Is the Eucharist a Sacrifice or a Meal?

Is the Eucharist a Sacrifice or a Meal? February 25, 2011

Prior to Vatican II, or so I’m told, the primary emphasis in the Church’s celebration of the Eucharist was on its sacrificial aspect – The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Then, for a few decades after the council, people were much more comfortable talking about the Eucharist as a meal of fellowship. We talked more about tables than altars, about presiders than priests.

Now, it seems to me, the pendulum is beginning to swing back the other way. Many people are not satisfied with an articulation of the Eucharist that is meal focused. What does this have to do, they wonder, with my eternal salvation won by Christ on Calvary?

I am happy to see the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist re-asserted in the contemporary Church, but I hope this re-assertion is done in conjunction with the meal motif rather than in opposition to it. It is my conviction that neither sacrifice nor meal can stand alone in our attempts to articulate our Eucharistic faith.

This dual character started right at the beginning, of course. Jesus inaugurated the Eucharist at a sacrificial meal, the Jewish Passover, the night before he himself was to be sacrificed on the cross. In so doing, he gave the apostles the interpretive key for understanding what was to happen the next day.

Most movements whose leaders are executed by the state don’t last long. But Jesus imbued his execution with a meaning that gave it sticking power.  On the night before he died he placed himself, very consciously, into the line of salvation history familiar to the Jews so that, after the shock of Friday’s events and the beginning of the resurrection appearances, the disciples started piecing things together.  (For a great Eucharistic story that highlights their growth in understanding, read Luke 24, the road to Emmaus.)

Not only did Jesus give us his interpretation of the cross during the Passover, a feast absolutely formative of Jewish identity, but Jesus also referenced Isaiah and Jeremiah in the institution narratives, just as he had a few days earlier when he cleansed the temple. The references to these prophets at both the Last Supper and the scene at the temple tell us that Jesus is about to sacrifice in a new way, transcending the temple and the Passover. There is to be a new covenant (Jeremiah) sealed by the suffering servant (Isaiah).

But what is a covenant? We could go into a lot of sociological detail, but what is necessary to understand here is that it is a binding relationship between God and God’s people. It is the foundation for communion. Every culture and every person, if they just think about it for a minute, knows that communion is impossible without sacrifice. Living with one another is hard. We must get over ourselves. We must forgo our claims to justice. We must learn to forgive. Here we have the central dynamic that plays out not only on the cross, but in the Eucharist.  If we want to live in communion, with God and humanity, we must sacrifice.

The meal aspect of the Eucharist is to signify the communion we seek and which we already have to a certain degree.  It really is a family meal.  We have been brought together by God, from all the races and social strata of the world, to be his family on earth.  Moreover, Scripture’s favorite image for our final destiny is that of a banquet, a wedding feast!  At weddings people become family.  If Catholics are serious about calling the Mass “heaven on earth” there can be no doing away with the meal motif.  And, of course, if any non-Catholics were to stumble across us gathering to eat and drink, they would be entirely baffled by someone insisting that “meal” was not an appropriate category to describe what was going on.

Meal must not be dismissed.  The Eucharist cannot be understood without it.  But the Eucharist is a special kind of meal.  It is a sacrificial meal.  We can note, first of all, that all meals are sacrificial.  We take something that used to be alive and we eat it.  Something has given up its life that we might live.  More than that, any social gathering takes sacrifice.  Organizing and planning, cooking and cleaning.  Bringing friends together takes a lot of work.

But what about bringing together enemies?

Make no mistake, this is the heart of our faith:  those estranged from one another and therefore from God (this can be read in either direction) must be reconciled.  Jesus died to save us from sin and hell, but what that really means, practically speaking, is that we are to be reconciled.  Sin divides.  Hell is the name for division frozen into eternity.  That is why sin leads there.

To overcome this takes great sacrifice, sacrifice of which we are not ourselves capable.  This is what Jesus offered on the cross. And this is what undergirds the hope that we will be able to share, yes even a family meal, with our greatest enemies.  The Eucharist is not a meal among those who are naturally inclined to eat together but a meal to which every single human person is invited.  If that is to be achieved (and it will only be finally achieved in the eschaton) it requires not only a perfect sacrifice to ground it, but the participation of all and sundry in that sacrifice so that, little by little, they can die to self and learn to break bread with their mortal enemies.

The sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist is not in opposition to the meal aspect, but supportive of it.  The meal, the communion we seek, the communion that is our final good, is made possible only by our participation in Christ’s sacrifice.  The vertical relationship is a support for the horizontal.  Take away the upright beam of the cross and the crossbeam fails, collapsing to the earth and splintering on the rock of human pride.

Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one.

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  • Many American Indians would upon arriving at the body of say, a freshly killed deer, kneel and give thanks to the deer for giving their life so that they may be sustained. I have always loved the parallel.

    I think it is appropriate to view the Eucharist as a meal. All meals ultimately involve some sacrifice, and should be appropriately acknowledged. The problem today is so few recognize this, much less know who, or what made the sacrifice for them.

    The Eucharist should provide the connection.

    • “All meals ultimately involve some sacrifice …”

      This hits the nail on the head. Every meal is a sacrifice (or, it ought to be!) while not every sacrifice is a meal. Note, here I would direct us to the root idea of sacrifice as “an act of worship of God in which something is done to something to show due honor to God.” (This is a quick and dirty version of “sacrifice” but will do for now!) If we take a look at the Old Testament, and especially the Law, this is vividly brought before our eyes. There is not a single food in Israel which is not somehow dedicated to God. For grains, this is through the offering to God of the firstfruits. Of animals, this involves both their slaughter in a cultic way *and* what we would do when going to the butcher. Indeed, the ancient priests of Israel, as most ancient priesthoods in sacrificing cultures, were trained in how properly to butcher animals. (Reread Exodus and Leviticus, e.g.) This is also the background for the early Christians’ worry about eating meat in pagan cities, namely that the butchered meat would likely have been implicated if not have come directly from a pagan ritual of slaughter.

      To be sure, the bloody sacrifice of the Cross has altered things in practice, but it does not detract from the sacrificial/cultic feature of all eating. This is why I think, rightly understood, we do not have to worry about saying that the Eucharist is a sacrifice and a meal, but that it is a sacrifice on its own right (as presenting right worship to God by joining us to Christ’s oblation on the Cross) and a sacrifice (rightly understood) because it is a meal (which is itself always already implicated in sacrifice).

    • RCM

      Awesome point, gisher. Excellent and so true. Interestingly, Michael Pollan from The Omnivore’s Dilemma talks about the sacrifice aspect of food and yet we seemed to have lost the food nourishment/sacrifice aspect. Are they no inherent?

      • RCM I do feel that we have lost the connection but that is not surprising in a culture where many pre-teens and even adults are unaware that there is a trail leading out the back door of their grocery store. A trail that leads to the origins of the meats they consume. Most have no concept of where their meals come from beyond the front door of the grocery store.

        In so many areas we have dropped the ball on education both inside and outside of the church including our connection to the ground. I would think it wise to understand this connection as eventually we are all headed back to the ground anyway:)

  • Chris Sullivan

    Sacrifice as meal is a very ancient concept and one very much in line with Jewish Temple sacrifice, at least part of which was also eaten.

    God Bless

  • This is a beautifully reasoned and beautifully written piece. Thank you.

  • Mark Harden

    This is an excellent presentation of the need to understand the Mass as BOTH sacrifice and meal. A golden mean between the understandings, well expressed.

    St Thomas writes of the Eucharist as sacrifice and sacrament, though (without speaking of “meal”). How does that fit in?

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks Mark.

      To answer your question I’d suggest that, if a sacrament is a symbol that causes what it signifies and if it is obvious that the symbolism of the Mass is meal symbolism, you’ve got meal implied (and presumed) pretty strongly in St. Thomas.

      • Mark Harden

        So “sacrifice and sacrament” = “sacrifice and meal”, that makes sense. I wonder if the term “sacrament” might be preferable to “meal”? To contemporary Catholics, “meal” seems to connote too material an understanding (Mass as family dinner). But perhaps the term “sacrament”, conversely is too theological to convey the symbolism properly.

