The Sacrifice by Philip Schaff

The Catholic church, both Greek and Latin, sees in the Eucharist not only a sacramentum, in which God communicates a grace to believers, but at the same time, and in fact mainly, a sacrificium, in which believers really offer to God that which is represented by the sensible elements (the reader may have noticed that the heading above our previous article read: “The Eucharist by Philip Schaff,” whereas the heading above this article reads: “The Sacrifice by Philip Schaff.” It is to this that the eminent writer refers when he speaks of a sacramentum and a sacrificium. The Eucharist is the Lord’s Supper proper, the eating and drinking of the Christ, whether actually (Rome) or symbolically (the Reformed view), and the sacrifice, also called the “Mass,” is the sacrifice of the Christ, which always precedes the Eucharist and without which the Eucharist would be impossible—H.V.). For this view also the church fathers laid the foundation, and it must be conceded they stand in general far more on the Greek and Roman Catholic than on the Protestant side of this question. The importance of the subject demands a preliminary explanation of the idea of sacrifice, and a clear discrimination of its original Christian form from its later perversion by tradition. 

The idea of sacrifice is the centre of all ancient religions, both the heathen and the Jewish. In Christianity it is fulfilled. For by His one perfect sacrifice on the cross Christ has entirely blotted out the guilt of man, and reconciled him with the righteous God. On the ground of this sacrifice of the eternal High Priest, believers have access to the throne of grace, and may expect their prayers and intercessions to be heard. With this perfect and eternally availing sacrifice the Eucharist stands in indissoluble connection. It is indeed originally a sacrament, and the main thing in it is that which we receive from God, not that which we give to God. The latter is only a consequence of the former; for we can give to God nothing which we have not first received from him. But the Eucharist is thesacramentum of a sacrificium, the thankful celebration of the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, and the believing participation or the renewed appropriation of the fruits of this sacrifice. In other words, it is a feast on a sacrifice. “As oft as ye do eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till He come.” 

The Eucharist is moreover, as the name itself implies, on the part of the church a living and reasonable thank offering, wherein she presents herself anew, in Christ and on the ground of his sacrifice, to God with prayers and intercessions. For only in Christ are our offerings acceptable to God, and only through the continual showing forth and presenting of His merit can we expect our prayers and intercessions to be heard. 

In this view certainly, in a deep symbolical and ethical sense, Christ is offered to God the Father in every believing prayer, and above all in the holy Supper; that is, as the sole ground of our reconciliation and acceptance. This is the deep truth which lies at the bottom of the Catholic mass, and gives it still such power over the religious mind (Freemen states the result of his investigation of the Biblical sacrificial cultux and of the doctrine of the old Catholic church on the Eucharistic sacrifice, as follows, on p. 280: “It is enough for us that the holy Eucharist is all that: the ancient types foreshowed that it would be; that in it we present ‘memorially,’ yet truly and with prevailing power, by the consecrating Hands of our Great High Priest, the wondrous Sacrifice once for all offered by Him at the Eucharistic Institution, consummated on the Cross, and ever since presented and pleaded by Him, Risen and Ascended, in Heaven; that our material Gifts are identified with that; awful Reality, and as such are borne in upon the Incense of His Intercession, in His Holy Hands, into the True Holiest Place: that we ourselves, therewith, are borne in thither likewise, and abide in a deep mystery in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus; that thus we have all manner of acceptance,—sonship, kingship, and priesthood unto God; all our whole life, in all its complex action, being sanctified and purified for such access, and abiding continually in a heavenly sphere of acceptableness and privilege.—Enough for us, again, that on the sacramental side of the mystery, we have been thus privileged to give to God His own Gift of Himself to dwell in us, and we in Him;—that we thereby possess an evermore renewedly dedicated being—strengthened with all might, and evermore made one with Him. Profoundly reverencing Christ’s peculiar Presence in us and around us in the celebration of such awful mysteries, we nevertheless take as the watchword of our deeply mysterious Aucharistic worship, ‘Sursum corda,’ and ‘Our life is hid with Christ in God'”). 

