How Do the Sacraments Function in the Life of a Catholic Believer?-Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
Roman Catholicism teaches that in the Mass the sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself is actually re-presented to the faithful, and its benefits applied to them. They maintain that the Mass in no way detracts from the atonement of Christ, yet they teach that it is principally through the Mass that the blessings of Christ’s death are applied to believers. Is that what the Bible teaches?

Holy Eucharist (The Mass)

Roman Catholicism teaches that in the Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself is actually re-presented to the faithful and its benefits applied to them.

Although the Catholic Church maintains that the Mass in no way detracts from the atonement of Christ, it still believes that it is principally through the Mass that the blessings of Christ’s death are applied to believers—and therefore the blessings of Christ’s death are not procured solely by faith alone.

But one must ask how credible this claim is to not detract from the atonement. The Mass is defined throughout Catholicism as being “truly propitiatory.” Further, because it pardons sins, it is held to be necessary for salvation. From a Protestant perspective, the natural question is this: If Christ died for all sin on the cross and faith alone procures this benefit, is the sacrifice of the Mass really necessary?

Catholics and Protestants agree that sin is an affront to God’s holiness calling forth God’s condemnation. They agree propitiation is an offering that is made to God in light of His offended justice so that He becomes favorable to the sinner. But Protestants disagree with the following: “Hence the Mass as a propitiation is offered to effect the remission of sins.”[1]

The Catholic Church has always emphasized the fact that Christ is resacrificed in the Mass (Catholics use the term “re-presented”) as propitiation to God. The authoritative Council of Trent affirmed that the sacrifice of the Mass is propitiatory both for the living and the dead:

And inasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass is contained and immolated [offered] in an unbloody manner the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy council teaches that this is truly propitiatory…. For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence and pardons even for the gravest crimes and sins… it [the Mass] is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ, but not yet fully purified [i.e., those in purgatory].[2]

Of course, underlying the Mass rests the doctrine of transubstantiation claiming that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ. This doctrine was codified in its present form by Thomas Aquinas (1225-74). Nevertheless, this doctrine cannot be established biblically:

Catholic theologians make much of such passages as John 6:48-58, Matthew 26:26, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 in an attempt to teach that Christ and the apostles taught this doctrine. But the evidence is not as one-sided as might first appear…. That our Lord was using highly figurative language is evident from the fact that both the Jews and His disciples were interpreting His words literally [John 6:] vs. 52, 60, 61 and He deliberately went out of His way to contradict such a literal interpretation: “The words that I am speaking to you are spirit and they are life: the flesh does not profit anything” (vs. 63).
Our Lord clearly taught that belief in Him was the metaphorical equivalent of “eating” His flesh and blood (vs. 35, 36) and as we have seen He expressly stated that the words “bread,” “flesh,” “blood,” and “eat,” in a fleshly or literal interpretation, profited nothing.[3]

In other words, Jesus was telling His disciples to “eat” (ingest and digest) His words, not literally His physical flesh and blood. (Regardless, if Christ were speaking literally, why does the Catholic Church prohibit the laity from partaking of the wine when Christ clearly told all His disciples to drink His blood?)

Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Mediator Dei reaffirmed the Council of Trent when he stressed that the sacrifice of the Mass was not a “mere commemoration” of the passion and death of Christ, as Protestants teach, but “is truly and properly the offering of a sacri­fice wherein by an unbloody immolation [again, an immolation is something offered as a sacrifice], the High Priest does what He [Jesus] had already done on the Cross, offering Himself to the Eternal Father as a most acceptable victim.”[4]

Vatican II continued this view of the Mass also reaffirming the position of Trent: “One… and the same is the victim, one and the same is He Who now offers by the ministry of His priests, and Who then offered Himself on the Cross; the difference is only in the manner of offering.”[5]

As a result, Vatican II teaches that at the Mass, “the faithful gather, and find help and comfort through venerating the presence of the Son of God our Savior, offered for us [now] on the sacrificial altar.”[6]

As noted elsewhere, according to Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism, “…The Church insists that the Mass is the continuation and re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.”[7] Emphasizing it is not a recrucifixion of Christ where Christ suffers and dies again, he cites John A. O’Brien who says, “The Mass is the renewal and perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross in the sense that it offers anew to God the Victim of Calvary… and applies the fruits of Christ’s death upon the Cross to individual human souls.”[8]

