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Lord’s Day 30

Question 80. What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the popish mass?

Answer. The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself has once accomplished on the cross; and, that we by the Holy Ghost are ingrafted into Christ, who according to His human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven at the right hand of God His Father, and will there be worshiped by us—but the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshiped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.

Question 81. For whom is the Lord’s Supper instituted?

Answer. For those who are truly sorrowful for their sins, and yet trust that these are forgiven them for the sake of Christ; and that their remaining infirmities are covered by His passion and death; and who also earnestly desire to have their faith more and more strengthened, and their lives more holy; but hypocrites, and such as turn not to God with sincere hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves.

Question 82. Are they also to be admitted to this supper, who, by confession and life, declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly?

Answer. No; for by this the covenant of God would be profaned, and His wrath kindled against the whole congregation; therefore it is the duty of the Christian church, according to the appointment of Christ and His apostles, to exclude such persons, by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, till they show amendment of life.


Some Reformed churches and Christians are embarrassed by this Lord’s Day and want it removed from the Catechism. In their view, it is too harsh in its evaluation of the Roman Catholic Mass, and too narrow concerning whom it permits to come to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. As we examine these subjects, the primary question is not, Who or how many are offended?, but, Are these biblical positions? If they are biblical, then we must unashamedly affirm them.

Evaluating the Mass

As we have already seen in the previous Lord’s Day, Rome teaches that the elements of bread and wine in the Mass are miraculously transformed into the real body and blood of Jesus—transubstantiation. In Q&A 80 we have the Reformed evaluation of this teaching. To evaluate the Mass properly, we must understand that Rome’s teaching of transubstantiation also means that in the Mass there is a continual, repeated sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and that because Jesus is physically present in the elements the people must worship Him in them.

The Reformed evaluation of this in the Heidelberg Catechism is fair and logical, not harsh and unreasonable. If Christ’s body and blood are repeatedly sacrificed in the Mass, as Rome teaches, then the original sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was not enough to satisfy the justice of God against sin. If it were enough, then there would be no reason for any more sacrifice. The repeated sacrifice tells us that His death was not sufficient. And so, the Mass “is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ,” and teaches “that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests.”

This is clearly unbiblical and against the gospel (good news) of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:18 states very plainly, “where remission of these is [“sins and iniquities” in the previous verse], there is no more offering for sin.” The good news that Jesus proclaimed from the cross concerning our justification was, “It is finished” (John 19:30). In raising Jesus from the dead, God proclaimed to His people that they are no longer “in their sins” (I Cor. 15:17). The Mass denies this good news of the gospel.

It is also logical and fair to evaluate the Mass as idolatry. “Idolatry is, instead of, or besides that one true God, who has manifested Himself in His word, to contrive, or have any other object, in which men place their trust” (L.D. 34, Q&A 95). Not only does Rome teach that the earthly elements of bread and wine should be worshiped, but also that men should place their trust in something other than God as He has manifested Himself in His Word. People are taught not to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, but in a piece of bread that supposedly confers grace to the recipient. All idolatry takes the trust of man away from God, which is what happens in the Mass.

Because the Mass denies the good news of the sufficiency of the death of Christ, and because the Mass is endorsed idolatry, the Roman Catholic Church is a false church and Roman Catholicism is a false religion. It is against Christ, and it worships the creature rather than the Creator. We must pray that God will deliver His own from the false religion of Rome, and that He will protect the church from falling into the errors of Rome. For this reason, Q&A 80 of Catechism ought to be retained.

In contrast to the Mass, the Lord’s Supper testifies that we do have full pardon of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ, and that Christ is now in heaven and there we worship Him. This is what I Corinthians 11:26 means when it says, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” The fact that He must “come” means He is now absent from us; therefore, we worship Him at God’s right hand. At the same time, we “shew forth his death,” or proclaim it as perfect and sufficient for our salvation. This is the good news of the Lord’s Supper.

Self-examination

Questions 81 and 82 of this Lord’s Day tell us not only who may come to the Supper, but also who decides who may come. By self-examination, individuals must determine whether they may partake; but also the elders of the church must decide which individuals may partake.

