The email to the editors from Chris G_____ bore the subject line: “Canon III — On the Sacrifice of the Mass.” Not as I first assumed, an article submission, it was a Protestant attempt to catechize us here at CE. Large letters proclaimed “Roman Catholic Doctrine” and then provided textual sources from the council of Trent with this pertinent excerpt (his emphasis intact):
CANON III. “If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the Mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.”
Ah, yes. Those Tridentine anathemas, five hundred years on, are still provoking Protestant outrage. This is because most Protestants read them to be saying: “If you believe in Protestant doctrine you are condemned to hell.” However, this is not the position of the Church, which has not, nor ever claimed, the authority to eternally condemn anyone. Rather, this is the biblical, apostolic formula for identifying a teaching as contrary to the truth and for identifying the teacher thereof as separated from Catholic communion. St. Paul uses this word in Gal. 1:9 “If any one preach to you a gospel besides that which you have received, let him be anathema.” Since Protestants apparently desire to be separated from Catholic communion anyway, it shouldn’t bother them to have that status acknowledged by the Church.
My dear correspondent, for my edification, followed his quotation from Trent with a series of verses from Scripture and very helpfully tossed in the dictionary quotations defining propitiation and anathema in case I had been ignorant of their meaning. Here is a sampling (it went on and on for pages, so this is all that space allows) with his own emphasis intact:
1 John 2: 1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
1 John 4: 1 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Romans 3: 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
Hebrews 10:10-25. 10 “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified…18 Now where there is remission of these [sins], there is no longer an offering for sin…”
1 Peter 3:18. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…”
From my own time as a Protestant, I understand what my correspondent hopes at this point (or after the piling up of all the rest of the verses he included). He hopes that I would suddenly realize that the Catholic Church is misleading me and get out of “Babylon the Great” (which is what I called the Church in my Jehovah’s Witness days) as fast as my feet could carry me and hop on over to the local Baptist Church and get myself right with the Lord — not at all difficult since where I live where they are scattered like mushrooms.
At this point though, I know that my cradle Catholic readers are in a state of mystification. My Protestant friend has quoted Trent to the effect that no one is to say the Mass is not a propitiatory sacrifice and he has followed it up with verses clearly stating that Jesus sacrifice is a sin offering — where is the argument?
You see the missing piece is the one that just occurs almost automatically to a Catholic reader but our good separated brother hasn’t a clue about it. Let’s put it this way: IF, as he thinks, we Catholics taught that the Mass kills Jesus again, or is another sacrifice in addition to Calvary, he would be correct in saying that the scriptures he quoted contradicted Catholic doctrine. But the missing piece of Catholic doctrine is that of course, we don’t think that the Mass is anything other than the very sacrifice on Calvary.
So why do we think that? For very biblical reasons. Let me just deal with two.
First off, Mass is a communion sacrifice. In fact even many Protestants continue to call their version of the Last Supper “Communion” or even “Holy Communion.” Now what is a communion sacrifice? It is a sacrifice wherein the offering itself is partaken of by the priests and/or the worshipers. Unless the Mass is the same sacrifice, there would be no communion because what was being eaten would not be what is being sacrificed. But it is, as St. Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 10, drawing a correspondence with the Old Testament communion offerings:
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?
Let’s follow St. Paul’s admonition for a minute and consider these OT communion sacrifices. Imagine a family bringing a young ram to be offered as a communion sacrifice. The priest performs the ritual killing and lays the animal on the altar, roasting another part of it for them to eat. The priest offers them their portion of the sacrifice and they say, “Oh, no thanks, we don’t want to eat it. We will just go home and eat something else and symbolically remember this sacrifice.” Unimaginable, isn’t it?
The other biblical reason is that we cannot take the statement that Jesus suffered “once” apart from the statement that he suffered “for all.” He suffered, Hebrews 10:10 says, “once for all,” but the “all”, unlike the God who suffered for them, are confined within the stream of time. The sacrifice is not. It cannot be, for it must be for all — including even those who lived before (in time) it took place. That this great sin offering that makes our peace with God is not confined by time was demonstrated by Jesus at the Last Supper, at which, St. Augustine says: “Christ was carried in His own hands, when, referring to His own Body, He said: `This is My Body.’ For He carried that Body in His hands.” The Apostles truly received at that meal what Jesus gave them to eat and drink, “my body” and “the blood of the covenant” — yet, there he was, existing with them as Man in time, wherein His sacrifice was yet future and yet also as God, outside of time, to give them in reality Communion in His Body and Blood. A further indication that this sacrifice transcends time to be present on the altars of our churches is the imagery of Revelation 5:6 “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” and the description of Revelation 13:8 of the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
(Please see today’s articles in the Today and Edge sections for more thoughts on the Sacrifice of the Mass.)
The bottom line is that our Protestant friend has been able to concoct a disagreement between Catholic doctrine and Scripture only by leaving out a piece of Catholic teaching.
So now what?
First let me commend to you his zeal and boldness. He was making a serious and heartfelt effort to save another human soul from what he perceives to be mortal danger. If only more Catholics were this bold and went to this much effort on behalf of the faith. I remember how Bible Answer Man Hank Hanegraaff used to challenge his Christian listeners regarding the cults, asking if they were willing to do for the truth what cults do for a lie. Our feet should be shod with Good News and we should be always ready to give an answer.
Second, let me ask you please to pray for him. Right now, please offer a prayer for Chris G_____ that the Holy Spirit may fill in all the missing pieces of his understanding of the Catholic faith, for as Bishop Fulton Sheen said: “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”