        • Melody

          Maybe it’s the other way around; we’ve lost the understanding of a family meal as “sacrament” (with a small “s”). If meals are seldom eaten together, and always a quick bite taken in a hurry on the way to somewhere else, then it’s going to be hard to understand a connection to Mass, or to the Last Supper.

          • brettsalkeld

            I think that is an excellent point Melody.

            Current culture has little idea about sacrifice or about meal. Let alone about their intimate connection.

  • Kurt

    An important issue is how the theology is related to pastoral practice. The concern of the leaders of the Liturgical Renewal was that the sacrificial nature of the Mass had been emphasized to the point where the lay faithful saw only the importance that the sacrafice of the Mass was offered. Reception of Communion was not of any centrality.

    • brettsalkeld

      I think this is exactly right. And I would expand on it, if I may.

      For several decades, those in leadership were responding to an overemphasis on sacrifice from their formative years. Now those leaders are dying off and the new crowd is responding to an overemphasis on meal in their formative years. Where once receiving communion lost its centrality, in subsequent years it lost its depth.

      It is strange to my ears to hear people complain about the Mass being treated as a meal nowadays. I haven’t lived in that Catholic world since the early 90s. But I suspect that whatever hobby horses we favor when we begin to take interest in theology and the life of the Church are ones we hang on to. Also, depending on the circles one runs in, or the parish one goes to, or the blogs one reads, certain things loom larger in our imaginations than they might be in reality. This is true for everyone.

      In any case, I hope that showing the intrinsic relationship between the two themes can keep us from letting the pendulum swing too far back the other way.

      • Brett writes, “It is strange to my ears to hear people complain about the Mass being treated as a meal nowadays.”

        For myself, I don’t complain that it’s treated as a meal, but that it’s treated as merely or primarily a meal, with the sacrificial aspect ignored or given short shrift.

        By the way, the post is excellent and I could not find any point to quibble about — except that from my perspective, it seems strange to feel that the meal aspect needs to be defended or emphasized, as if it had been neglected. : ) However maybe in your experience it has.

        • brettsalkeld

          My feeling is that both sides would be happy with what I have written because it is able to highlight that what they truly value is truly valuable while also integrating what the other side values. In fact, I hope that, in seeing the intrinsic connection between the two, both sides can broaden their understanding and articulation.

          I don’t think anyone would explicitly deny the meal or the sacrifice aspect in a vacuum. But, what I think happens fairly often is that, in expressing concern that the other side is lopsided, we become lopsided ourselves. Meal is not mocked in itself, but mocked because sacrifice is perceived as being ignored, and vice verse. Theology done in a polemic context always leads to distortion. Nestorians and monophysites! I am trying to rescue the Eucharist from this dynamic which strikes me as fairly widespread.

          Another place it shows up is in the relationship between symbolic and real. The Church insists that the Eucharist is a symbol and that it is real, but those on either side of this debate often end up distorting church teaching. But I’ve written a lot on that elsewhere.

          • I’m with you entirely.

          • brettsalkeld


  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    It is very important to remember the multi-dimensionality of the Eucharist. Beginning this month my Franciscan fraternity is going to be studying the book “Seven Secrets of the Eucharist” by Vinny Flynn. It has many interesting insights, but it is very unbalanced in its discussion, focusing primarily on individual reception and sanctification (what I call the “me and Jesus” model) and ignoring the communal dimensions.

    In this context I strongly recommend the book “Models of the Eucharist” by Fr. Kevin Irwin of CUA. His interpretive framework is Dulles’ work on models of the Church, and he proposes 10 models to try to capture the many competing/interlocking/diverging facets of the Eucharist:

    1) Cosmic Mass
    2) The Church’s Eucharist
    3) The Effective Word of God
    4) Memorial of the Paschal Mystery
    5) Covenant Renewal
    6) The Lord’s Supper
    7) Food for the Journey
    8) Sacramental Sacrifice
    9) Active Presence
    10) Work of the Holy Spirit

    These are just labels, but as you can see they are quite suggestive. I would call attention to just one, #4, Memorial, as something which is missing from your analysis of the meal/sacrifice dichotomy. One purpose of the mass is remembering, but remembering in a way which reminds us that the past is present, that Christ is alive, that his death and resurrection then have consequences both now and in the future. I believe the Greek word Anamnesis describes this well.

