Is the Mass the Real Sacrifice of Christ?
James McCarthy

Few Catholics think about this question. The reason is that most Catholics are not aware that the Church teaches that the Mass is an actual sacrifice. They know that the rite is called the Sacrifice of the Mass, that it is performed by a priest, that the congregation assembles before an altar, and that the consecrated bread wafers are called hosts. Nevertheless, most Catholics do not seem to realize that the Church teaches that the Mass is a real and true sacrifice, that a prime function of the Catholic priesthood is to offer sacrifice, that an altar is a place of sacrifice, and that the word host is from the Latin word hostia, meaning sacrificial victim.

When I told Anthony, a Catholic catechism teacher, that he was going to a sacrifice for sins each week, he denied it. Anthony’s sister, Teresa, had been born again several years earlier and had left the Catholic Church. She had been sharing the gospel with Anthony, and he too now was claiming to be trusting Christ alone for his salvation. He remained, however, loyal to the Catholic Church and its practices.

"Anthony, you can’t say you are trusting in Christ’s finished work on the cross and keep going to a weekly sacrifice for your sins," I told him.

"But it’s not a sacrifice," Anthony insisted.

"Look at the Eucharistic prayer," I said, handing him an open copy of the Vatican II Sunday Missal, the book containing the words recited by the priest during the Mass. "What does the priest pray after consecrating the bread and wine?"

"‘We offer to you, God of glory and majesty,’" Anthony read, "‘this holy and perfect sacrifice the bread of life and the cup of eternal salvation.’"i He then added, "I don’t remember the priest ever saying that."

"Read on," I asked.

"‘Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our Father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek. Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.’" Anthony studied the prayer for a few moments in silence, and then added, "Well, I never heard this at the Mass."

"I’m not making this up, Anthony," I told him. "Next Sunday sit near the front of the church and listen carefully to the words of the priest. You’ll see for yourself. According to your Church, in some mystical way the cross transcends time and is made present by the liturgy of the Eucharist. I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Catholicism teaches that the Mass is one and the same as the sacrifice of Calvary."

The next time I saw Anthony he admitted that he had been wrong. Despite almost forty years in the Catholic Church and experience as a catechism teacher, he didn’t know that the Mass was supposedly the actual sacrifice of Christ. Neither did he realize that he was not only attending Christ’s sacrifice, but he was participating in it.

It is indeed the priest alone, who, acting in the person of Christ, consecrates the bread and wine, but the role of the faithful in the Eucharist is to recall the passion, resurrection and glorification of the Lord, to give thanks to God, and to offer the immaculate victim not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him; and finally, by receiving the Body of the Lord, to perfect that communion with God and among themselves which should be the product of participation in the sacrifice of the Mass. —Second Vatican Council (emphasis added)ii

One must ask: What kind of worship is this? The cross was a horrific event. It was the enemies of the Lord Jesus, not His disciples, who crucified Him. Why would anyone calling himself a Christian want to participate in the continuation of the cross?

Furthermore, as the Lord died on the cross, He cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Why then does the Church want to continue His sacrifice? He died "once for all" (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 9:28, 10:10). How then can the Church say that each offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass appeases the wrath of God? The Lord "entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12). Why then does the Church seek to continually re-present Christ in His victimhood to the Father? The Lord is not in a state of victimhood. He is the risen, glorified, crowned King of Glory.

Rome’s theologians, you can be sure, have responses to each of these questions. But don’t expect any simple or straightforward answers. While writing The Gospel According to Rome, I asked Michael, a scholarly colleague with advanced theological degrees, to critique the section of the manuscript that reviewed the Church’s rebuttal to criticism of the Mass. About to complete a doctorate in biblical Hebrew at a leading university, I was confident that, if anyone could make sense of them, it was Michael. I was expecting him to carefully analyze each response, delving into the finer points of theology. To my amazement, he simply wrote in the margin, "WHAT A BUNCH OF HOOEY!"

Michael was right. Rome’s explanation of the glaring contradictions of the Mass amount to nothing more than mystical mumbo-jumbo and high sounding nonsense.

Even more distressing is the way the Church distorts the Scriptures in an attempt to provide a biblical basis for the Mass. Take, for example, the following reference to the Mass in Pope John Paul II’s recent best-seller, Crossing the Threshold of Hope:

. . . the Church is the instrument of man’s salvation. It both contains and continually draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly "enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption" (cf. Hebrews 9:12). —Pope John Paul IIiii

Here the Pope actually changes the Scriptures. Though he modifies the wording of Hebrews 9:12, he puts his new version in quotation marks and retains the reference, suggesting that it compares well to the original. Three alterations, however, have so distorted the meaning of the verse that the Pope’s new version teaches the very opposite of what the original did. Before examining how the verse has been changed and why the Pope would want to modify it, consider first the original meaning of the verse and its context.

