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Sacrificing Christ

In an article entitled “Berengar and Transubstantiation” (May 1, 2000 Standard Bearer), Prof. Hanko states that when a Roman Catholic priest “changes the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood,” in doing this the priest “performs the sacrifice which Christ offered for sin on the cross. Golgotha is reenacted. Calvary takes place every mass….” I don’t doubt that this is the case, but would you please ask Prof. Hanko to elaborate, for I don’t understand how the “changing the bread and wine into a real body and blood” is, in the Roman Catholic church, performing the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t see the connection. Thanks.

Doug Cheaney

Flemington, Missouri

Response:

In the early history of the church the Lord’s Supper was already considered a kind of sacrifice, but it was a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for Christ and His benefits. This was a fairly innocuous idea, but the identification of the sacrament with a sacrifice was fatal.

The Romish Church developed an entire sacerdotal or priestly system over the years. The clergy became “priests”; priests, after all, offer sacrifices. Their office and work were considered the continuation of the Old Testament order of Levitical priests. The office of believers was denied, for the priests stood between God and man — as in the Old Testament. While early in the history of the church, the priests pronounced God’s forgiveness of sin only when people made confession, later in the Middle Ages priests actually forgave sins as representative of the church, which was empowered to forgive.

That priests could offer sacrifices was not a big jump from these other ideas. Old Testament priests offered sacrifices, and, in fact, with the doctrine of transubstantiation came the idea of a sacrifice. The elements of bread and wine were literally and really changed into the body and blood of Christ. As the bread was broken, the body of Christ was broken. As the wine was poured out, the blood of Christ was literally poured out. This is what happened on Calvary. Thus the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary was performed over and over again. And it was all done on an altar.

Schaff writes: “The altar represents the cross, the priest represents Christ in whose person and power he pronounces the words of consecration, and the celebration represents the passion of the cross” (History of the Christian Church, vol. 5, 720). And so, “The eucharist is an unbloody but ‘real immolation’ performed by the priest” (ibid.).

This is the reason why the Reformers burned the altars and put pulpits in their places; and this isthe reason why they all emphasized that we are saved by the one perfect and complete sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.

“Do such then believe in Jesus the only Savior, who seek their salvation and welfare of saints, of themselves, or anywhere else? They do not; for though they boast of Him in words, yet in deeds they deny Jesus the only deliverer and Savior; for one of these two things must be true, either that Jesus is not a complete Savior; or that they who by a true faith receive this Savior must find all things in him necessary to their salvation” (Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 11).

— Prof. Hanko