Sacrifice of the Mass: A Biblical Overview

Sacrifice of the Mass: A Biblical Overview April 20, 2018


The re-presentation, re-enactment, and effective application of the merits gained by Jesus by His one sacrifice at Calvary on the Cross. Jesus’ death in past history is present to God (e.g., Rev 5:6; 13:8). In each Mass, His sacrifice is made real and present to us, transcending space and time. Jesus Himself offers each Mass by means of human priests, who act in His stead. As in the Last Supper, Jesus is both priest and victim. The congregation also participates in the offering, like the disciples at the Last Supper, although with more understanding.


1. General Hints in the Old Testament

The Eucharist is prefigured in the tree of life in Eden, the sacrifices of Abraham and Melchisedech, the manna in the desert, the shew-bread in the Temple, and the various sacrifices of the old covenant (e.g., Lev 23:13), especially the paschal lamb. If the Jews had the visible glory of God present in their tabernacle and temple, we should expect to have the same God present in our tabernacles (in each Catholic church).

2. Genesis 14:18 / Psalm 110:4

And Mel-chiz’edek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. (RSV, as throughout)

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchiz’edek.” (cf. Heb 5:6; 7:1 ff.)

3. Old Testament Prophecies

The Old Testament prophesied that Jesus would offer a true sacrifice to God, and implied it would be bread and wine, “after the order of Melchizedek.” Thus, as the fathers of the Church held, the Sacrifice of the Mass is spoken of, since this description doesn’t fit the bloody sacrifice at Calvary. The specific duty of a priest, by definition, is sacrifice. Jesus, like Melchizedek, is king and priest at the same time. It’s interesting to note also that “Salem” is regarded as ancient Jerusalem by Bible scholars (see, e.g., Ps 76:2), giving all the more significance to the above information.

4. Isaiah 66:18, 21

. . . I am coming to gather all nations and tongues . . . [21] And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

Here is proclaimed a priesthood among the Gentiles in the Church Age, which necessarily entails the element of sacrifice. The Catholic Church (and Eastern Orthodoxy) possesses this; Protestantism doesn’t, citing only the “priesthood of all believers.”

5. Malachi 1:11

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.

God is proclaiming a new, clean sacrifice, again among the Gentiles, and clearly universal (“in every place”). Thus, the sacrifice of the cross cannot be intended, since it was in one place only. The Mass fulfills the prophecy.

6. The Book of Hebrews

The theme of this book is Jesus as our high priest. As such, the verses relevant for our topic are too numerous to cite in their entirety. Hebrews 13:10 refers to an “altar”; the other verses below have to do with Jesus’ priestly mission. In Protestant interpretation, they are basically “spiritualized” away. For the Protestant, broadly speaking, Jesus is a priest only insofar as He dies sacrificially and does away with the Old Testament notion of the priesthood and animal sacrifice. This is not false but it is only a partial truth. For the Catholic, there is much more of a sense of the ever-present nature of the sacrifice of Calvary, due to the nature of the Mass, rather than considering the cross a past event alone.

“Priestly” Verses:

7:1-28 (entire)
9:11-15, 24-28

7. The “Altar” in Heaven in the Book of Revelation

Revelation (called the Apocalypse by Catholics) describes an altar in heaven before God’s throne. This is curious if Protestantism is correct about the need for altars being abolished with the death of Jesus and the end of the Old Testament system of sacrifice and priests. In actuality, the Bible is a continuous whole from Genesis to Revelation, with no radical discontinuity between the Old Testament and New Testament or old and new covenants, as Protestantism is wont to believe. In Revelation we find the “altar” or “golden altar” being mentioned in 6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; and 16:7.

The climactic scene of this glorious portrayal of heaven occurs in Revelation 5:1-10. Verse 6 describes the “Lamb as it had been slain.” The Lamb (Jesus) is “in the midst of the throne” (5:6) which is in front of the “golden altar” (8:3). Is this presentation of Jesus as “Lamb” to the Father a one-time event or an ongoing occurrence (from God’s perspective, timeless)? We have strong biblical indications that the latter is more accurate. The sacrifice made “once” in Hebrews 7:27 refers to the human, historical death on Calvary of Jesus. However, there is a transcendent aspect of the sacrifice as well. Revelation 13:8 describes “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” and Hebrews 7:24-5 informs us that:

. . . he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. [25] Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

In conclusion, it is evident that Hebrews and Revelation are suffused with a “Catholic worldview.” The realms depicted are filled with “Catholic air,” so to speak. The Sacrifice of the Mass, rightly understood, fulfills every aspect of the above passages, most particularly in the sense of Jesus as the ultimate priest for whom the earthly priest “stands in,” and in the timeless and transcendent character of the sacrifice “made present” at Mass, but never deemed to be an addition to, or duplication of, the one bloody sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary.

III. AFTERWORD (Thomas Howard)

This divine love is such that not only does God give Himself to us and for us but, unimaginably, takes us into this very mystery of self-giving and makes us one with His Son, calling us the very Body of this Son who offers Himself to the Father. The bread of the E is the Body of Christ, and the Church is the Body of Christ; and that Body — both Christ’s personal body and his Body the Church — like bread, has only one reason for being: to be broken and given. All is offering; all is sacrifice; all is oblation. Worship without oblation is no worship. (Evangelical is Not Enough)


(originally from 1994)

Photo credit: The Death of Jesus, by James Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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