The Lord’s Supper and the “Popish Mass”: A Study of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 80 by Cornelis P. Venema. Reviewed by Peter VanderSchaaf

Mr. VanDerSchaaf is a member of and an elder in Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

The Lord’s Supper and the “Popish Mass”: A Study of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 80, Cornelis P. Venema, Grand Rapids MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015, 96 pages. [Reviewed by Peter VanderSchaaf.]

Dr. Venema set himself to the task of answering an important question. The question is this, “Should Q&A 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism be retained in the creed?” The question comes up because many, also in the Reformed church world, find the language of Q&A 80 abrasive and inconsistent with the pastoral tone of the Catechism. Q&A 80 calls the Romish eucharist “the popish mass,” which is “nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.” The synods of the Reformed Church in America and of the Christian Reformed Church have both gone so far as to reduce Q&A 80 from creedal status.

Dr. Venema approaches the issue through five questions. First, how did Q&A 80 come to be included in the Heidelberg Catechism in the first place? Second, was Q&A 80 a fitting response to the Roman Catholic teaching on the mass at the time the Catechism was written? Third, did the synod of the Christian Reformed Church have good reasons to reduce Q&A 80 to a footnote within the Catechism? Fourth, does Q&A 80 remain a valid response to contemporary teaching on the mass by the Roman Catholic Church? And finally, does it remain important for the instruction of God’s people and the witness of Reformed churches to retain Q&A 80 in the Catechism?

The author is honest and thorough with the historical records, with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the mass—both during the Reformation period and today, with the decisions of the synods of the Christian Reformed Church, and with the Heidelberg Catechism itself as he answers those questions. His conclusion is well founded and clear. Q&A 80 was an accurate reaction to Roman Catholic teaching when it was written, and remains so today. It is consistent with, and strengthens the teaching of, the Catechism on the nature of the union of Christ with His people and the true nature of the sacrament. It remains an important guide for the preaching of Reformed churches, a sound means of instructing the youth of Reformed churches, and an important part of the witness of the Reformed faith as Reformed churches seek unity in the truth. In other words, Q&A 80 continues to serve the purpose for which the Catechism itself was written.

The Lord’s Supper and the “Popish Mass” is part of series of studies entitled “Explorations in Reformed Confessional Theology” edited by Daniel R. Hyde and Mark Jones.

The Lord’s Supper and the “Popish Mass” is a small book, and short—96 pages. Its style is fact-based and irenic. It includes a bibliography of studies of the Heidelberg Catechism and of the nature of the Lord’s Supper. The book will help Reformed officebearers teach their flocks why the biblical understanding of the sacrament has such an important place within the Reformed faith. It will help Reformed people witness to their Catholic neighbors, and to their doctrinally adrift, Protestant neighbors who may be tempted by Catholicism, with its “denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and…accursed idolatry.”