In essence, the real problem between Catholics and Protestants is this: Catholicism teaches that Christ is still offering Himself today in thousands of Masses conducted regu­larly throughout the world.[9] We stress that the Mass is not merely the symbolic offering of the Eucharist or the thanksgiving of the faithful, “It is the supreme moment in the Church’s worship when the priest claims to offer Christ as a sacrifice for the living and the dead.”[10]

Thus, according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, “We may establish that the Eucharist is a true sacrifice…. The true nature of a sacrifice is realized in the Mass. By declaration of the Council of Trent, Christ is recognized as the offering Priest, the Victim offered, and the immolation in the sacramental order. These essentials of the sacrifice are present in the three main actions of the Mass: the Offertory, the Consecration, and the Communion.”[11]

But a continual resacrificing of Christ is not the picture we arrive at from the Bible. In the Bible, Christ is pictured as having accomplished His work and having sat down at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3; 8:1). The finality of Christ’s sacrifice stands in stark contrast with the Catholic conception of the constant “renewal” of that sacrifice in the Mass.

Consider the book of Hebrews. Hebrews repeatedly uses terms such as “once,” “once for all” and “forever” to emphasize both the perfection and the finality of Christ’s death on the cross (Hebrews 9:12,26,28; 10:12, 14; 12:2).

If Christ offered one sacrifice for sins forever and thus obtained eternal redemption forus (Hebrews 9:12; 10:10-14), what is the need for a perpetual “bloodless sacrifice” of Christ over and over again literally millions of times? How can the Mass apply a forgiveness of sins that was already fully earned by Christ on the cross and applied to the believer at the very point of saving faith (John 5:24; 6:47)?

The Scripture is clear: “one sacrifice for sins forever”; “once for all”; “It is finished,” etc. (Romans 6:9; Hebrews 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:10-14; 1 Peter 3:18; John 19:30). Thus, in the book of Hebrews the “once for all” sacrifice of Christ is clearly contrasted with the perpetual offerings of the Levitical priest. In Hebrews 9:25-28 we are told that Christ was not to offer Himself repeatedly, for then He would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world:

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Emphasis added)

Thus, Jesus appeared “once for all” to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. This final sacrifice is further contrasted with the levitical priestly sacrifices which “can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11). Indeed, it is the very idea of a repetition of sacrifices which proves their insufficiency. Otherwise, they “would not have ceased to be offered” (Heb. 10:2).

When the Bible teaches that “but when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God…. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12, 14), it undermines the very basis of the Catholic Mass: continual sacrifice. As Carson points out, “Any service, therefore, which purports to renew the sacrifice of Calvary is a plain denial of the overwhelming testimony of Scripture to the perfection of the Lord’s one offering. The doctrine of the Mass implies the imperfection and insufficiency of the sacrifice of Calvary, for the latter needs now to be supplemented by the daily offering at the altars of the Church of Rome.”[12]

In other words, Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, reflected by His own cry from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), leaves no room at all for the Catholic resacrifice of Christ at the Mass based on the idea that Christ is actually present in the bread and wine.

In conclusion, because of the dogma of transubstantiation, Roman Catholicism teaches that Christ continues to offer himself as a holy sacrifice for sin at every Mass. Many Protes­tants have argued that if this does not undermine the finality and sufficiency of the atone­ment, they can think of little else that does.

(to be continued)


  1. H. M. Carson, Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Leicester, En­gland: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 111.
  2. H. J. Schroeder, trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, 7th Session, Canon 1 (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1978), pp. 145-146.
  3. Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), pp. 74-75.
  4. Carson, p. 112, citing Part 2.1.72.
  5. Ibid., p. 113.
  6. Walter M. Abbot, gen. ed., The Documents of Vatican II (NY: Guild Press, 1966), p. 543.
  7. Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians” (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), p. 248.
  8. Ibid., p. 248, quoting Rev. John A. O’Brien.
  9. Carson, p. 111.
  10. Ibid., p. 112.
  11. Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p.p. 375-376.
  12. Carson, p. 119.

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