Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pope Gregory the Great: “(Christ) in the mystery of the holy sacrifice is offered for us again (iterum)”.

While we’re talking about the “Eucharist”, it’s striking that most individuals who turn (or return) to Roman Catholicism say they do so because of the Eucharist. Thinking that Rome somehow teaches what Christ taught and what the earliest church taught, they neglect the convoluted history and practice of this “sacrifice”, which, contra Chris Castaldo, has a long history of being viewed as “Christ is re-sacrificed at the Mass”. 

Chris Castaldo says: “Misnomer Two: Catholics teach that Christ is Re-sacrificed at the Mass”

This is perhaps the most common misconception. If I had a dime for every pastor friend whom I’ve heard say that the Mass is a repetition of the cross, I just might have enough money for a cappuccino at Starbucks. … Catholic doctrine teaches that the Mass “renews” or “re-presents” the cross; but it doesn’t “repeat” it. Catholics assert that in a mystical and sacramental sense, the Mass is the cross, the once and for all offering of God’s Son continued through time. For those of you who enjoy grammar, it’s like an ingressive aorist: an action that has been completed and is also ongoing. It is, if you will, like a golf put [sic]… When I swing my putter at the ball, the initial contact is the “put.” At the same time, the action of the ball rolling toward the pin (and in my case, past the pin) is also the “put.” [sic] The put has happened and it’s happening. So the sacrifice of Jesus is completed (hence informed Catholics know how to explain Jesus’ words “it is finished”) and it is also ongoing. Personally, this is one of two or three tenets of Catholicism that I find most troubling; but it is what it is, and we evangelicals only benefit from getting it right.

Castaldo should stick to “puting” and drinking Starbucks. And as I mentioned in a previous post, he should also approach Rome’s doctrines more critically, and be less willing to chastise Protestants for not understanding things for which Rome itself has been all over the map.

This notion that Christ is re-sacrificed at the Mass is an old one, and it is a western, eventually supremely Roman position. Edward J. Kilmartin The Eucharist in the West (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press ©1998, 2004), describing Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397 A.D.) notes:

On the question of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist, Ambrose provides an example of the difference of the orientation between the Eastern and Western traditions. The Greek fathers of the fourth-century Antiochene tradition based the sacrificial character of the Eucharist on the concept of anamnesis: the commemorative actual presence of the one and unique sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The third-century bishop of Carthage [Cyprian], as was noted above, did not follow this interpretation. Ambrose also omits the Greek concept of commemorative sacrifice… (18)

Ambrose’s theology of eucharistic sacrifice which stresses the active presence of Christ as High Priest as well as the active co-offering of the liturgical assembly under the leadership of the presiding priest adheres to the Western theological tradition. An individualistic concept of eucharistic sacrifice is discernible not only for the ecclesial aspect [“it is precisely the liturgical assembly that is the subject of the offering of the eucharistic sacrifice”] but also for the Christological dimension of the sacrificial act. The idea that each individual Mass has a value in itself as a kind of new act of Christ performed in and through the sacrificial offering of the Church derives from the experience of the mystery of the Eucharist. It is nourished by the typical Western way of thinking which is focused on the individual and concrete event, and disinclined to speculate about the relationship of the once-for-all historical sacrifice of Christ to the eucharistic sacrifice.

Ambrose’s doctrine of the somatic presence of Christ under forms of bread and wine was borrowed from the fourth-century Antiochene tradition. But, as we have noted above, it was not “received” within the Platonic horizon of thought of the Greek theologians. However, his teaching on this subject, thus separated from its natural Platonic horizon, became the viable—and eventually triumphant—option in the Latin Church of the early Middle Ages over against the “spiritualized” interpretation of the content of the sacraments of the body and blood linked to the Augustinian tradition. Likewise Ambrose’s teaching about the Christological aspect of the eucharistic sacrifice shows no signs of the influence of the Greek notion of commemorative sacrifice. This fact, which proves that Ambrose’s “reception” of Greek eucharistic theology was only partial, is indicative of the difficulty which the Western theological mindset has traditionally experienced in its attempts to grasp the Greek notion of commemorative sacrifice.

By the end of the sixth century this Greek concept, which could have served the interests of a more balanced theology of the eucharistic sacrifice, was no longer present to the Western tradition. At the same time the tendency of the Western theology of eucharistic sacrifice toward postulating a complete disjunction between the historical sacrifice of the cross and the eucharistic sacrifice received additional support from Pope Gregory the Great’s saying that “(Christ) in the mystery of the holy sacrifice is offered for us again (iterum)”. This text is one of the earliest that refers to Christ being “newly” offered. Supported by the authority of Gregory [the Great!] it became an important proof text for the notion that the sacrifice of Christ is repeated in each Mass in an “unbloody way.”

At the same time this perception of the eucharistic sacrifice as first and foremost a liturgical repetition of the once-for-all sacrifice of the cross also had the unfortunate effect of obscuring the notion of the active participation of the faithful in the sacrificial activity. The earlier Latin theology, as noted above, viewed the eucharistic liturgy as a constellation of gestures and prayers in which the liturgical activity of the faithful constituted an essential ingredient for the realization of the eucharistic sacrifice. In the later development, however, the eucharistic sacrifice was more narrowly defined as the offering of the one victim through the ministry of the priest. Therefore the laity were understood to participate, not in their own right, but through the ministerial service of the presiding minister.

This new theology of the eucharistic sacrifice provided a building block for the practice of the private Mass which came about due to a number of pastoral and devotional concerns. The transference of the system of stational churches from Rome to the regions beyond the Alps necessitated the confinement of altars honoring martyrs to just one church. The Eucharist was celebrated on these altars in accord with the axiom: martyrs are honored by being buried under altars; altars are places for celebrating the eucharistic sacrifice. Initially the simultaneous celebration of Masses on these altars together with the Mass at the high altar was practiced. But in view of the eucharistic sacrifice as a new offering of Christ, the celebration of such Masses became more frequent. Also, the practice of Irish missionaries of privately celebrating Mass on their missionary excursions in the Frankish lands exercised considerable influence on the development of the private Mass. It was justified on the ground that where the priest is there Mass can be celebrated. Also, in the Frankish milieu the question of exchange of material goods for spiritual goods, monastery lands and other foundations for spiritual blessing, led to the employment of the Mass as the most favored spiritual good to be involved in the “holy commerce.” (21-23, emphasis added)

So can you deny that this is some sort of “explicit de fide teaching” of the Roman Catholic Church? Probably they can and will deny that. But can you deny that it was the overwhelming practice of the Western (i.e. Roman) church through the vastest portion of church history? Nah.

What should Chris Castaldo’s role be? Chastising Protestants because they don’t care to understand this whole convoluted history? Or explaining how Rome’s preoccupation with itself and its own glories caused corruptions galore through the history of the church? 


  1. Hey John!

    Would you mind trying to find a reference and the original language for this quote from Pope Pius X?

    “The Holy Mass is a prayer itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the altar. Further, you must pray with the priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.”

    Is this mentioned in Kilmartin’s book? Thanks for the help!

    With love in Christ,
    Pete Holter

  2. Hey Pete -- Kilmartin is more of a "broad sweep of history" guy. Pius X is not mentioned.

    You ought to be able to Google that quote and find it.

  3. Thanks for looking. I saw the quote attributed to Pius X in the front of some old book that my Grandma had. When I did a Google on it, I could still only find it being attributed to Pius X, but without an actual source being provided.

    Let me know the next time you swing through Hagerstown, and we’ll make lunch. :)

    If anyone can find the source for me, please let me know. Thanks!

    In Christ,