The Mass as Sacrifice

Mark Vickers FAITH Magazine May – June 2012

With the new translation of the Mass bringing out the original emphasis on the concept of sacrifice more faithfully Fr Mark Vickers, using some ideas from Edward Holloway's New Synthesis, shows the meaning of the idea in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. This was originally given as a talk at the Faith Winter Conference 2011.

Fr Vickers is Parish Priest of Hatfield and chaplain to Hertfordshire University in the United Kingdom.

A Parish Scenario

I arrived at my current parish halfway through Lent. I discovered the parish was planning a Seder meal for Holy Week. A Seder meal is the re-enactment of the Passover Meal as celebrated by Jews today, remembering their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt. This left me in something of a predicament. Seder meals organised by Christians often fail to respect the Jewish ritual and content. I once had to attend such a meal. It was decided red meat was too exclusive so, instead of lamb, we'd have chicken. How off message: "Christ our paschal chicken has been sacrificed!"

Most parishioners attend Seder meals with the best of intentions. They want to experience the Passover Meal as Jesus experienced it, to have a better appreciation of the Mass. You can't argue with that, you'd think.

But there are problems. First, Christian Seder meals can offend devout Jews, who think we are play-acting at their religion. More importantly, we send out the wrong message about the Mass. Sometimes the organisers of Seder meals have an agenda, to emphasise, even distort, the meal aspect of the Eucharist.

Of course, the Eucharist has a meal aspect. But there are some important distinctions between the Mass and an ordinary meal. Those who miss these can tend to make the Eucharist something the community does for itself. A meal is something you prepare for yourself and like-minded friends. You don't need an ordained priest for a meal; ultimately, you don't need God.

One parishioner once asked me why I did the "washing up" at the altar. At a dinner party, she said, you wait until after the guests have left. One then has to find a way of pointing out that she is in fact referring to consuming the particles which are the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus Himself. An undue emphasis on a meal can easily undermine people's belief in the mystery of the Mass, in the Real Presence of Christ. If the Eucharist is just a meal, why don't we invite everyone to receive Holy Communion? Isn't it rude and wrong of the Church to say Holy Communion is for Catholics in a state of grace? Perhaps we should acknowledge that the Eucharist isn't just an ordinary meal.

A Theological Problem

At the Last Supper, Jesus specifically said: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Isn't He approving the practice of Seder meals, of viewing the Eucharist as a meal? In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict asks: "What exactly did the Lord instruct them to repeat?" His answer is clear: "Certainly not the Passover meal."[1] Before the Protestant Reformation no one referred to the Eucharist, the Mass, as a meal. Not for 1,500 years. When Martin Luther called the Eucharist "the Lord's Supper" it was "a complete innovation".[2]

So if the Mass isn't primarily a meal what is it? Most Catholics catechised in a previous age would have had no problem: they would have replied that the Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated through the ages. As the Council of Trent explained: "In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ Who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner."[3]

Clear enough, you'd think. But Pope Benedict reminds us how controversial it became to talk about "the holy sacrifice of the Mass". Many Catholics today appear to agree with "Martin Luther, who says that to speak of sacrifice is
'the greatest and most appalling horror' and a 'damnable impiety:' this is why [they] want to refrain from all that smacks of sacrifice, including the [Eucharistic Prayer], and retain only that which is pure and holy... This maxim was also followed in the Catholic Church after Vatican II, or at least tended to be, and led people to think of divine worship primarily in terms of the feast of the Passover related in the accounts of the Last Supper."[4]

The Second Vatican Council seemed clear enough: "At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries."[5]

So is the Mass a meal or a sacrifice, or a bit of both? Already by the 1960s, doubt had crept in. Pope Benedict talks of "the lack of clarity which has prevailed in this area, even during the Council."[6] Catholic scholars were already writing: "The determining structure [of the Mass] is that of the meal."[7] Pressed to expain what they meant by this, some claimed that we believe the Mass is a sacrifice, but it looks like a meal. Such separation of symbolism from sacramentality empties out the Eucharistic meaning of both.

An Ambiguous Atonement?

So what's the problem with sacrifice? As we have suggested, some people had an ideological agenda. If the Mass is a sacrifice, it follows that you need a priest to offer it and an altar on which it can be offered. That puts paid to the Protestant preference for ministers and tables. But there's also a more understandable objection to viewing the Mass as a sacrifice. It has to do with mistaken theories of the Atonement. "Atonement", or "expiation", is about making reparation for a wrong or injury committed, specifically about reconciling sinful humanity to God. Jesus did effect our redemption by means of His atoning sacrifice on the Cross.

