THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.




HOME | contents | Sacrifice: its meaning | OT | of Christ | the Eucharist | function of the priest | what is offered | why Sacrifices of masses are condemned | Eucharist: names | duty of assisting

I. Meaning of Sacrifice

The Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice as well as a sacrament. 
Our Lord's words,

This is My blood of the covenant" (Mark 14.24)

cannot be understood except in the light of the Hebrew sacrificial system. 
He said that it was "poured out" -
that is, at the foot of the altar ?

alluding to a sacrificial ceremony. 
But it is not a sacrifice in the same sense as the sacrifices of the Old Testament,
nor is it a sacrifice different from or supplementary to the one sacrifice offered once for all by our Lord Jesus Christ to His Father.

A sacrifice is an offering to God.
The word is used in various derived senses, but this is its proper meaning. 
A sacrifice does not necessarily include the destruction or IMMOLATION of anything.

Sacrifice is an important element in all early religions,
and indeed in the very nature of religion. 
The only great religion in which there is, officially, no sacrifice is Islam.

II. Old Testament Sacrifice

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament is extremely complicated. 
It need not be described in detail here. 
The sacrifices followed a regular order, three stages in which concern us. 
A complete sacrifice of an animal (for some sacrifices were vegetable) included
the slaying of the victim by the owner,
the offering of the blood by the priest,
and, in the case of the peace offering,
the feast on the flesh of the victim by the owner and his friends.

The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrifices. 
They were types and foreshadowings of the only sacrifice that could really bring about the removal of sin. 
We have seen in the chapters on the Atonement how this was done.

III. The Sacrifice of Christ

There were three stages in the sacrifice or self-offering of our Lord, corresponding to three stages in the Old Testament sacrifices. 
The first was His DEATH ON THE CROSS,
corresponding to the slaying of the victim. 
which began with His Ascension and corresponds to the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies carrying the blood of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement. 
The third is the HOLY EUCHARIST,
corresponding to the feast upon the sacrifice,
which belonged to the peace offering.

The sacrifice of Christ is one and cannot be repeated. 
There is no sacrifice in the Christian religion other than the sacrifice of Christ. 
The Holy Eucharist is not in any sense whatever a repetition of Christ's death on the Cross, or of His offering of Himself in Heaven.

It is not called a sacrifice in the New Testament,
nor are the Christian ministers called priests (ἱερεῖς - hiereis). 
The reason is clear. 
Jewish priests and heathen priests were well known to the first readers of the New Testament. 
If the Christian πρεσβύτεροι (presbyteroi - elders) had been called priests,
it would have been supposed that animal sacrifice was part of their duty. 
But animal sacrifice had been abolished.

IV. In what Sense the Eucharist is a Sacrifice

Nevertheless, sacrificial language was used of the Eucharist, as we have seen, by our Lord Himself, who said,

This is My blood of the covenant,

when He instituted the Eucharist. 
St. Paul called himself λειτουργός - leitourgos, a sacrificial word (Rom.15.16)
doing priestly work (ἱερουργοῦντα - hierourgounta),
that the offering (προσφορά - prosphora) of the Gentiles might be made acceptable. 
He contrasted the "table of the Lord" with "the table of devils",
the heathen sacrifices, (I Cor.10.21)
showing that he regarded the Christian Eucharist as sacrificial. 
The sacrifice of Christ was the Christian Passover;

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast
(I Cor.5.7).

Compare also I Cor.10.18: the Jews who "eat the sacrifices" and "have communion with the altar" are compared to the Christian at the Eucharist.

All the Fathers beginning with St. Clement of Rome called the Eucharist a sacrifice.
So do all the ancient liturgies. 
But whereas the New Testament appears to regard the Eucharist as corresponding to the feast, which was the last stage of the sacrifice, the Fathers taught that it was also the representation of earth of what is continually going on in Heaven.

As the Epistle to the Hebrews constantly asserts, our Lord is the true High Priest,

a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Heb.6.20)

who passed into the heavens at the Ascension bearing His own blood
(like the High Priest into the Holy of Holies),
and who perpetually presents to the Father His own life,
for His priesthood is unchangeable (7.24). 
The Christian Church of which He is the Head is "a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2.9) sharing the priesthood of its Head and His heavenly work of offering. 
This the Church does by the whole of her life,
which is, ideally, one long self-offering
united with the self-offering of our Lord in Heaven. 
But she shares in His self-offering
especially at the Eucharist
in which the congregation is united with Jesus Christ in Heaven,
first by offering His Body and Blood
(with which all their other offerings,
their alms, the bread and wine, their own lives, are united),
and then by receiving it in communion.

V. Function of the Priest

The earthly priest is the necessary organ of the Church for this purpose,
as the eye is the necessary organ of sight. 
There can be no offering without him,
but the offering is the people's, not his alone. 
Thus the Roman Liturgy directs the priest to say,

Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable.

