Monday, January 25, 2010

Sacrifice of the Mass (further discussion)

In an earlier post (which you should read before reading this) I mentioned a comment on John Piper's website about the Mass being repugnant. I cited the Didache and Ignatius as supporting the Catholic side. In response I received the following comment, which I feel is worth a longer response than I like to give in the comments section.

Stuart wrote:
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

First, 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.

Now, Regarding the Didache, consider the following: "But every Lord's day... break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure."First, I'll note that "Eucharist" translates into "thanksgiving," and in many ancient documents, this is what is meant when "thanksgiving" is used in certain contexts. It could easily mean this in this context, since the writer is talking about gathering together on Sunday, breaking bread, and offering a sacrifice. But since I assume you would interpret thanksgiving at face value, and no other Christian documents that use thanksgiving in this sense predate the Didache, I will not expect this to be considered solid proof.

Let's look at some related scriptures for a moment: In Matthew 5 our Lord says, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."

And in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul tells us, "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep."

Notice that these two Bible passages have many parallels with the passage in the Didache. I'll create a kind of list:

1. Make confession of sins.
2. Make pure sacrifice.
3. Eat bread.

Matthew 5:
1. Seek Reconciliation before offering.
2. Bring sacrificial gift to altar.

1 Corintians 11:
1. Examine yourself.
2. Only partake of the cup if you can do so in a worthy manner.
3. Eat bread and drink wine.

The Didache is the only one that clearly contains all three of the elements I am tying together, but you can see a clearer picture by comparing these other passages. The Didache would have us make confession/reconciliation before making our sacrifice. And this sacrifice seems to be related to bread or "thanksgiving." If we interpret "thanksgiving" in the modern sense, I suppose we would be making a sacrifice of praise or prayer, not of physical gifts. If we interpret it to mean the Eucharist as Catholics understand it, then it ties more directly in with the breaking of bread.

In Matthew 5 we once again see reconciliation, but in this case it is related to the old covenant sacrifices at the temple. But most, if not all, of Christ's words recorded in scripture had some eternal purpose, not a purpose that was restricted to only one place and time. Thus, I would reason that Christ intended reconciliation to also precede some sort of new covenant sacrifice. What new covenant sacrifice is there other than Christ? The only other sacrifice we can offer is the sacrifice of ourselves, but we can sacrifice ourselves all we want without earning anything from God. The only sacrifice that earns salvation is Christ's sacrifice, so the only worthwhile thing we can offer to God is in fact God himself. This of course sounds silly to the non-Christian, but it isn't, for everything we have is from God. I am reminded of when my 2-year-old daughter shares her food with me. I am pleased with her for sharing, even though I provided her with that food in the first place.

Then, in 1 Corinthians 11, we see the repeated theme (admittedly from a different angle) of needing to be worthy (likely in part through confession/reconciliation) before participation in a religious ceremony. This time the word, "sacrifice" is not used, though this time we are told to "recognize the body of the Lord" in the bread and wine. Just before this (also in 1 Cor. 11) Paul writes, "'This [bread] is my body[...] This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." Now, I remember hearing of a (notably atypical) Protestant fellow who was upset by this verse because it make is sound like Christ is still dead, and is not risen. It seems quite obvious he is missing the point of this verse. We do not proclaim that Christ is still dead during communion, rather we proclaim that he did at one point die. We proclaim this because his death was the sacrifice which gives us life. Without the crucifixion there is no resurrection.

So, putting this all together: communion is the body and blood of Christ which was given up for us, we proclaim his death when we partake of communion, his death was a sacrifice (his body and blood was given up) to God, we must partake of communion in a worthy manner, we must seek reconciliation before making a sacrifice or breaking bread together on the Lord's day.

With all this in view, if one believes in the real presence, I don't see how they can avoid seeing the Eucharist as a sacrifice. What is the bread and wine? The body and blood of Jesus which was given up for us. So the real presence is the presence of Christ's sacrifice (not to say that it is his sacrifice somehow disembodied from his actual being).

I can see how it would upset Protestants to think that we re-sacrifice Jesus every day, because that idea also upsets Catholics, and we don't believe it. We do not re-sacrifice him. Rather, we recall and make present his sacrifice today. It is not a new sacrifice. It is the one sacrifice of the cross. We must remember that in heaven Christ is not bound as he bound himself on Earth, he is not limited by space or time or the laws of physics. This is how we can make reconciliation before making our sacrifice to God as Christ instructed. On the cross Christ made his sacrifice available to all men throughout the ages, and that sacrifice makes itself present in the Eucharist. We offer this as a sacrifice to God because we know that only the sacrifice which he himself made can save us.

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