The problem comes with seeing Christ's atoning sacrifice, as some Evangelical Protestants do, in terms of punishment. Basically, we'd made God mad by our sins, offending His infinite majesty and breaking our communion with Him. We couldn't put this right ourselves. What's to be done? Jesus takes the punishment for us. An "'angry Father' [contemplates] the disobedience of man in human sin, decrees to condemn [us] to eternal death... Against which sentence of divine justice the Son interposes Himself... so that in His total sacrifice 'the Father is appeased'."[8]

We need to be careful. We don't drop the idea of sacrifice because our world wants God to conform to its expectations. The Pope writes: "The mystery of the atonement is not to be sacrificed on the altar of overweening rationalism."[9] Atonement takes seriously the disaster of sin, the fundamental rupture it causes between us and God. It recognises our inability to repair this by ourselves. It acknowledges the absolute necessity of Christ. As St Paul says: "Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, Whom God put forward as an expiation by His Blood."w But...

But to buy into a view of atoning sacrifice as punishment is hugely problematic. First, the solution is purely external. If Jesus just stands in to take the rap for us, in the long term what good has been achieved? How has human nature actually been changed for the better? God's plan is far more wonderful than that. And what sort of God would do that? It makes God the Father vindictive and unjust. Would He really send His only Son into the world simply to vent on Him all His accumulated wrath? That's not the God of Jesus Christ. "God is toi/e."[11] "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son."[12] These "punitive" theories are based on a wrong idea of God, and a wrong ideaof sacrifice.


It is time to pin down what we mean by "sacrifice". Young adults probably hear it most often from their parents. "Think of all the sacrifices your mother and I made to make sure you received a decent education - and what a disappointment you've been to us." That's how the world understands "sacrifice" - giving up something of value for a greater good.

But it is only a secondary definition. The primary meaning is always connected to religion. Try doing a Google Image search for "sacrifice." The results are fascinating - and frightening. We're back in pagan times, the days of Aztecs and ancient mythology. There's nothing about Christ. All the images are of human sacrifice.

But that's not the essence of "sacrifice". The literal meaning is "to do a sacred deed". It is to make someone or something holy; it is a consecration. It is worth quoting St Augustine's classic definition: "True sacrifice is every work done to establish us in a holy fellowship with God, every work tending to the attainment of that good in which alone we can be truly blessed."[13] For something to be a sacrifice it has to be performed for the sake of God.

Sacrifice involves offering something to God in the attempt to achieve holiness, communion with Him. Sacrifice doesn't necessarily involve the killing of a victim - the technical term for that is "immolation". That's important.

Without the Fall of man, without the original sin of Adam and Eve, Christ's sacrifice, His sacred deed, would have been to draw together the whole of humanity into a relationship of full communion with God in one act of joyful recognition and adoration. Without sin, Christ would have been "the Sacrifice of Praise": the Eucharist, thanksgiving in its fullest sense. But, of course, He did enter a sinful world. Therefore, Christ's sacrifice is also one of immolation, of pain, suffering and death. Christ becomes a victim: "this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim" as the revised translation has it.

"The New Should be Hidden in the Old"[14]

To understand the sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass, we need to go to the Old Testament. Sacrifice is normative to human nature. Ghandi, a Hindu, said that "worship without sacrifice" is an absurdity of the modern age. Sacrifice was there from the beginning. "Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions."[15] It is interesting that it is the sacrifice of the lamb which is acceptable to God. Again, it is a lamb which Abraham substitutes for the sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. Hebrew has no punctuation, and so it is valid to read the passage as "God will provide Himself, the Lamb, for a burnt offering." We are beingprepared for another, more definitive sacrifice. "Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world!"[17]

But it is not just animal sacrifice that is mentioned. Again, at the beginning, we have that mysterious figure Melchizedek, King of Salem, "priest of God Most High", with his offerings of bread and wine.[18]

The sacrifice which concerned Israel more than any other was that of the Passover lamb the night they were freed from slavery in Egypt. The angel of death passed over the houses whose doorposts and lintels were smeared with the blood of the lamb. It wasn't a one-off sacrifice. The Jewish people were commanded to celebrate it each year for ever. God gave them very precise instructions how to do so.