Therefore the priest may not celebrate the Eucharist by himself. 
There must always be a congregation even if it is reduced to one person. 
In no part of the Church is a priest allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in solitude.
[The Roman Communion allows it in very exceptional cases by papal dispensation.]
Because the sacrifice is not complete without communion,
the priest must communicate whenever he celebrates. 
If he does not, the Mass is invalid. 
The English rubric requires that there must be always some to communicate with him (three in 1662, "a convenient number" in 1928). 
Even the Council of Trent recommended that some should communicate at every Mass. 
It seems certain that no Anglican priest has the right to forbid the communion of the people at any particular Eucharist.

At the same time, the priest when celebrating is never really alone,
for he is sharing in the communion of all the faithful throughout the world.

The Anglican priest, then, is bound by three rules in this matter:

  1. He must not celebrate if no one else is present.
  2. Whenever he celebrates, he must communicate himself.
  3. He ought not to celebrate when he knows there will be no communicants (except for some very urgent reason), not to prohibit communion of the people at any service.

The first two rules are universal. 
The third is Anglican.

VI. What is Offered

That which is offered at the Eucharist is,

  1. the alms;
  2. the prayers;
  3. the bread and wine;
  4. ourselves, our souls and bodies.

But none of these is free from the sin of those who offer them. 
The only spotless offering that we can make is the offering of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Father which He offers continually and which we are allowed to join with Him in offering.

All worship and all offering in the Liturgy is offered through Christ to the Father. 
We worship the Son and the Holy Ghost at other times. 
But in the Eucharist ALL WORSHIP is directed to the Father. 
INTERCESSION, or prayer for others, is offered to the Father through the Son. 
All Christian prayer is offered in union with our Lord's offering of Himself,
but the Eucharist is the best time for prayer.

VII. Why "Sacrifices of Masses" are condemned

But what about the condemnation of THE SACRIFICES OF MASSES in Article 31?

The Eucharistic sacrifice was completely misunderstood in the Middle Ages and during the Reformation. 
Sacrifice was identified with death,
and the slaying of the victim was confused with the offering of the blood. 
Hence we find such expressions as "the altar of the Cross".
[English Hymnal, 125; Hymns A. and M., 128.] 
The Cross is not an altar. 
The slaying of the victim was not done at an altar. 
The Christian altar is in Heaven. 
It is not the Cross.

It was commonly taught in the period just before the Reformation that the chief work of the clergy was to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, which was regarded as something distinct from the one sacrifice of Christ. 
Sacrifice was believed to be IMMOLATION,
and every Eucharist or Mass a kind of repetition of Christ's death,
which death saved us, indeed, from original sin
(in St. Augustine's sense, a taint which made us from birth hateful to God),
but the sacrifices of Masses were required to save us from actual sin. 
Thus arose the CHANTRY SYSTEM
Wealthy persons left money to build a chantry chapel and endow a priest to say Mass in it perpetually for their souls. 
Many of these chantry chapels are still to be seen in our cathedrals and larger churches. 
By this means they hoped to be freed from Purgatory. 
Every Mass was believed to have additional value in bringing this about. 
Moreover, priests were partly paid by the Masses they said
(as they still are in the Roman Communion). 
A priest was paid so much for each Mass by the person for whose benefit he offered it. 
He was not allowed to say more than one a day
(except on Christmas Day and on other days by dispensation). 
Since the sacrifice of the Mass saved us from sin (by persuading God to forgive us), the more Masses were said, the more sins they saved us from.

The Reformers protested unceasingly against this system, for which reason Article 2 insists that our Lord was a sacrifice

not only for original guilt
(here we observe the influence of St. Augustine),
but also for all actual sins of men;

and Article 31 that

the Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. 

The Prayer of Consecration in our Liturgy says that our Lord made on the Cross,
by His one oblation of Himself once offered,
a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice,
oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

This emphasis was right. 
There was nothing in the teaching of the New Testament, or of the Fathers, or of the Eastern churches to justify the chantry system.

Now the condemnation of "the sacrifices of Masses" is connected with the above quotation from Article 31 with "wherefore". 
It is because "there is none other satisfaction of sins but that alone" that the "sacrifices of Masses", "to have remission of pain or guilt" that is, to induce God to release men from Purgatory were "blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits". 
They were blasphemous because they misrepresented God's love;
fables, because they had no warrant in Scripture;
dangerous, because they encouraged men to trust in the Masses they could pay for;
deceits, because they induced men to pay money to no purpose.

But the Article does not condemn the use of the name MASS,
for the Eucharist which is used in the 1549 Prayer Book,
[Declared even in 1552, when Calvinistic influence was greatest, to contain nothing superstitious or ungodly.]
nor the belief that the Eucharist is an offering or sacrifice,
nor the doctrine that in the Eucharist we are united in our Lord's perpetual offering of His one sacrifice to the Father;
for all these are supported by the witness of the early Church to which the Anglican Communion appeals as the interpreter of Scripture,
and by a long series of Anglican divines.

