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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Questions & Answers About the Sacrifice of the Mass

What do Catholics mean by the sacrifice of the Mass?

A sacrifice is the oblation of a sensible thing made by God through a lawful minister by a real change in the thing offered, testifying to God’s absolute authority over us and our complete dependence upon him.

Does God really want us to render sacrifice?

Yes, indeed, so much is this need ingrained in us that we find various forms of sacrifice in many world religions and in those of antiquity. It was because of a jealousy over the acceptance of a sacrifice that Cain killed Abel. Beginning with the Jews, sacrifice was properly directed toward the true God who had revealed himself. Noah, Abraham, and the Old Law enacted sacrifice to God. The sacrifices of the first people called by God would typify and foreshadow the sacrifice of the cross upon which Christ offered his body and blood to the Father for our redemption from sin and the devil. This same sacrifice is commemorated or made sacramentally present in the Mass. It is offered to God upon our altars for the living and the dead.

Does the Bible say anything about New Testament sacrifices?

The prophecy of Malachi states that the sacrifices of the old law would be abolished and supplanted by a new one offered for the entire world: “I have no pleasure in you, says the LORD of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 1:10-11).

Was this prophecy fulfilled?

Yes, the Jewish sacrifices have utterly ceased. The new sacrifice is the saving death of Jesus Christ, which is renewed and made present in each Mass offered every day. Around the world and in countless places it is celebrated, from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Does this mean that, according to Catholics, Jesus must suffer and die over and over again?

No, Jesus does not suffer and die all over again. Christ has risen from the dead and can never more die. As if it were a time machine, the Mass connects us with his onetime passion and death– extended to us sacramentally so as to give us the opportunity to participate and to offer ourselves along with him. It is repeatedly offered to God the Father for the forgiveness of sins.

Does not this notion of repeated sacrifices clash with the warrant of New Testament testimony? After all, St. Paul states: “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12) and later: “And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (9:27-28). In 10:14, we read: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” It seems to be saying that the one sacrifice on the cross was enough and no other ones are needed.

The one sacrifice of the cross is enough for our redemption. However, it must be commemorated and applied to souls, just as Jesus commanded: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). This is done daily in the Mass.

But if Christ has already died for our sins, and we are thus saved, why is the Mass necessary?

If all we had to do were to believe that Jesus had died for us and that we were then automatically saved, then there would be no need for the Mass. Of course, such a presumption would make preaching and the Church herself unnecessary. There would be no impetus to live a holy life. While proponents of such a view often speak a great deal about hell, it would largely make it inconsequential as well. Those who have committed the most grievous wrongs would be on the same footing as saints. However, our Lord, besides his death on the cross, has commanded other things of us if we are to be saved.

How can Catholics make such a claim contrary to St. Paul’s words? He writes: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27).

The context is being confused here. He is not talking about the Mass but about Jewish sacrifices and their high priests. Because of their imperfections, their sacrifices were no longer needed. Catholic priests do not offer a new sacrifice, but the same oblation of Jesus on the cross. The words of Jesus make it a command performance.

Does St. Paul say that ministers should do more than preach; they should also render sacrifices to God for their peoples’ sins?

Certainly, he says in Hebrews 5:1: “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

If the sacrifice of the Mass were required, it would seem to imply that the sacrifice of the cross was insufficient to reconcile us with God; is this true?

No, it is not. The sacrifice of the cross was sufficient to reconcile us with almighty God, but Christ desired that his oblation of the cross should be commemorated in “living” memory of him. As with the memorial acclamation in the revised liturgy, St. Paul says: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). As faithful adopted sons and daughters of God, our Father, we celebrate our redemption with an unbloody sacrifice (of the cross) to God for ourselves and for the good of the world.

For more such material, contact me about getting my book, CATHOLIC QUESTIONS & ANSWERS.