In the wilderness God enters a covenant with Israel: He is their God; they are His people. This covenant is ratified by a sacrifice. As the Book of Exodus recounts, Moses

"sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar... [The rest he] threw upon the people, and said, 'Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you...' ...Then Moses and... the elders of Israel went up... they beheld God, and ate and drank."[19]

Note the words "sacrifice" and "blood of the covenant". Note, too, that the sacrifice isn't over until they eat and drink. But it is no ordinary meal - it is a heavenly banquet, a sacrificial rite.

The Temple

The Temple in Jerusalem, built initially by Solomon, by tradition on the site of the sacrifices of Melchizedek and Abraham, became the place of sacrifice for the Jewish people. Until its destruction it was served by thousands of priests. There were various types of sacrifice, public and private.

There were sin offerings and trespass offerings, "intended to restore communion when it had been disturbed or dimmed by sin and trespass".[20] The most solemn sin offering occurred once a year as the High Priest sprinkled blood in the Holy of Holies in atonement for the sins of the nation. Afterwards the priests ate a sacrificial meal of that flesh which had not been burnt. Burnt offerings were a sacrifice of devotion and service, symbolising an individual's, or a group's, surrender to God, and God's acceptance of that. But there were also peace or thanksgiving offerings, principally the Passover. These were joyful celebrations of communion with God. In thanksgiving God is acknowledged as the One Who delivers Israel from slavery.

We seldom mention the Bread of Presence: 12 loaves God commanded to be kept always in His presence on a golden table in the Tabernacle, together with bowls for incense and flagons for wine.[21] The incense confirms that this bread offering was a sacrifice. Ezekiel refers to the table as an altar.[22] By tradition, something happened to this bread as it was offered in sacrifice. Afterwards it was held to possess miraculous qualities. Each Sabbath in the Temple the sacrifice of bread and wine was renewed by the priests, after which they ate the bread which had been replaced.

Every Jewish male had to come to Jerusalem at Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, as Exodus says, when they would "see the face of the Lord."[23] On those feasts the priests raised the table so the pilgrims could see the Bread of Presence. As they did, they proclaimed, "Behold, God's love for you." Bells should be ringing for us at this point. A Sabbath sacrifice which is also a meal was being observed: the bread that was about to be consumed revealed "the face of the Lord", the sign of His love.

"A Pure Sacrifice"

So what did the Jewish people think they were doing when they offered sacrifice? Sacrifice was required for the forgiveness of sin. In the words of Psalm 32: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered."[24] The idea was taken up by the Letter to the Hebrews: "Under the Law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins."[25] Of course, Hebrews continues, "It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins."[26]

The people of the Old Testament weren't naive. They knew sacrifice wasn't magic. They knew that "God demanded an interior sacrifice as well."[27] Psalm 51 puts it like this: "For in sacrifice You take no delight/ Burnt offering from me You would refuse/My sacrifice a contrite spirit/A humble, contrite heart You will not spurn."[28] And the prophet Hosea says: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings."[29]

"The blood of animals could neither 'atone' for sin nor bring God and men together. It could only be a sign of hope, anticipating a greater obedience that would be truly redemptive."[30] Israel hopes for a Messiah, a new Prophet, a new Passover and a new Covenant. The Old Testament is orientated to the future. Malachi foretold that God would send His Messenger to purify His people "till they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering [the sacrifice] of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to Him."[31] By tradition the Messiah would come on Passover night.

"Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been Sacrificed"[32]

Christ's earthly ministry approaches its climax as He enters Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. He sends Peter and John to prepare for the Passover meal.[33] They had to get a lamb. That didn't mean going to Sainsbury's or the local butcher. Their lamb had to be sacrificed in the Temple before it could be eaten at the Passover supper.

The biggest difference to the Jewish religion between the time of Jesus and today is the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was a wonder of the ancient world, vast, ornate and rich. Its destruction was one of the most controversial and compelling of Jesus' prophecies. "The days will come when there shall be left not one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."[34] That happened within a generation as the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and razed the Temple in 70 AD.

That's my real grudge against Seder meals. They don't do what they claim. They don't accurately portray the Passover meal as it was at the time of Jesus, because the Jewish religion has fundamentally changed. There's no more Temple sacrifice. There hasn't been for almost 2,000 years. The Jewish faith is now based on the synagogue and the rabbi. The Passover meal has been ripped from its sacrificial context. "Judaism at the time of Jesus was much more like Catholicism (priests leading worship based on sacrifice), whereas rabbinic Judaism after the Temple's destruction was more like Protestantism (Scripture teachers leading worship without blood sacrifice)."[35]

The fact that Temple sacrifice came to an end for ever in the first century AD does not mean that God is through with sacrifice and priests. It doesn't mean we've graduated to Bible study and fellowship meals. Remember what Jesus said: "Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them."[36] Temple sacrifice is no longer needed because it has been fulfilled by Christ, Who "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins".[37] The rabbis at the time taught that once the Messiah came "all sacrifices will cease except the toda sacrifice [the thanksgiving sacrifice, what the Greeks translated as "eucharist"]. This willnever cease." The sacrifice of Christ remains.