    • Mark Harden

      “#4, Memorial, as something which is missing from your analysis of the meal/sacrifice dichotomy”

      St Thomas seems to equate “Memorial” (or “Commemoration”) with “Sacrifice” as in this passage speaking of the Eucharist in past, present and future:

      “This sacrament has a threefold significance: one with regard to the past, inasmuch as it is commemorative of our Lord’s Passion, which was a true sacrifice, as stated above, and in this respect it is called a Sacrifice.”

      The next sacramental signification would seem to equate to “meal”:

      “With regard to the present it has another meaning, namely, that of ecclesiastical unity, in which men are aggregated through this sacrament; and in this respect it is called Communion….”


      “With regard to the future it has a third meaning, inasmuch as this sacrament foreshadows the Divine fruition which shall come to pass in heaven; and according to this it is called Viaticum, because it supplies the way of winning thither” (Summa, III, 73, 4, c.).

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks for reminding us all of just what a multi-faceted reality the Eucharist is. Father Irwin’s book is on my to-read list. I’ve been reading about Eucharist for 3 years and I still learn something new almost every day. (E.g. I realized today for the first time the connection between the Wedding at Cana (wine) and the Feeding of the 5000 (bread) in John’s gospel. Duh!)

      I chose to write about these two aspects in particular because they are often played off against each other in ways I find unhelpful.

  • Tony de New York

    The Council of Trent
    The Twenty-Second Session
    And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy Synod teaches, that THIS SACRIFICE is truly propritiatory and that by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid, if we draw nigh unto God, contrite and penitent, with a sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence.

    The II Vatican Council.

    47. At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic SACRIFICE of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to His beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity [36], a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us [37].

    • brettsalkeld

      Is there a reason “banquet” didn’t get the caps treatment?

      • That would have made “paschal” seemingly less significant, because of it’s relative proximity.

  • K

    Barth apparently once spoke of the “damn Catholic ‘and.'”

    That’s how Catholics think. It’s not this OR that, it’s this AND that.

    To choose meal instead of sacrifice, or sacrifice instead of meal, as some have, strikes me as an area where such people could use some growth.

    • I think that beautiful crucifix graphic which introduces Brett’s post expresses the mystery of the Eucharist brilliantly. Could you tell us more about the source of the image?

      The same is true of the various Eucharistic Prayers we have in our Catholic liturgy. These prayers express very well the truth about the Eucharist as both sacred meal and unbloody sacrifice present in time and history.

      Enough said. Our challenge is to become united personally and communally with the crucified and risen Jesus.

      It is remarkable how the early Christian community depicted the central event of our faith in art which portrayed the multiplication of loaves and fishes rather than the image of the cross which was gradually introduced later, following the Constantinian model of Christianity.

      We have become so familiar with the Eucharist and the Mass, that perhaps we have to work even harder to understand and incorporate the meaning at the heart of our tradition.

      Returning to the source of the Mystery is always a good practice. But always it is important to reflect and ponder deeply the many astounding aspects of the sacrificial meal which we celebrate so routinely.

  • Giovanni A. Cattaneo

    The Sacrifice is emphasized because the meal is a rather obvious and logical observation of fact.

    After all, you are eating something, and you are drinking something. Hence a meal.

    Yet the Sacrifice which is just a great a reality is not as obvious specially in the Novus Ordo. From there comes to need to keep on hammering the Sacrificial nature of the Mass.

    • brettsalkeld

      That might explain why meal gets talked about less in some circles. It doesn’t seem to explain why meal gets mocked and derided in some circles. In my experience, it is often used in a quite derogatory manner as if those Catholics who treat of it are not quite serious about the Eucharist.

