The Evolution of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Part 2

In part one of “The Evolution of the Mass,” we explored the elucidation of second century apologist, Justin Martyr, concerning “sacrifice.” Justin had stated that the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God are prayers and giving of thanks offered by worthy men. So how did the church go from that understanding to the belief that Christ must be re-sacrificed in an un-bloody manner?

Justin plainly associates this only sacrifice of prayers and giving of thanks with the Eucharist of the bread and the cup saying, “which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him.1 When the context is brought to light it is easy to see that the sacrifice of the Eucharist is in the hearts of those participating in the giving of thanks (which is what eucharist means), not in offering the bread and wine.

Later in the same century, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, explained, “For it behooves us to make an oblation to God, and in all things to be found grateful to God our Maker, in a pure mind, and in faith without hypocrisy, in well-grounded hope, in fervent love, offering the first-fruits of His own created things. And the Church alone offers this pure oblation to the Creator, offering to Him, with giving of thanks, [the things taken] from His creation.2

Irenaeus makes a clear connection to the thing being offered as the bread and wine of the Eucharist. But his very next words, which contrast Christian oblation with that of Jewish oblation, make it clear he did not mean that the bread and wine become Christ and are offered to God: “But the Jews do not offer thus: for their hands are full of blood; for they have not received the Word, through whom it is offered to God.3 That is to say, the true oblation to God is done only through Christ. It makes no sense to offer Christ to God through Christ. Nevertheless, the Eucharist, in a very short period of time, had become more focused on the elements yet remained pure in its meaning. Irenaeus undoubtedly directed his focus to the bread and wine because it was there that he found his strongest arguments against Gnosticism’s association with the Eucharist.

The great Christian philosopher, Clement of Alexandria, unmistakably understood Irenaeus’ distinction of the Eucharist sacrifice as a corporal worship of praise and thanksgiving. Clement, who in the late second century was the head of the catechetical school of Alexandria, taught that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He said, “Eat My flesh and drink My blood,4 which is the quintessential biblical reference used to support the transubstantiationalist belief.

Moving into the early third century we find Tertullian commenting that prayer is the victim of the Christian sacrifice:

…Every institution is excellent which, for the extolling and honoring of God, aims unitedly to bring Him enriched prayer as a choice victim. For this is the spiritual victim which has abolished the pristine sacrifices… We are the true adorers and the true priests, who, praying in spirit, sacrifice, in spirit, prayer- a victim proper and acceptable to God, which assuredly He has required, which He has looked forward to for Himself! This victim, devoted from the whole heart, fed on faith, tended by truth, entire in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, we ought to escort with the pomp of good works, amid psalms and hymns, unto God’s altar, to obtain for us all things from God.5

However, touching on the subject from a Catholic apologetics standpoint, the Catholic Encyclopedia grossly misrepresents Tertullian’s exhortation to communion during fasting. The encyclopedia quotes Tertullian’s words, “participation of the sacrifice” claiming that he “speaks of a real, not a metaphorical offering up of sacrifice.6 What the encyclopedia fails to mention is that just a few sentences earlier Tertullian describes the sacrifice as, “sacrificial prayers.7

There is no doubt, apart from severely biased opinions, that Christians up through the third century understood the Eucharist to be a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving culminating in the participation of the Lord’s Supper. The next century, however, would bring about change that revolutionized the way Christians viewed the Eucharistic celebration. The conclusion of this three-part article will explore how and when the metamorphous of the Eucharistic observance took place.

1. Dialog with Trypho, 117
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:18:4
3. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4:18:4
4. Clement, Paedagogus 1:6
5. Tertullian, On Prayer 27-28
6. Catholic Encyclopedia, Sacrifice of the Mass
7. Tertullian, On Prayer 19

7 Responses to The Evolution of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Part 2

  1. David says:

    I have found your series on The Evolution of the Sacrifice of the Mass to be quite interesting. Now I’m sure that you are probably quite busy and all, but I was wondering (and I am eagerly looking forward to) when will you finish this three part series?

  2. Asparagus tip says:

    The moment you leave Sola Scriptura, you’ve conceded the argument to the Catholic Church, the Church that Christ founded and the one He promised never to leave. You can’t win the Sola Scriptura argument either.

