The sacrifice constitutes an essential element today in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the mass. The Romish Church distinguishes between the Mass and the Eucharist. The bass precedes the Eucharist and is, of course, necessary for it. There can be no Eucharist, no partaking of the body and blood of Christ and of thanksgiving to God without the Mass. In the Mass the bread and wine aye actually changed into the body and blood of the Lord through the intercession of the priest, and the body and blood of the Lord are really offered by the Church. This may be a bloodless sacrifice, but it is just as real a sacrifice as that which occurred upon the cross of Calvary. This is the Roman Catholic conception of the sacrifice in connection with the Lord’s Supper.
It is and should be a most interesting question whether this idea of the sacrifice in connection with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was also present .in the days of the early Church. We know that the term, sacrifice, was used in connection with the celebration of the sacrament. We also know, however, that the term, as used by the early Church, had a meaning altogether different from the Roman Catholic view. And we can say this with great certainty because not a little concerning this matter can be found in the writings of the early Church fathers.
Ascertaining the meaning of the term as used in those early days, let us first of all, turn our attention to the apostolic fathers, the Church fathers immediately following upon the apostles. Concerning these sacrifices or oblations (sacrifices or offerings—H.V.). Ignatius, one of the apostolic fathers; writes as follows, and I quote: “For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such, fellowship with your bishops—I mean not a mere human, but of a spiritual nature—how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! Let no man deceive himself: if anyone be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses such power, how much more that of the bishops and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church has even by this manifested his pride and condemned himself. For it is written “God resisteth the proud.” Let us be careful, then, nob to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”—end of quote. It is true that Ignatius in this quotation does not even use the word “sacrifice” or “oblation.” Neither does he speak here of the Eucharist. However, when he writes, “that so all things may agree in unity,” he is referring to the idea of “sacrifice” as it appears in the early Christian Church. The same thought is expressed by this early Church leader in the following quotation: “As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye all run together as unto one temple of God, as to one altar, as to done Jesus Christ, who came forth froth one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”—end of quote. In this-quotation Ignatius has reference to the Lord’s Supper undoubtedly when he speaks of “one altar.” And, although he does not mention “sacrifice” or “oblation” in this quotation, he does mention the various Christian graces which should characterize the Church of the living God. We should therefore note that this early Church leader speaks of the various Christian graces (one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and joy undefiled) in connection with the altar or sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There are evidently the sacrifices which must be brought by the child and church of God.
Justine Martyr, the great Christian apologist in the days of the Church fathers, commenting on the sacrifices of the Christians (and, by the way, when we speak of our thanksgiving, prayers, etc., as sacrifices we certainly use Scriptural language—does not the word of God speak of the sacrifices of a broken heart?—H.V.) writes as follows: “Accordingly, God, anticipating all the sacrifices which we offer through this name, and which Jesus Christ enjoined us to offer, i.e., in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him. But He utterly rejects those presented by you and by those priests of yours, saying, “And I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising sun to its setting my name is, glorified among the Gentiles (He says); but ye profane it. (Mal. 1:10-12)” (we should bear in mind that Justin is addressing these words to a wicked Jewish philosopher, H.V.). Yet (continuing with this quotation of Justin—H.V.) even now, in your love of contention, you assert that God does not accept the sacrifices of those who dwelt then in Jerusalem, and were called Israelites; but says that He is pleased with the prayers of the individuals of that nation then dispersed, and calls their prayers sacrifices. How, that prayers and giving of thanks, when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God, I also admit. For such alone Christians have undertaken to offer, and in the remembrance effected by their solid and liquid food, whereby the suffering of the Son of God which He endured is brought to mind, whose name the high priests of your nation and your teachers have caused to be profaned and blasphemed over all the earth”—end of quote. In this quotation the famous Christian apologist speaks of the sacrifices of the Christians, and he, speaking of them in connection with the Lord’s Supper identifies them with the prayers of the people of God. This we understand is surely a far cry from the view of “sacrifice” as entertained by the Roman Catholic Church today in connection with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. That Church explains the “sacrifice” as referring to the daily dying of the Lord Jesus Christ as real as His death upon the cross of Calvary.
Irenaeus another of the early Church fathers also has something to say about these sacrifices and it is also evident from his writings that what he writes concerning these sacrifices has nothing in common with the conception as entertained by the Roman Catholic Church. We quote him as follows: “The oblations of the Church, therefore, which the Lord gave instructions to be offered throughout all the world, is accounted with God a pure sacrifice, and is acceptable tar Him; not that He stands in need of a sacrifice from us, but that he who offers is himself glorified in what he does offer, if his gift be accepted. For by the gift both honor and affection are shown forth towards the king; and the Lord, wishing us to offer it in all simplicity and innocence, did express Himself thus: “therefore, when thou offerest thy gift upon the altar, and shalt remember that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then return and offer thy gift.” We are bound, therefore to offer to God the first fruits of His creation as Moses also says “Thou shalt not appear in the presence of the Lord thy God empty;” so that man being accounted as grateful by those things in which he has shown his gratitude may receive that honor which flows from Him.”—end of quote. We may notice that Irenaeus in this quotation speaking of the oblation of the Church does not refer to a sacrifice by Christ of Himself but to an oblation or sacrifice which is brought by the Church and, is acceptable to God. We again call the attention of our readers to the fact that this had nothing in common with the view of the Roman Catholic Church which interprets the “sacrifice” of the Lord’s Supper as referring to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In a quotation which follows immediately upon the foregoing Irenaeus comments that the class of oblations in general has not been set aside and we again quote from this Church father: “And the class of oblations in general has not been set aside; for there were both oblations there (among the Jews) aid there are oblations here (among the Christians). Sacrifices there were among the people; sacrifices there are, too, in the Church: but the species alone has been changed, inasmuch as the offering is now made, not by slaves, but by freemen. For the Lord is (ever) one and the same but the character of a servile oblation is peculiar (to itself), as is also that of freemen, in order that, by the very oblations, the indication of liberty may be set forth. For with Him there is nothing purposeless, nor without signification, not without design. And for this reason they (the Jews) had indeed the tithes of their goods consecrated to Him, but those who have received liberty set aside all their possessions for the Lord’s purposes, bestowing joyfully and freely not the less valuable portions of their property, since they have the hope of better things (hereafter); as that poor widow acted who cast all her living into the treasury of God.”—end of quote. Also in this quotation speaking of the sacrifices which continued to be in effect among the Christians, there is surely nothing which resembles the Roman Catholic doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ at the Mass and which is so repugnant to the heart and soul of the Reformed child of God.
Or, how utterly in conflict with the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass, and, of course, with the absolute necessity of the daily sacrifice of the Christ, is the following from the same Church Father, and we again quote: “Sacrifices, therefore, do not sanctify a man, for God stands in no need of a sacrifice; but it is the conscience of the offerer that sanctifies the sacrifice when it is pure, and thus moves God to accept (the offering) as from a friend.” But the sinner, declares Irenaeus, who kills a calf (in sacrifice) to me, is, as if he slew a dog.” The Church father, in these last words, quotes Isaiah 66:3: “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.” In these words the Church father, when speaking of the sacrifice, refers to the sacrifice as brought by the child of God and which is pleasing to the Lord only when brought to Him as with a pure conscience. The Roman Catholic Church can derive no comfort from this quotation from Irenaeus.