Monday, September 24, 2018

The sacrifice of the Mass

A friend asked me to comment on this post by a Catholic apologist:

I'll confine my observations to what I take to be the meat of his argument. 

Christians throughout the world who are actively seeking to join the original “Church” which Christ founded are confronted with the myriad of communities and denominations which compete with each other.

That's a Catholic solution to something that's only a problem if you grant Catholic ecclesiology. In my 42 years as a Christian, I never sought to join the original “Church” which Christ founded. What about joining Christianity? That's a better starting-point.

I don't think there's a one-to-one matchup between "the original Church which Christ founded" and particular instantiations of the church. I'm not looking for a needle in a haystack, because I don't need to eliminate all the contenders. I don't view Christian denominations as a zero-sum game. It's not mortal combat, where you have to kill off all the competition. I don't subscribe to a Hunger Games ecclesiology. 

This article will hopefully save many years and months of time by showing that there is a doctrine which is very clearly taught by the New Testament which happens to be a doctrine only upheld by a few Ecclesial communities, and which is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Christian denominations. This doctrine which I hear speak about is the real presence of Jesus Christ in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and that a real sacrifice is carried out each time it is celebrated. I mean this – when the Lord’s Supper is commemorated, the bread and the wine are changed into the real Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, and that the actions of the ceremony effect a true and effective sacrifice, just like the Priests of the Aaronic/Levitical ceremonies.

Notice some of the unexamined assumptions in that paragraph:

i) Even if, for argument's sake, we grant the real presence, none of Erick's prooftexts indicate that the bread and wine are changed when a priest speaks a verbal formula. Indeed, that's nowhere in the NT. 

ii) Once again, even if, for argument's sake, we grant the real presence, he seems to be assuming that if you attend a church where the clergy and laity don't believe in the real presence, then the communion elements are never anything more than bread and wine. But why would the real presence be contingent on what the celebrant or communicant believes? Why wouldn't that simply depend on the will of God to instantiate the body and blood of Christ? Is belief in the real presence what instantiates the body and blood of Christ? Does a communicant who believes in the real presence receive the body and blood of Christ while the communicant right next to him, who doesn't believe in the real presence, fails to receive the body and blood of Christ, even if they're sipping from the same chalice or consuming pieces of the same loaf? 

The main text from the New Testament I will be using to prove the above is from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, as well as the motif of Christ as Priest according to the order of Melchizedek (τξιν Μελχισδεκ).

Paul knows that both the Lord’s Supper celebration and the sacrifices of the Levitical Priesthood involve the consumption of the flesh of a victim of sacrifice which is offered to God, and consequently, from that consumption, a certain “communion” is effected. In other words, Paul is searching for a parallel to the pagan practice of eating meats which are used in sacrifice to idols in order to show that such practice is not harmless, and actually effects a real communion with the deity or the demonic. Two parallels come to his mind: (1) the Lord’s Supper and (2) the Levitical sacrifices. In both of these instances, a certain “communion” is achieved by the eating of the edible portion of the meat or flesh and blood of the victim.

i) Not all the Levitical offerings were consumed. Of course, since the Eucharist is a cultic meal, it's natural to draw parallels with other cultic meals. 

ii) Eating cultic meals in honor of a pagan deity wasn't equivalent to ingesting the deity. So there's no parallel to the real presence or transubstantiation. 

iii) Paul is walking a fine line. On the one hand he admits that food sacrificed to idols isn't spiritually contaminated (8:1-6; 10:19,23-31). But it is idolatrous to go into a pagan temple and eat sacrificial food as part of a heathen ceremony. In one case, the association is incidental. In another case, the whole setting is designed to honor a pagan god. Since the Corinthian Christians were generally former pagans, there's a genuine danger of syncretism. There's a basic difference between eating meat that happened to be sacrificed to idols, and eating cultic meals in a pagan temple. 