      • Pinky

        There’s also history to contend with. The Protestants de-emphasized or eliminated the idea of sacrifice in liturgical worship. You don’t always get to decide which hill you’re going to fight on; when the West becomes dominated by the idea of sacrifice rather than liturgical meal, we’ll be defending the meal aspect. For the time being (the last 500 years or so), we’ve had to defend the idea of liturgical sacrifice.

        A fuller understanding would incorporate both. We should try to incorporate both – and more than that, because the truth is so much bigger. But we need to confront the errors of our time, and that means emphasizing the sacrificial aspect.

      • Brett writes, “That might explain why meal gets talked about less in some circles. It doesn’t seem to explain why meal gets mocked and derided in some circles. In my experience, it is often used in a quite derogatory manner as if those Catholics who treat of it are not quite serious about the Eucharist.”

        Again I think the thing people mock and deride is speaking and thinking of the Eucharist exclusively as a meal. Many people feel that this overemphasis on the meal aspect is what leads to happy-clappy masses, with reggae bands and dancing priests, all of which seem ridiculously out of place at a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary.

        I don’t know of anyone, conservative or otherwise, who would complain of a balanced presentation of the Mass as a sacrifice followed by a meal.

  • Of course the Eucharist is a meal. But a special kink of meal.

    In the OT, and the ancient Middle East generally the animal was sacrificed and the parts of the animals went several ways, some consumed in the fire, some back to the those who brought the animal, some to support the temple some to support the poor.

    The one who brought the sacrifice makes an offering as repentance for his sins. God accepts the sacrifice and invites the offerer to dinner, both God and the offerer as well as the priest and the poor have some of the animal God has restored communion by inviting them to meal. The meal in this case has no religious meaning except as part of a sacrifice.

    In the NT (Catholic understanding) Jesus died on the cross in the “once for all” sacrifice, at Eucharist we are invited to eat of this Sacrifice as Jesus really present body blood soul and divinity. And thus we brought into communion with God and each other.

    The Eucharist has no meaning as meal except as a sacrificial meal a part, albeit an important part, of the Sacrificial rite as a whole.

    While it is wrong to lose track of the Eucharist as meal, if we forget it is a part of The Sacrifice we might as well go to McDonald’s.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I read this post and the comments again this morning before I went to mass, and I found myself concentrating on the images being invoked. I have heard before the criticism that the Novus Ordo mass “downplays” or “obscures” the sacrificial aspects of the mass, but in listening, I just didn’t see it: sacrifice was really quite prominent in the language, as was amanensis/memorial. The meal aspects were clearly there, but I would be hard pressed to see them as overly dominant.

    Thinking back over the various liturgical experiments I have witnessed/participated in, it seems to me that most of them were designed to further elicit the meal aspect of the mass, which in turn suggests that the priests and liturgists involved did not see the meal symbolism as already being the only or dominant one.

    On a different note, this reminds me of a joke I heard 20+ years ago in Berkeley which is somewhat related: in ecumenical discussions the difficulty is not convincing protestants that the eucharist is Jesus: the real problem is convincing them that it was bread.

    • David writes, “I have heard before the criticism that the Novus Ordo mass “downplays” or “obscures” the sacrificial aspects of the mass…”

      It may depend on which eucharistic prayer is used. Eucharistic Prayer II, which in my experience is the most commonly used one, does not contain the word “sacrifice” (although it does use the word “offer” one time); whereas Prayer I (which is based on the Canon of the traditional mass) uses the word “sacrifice” five times, and the word “offer” ten times.

      I don’t claim this proves anything conclusively, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that prayer II emphasizes the sacrificial aspect less than prayer I.

      David writes, “Thinking back over the various liturgical experiments I have witnessed/participated in, it seems to me that most of them were designed to further elicit the meal aspect of the mass, which in turn suggests that the priests and liturgists involved did not see the meal symbolism as already being the only or dominant one.”

      That may well be the case. The problem, as I see it, is that the result of emphasizing the meal aspect has been the neglect of the sacrificial aspect. In other words, the priests and liturgists you mention, perhaps, had been educated pre-V2 and so the sacrificial aspect had been drilled into them, thus they felt the need to highlight the meal aspect. But the result has been a generation for whom the meal aspect has been overemphasized in catechesis to the neglect of the sacrificial.