But back to the Last Supper. No one who went to Jerusalem for the Passover at the time of Christ would have had any doubts. This was about sacrifice. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that 250,000 lambs were sacrificed in the Temple for the two and a half million pilgrims. As the lambs' throats were slit and their blood drained, they were fixed on two wooden staves at right angles to be skinned, gutted and cleaned. Interesting: the lambs were crucified.

St Luke makes clear the context of the Last Supper: "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed."[38] As the Passover lambs are being sacrificed in the Temple, the Lamb of God is preparing for His sacrifice.

A Sacrificial Meal

The climax of the sacrifice consisted of the priests pouring the lamb's blood against the altar. But that's not the end. The lamb had to be eaten. "The Passover sacrifice was not completed by the death of the lamb, but by eating its flesh."[39] Sacrifice and meal are connected - but not according to today's meal theology. This is a sacrificial meal, a ritual meal, in which we enjoy communion with God. Nor is it open table - as some want the distribution of Holy Communion to be. Only Israelites could eat the Passover meal. You had to be a member of the People of the Covenant, living in accordance with God's Commandments.
This is the context, but Jesus turns the focus from the body and blood of the lamb to His own Body and Blood. He's saying, "I am the new Passover Lamb; I am the new sacrifice." This is the Passover of the Messiah. The blood of the lamb has just been poured out in the Temple. Jesus gives the apostles "the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this is memory of Me." This sacrifice is to be repeated. Unlike the Temple sacrifice, the Mass continues.

Jesus also uses the imagery of manna. The Messiah, the second Moses, was expected to rain down bread from heaven. The bread and wine also refer to the Bread of Presence. This was the sign of God's presence, the Sabbath sacrifice, the bread offered and consumed by priests. The breaking of the bread, the pouring out of the wine, point to the violent, sacrificial death Jesus is to suffer on the Cross.

Before they left the Upper Room, Christ and His apostles sang the Hallel chant, including Ps. 116: "I will offer You the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord."[40] Praying the same Psalm, Christ says, "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord."[41] The Passover meal included four cups of wine mixed with water. If we read Luke's Gospel carefully, we see there's more than one cup of wine being drunk. Like the eating of the lamb, this was essential. Without drinking the four cups of wine the Passover sacrifice wasn't completed.

The American scholar Brant Pitre argues that Jesus didn't drink that fourth cup in the Upper Room. That makes sense. Jesus says before the last cup is drunk: "I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."[42] In Gethsemane Jesus prays three times, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me."[43] Why? Because He knows the fourth cup is the cup of His Blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. So does Jesus actually drink the fourth cup? As He approaches death, He says from the Cross, "I thirst." St John writes: "A bowl of vinegar [sour wine] stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on a hyssopstick and held it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar [wine], He said, "It is finished."[44]

It is finished. Jesus did drink the fourth cup. The Passover sacrifice is completed on the Cross. As Brant Pitre says: "When we view the supper and the Cross through the lens of the Jewish liturgy, it becomes clear that Jesus Himself saw both events as one single [event]." "By means of the Last Supper, Jesus transformed the Cross into a Passover, and by means of the Cross, He transformed the Last Supper into a sacrifice."[45] In His Eucharist Jesus combines the thanksgiving and communion sacrifice of the Passover with an atoning sacrifice for sin.

"One single sacrifice"

What Jesus accomplished on the Cross is clearly a sacrifice. There is the Eternal High Priest, Who is Himself the victim offered in obedient love. That offering is made to restore communion with God. Jesus Christ "is the sacrifice that takes our sins away".[46]

So, is the Mass a sacrifice? Both the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism teach that it is: "The Eucharist is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the Cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit."[47]

But the Protestant Reformers explicitly rejected the notion of the Mass as sacrifice. Luther saw the Mass as the work of man, ineffective in advancing our salvation, which comes from God alone. For Protestants the Eucharist is primarily a fellowship meal. The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England still state: "Wherefore the sacrifice of Masses, in which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the [living] and the dead, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits."[48]

To support their interpretation Protestants tend to fall back on Hebrews Chapter 10, in which the author writes that Jesus "has offered one single sacrifice for sins". Any suggestion that a different sacrifice is required - that of the Mass, offered over and over again - is blasphemy, they would say. But so would we. There aren't lots of sacrifices. The Cross and the Mass are one and the same sacrifice, simply offered in a different manner. The same person offers the same sacrifice. By virtue of his ordination the priest offers the sacrifice in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. The Mass isn't the work of man, but the work of God.