At Mount Sinai God showed Moses a tabernacle in heaven, and instructed him to build a similar tabernacle on earth, carefully following its pattern (Exodus 25:9, 40; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:5). It was to be a rectangular tent with a single entryway and no windows. Inside a curtain was to divide the structure into a large outer room and a smaller inner room.

The earthly tabernacle was to serve as the focal point of Israel’s worship (Exodus 25:8; 29:42). Each day Jewish priests were to enter its outer room and perform various duties (Exodus 30:7-8; Leviticus 4:18, 24:1-9). Once a year on the Day of Atonement the Jewish high priest was to enter the inner room, presenting the blood of sin offerings to make atonement for himself and for the nation (Leviticus 16:1-34). In front of the tabernacle, God told Moses to construct a bronze altar upon which the priests were to continually offer animal sacrifices (Numbers 28-29).

Hebrews 9 reviews many of these details. There the emphasis is placed on the frequency with which the Jewish priests were to enter the tabernacle to perform their duties:

Now when these things have been thus prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship, but into the second only the high priest enters, once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. —Hebrews 9:6-7 (emphasis added)

The verses that follow contrast the continual and yearly ministry of the Jewish priests in the earthly tabernacle with the once for all ministry of the Lord Jesus in the heavenly tabernacle.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. —Hebrews 9:11-12 (emphasis added)

These verses speak of an event following the crucifixion when the Lord Jesus entered into the presence of God in the heavenly tabernacle. There He presented His shed blood on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24-25). Unlike the Jewish priests, however, who "are continually entering" (Hebrews 9:6) and the high priest who "enters once a year" (Hebrews 9:7), the Lord Jesus, our High Priest, entered the holy place of the heavenly tabernacle "once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:12). Only one presentation of His blood was necessary for God accepted it as the perfect and complete satisfaction for our sins.

Now consider how Pope John Paul II has altered the meaning of Hebrews 9:12. He writes that "...Jesus Christ constantly ‘enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption’ (cf. Hebrews 9:12)."iv Three changes are apparent.

The original text of Hebrews 9:12 says that Christ "entered" God’s sanctuary. The Greek verb is in the indicative mood and the aorist tense. This portrays Christ’s entrance into the heavenly sanctuary as an event in past time, freezing the action as if taking a snapshot of it. The Pope changes the verb to the present tense, writing that Christ "enters into God’s sanctuary." This makes Christ’s entrance an event that is now occurring, viewing the action as something that is in progress.

Further distorting the meaning of the verse, the Pope introduces it with the word constantly, writing that "…Jesus Christ constantly ‘enters into God’s sanctuary’ (cf. Hebrews 9:12)."v The verse, however, says that Christ "entered the holy place once for all" (Hebrews 9:11). In Hebrews 9 it is the Jewish priests who are constantly entering into the tabernacle. This is contrasted with the Lord Jesus who entered only once.

Finally, John Paul changes the ending of the verse to teach that by constantly entering the heavenly sanctuary Jesus Christ is "‘thus obtaining eternal redemption’ (cf. Hebrews 9:12)."vi The Bible says that Christ entered the holy place once for all, "having obtained eternal redemption." The work of redemption is finished, not ongoing.

Now why would the Pope want to change the Scriptures? Why would he want his readers to think that the Bible teaches that Christ "constantly ‘enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption’" instead of what it actually teaches, that Christ "entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption"? Why? Because Rome holds that Christ must be constantly re-presented in His victimhood to God through the Mass for our salvation. With each offering of the Mass, some 120 million times a year, the Church says that "the work of our redemption is continually carried out."vii The Pope, not finding Hebrews 9:12 to his liking, simply changed it. This was not a slip of the pen, but a calculated alteration of God’s Word to make the Sacrifice of the Mass appear biblical.

Adapted from Conversations with Catholics by James G. McCarthy (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1997)


i. Liturgy of the Eucharist, First Eucharistic Prayer, The Memorial Prayer.
ii. Second Vatican Council, "Sacred Liturgy," Second Instruction on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 12.
iii. Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1995), p. 139.
iv. Ibid.
v. Ibid.
vi. Ibid.
vii. Second Vatican Council, "Life of Priests," no. 13. See also the Code of Canon Law, canon 904.

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