Since the word SACRIFICE was not understood in the period of the Reformation, both those who used it and those who rejected it were wrong. 
The Eucharist is a sacrifice, but it is not an IMMOLATION;
and it is unfortunate that the Council of Trent, by defining that it is an immolation, committed the Roman Communion to a theory of the Eucharistic sacrifice which is no longer tenable, and which the best Romanist divines have long been trying to explain away.

The Council of Trent also laid down that the Eucharist is "a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice". 
If propitiation meant an attempt to turn God's wrath away by making an offering to Him, there would be no propitiation either in the death of our Lord or in the Eucharist. 
The misunderstanding is caused by the unfortunate translation of ἱλασμός (I John 2.2, 4.10) by the Latin "propitiatio". 
The Eucharist is the last stage of our Lord's redeeming work
and is propitiatory only in the sense in which our Lord's death is propitiatory. (See pp. 1868.)

VIII. Names of the Eucharist

The following names are given to the Holy Eucharist:

  1. The Breaking of Bread (Acts 20.11; etc.)
  2. The Lord's Supper (I Cor.11.21), the name used in the Prayer Book.
  3. The Holy Communion (also used in the Prayer Book), which emphasizes the aspect of fellowship.
  4. The Holy Eucharist, which emphasizes thanksgiving.
  5. The Liturgy, the usual term in the Orthodox Communion, which emphasizes worship.
  6. The Holy Sacrifice; compare the Syriac word Qurbana, Gift.
  7. The Mass, from "Ite, missa est", the last words in the Roman Liturgy first found in St. Ambrose, and from the seventh century the commonest name in Latin Christendom. 
    It is found in the 1549 Prayer Book and in the Augsburg Confession.
    It is used by the Church of Sweden (though not always in its usual sense), and during the last hundred years it has become commonly applied to the Anglican rite. 
    (In earlier times its use in England was almost confined to the Latin rite.)


IX. Duty of Assisting at the Eucharist every Sunday

Every member of the Church has the duty and privilege of joining in the offering of the Holy Eucharist on all Sundays and chief Holy Days when possible. 
From the earliest days the BREAKING OF BREAD was the weekly gathering of the Christians, which the Epistle to the Hebrews bade them not forsake (Heb.10.25). 
It was for this purpose that the Lord's Day,
the weekly anniversary of the Resurrection,
was set apart (it has no connection with the Jewish Sabbath). 
Later it became a public holiday that Christians might fulfil their duty of taking part in the Eucharist. 
This is still the rule throughout Catholic Christendom.

The Church of England has never departed from the custom of the rest of the Church. 
The communion service in the Prayer Book is clearly intended to be the chief service of the day, for it is the only one at which sermons are to be preached, banns read, and notices given out. 
Children who were to be "caused to hear sermons" [Address to the godparents, Public Baptism of Infants.] were expected to be present at it. 
But the intention of the Church is obscured by the rule laid down by the Reformers, out of a laudable desire to introduce frequent communion, that the liturgy should never be celebrated unless there were some to communicate with the priest. 
When there were not, the service was to end after the Prayer for the Church Militant.
The result of this was that the Liturgy came to be celebrated very seldom;
and when it was celebrated, a custom grew up (for which there is no authority in the Prayer Book) that those who were not themselves about to receive communion should leave the church. 
The consequence is that the great majority of the Anglican laity have come to regard Morning or Evening Prayer, and not the Eucharist, as the chief service of the Church. 
Even the "Ante-Communion Service" which always followed Morning Prayer till about two generations ago has now fallen into disuse. 
This is perhaps the most serious departure in the Anglican Communion from the practice of the ancient Church to which it appeals. 
But the Prayer Book gives no support to it. 
The communion service is the service at which the Prayer Book expects the largest congregation, and there is no suggestion that those who do not wish to communicate should depart, which is indeed forbidden by Canon

18.  (None, either man, woman, or child ...
shall depart out of the church during the time of service or sermon,
without some urgent or reasonable cause.

Non-communicants are there to worship and to pray.

The notion that none but those who are going to communicate should be present at the Eucharist is unknown in any other part of Christendom. 
I have more than once been present at a Lutheran Eucharist at which only about half the congregation communicated, and I believe that non-communicants are allowed to be present even at the communion service of the Presbyterians.
[Some of the Fathers condemned non-communicating attendance. 
They did not bid the people go away, but communicate. 
The conditions were different from ours.]

In the ancient Church no unbaptized person was ever allowed to be present at the Eucharist. 
They were dismissed after the Gospel had been read. 
This rule, though still observed in the mission field, has fallen into disuse in Europe.
It is said that the conversion of Russia to the Orthodox faith was due to the deep impression made on the heathen ambassadors of Prince Vladimir by the Liturgy in the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom at Constantinople. 
But those who are not faithful Christians should not be encouraged to be present at the Eucharist. 
The Mysteries are for the faithful (including of course baptized children),
not for those who have not been taught or who do not believe.