At the Last Supper "Our Lord gave them the power to renew the sacrifice of the Eucharist with the command, 'Do this as a memorial of Me' as He blessed the cup."[49] Jesus expected frequent liturgical celebrations of the Eucharist.[50]

And that's exactly what the first Christians did. Immediately after the Ascension, we read, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers."[51] The Eucharist is referred to, almost euphemistically, in this way, precisely because the first Christians believed it was so holy, that it was barely to be spoken of to anyone other than believers.

The understanding of the Mass as sacrifice was there, at least in embryonic form, from the beginning. Probably the earliest Christian document outside the Scriptures is the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, dating back to before AD100. It tells Christians: "On the Lord's own day [Sunday], assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks [i.e. celebrate the Eucharist]; but first confess your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure."[52]

The revised translation of the Mass makes clear that the Third Eucharistic Prayer is citing the prophet Malachi: "You never cease to gather a people to Yourself so that from the rising of the sun to its setting a pure sacrifice may be offered to Your Name."[53] The early Church understood Malachi as prophesying the sacrifice of the Mass, which would supersede the Temple sacrifice and would be offered for all time across the whole world. In the words of St Justin Martyr: "God has, therefore, announced in advance that all the sacrifices offered in His Name, which Jesus commanded to be offered, that is, in the Eucharist of the Bread and of the Chalice, which are offered by us Christians in every part of the world, arepleasing to Him."[54] St Irenaeus adds: "The oblation of the Church, which the Lord taught was to be offered in the whole world, has been regarded by God as a pure sacrifice, and is acceptable to Him."[55]

Speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth."[56] This is the internalisation of sacrifice which the prophets had foretold. St Peter says Christians must "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."[57] St Paul says the same: "Present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."[58] Christian worship must be spiritual. But Paul immediately notes that human beings are a unity of body and soul, and therefore our living sacrifices mustbe evident in the lives we live in and through our bodies. There should be external, visible sacrifice.

We can only offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, in which we participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. We can't do it by ourselves. "The Eucharist, in which the Lord's obedience on the Cross embraces us all, purifies us, and draws us up to that perfect worship offered by Jesus Christ."[59]

The Church Fathers knew this. St Gregory Nazianzus wrote: "No one is worthy of the great sacrifice and of the great High Priest of God, unless first he has made of himself a living and holy offering pleasing to God and offered to God a sacrifice of praise and a contrite heart."[60] The revised translation makes this much clearer. No longer "our sacrifice," but, "Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours." There are two sacrifices, distinct but connected. The priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass. Thanks to our sharing in that sacrifice we can give God the offering of our lives.

The early Church believed the Mass was a sacrifice. In the fourth century St Ambrose wrote that the priest must "offer sacrifice for the people".[61] St John Chrysostom clearly sets out the Catholic understanding that the Cross and the Mass "are one single sacrifice". "For Christ is everywhere one complete Body. Just as He is one Body and not many bodies, even though He is offered in many places, so there is but one sacrifice. It is our High Priest who offered the sacrifice which cleanses us. So we offer now that which was then offered, and which cannot be exhausted."[62]

A Corrected Translation

We began with some of the problems which arise if a person has a mistaken understanding of the Mass as an ordinary meal. In some respects it wasn't helped by the old translation of the Mass. The language tended to be rather flat. The revised translation is much more explicit on sacrifice. In the Third Eucharistic Prayer, the priest used to say only "see the Victim." Now he says "recognising the sacrificial Victim". In the old translation of the First Eucharistic Prayer poor old Melchizedek lost altogether his "holy sacrifice, a spotless victim". He's now got it back.

Among the most important changes are those in the Prayer over the Gifts, when the priest offers God the gifts to be changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. You'd think there'd be lots of talk of sacrifice here, the sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass. There is in the Latin. Much of it was dropped in the old English translation. For example, the old translation said only: "Lord, accept our prayers and offerings." The revised translation is far more accurate: "May our prayers rise up to you, O Lord, together with the sacrificial offerings." You see how important it is that the language we use matches what we believe.


