The Bible’s Viewpoint
How Should Christians View the Mass?
DEVOUT Catholics agree with Pope John Paul II, who, according to The New York Times, recently “reaffirmed that the church considers it a sin if a Catholic misses Mass.” What is the Mass? Do the church and the Bible agree on the subject?
In the book Things Catholics Are Asked About, Catholic priest Martin J. Scott defines the Mass as follows: “The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. Calvary was the bloody sacrifice of Christ. The Mass is essentially the same sacrifice as that of the cross. This is no figure of speech, no metaphor, or exaggeration.” He also states: “The Mass claims to bring down on our altars the Son of God, and to offer Him in sacrifice to the Godhead.”
Is the Mass Scriptural?
Sincere Catholics believe that the Mass is based on Scriptural teaching. As proof, they point to Jesus’ words during what is commonly called the Last Supper. As he distributed bread and wine to his apostles, Jesus said when referring to the bread: “This is my body.” When referring to the wine, he said: “This is my blood.” (Matthew 26:26-28)* Catholics believe that when he uttered these words, Jesus actually transformed the bread and wine into his body and blood. However, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) cautions: “We should not rely too heavily on the literalness of the words ‘This is my body’ or ‘This is my blood.’ . . . For in phrases such as ‘the harvest is the end of the world’ (Mt 13.39) or ‘I am the true vine’ (Jn 15.1) the [verb “to be”] means only to signify or represent.” Thus, even this authoritative encyclopedia admits that the wording of Matthew 26:26-28 does not prove that the bread and the wine were changed into Jesus’ literal body and blood at the Last Supper.
Someone might recall that Jesus once said: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. . . . Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life.” (John 6:51, 54) Some of those listening to Jesus took his words literally and were shocked. (John 6:60) But we might ask, Did Jesus transform his flesh into bread on that occasion? Certainly not! He was speaking figuratively. He compared himself to bread because through his sacrifice he would impart life to mankind. John 6:35, 40 clearly indicates that the eating and drinking would be done by exercising faith in Jesus Christ.
Since the Mass is a principal rite of the Catholic Church, one might expect the Scriptures to support it. They do not. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 edition) explained why: “The chief source of our doctrine . . . is tradition, which from the earliest times declares the impetratory [entreating] value of the Sacrifice of the Mass.” Yes, the Roman Catholic Mass is based on tradition, not the Bible.
No matter how sincerely held, a tradition that contradicts the Bible is unacceptable to God. Jesus reproached the religious leaders of his day: “You have made God’s word ineffective by means of your tradition.” (Matthew 15:6) Since Jesus valued God’s Word, let us examine the teaching regarding the Mass in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
Christ Sacrificed—How Often?
The Catholic Church teaches that each time the Mass is celebrated, Jesus is sacrificed, although it maintains that he does not actually die and that the sacrifice is bloodless. Does the Bible agree with this view? Note Hebrews 10:12, 14: “[Jesus] has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his seat for ever, at the right hand of God. By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all who are sanctified.”
However, a sincere Catholic may object: ‘Wouldn’t Jesus have to offer himself often? We all sin many times.’ The Bible’s answer is recorded at Hebrews 9:25, 26: “[Christ] does not have to offer himself again and again. . . . He has made his appearance once and for all, at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself.” Note this well: Christ “does not have to offer himself again and again.” At Romans 5:19, the apostle Paul explains why: “By one man’s disobedience [Adam’s] many were made sinners, so by one man’s act of justice [Jesus’] are many to be made upright.” Adam’s single act of disobedience made all of us subject to death; Jesus’ single redemptive act laid the basis for all of us who exercise faith in that sacrifice to have our sins forgiven now and to enjoy everlasting life in the future.
What difference does it make whether Jesus was sacrificed once or whether he is sacrificed often? It is a matter of appreciation for the value of Jesus’ sacrifice. That is the greatest gift ever given—a gift so precious, so perfect, that it will never need to be repeated.
Jesus’ sacrifice certainly deserves to be remembered. But there is a difference between remembering an event and repeating it. For example, a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary may remember the day they got married, without actually repeating the ceremony. Each year, Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the anniversary of Jesus’ death, doing so in the way that Jesus commanded—“in remembrance,” not in sacrifice, of him. (Luke 22:19) In addition, throughout the year these Christians strive to cultivate a warm relationship with Jehovah God through Jesus Christ by bringing their lives, their actions, and their beliefs into harmony with the Sacred Scriptures.
Often, doing so means making changes in their thinking. But the Witnesses rejoice in the knowledge that if they loyally support God’s Word rather than human tradition, they will be blessed. And if they exercise faith in the sacrificed blood of Jesus, shed once and for all almost two thousand years ago, it will cleanse them from all sin.—1 John 1:8, 9.
All Scripture quotations in this article are from the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible.
[Picture on page 26]
The Mass of St. Giles (detail)
Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY