time those who are sanctified" (Hebrews 10:12, 14), it
undermines the very basis of the Catholic Mass: continual sacrifice. As
Carson points out, "Any service, therefore, which purports to renew the
sacrifice of Calvary is a plain denial of the overwhelming testimony of
Scripture to the perfection of the Lordís one offering. The doctrine of
the Mass implies the imperfection and insufficiency of the sacrifice
of Calvary, for the latter needs now to be supplemented by the daily
offering at the altars of the Church of Rome."12
In other words, Jesusí perfect sacrifice, reflected by
His own cry from the cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30), leaves no
room at all for the Catholic resacrifice of Christ at the Mass based on
the idea that Christ is actually present in the bread and wine.
In conclusion, because of the dogma of
transubstantiation, Roman Catholicism teaches that Christ continues to
offer himself as a holy sacrifice for sin at every Mass. Many
Protestants have argued that if this does not undermine the finality and
sufficiency of the atonement, they can think of little else that does.
(to be continued)
1 H. M. Carson, Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman
Catholicism (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p.
2 H. J. Schroeder, trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Council
of Trent, 7th Session, Canon 1 (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1978),
3 Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History
(Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), pp. 74-75.
4 Carson, p. 112, citing Part 2.1.72.
5 Ibid., p. 113.
6 Walter M. Abbot, gen. ed., The Documents of Vatican II
(NY: Guild Press, 1966), p. 543.
7 Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on
"Romanism" by "Bible Christians" (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius
Press, 1988), p. 248.
8 Ibid., p. 248, quoting Rev. John A. OíBrien.
9 Carson, p. 111.
10 Ibid., p. 112.
11 Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia,
revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p.p.
12 Carson, p. 119.
Mr. Mike Gendron
Mr. Greg Durel
Carlos Tomas Knott
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute