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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Part II: Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  Why do Catholics call the Mass a "sacrifice"?  Who is being sacrificed?  If it's Christ doesn't the Bible say that Jesus was offered "once for all"?
Part II

When I was younger I used to think that the sacrifice was ourselves.  That is, our time that we could be spending otherwise, we were offering up to God during the one hour service.  While there is a part of this that is indeed true, we do indeed bring our time, our selves, to the altar metaphorically speaking, at the presentation of the gifts, what is truly being sacrificed is Jesus.  But he is not being sacrificed again, bloody and suffering, up on the Cross.  At the Mass we enter into the Sacrifice that occurred, once and for all, 2000 years ago.
Christ’s atoning death on the Cross took place once, and it will never be repeated. 

Fundamentalists believe that we are repeating this bloody sacrifice at each Mass, thus implying that Catholics believe that Jesus' suffering was ineffective or insufficient, like the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament that could never take away sins. In the Old Testament, the Israelites would sacrifice a perfect lamb once a year in atonement for their sins.  By placing their hands on this unblemished lamb they would symbolically transmit their sins to this lamb, who would then be offered as a sacrifice of atonement.

While the OT sacrifices were insufficient,
Jesus, the Unblemished Lamb, became the perfect, efficacious and eternal Sacrifice which atoned for all the sins of humanity.  He did this once, for all, 2000 years ago on Calvary.
He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself.-Hebrews 7:27
Catholics are not re-sacrificing Christ again, but are participating in the once for all sacrifice.  "At Mass, we do not sacrifice Christ over and over again. That is ridiculous. Rather, the Mass is a participation in the once for all sacrifice of Christ. It is not a representation of Christ's once for all sacrifice, but a re-presentation. Each time we go to Mass, we become part of that once for all sacrifice with all eternity! That's powerful! The Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 1368, says this, "Christ's sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering." (source here)
In other words, there is, so to speak, a "time warp" going on at each and every Mass.  We are "transported" to the foot of Calvary in order to participate in the "once for all" eternal sacrifice of our Savior.  How magnificent a gift is it that we are given the privilege to participate in the only event that that ever really mattered!!  In the Eucharist the Church is as it were at the foot of the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ. Catechism-1370.

Apologist Jimmy Akin does not espouse this "time warp" metaphor, but nevertheless presents it in this article as a viable way for Catholics to understand how the Mass can be a sacrifice.
Finally, "Protestants have no qualms accepting the perfect and efficacious nature of Christ’s sacrifice, but invite them to consider its eternal aspect. Jesus is eternally a priest, and a priest’s very nature is to offer sacrifice. In the case of Christ, the eternal sacrifice that he offers is himself. This is why he appears in the book of Revelation as a lamb, standing as though he had been slain (Rev. 5:6). He appears in heaven in the state of a victim not because he still needs to suffer but because for all eternity he re-presents himself to God appealing to the work of the cross, interceding for us (Rom 8:34), and bringing the graces of Calvary to us.

The Mass is a participation in this one heavenly offering. The risen Christ becomes present on the altar and offers himself to God as a living sacrifice. Like the Mass, Christ words at the Last Supper are words of sacrifice, "This is my body . . . this is my blood . . . given up for you." So, the Mass is not repeating the murder of Jesus, but is taking part in what never ends: the offering of Christ to the Father for our sake (Heb 7:25, 9:24). After all, if Calvary didn’t get the job done, then the Mass won’t help. It is precisely because the death of Christ was sufficient that the Mass is celebrated. It does not add to or take away from the work of Christ—it is the work of Christ.

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15

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