  3. I never left Sola Scriptura nor do I concede anything to Roman Catholicism. In fact, the historic evidence I presented demonstrates that the RCC is wrong on the sacrifice of the mass. And the only Sola Scriptura argument you would win is against the false definition you undoubtedly believe. Maybe you would like to tell me what you think Sola Scriptura is?

  4. Frank Below says:

    What’s your understanding of the Catholic statement that the one sacrifice of Christ is re-presented in the Mass (not repetitive sacrifices in the successive sense)? What’s your understanding of the biblical statement that Christ holds his priesthood permanently, and that he always lives to make intercession? Is it your understanding that God’s acts only occur in time? Do you believe that Christ introduced the ministerial priesthood (not referring to the universal priesthood of believers) in the new covenant? Do you believe Catholics might see a connection among these elements?

  5. Kevin says:

    Brian, another excellent article. It is clear the early fathers maintained their categories meticulously, bread was never offered to God, only to men, the sacrifices acceptable as per Malachi and Hebrews were praise and thanksgiving from the altar of our heart. The reformers were adamant toward Rome for corrupting the sacrament, making it merit for the strong, a work to earn increase grace and justice, instead of a gift free grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Have you read Kauffman’s series ” The praise was their sacrifice” ? I have said it before you both have done such a great job shining the truth of the fathers and scripture on Roman Catholic error and dispel Rome’s big lie that the early church was Roman Catholic, it was anything but. God bless and thanks for your commitment to teach thevtruth.

  6. Welcome, Frank. Thank you for the questions.

    Q: What’s your understanding of the Catholic statement that the one sacrifice of Christ is re-presented in the Mass (not repetitive sacrifices in the successive sense)?

    A: The Catholic understanding is that Christ is perpetually at the pentacle of His sacrifice. This claim is made by Francois-Xavier Durrwell, C.ss.R, in his book, Eucharist and Parousia. And it’s not really a “re-presentation,” it’s more of a continuous presentation. Fortunately, however, Christ paid the debt for our sins nearly 2000 years ago and is risen and seated at the right hand of God.

    Q: What’s your understanding of the biblical statement that Christ holds his priesthood permanently, and that he always lives to make intercession?

    A: Paul makes it clear in Romans eight, verse 34, that Christ makes intercession for us as the risen Lord seated at the right hand of God. The way intercession takes place is through the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Paul also makes clear in verses 26 & 27. In addition, Christ is our High Priest and we, His people, are His priesthood. We offer the only truly acceptable sacrifice to God, which is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, through our High Priest, Jesus Christ.

    Q: Is it your understanding that God’s acts only occur in time?

    A: The debt for our sin was paid at a certain time and in a certain place. The effects of the paying of the debt knows no time or place. Because Christ paid the penalty for our sins, the accuser has no recourse against us so long as we place our faith in Christ. That is the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Q: Do you believe that Christ introduced the ministerial priesthood (not referring to the universal priesthood of believers) in the new covenant?

    A: There is no indication that He did, and it wouldn’t make sense seeing that He fulfilled the Law. As I sated before and the Scriptures testify, we offer our praise and thanksgiving to God through Christ who intercedes for us.

    Q: Do you believe Catholics might see a connection among these elements?

    A: There are almost as many beliefs among Catholics as there are Catholics. The better question is, are the connection of these elements enough to convince a novice that Christ remains perpetually on the cross for priests to bring down and give for fleshly consumption? Apparently, yes. But for those committed to knowing God through His word, the perceived connection of those elements from a Catholic point of view demonstrate a severe lack of Scriptural knowledge and/or faith in Jesus Christ.

  7. Kevin says:

    Brian said ” its not a re presentation but a continuous presentation” this isnt correct. According to Trent it is a real sacrifice ,sacrificium , efficacious for sins. Trent anathamatizes anyone who says it isnt a real and true sacrifice. It is certaonly a re breaking of the Lord’s body although unbloody. Of course Roman Apologists posture this as some type of re presentation or continuous etc. But this is deception since they know their doctrines say it is a true and real sacrifice. K

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