I think this is even more proven when we expand the context to the level of Canon, and tie in the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is a priest “in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 5:6). As you probably know, the significance of Melchizedek is that he was a true Priest of God in the Old Testament, and yet he had no genealogy, as opposed to everyone else. Nor does Moses record a death of Melchizedek. We can speculate on whether he was a manifestation of the pre-Incarnate Christ (as some biblical interpreters have), but the idea is that the Melchizedekian order is a priesthood suited for eternal Priests, since it has no beginning, but more importantly, no end. Now, what did Melchizedek offer to God in his priesthood? Are we not told bread and wine (Gen 14:18)? Our Lord, therefore, acting out his Priestly order in the Last Supper took bread and wine, and broke it saying “This is My body“, and the chalice saying “This is My Blood“. In other words, the Supper of the Lord was Christ installed as the Melchizedekian Priest offering bread and wine, but since we know that Christ Himself is the High Priest and the Victim, he changes bread and wine into His body and blood, and he gives it to the disciples, and they, as Paul says, are effected with a “communion” with the Savior’s body and blood, much like the Levites who eat the meat sacrificed to God are effected with a “communion” with the altar, and much like the pagans who eat the meat sacrificed to demons are effected with a “communion” with the demonic. This is particularly compelling because Melchizedek was a true Priest, and no Priest is a Priest without something to sacrifice to God. The author of the Hebrews is keen on this: “For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins” (5:1). So this means that Melchizedek’s “gift” or “sacrifice” was bread and wine. Well, if that is the gift/sacrifice which is offered to God in the Melchidezekian-order, and if Christ is installed as a “priest forever” in that very order, then Christ’s gift/sacrifice must be also bread and wine. 

i) Erick is combining things that Scripture doesn't combine. In his priestly role in Hebrews, Christ doesn't offer himself in the eucharist. Rather, he offers himself on the cross. His redemptive death is the offering (e.g. Heb 7:27; 9:12,14; 10:10,12) . The Last Supper and Lord's Supper don't figure in Hebrews. 

ii) There's nothing in Hebrews about Jesus in his priestly role changing the communion elements into his body and blood. 

But, wait! Isn’t the sacrifice of Christ’s priesthood His own body, as Holy Writ explicitly declares? Indeed, and I would argue that the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is the only way to reconcile the fact that Christ’s priestly order, which is Melchizedekian, and thus can only offer what Melchidezek offered (Bread/Wine) with the fact that Christ’s sacrifice is truly and substantially his own body and blood, since Transubstantiation identifies the two in substance (i.e. the bread/wine become the body/blood).

That's circular. Whether the real presence is true is the very issue in dispute. That's what Erick is attempting to demonstrate. So he can't very well take that as a given, and use that presumptive datum to prove that Christ's sacrificial action in Hebrews is really offering himself in the eucharist rather than offering himself on the cross. 

Some interpreters of Paul have attempted to tone this all down to either symbolic or spiritual significance. In other words, sure, Christ is the Melchidezekian priest...

It's highly unlikely that Paul wrote Hebrews. Therefore, you can't use Hebrews to interpret 1 Corinthians. 

then Christ really doesn’t act like a Melchidezekian priest, since bread and wine are not truly offered to God.

The author of Hebrews doesn't draw a parallel between Melchizedek and Jesus with respect to bread and wine. Erick is ignoring how the author actually appropriates the comparison with Melchizedek. In Hebrews, the function of Melchizedek is threefold: 

i) Provides a foundation and justification of how Jesus can assume a priestly role even though he lacks Aaronic or Levitical ancestry. 

ii) Shows how the priesthood of Jesus is superior to the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood.

iii) Unites kingship and priesthood in one person (since Melchizedek was both).

Cf. P. T. O'Brien, God has Spoken in his Son (IVP 2016), 70-75.  

The Chalice holding the wine is the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. 

Metaphors say X is Y, which means that X stands for Y (e.g. "all flesh is grass," Isa 40:6; "I am the door," Jn 10:9). Eric needs to bone up on semiotics. 

When the Old Covenant was ratified under Moses, the text of Exodus read as follows:

“And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.” (Ex 24:8)

This was a real sacrifice which took place. We read: “Then Moses sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar” (vv 5-6). 

Naturally animals sacrifices are real sacrifices. But there's nothing sacrificial about bread and wine. And sacrificial offerings don't symbolize God. So there's no parallel to the real presence or transubstantiation. 

Thus, in each celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we have the renewal of the New Covenant ratification in Christ’s blood, which is nothing less than a renewal of the sacrifice itself with all that it is and means for us.