  • doug

    So what is everyone’s take on the Neocatechumenal Way’s treatment of the Eucharist?

    • Doug writes, “So what is everyone’s take on the Neocatechumenal Way’s treatment of the Eucharist?”

      In my experience they treat it very reverently, however on the face of it their liturgies do seem to place a much stronger emphasis on the meal than the sacrifice. For example the “altar” is always just a table covered with a table cloth and flowers, and every sits around it in a circle as at a big banquet. There is no “sanctuary” understood as a sacred area set apart from the common area, as in the Jewish Temple.

  • Jimmy Mac

    “Either/Or” isn’t very Catholic. “Both/And” is. Magic is not.

  • PeterPaul

    Thank you all for such a rich post with so much material for meditation and food for thought.

  • It just occurs to me, another reason many conservative/traditionalists feel the sacrificial aspect has been neglected, is the common practice of renovating churches in the direction of de-emphasizing the sanctuary. In other words, removing communion rails, moving the altar out toward the center of the church, and placing pews beside and behind the altar.

    The new cathedral in Los Angeles is another example of practically eliminating the sanctuary. The architect seems to have deliberately placed entrances, as well as seating, directly beside and behind the altar, so that upon entering you don’t get any kind of a feeling that the sanctuary area is “holy” in the sense of being a space set apart, as opposed to a common area where anyone can roam around at will. Whereas in the Jewish Temple the altar and the Ark were set apart from the places where the common people were allowed.

    Some conservatives suspect that this whole trend is tied into a desire to de-emphasize the priesthood itself, i.e., emphasize the “priesthood of all believers” and de-emphasize the ordained priesthood. All of which would serve to make the Church less “authoritarian” and more democratic. In other words, if anyone can waltz through the sanctuary any time he wants, then priest and layman are “equalized” at least to that extent.

    (A side story: Once I went to an NO mass, and the priest at the beginning of the homily said, “Please excuse me if I give my homily from the pulpit [instead of wandering around among the pews like he usually did], we have this parish anniversary display here and I’m afraid I might knock something over if I walk around.” Apologizing for giving his homily in accord with the rubrics!)

    This all may be very innocent in fact. I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the intent is merely to emphasize the meal aspect without denigrating or neglecting the sacrificial aspect. However as Hank pointed out, the meal is merely a part of the sacrifice — the application of the fruits of the sacrifice to individuals. If in catechesis, you emphasize the sacrifice to the neglect of the meal, you still have what’s essential; whereas if you emphasise the meal to the neglect of the sacrifice, you may as well go to McDonald’s.

    • brettsalkeld

      I think we are mostly on the same page. The one thing I disagree with here is the claim that someone neglecting “meal” still has what’s essential. Actually, I don’t think you do. Without the meal, the sacrifice loses its goal. Jesus willingly underwent a great sacrifice to secure our salvation and that salvation is, in its essence, communion. Without that aspect, you end up with a very individualized idea of the sacrament, and of salvation. The Church calls the Eucharist and the community by the same term (The Body of Christ) for good reason. As much as the word has been the object of abuse (from one wing of the Church) and scorn (from another wing) “community” is actually what the sacrament is about.

      • Brett:

        I don’t disagree with you, and at the same time I don’t withdraw anything I said before. I think the sacrifice is essential in a way that the meal is not, in the sense that the meal proceeds from the sacrifice and not vice versa. (There may be a better way to phrase this.)

        • brettsalkeld

          Perhaps that they are not symmetrical? I would agree to that. One is the means. The other, the end.

          • I wonder, though, if this is not quite right, either. I don’t think we can say that sacrifice is a means to the end which is sacramental communion. Why? Because the point of sacramental communion, of being made up into the Body of Christ, is that we might form a “living sacrifice of praise.” In other words, the latreutic character of all Christian life, here and to come, is the goal, to praise God unceasingly in intimate communion with him.

            Eschatologically, of course, this breaks down a bit. Is the life of the Kingdom a life of unceasing praise and worship? Yes. Is is a banquet? Yes. If there is a difference here and now, we might say that in the Mass we present the one perfect oblation of Christ once offered in the Cross, and so the Mass just is the perfect sacrifice, but presented under different signs and by not yet perfected ministers, joined in by saints still in the making. We receive in the Eucharist the whole Christ, but in the manner of a foretaste, a pledge of the glory to come.

          • brettsalkeld

            Yes, there is something reciprocal without being perfectly symmetrical. My statement was a touch oversimplified.

            There’s a way in which sacrifice will always exist, but it will stop being the painful thing we experience in this life. Before the fall, sacrifice may have been the most natural thing in the world. It is sin that makes sacrifice painful.

          • Brett writes, “Perhaps that they are not symmetrical? I would agree to that. One is the means. The other, the end.”

            It seems to me something more like, the meal is a part of the sacrifice, but the sacrifice is not part of a meal. The meal is how we partake of the fruits of the sacrifice, but the sacrifice is not a way of partaking of the fruits of the meal. If you had a sacrifice but the meal had not yet taken place, the meal would still be a potential outcome of the sacrifice. But if you had a meal, a sacrifice would not grow out of it or be the fruit of it.

            By the way, I appreciate that we can disagree (to the extent we do) without rancor.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO


    a couple points. First, the dearth of the words “sacrifice” and “offering” do not understate the sacrificial aspect of the mass; it just means that the canon does not hit you over the head with it. In the same way, except for the Institution narrative, there are few words that suggest this is a meal in the sense of “going to McDonalds.” One may as well criticize the original canons of Hippolytus, from which the second Eucharistic prayer is adapted, for the same problem.

    Second, I think you and Hank have, quite unintentionally I am sure, illustrated the point Brett was trying to make. Dismissing any liturgical overshoot that emphasizes meal over sacrifice as “going to McDonalds” strikes me as uncalled for. One might as well argue (though I would never do so) that any emphasis on sacrifice over meal is making the anti-Catholic point that we are “re-sacrificing Christ.”

    It should be clear that I disagree with Hank’s reading of the meal aspect as subordinate to the sacrifice; if anything, the meal is subordinate to the Amanensis, the “remembering” which is so central to the Eucharist: “do this [eat and drink] in memory of me.” Again, the Eucharist is many things and it is almost impossible to give priority to one over the others.

    • PeterPaul

      A couple of points. In the Paschal memorial the lamb was slaughtered before the meal. At the Last Supper the meal came before the slaughter,the crucifixion. The words of consecration are in the present tense: “This is My body which is given (present, passive participle) . . . this is the cup of my blood which is poured out . . .” (present, passive participle). Even in the “now” of the meal Christ’s blood is being poured out–as it is in the “now” of our meal/Mass. Yet we repeat the meal, but not the crucifixion.(“Christ “dies now no more.”) And then to clear things up, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus–until you come.” As David Cruz-Uribe suggests, priorities don’t help. And I will fall back now on “non est confusio, sed mysterium” and retire behind the curtain.

    • David writes, “… the dearth of the words “sacrifice” and “offering” do not understate the sacrificial aspect of the mass; it just means that the canon does not hit you over the head with it…”

      I think that’s a matter of opinion.

      David writes, ‘Dismissing any liturgical overshoot that emphasizes meal over sacrifice as “going to McDonalds” strikes me as uncalled for. One might as well argue (though I would never do so) that any emphasis on sacrifice over meal is making the anti-Catholic point that we are “re-sacrificing Christ.”’

      I don’t see that as a parallel. But let me clarify, I don’t mean (despite how the things I said may have come across) that merely emphasizing meal over sacrifice objectively robs the Mass of any meaning besides that which would inhere in going to McDonald’s for a community meal. What I mean is that if the Mass objectively were a meal and not a sacrifice, then one could as well go to McDonald’s for a community meal as hold a community meal in a church, or a hall, or in a park, or wherever. The sacrificial aspect is what makes it more than a community meal at McDonald’s.

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