But this idea in process of time became adultered with foreign elements, and transformed into the Graeco-Roman doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass. According to this doctrine the Eucharist is an unbloodyrepetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ by the priesthood for the salvation of the living and the dead; so that the body of Christ is truly and literally offered every day and every hour, and upon innumerable altars at the same time. The term mass, which properly denoted the dismissal of the congregation (missio, dismissio) at the close of the general public worship, became, after the end of the fourth century, the name for the worship of the faithful, which consisted in the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and the communion. The corresponding terms of the Orientals are leitourgia, thusia, prosphora

In the sacrifices of the mass the whole mysterious fullness and glory of the Catholic worship is concentrated. Here the idea of priesthood reaches its dizzy summit; and here the devotion and awe of the spectators rises to the highest pitch of adoration. For to the devout Catholic nothing can be greater or more solemn than an act of worship in which the eternal Son of God is veritably offered to God upon the altar by the visible hand of the priest for the sins of the world. But though the Catholic worship here rises far above the vain sacrifices of heathendom and the merely typical sacrifices of Judaism, yet that old sacrificial service, which was interwoven with the whole popular life of the Jewish and Graeco-Roman world, exerted a controlling influence on the Roman Catholic service of the Eucharist, especially after the nominal conversion of the whole Roman heathendom, and obscured the original simplicity and purity of that service almost beyond recognition. The sacramentum became entirely eclipsed by the sacrificium, and the sacrificium became grossly materialized, and was exalted at the expense of the sacrifice on the cross. The endless succession of necessary repetitions detracts from the sacrifice of Christ. The Biblical support of the sacrifice of the mass is weak, and may be reduced to an unduly literal interpretation or a downright perversion of some such passages as Mal. 1:10f.; I Cor. 10:21Heb. 5:6, 7:1f., Heb. 13:10. The Epistle to the Hebrews especially is often misapplied, though it teaches with great emphasis the very opposite, namely the abolition of the Old Testament sacrificial system by the Christian worship, the eternal validity of the sacrifice of our only High Priest on the right hand of the Father, and the impossibility of a repetition of it. 

We pass now to the more particular history. The Ante-Nicene fathers uniformly conceived the Eucharist as a thank offering of the church; the congregation offering the consecrated elements of bread and wine, and in them itself, to God. This view is in itself perfectly innocent, but readily leads to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass, as soon as the elements become identified with the body and blood of Christ, and the presence of the body comes to be materialistically taken. The germs of the Roman doctrine appear in Cyprian about the middle of the third century, in connection with his high-churchly doctrine of the clerical priesthood. Sacerdotium andsacrificium are with him correlative ideas, and a Judaizing conception of the former favored a like Judaizing conception of the latter. The priest officiates in the Eucharist in the place of Christ, and performs an actual sacrifice in the church. Yet Cyprian does not distinctly say that Christ is the subject of the spiritual sacrifice; rather is the mystical body of Christ, the Church, offered to God, and married with Christ. Cyprian writes as follows: “There is then no reason, dearest brother, for any one to think that the custom of certain persons is to be followed, who have thought in time past that water alone should be offered in the cup of the Lord. For we must inquire whom they themselves have followed. For if in the sacrifice which Christ offered none is to be followed but Christ, assuredly it behooves us to obey and do that which Christ did, and what He commanded to be done, since He Himself says in the Gospel, “If ye do whatsoever I command you henceforth I call you not servants, but friends.” And that Christ alone ought to be heard, the Father also testifies from heaven, saying, “This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” Wherefore, if Christ alone must be heard, we ought not to give heed to what another before us may have thought was to be done, but what Christ, who is before all, first did. Neither is it becoming to follow the practice of man, but the truth of God; since God speaks by Isaiah the prophet, and says, “In vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men.” And again the Lord in the Gospel repeats this same saying, and says, “Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Moreover, in another place He establishes it, saying, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” But if we may not break even the least of the Lord’s commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord’s passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself; certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.”—end of quote. (Notice, please, the last full sentence in this quotation: “For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it (the church,—H.V.) according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.—H.V.) And the view of Augustine is similar, namely that the church offers herself to God in and with Christ as her Head.