Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sacrifice of the Mass

I recently stumbled across this Q & A by Reformed Baptist minister, John Piper:

Should former Catholics still participate in the mass?

No, I don't think they should participate in the mass (that is, have communion). The reason is that its conceptuality is one of the most serious mistakes of the Catholic Church.

I revisited a Catholic mass recently, for a funeral, and it had been a long time since my last visit. When I watched it again I was so appalled that I wanted to walk out. I really wanted to scream, it was so awful. The language that was used about sacrifice, the kissing of the table, the kneeling down—it was all just so offensive to me that I could hardly stand it.

I think that participating in the Catholic mass comes close to compromising the faith, because it is believed to be a reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ and a saving ordinance.

So no, I wouldn't recommend that someone participate.

What was funny about this was that I had just been reading Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, and remembered the "language of sacrifice" being used in the Didache (c. 60-100 AD), and vehement insistence on the Real Presence in Ignatius' Epistle to the Smyrnaeans (c. 106-113 AD). Let's look at a short portion of the Didache:

But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.
And then, for a more explicit look at the early Mass, let's see Irenaeus' Against Heresies, which wasn't in the book I mentioned (since Irenaeus wrote this closer to 200 AD, dying in 202 AD), but it is applicable:

Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned. But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit. For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.

It seems that John Piper could have easily said something like, "The Mass, conceptually, is one of the most serious mistakes of the early Christian Church. The language that was used about sacrifice, and the ritual practices—it was all just so offensive to me that I could hardly stand it. I think that participating in early Christian worship comes close to compromising the faith."


Nathan said...

I should also note that he was in fact right that the former Catholics should not partake of Communion, at least not until they reconcile themselves to the Church.

Nathan said...

In this post I wrote that that the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans was circa 113 AD, and the Didache c. 100 AD.

I have more recently read that they can be dated to 106 AD and 60 AD respectively.

dbonneville said...

I just featured your article here:


I hope you keep writing like this - we need all the apologetic material we can get!

I'm not often astonished at Protestant ignorance, but Piper is without excuse here. For all the books he writes, and the "history" he studies to write such books, he surely could come to grips with a simple, historically accurate understanding of the mass. This information should be common knowledge, not something that he was "reminded" of when going to a funeral. It's amazing that history, for many Protestants, ends at the 1st century and picks back up in 1520. Unfortunately this tidbit makes Piper look more like a psuedo-scholar schoolboy.

One friend used to give the example of an expert on Moby Dick who travels the world giving lectures. At one lecture, someone stands up and says "But what about Captain Ahab?" to which the experts replies, "Ahab? Who is Ahab? Never heard of him..."

So, education is the key for everyone, including Piper, to unlock true knowledge. It took me nearly 20 years outside the Church, many ministries, fellowships, church plants, a degree, etc., to realize Rome is home...

I grabbed your feed and look forward to more! Keep it up!

God Bless

Nathan said...

Thanks. Hope I write more things you like.

stuart said...

Greetings to you all. I just stumbled across this post as I was searching for something else. I am pretty familiar with Piper's theology and perspectives (his and mine are very similar) and so I thought I might chime in here in hopes of bringing some clarity to the discussion.

First, while the quote from the Didache refers to a 'sacrifice' I see no reason to understand that as referring to the reenactment of the sacrifice of the body of Christ in the Eucharist. The sacrifice given on the Lord's day is a sacrifice of praise, not a bodily sacrifice.

Second, it is certain that one can vehemently insist on the Real Presence while avoiding the error of transubstantiation and a reenacted sacrifice. It is certain because countless protestants have done so, including Luther, Calvin, and yours truly. I don't know what Piper has to say about the Real Presence, nor am I familiar with Irenaeus's position (Luther would certainly agree with what you have excerpted here).

Ultimately, though, what the Didache and Irenaeus say must be measured against the Scriptures, which clearly teach (Hebrews 9-10) that Jesus' sacrifice was once for all. I venture to say that this is what Piper finds so repugnant about the Roman Catholic Mass. I fail to see how such a theology could possibly square with the theology of the writer of Hebrews. To teach that Jesus must be sacrificed afresh each Lord's Day is an affront to the sufficiency of His crosswork.

Soli Deo Gloria


stuart said...

Ha! When I saw this post I thought it was pretty recent. Now that I remember that it's actually 2010 right now, I know otherwise. Oh well, maybe someone will come across it some day, just like I came across this post.


Nathan said...

Stuart, thanks for your comments. I am pleased that people still read my old posts, and enjoy the challenges like yours.

You should take notice of the fact that Piper finds kneeling and kissing the table repugnant as well. This shows that he believes the idea of the real presence itself is part of the problem.

If Christ is really present in the Eucharist, then it is absurd to be offended by kneeling to Him. This suggests that he finds the Theology of the early reformers you mention to be repugnant as well. Really the theologies of Luther and Calvin are at least as compatible with Catholic theology as they are with most modern Protestant theology.

Nathan said...

Stuart, my response is getting a bit long, so I'm going to turn this into a new post. It will have the "Mass" label.