Understanding better the nature of sacrifice, we realise it doesn't necessarily involve the destruction of a victim. But we shouldn't be embarrassed to speak of atoning sacrifice. Christ isn't punished by a vengeful Father. Christ was always going to enter the world to bring us to full communion with the Father. But, in a fallen world, pure love is confronted by the reality of evil and sin. His sacrifice became the sacrifice of the Cross. This isn't punishment, but love. It is love which respects our freedom and, nevertheless, bears sin away in suffering. "Insofar as God is a lover, He must also be a sufferer when His love comes up against the No of sin."[63] "Atonement is sin which has been transformed into the oppositeby the power of a suffering love."[64]

Pope Benedict replies thus to the critics of sacrifice: "Now sacrifice takes the form of the Cross of Christ, of the love that in dying makes a gift of itself. Such a sacrifice has nothing to do with destruction. It is an act of creation, the restoration of creation to its true identify. All worship is now a participation in this 'Passover' of Christ, in His 'passing over' from divine to human, from death to life, to the unity of God and man."[65]

The sacrifice of the Cross, perpetuated in the sacrifice of the Mass, reveals God's love for us. Recognising that, we can't do better than to say with Blessed John Paul II: "The Eucharist is above all a Sacrifice."[66]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, CTS (London, 2011), p. 139.
[2] Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 1986), p. 37.
[3] Council of Trent (1562), DS 1740.
[4] ed. Alcuin Reid, OSB, Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger, St Michael's Abbey Press (Farnborough, 2003), p. 19.
[5] Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1962), n.47.
[6] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, p. 36.
[7] Joseph Pascher, Eucharistia, Gestalt und Vollzung (Munster-Krailling, 1947), p. 27.
[8] Fr. Edward Holloway, Catholicism: A New Synthesis, Keyway Publications (1969), pp. 251-252.
[9] Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, ii, p. 240.
[10] Rom. 3:23-25.
[11] 1 Jn. 4:8.
[12] Jn. 3:16.
[13] St Augustine, The City of God, X, 6.
[14] Vatican II, Dei Verbum (1965), n. 16.
[15] Gen. 4:3-4.
[16] Gen. 22:8.
[17] Jn. 1:29.
[18] Gen. 14:18.
[19] Ex. 24:5-6, 8-9,11.
[20] Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus, Eerdmanns (Grand Rapids, 1994), p. 108.
[21] Ex. 25:29-30.
[22] Ez. 41:21-22
[23]Ex. 34:23.
[24] Ps. 32:1.
[25] Heb. 9:22.
[26] Heb. 10:4.
[27] Hahn, op. tit., p. 22.
[28] Ps. 51:16-17.
[29] Ho. 6:6.
[30] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, ii, p. 133.
[31] Mal. 3:3-4.
[32] 1 Cor. 5:7.
[33] Lk. 22:8.
[34] Lk. 21:6.
[35] Brant Pitre, Jesus & the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Doubleday (New York, 2011), p. 63.
[36] Mt. 5:17.
[37] Heb. 10:12.
[38] Lk. 22:7.
[39] Pitre, op.cit, p. 169.
[40] Ps. 116:17.
[41] Ps. 116:13.
[42] Lk. 22:18.
[43] Mt. 26:39.
[44] Jn. 1928-30.
[45] Pitre, op. at, p. 170,169.
[46] 1 Jn. 2:2.
[47] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.l 366.
[48] Art. XXXI.
[49] Lk. 22:19.
[50] Nichols, op. tit, p. 162.
[51] Acts 2:42.
[52] Didache 14.1.
[53] Eucharistic Prayer III, cf Mai. 1:11.
[54] St Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 117.
[55] St Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, IV, 18,1.
[56] Jn. 4:23.
[57] Pt. 2:5.
[58] Rom. 12:1.
[59] Pope Benedict, Jesus of Nazareth, ii, p. 235.
[60] St Gregory Nazianzus, Oratio, 2, 95.
[61] St Ambrose, Catechetical Letters, 23.
[62] StJohn Chrysostom, Homily 17 on Hebrews, 3.
[63] Fr. Norbert Hoffman, "Atonement and the Ontological Coherence between the Trinity and the Cross," p. 244.
[64] ibid.,p.221.
[65] Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 34.
[66] Bl. Pope John Paul II, Dominicae Coenae (1980), n.9.

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