What happens in the Mass? Do we as Catholics believe that Jesus is actually sacrificed anew on the cross at every Holy Mass? Many Christians who are not Catholic seem to think so. But why? I think one reason is because of a misconcetion of what they have heard from other brothers and sisters in Christ who are not Catholic. Also, many probably have never given it much thought. And so, it is understandable that from the outside looking in, someone might think that a new sacrafice is being offered at each Mass.
Someone might say, “if in the Letter to the Hebrews it says that Jesus offered himself once and for all on the cross for our sins, how can Catholics teach that the Mass is both a meal and a sacrifice? Wasn’t Jesus’ sacrifice good enough? Why do you Catholics offer extra sacrifices at all of your Masses each and every day?
What the Catholic Church teaches:
The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1366).
As for the Eucharist, up until the 16th century, virtually all Christians believed that the bread and wine truly becomes the body and blood of Christ. That’s a long time. The largest and oldest Christian Church still does—as do the Orthodox churches. St. Paul teaches about the Eucharistic Bread and Wine in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ” (1 Cor 10:16)? He goes on to say: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). I don’t think we can conclude from these statements that St. Paul believed that Jesus is being killed again and again at every celebration of the Eucharist. Each Eucharist is a re-presenting (an eternal proclaiming and partaking) of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary.
Fr. Mario P. Romero, in his book Unabridged Christianity, speaks to this issue:
“In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes; ‘…For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast…’ (1 Cor 5:7-8). Notice that St. Paul doesn’t say, ‘For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, there is nothing more that Christians are called to do…’ The Catholic Mass is a re-presenting of the one sacrifice of Christ (not a re-sacrificing!) in which His saving merits are continually applied to the souls of individual Christians throughout the course of history. In the Catholic Mass we are following the command of Scripture and “celebrating the feast” of the paschal Lamb who has been sacrificed for our sins 2,000 years ago on Calvary” (pgs. 107-108).
In the words of Mark P. Shea: “The key idea is not repetition of His death (which the Church plainly states is impossible), but our present participation in the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. We drink each day from the well He dug once and for all; we eat the one loaf He has prepared (This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers the Real Presence, pg 24).”
When you and I come to the Eucharistic meal at Mass, we are receiving the abundant merits of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a way that is perpetually accessible for our spiritual rejuvenation and nourishment.
Until next time, God bless.