In Q&A 81 we learn that every person who partakes of the Lord’s Supper must first examine himself/herself. This is biblical: “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (I Cor. 11:28). This call to self-examination is necessary, in part, because there are always hypocrites present in the church, people who make a profession of faith but who are, in fact, lying. These must be warned against partaking, lest they “eat and drink judgment to themselves” (I Cor. 11:29). However, the primary purpose of self-examination is to help believers who partake. Self-examination is important for believers because it helps them to deal with sins in their lives, and it is a means to their personal, spiritual growth.

As we examine ourselves, we should remember that we always do this in the light of God’s Word (Ps. 139:23-24). The Catechism helps us in our self-examination by outlining the three parts of self-examination (these are the same three that are expanded on in the preparatory section of “The Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper”). First, I must consider my sin and sinfulness. Am I truly saddened by my sin? Am I displeased with myself and my sinful nature? Do I realize that my love for God and others is far from perfect? Do I confess all this, my sins and sinfulness, with a broken spirit? Second, I must consider my faith and trust in my Savior. Do I have the idea that I am worthy because I have made myself to differ from the ungodly by what I believe or do? Or am I truly trusting in the grace of God and in the finished work of Jesus Christ in His suffering and death? Third, I must examine my life to see whether I am growing in faith and holiness. Is it the desire of my heart to be a stronger Christian in my faith and in my walk? Such self-examination is beneficial because it deepens my sorrow over sin, increases my gratitude for salvation, and helps me to be more intentional in my godliness.

Restricted Communion

In most churches today, even some that are Reformed and quite conservative, when the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, the minister will offer an invitation to all believers who are present to participate and, in some cases, will warn those who are unbelievers or living in sin that they may not participate. It is then left entirely to each individual to determine whether they are believers or not, and whether they may or may not come to the Supper. Because of this, it is quite a shock to many Christians when they visit a church in which participation in the sacrament is restricted by the elders and, as visitors, they are not permitted to take the bread and wine of the Supper.

Besides self-examination on the part of the Christian, the church has a responsibility to watch over the sacrament. One of the New Testament words for the office of the elder is “bishop” which means “one who oversees.” Elders are appointed by Christ to “oversee” the spiritual well-being of the members of the local congregation, and as they do this to determine whether different individuals live worthy of the name of Christ. It is their responsibility as elders to exercise the “keys of the kingdom”—one aspect of which is the closing of the kingdom by discipline to those who by their talk and life show that they have no part in God’s kingdom. The only way that the elders can properly guard the table of the Lord’s Supper is by their having a personal knowledge of each participant and by their giving permission to the individual to partake. This permission is given through their approving of membership in the local congregation or their granting the right to partake of communion to a visitor who requests it.

In the practice of “open communion,” which leaves participation in the sacrament entirely up to the individual, the elders are not being faithful to their calling. They are, in fact, opening up the church to the possibility of “a little leaven” that can spread through the entire church in the form of false teaching or permitted ungodly living (I Cor. 5:6). This inevitably leads the church down the road of departure and apostasy, which is the expression of God’s wrath against the whole congregation. Also, when the sacrament is opened up to those who are unworthy, the covenant is profaned. The covenant is the life of fellowship and unity that God has with His people and that they have with each other—a fellowship that is impossible with those who live in wickedness and unbelief.

While it is true that we cannot know the heart of man, so that it is impossible to keep all hypocrites away from the sacrament, still, by restricting participation in this sacrament the elders protect the local church against departure, preserve holiness and unity in the local congregation, and even show mercy to those who might otherwise come and “eat and drink judgment to themselves.” Both the calling to self-examination and the elders’ requirement of a credible confession are vital to the spiritual well-being of the church.


Questions for Discussion

1. What does the doctrine of transubstantiation teach?

2. How is the Mass a denial of the suffering of Christ?

3. How is the Mass idolatry?

4. In contrast to the Mass, what does the Lord’s Supper teach?

5. What are the elements of self-examination?

6. How is self-examination helpful in your life as a Christian?

7. Does “restricted communion” minimize the importance of self-examination?

8. What is “open communion?” What are some of the dangers of this practice?

9. What standard should the elders use to determine who may/may not come to the Lord’s Supper in a local church?

10. Will the practice of “restricted communion” keep all hypocrites from coming to the sacrament? If not, then why do we practice it?

11. Is it proper for Christians who come from churches that disagree on major points of doctrine to come together in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Why/why not?

12. It is popular for Christians today to forgo membership in a local church because they believe it is enough that they are united to Christ by faith. What effect does this mentality have on the office of elder and the administration of the sacraments in the local church?