No, it's a symbolic memorial to the crucifixion. 

for even Roman Catholics admit that the communion is Spiritual, and not carnal. For example, Catholics do not believe that we are taking small bites out of the actual composition of Christ’s anatomical body structure as it sits at the right-hand of God. God forbid! If someone were to have attacked Jesus in his earthly ministry and eaten His body and drank His blood, they would have gravely sinned. So the Catholic Mass is very spiritual in the sense that what happens is a spiritual miracle, but which communicates the substance of Christ’s body and blood in a sacramental way. 

That's ad hoc. That's a distinction Catholics can't derive from their prooftexts. They have an interpretation that's not consistently literal or figurative. 

Furthermore, if we keep reading in the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians, St. Paul has some strong words for those who partake of the consecrated Bread and Wine in a state of unworthiness. He says: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or () drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily shall be guilty of the the body and blood of the Lord” (v 27). The word for “guilty” in the Greek is νοχος which means that “one is held liable unto”. Thus, one is held liable for the body and blood of Christ. Such language could not be fathomed unless the celebration of the Supper involves the giving over of Christ unto sacrificial death, albeit in a bloodless manner.

1. Paul uses the "body" of Christ in three different senses: 

i) Literally, as the physical body of Christ

ii) Figurative, as a metaphor for the church (e.g. 10:17; 12:27).

iii) Figuratively, as a metaphor for the eucharistic bread.

Paul alternates. The operative meaning is context-dependent. 

2. Some Corinthians, by abusing fellow believers at the agape meal, were profaning those for whom Christ died. The "body and blood" of Christ represent his violent death. 

There are detailed exegetical arguments for everything I said about 1 Cor 10 in standard commentaries by Fee (2nd ed.), Fitzmyer, Ciampa/Rosner, and Thiselton (making allowance for the fact that commentators don't always see eye-to-eye). Likewise, O'Brien's monograph on the theology of Hebrews (see above). 


  1. Steve, I've never heard of this Eric Ybarra guy before. Do you know if his writings are his own private interpretation, or a reiteration of magisterial teaching? I don't see an imprimatur anywhere on his website.

    Thanks for your analysis. Very well done, as usual.

    1. Like Catholic apologists generally, he's a one-man magisterium. Do-it-yourself-pope.

    2. Corey -- Erick Ybarra is a sophist for Rome.

  2. Unrelated Steve, but do you know of good resources opposing the narrative of white male privilege, intersectionality, etc.?

    1. PragerU and Ben Shapiro probably have some good YouTube presentations.

    2. I think I just found one. Thomas Sowell came out with a book earlier this year apparently (I thought he retired) called Discrimination and Disparities.


  3. "Unlikely Paul wrote Hebrews" That is a big call.

    Btw, i turned your post on the hard parables and Mary and Martha into a sermon. The church enjoyed it. I told the church i got it from here.

  4. Steve,

    Thanks for your post. Here is my response

  5. "All who partake of Christ in a saving manner are “members of His body” (1 Cor 12), and thus in the Church"

    "the early Church Fathers understood “the holy Church” as one visible hierarchical society"

    These can’t be held together now that atheists and everyone else not in the visible hierarchical society can supposedly savingly partake of Christ.

  6. Anthony Palazzo,

    That's not Catholic theology. That is alien to our doctrine.

    1. Thanks, but I don’t think your position is coming across clearly. It seems like you’ve affirmed 3 incompatible things:

      1. Everyone saved is in the Church
      2. The Church is one visible hierarchical society
      3. Some outside this visible hierarchical society can be saved

      People seem to either deny 3 (Feeneyism, rarely) or more commonly back off from statement 2, as you can’t have invisible membership in a society that is essentially visible. Maybe clearing this up would illumine the exchange you’ve had with Steve on ecclesiology.

  7. @Erick

    Do you mean that what Anthony Palazzo said about the Roman Catholic Church in regards to atheists and non Roman Catholics receiving Salvation? If it's foreign to "Catholic theology" I would make the claim that it's foreign to YOUR version of Roman Catholic theology. Atheists can go to Heaven according to Cardinal George Pell in his debate against Richard Dawkins on October 4 2012. He is higher up in the Roman Catholic Church then you are erick. Why should I take your word over the Cardinal's as to what Roman Catholic theology is?

  8. Hello Everyone,

    My apologies for butting in kind of late, but I thought that this article may perhaps also be useful here: