Tensions Between Reformed-Lutheran Sacramentology and the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass

Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

In the debate over Anglican Orders, which I have discussed here and here, in order to understand the language present in the ordinal, one has to look at the theological background for the terminology in the form. One of which is being “a faithful dispenser of the word of god, and of his holy Sacraments”. As I have written in my post on proper form, these words not only failed to signify offering the sacrifice of the Mass, but could not because they were intended to exclude such a thing. Here I will endeavor to explain what the Catholic conception of the eucharistic sacrifice is, how Protestants (including Cranmer) rejected it, and what is required for a true propitiatory sacrifice.

What is a Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass?

The sacrifice is the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice. It is well defined by the Old Catholic Encyclopedia and requires 4 things to be a sacrifice in the truest sense.

a sacrificial gift (res oblata),

a sacrificing minister (minister legitimus),

a sacrificial action (actio sacrificica), and

a sacrificial end or object (finis sacrificii)…

Sacrifice is the external oblation to God by an authorized minister of a sense-perceptible object, either through its destruction or at least through its real transformation, in acknowledgement of God’s supreme dominion and of the appeasing of His wrath [1]

To break it down, in the Roman Catholic Church we teach that the priest is the sacrificing minister. The Body and the Blood of Christ are the sacrificial gifts. The forgiveness of venial sins of both the living and the dead are the sacrificial end to which the offer is made.

In terms of the sacrificial action, one way of accounting for it is that it happens (at least) when the priest consecrates both species, which is the splitting of Christ’s blood at the passion. All of these actions happen ubicatio et quandocatio [at same time and place] during the passion itself which is objectively present in both the cross, and on the altar. Essentially not only is the Body and Blood of Christ present in the accidents of the bread and wine, but so is the entirety of his passion (which his body is undergone and undergoing) present. This also straddles the line between the Protestant accusation that this is another re-sacrifice rather than a re-presentation, and yet it does not deny the propitiatory nature of the sacrifice. Nor does it deny that the Mass is a sacrifice unto itself.

When the priest enjoins himself with Christ (who remains the principle priest) in making the sacrificial act at Cavalry, he can be no more said to be making a different or new sacrifice. Rather it’s the same sacrifice in a new mode. The end of which is still the remission of sins, but its application in the Mass is for alleviation from the temporary punishments for venial sins, benefitting the living and the dead.

Alfred C. Rush provides an overview of Catholic positions, and I was shocked to find out that a Catholic priest beat me to my own position.

[Odo] Casel teaches that the sacrifice of the Mass is an actual and present renovation of the selfsame sacrifice of the Cross, acquiring, under the sacramental symbol, a new “ubicatio et quandocatio.” At the Last Supper Christ did not tell the Apostles to offer, but to remember, therefore the Eucharist is essentially a remembrance of the passion. Such remembrance, however, is not subjective, i.e., a pure act of recalling to memory, but objective, i.e., an action reproducing, in this present time and space, the past reality. Thus the Mass is a mystical, but real, transposition of the sacrifice of the Cross, or this same sacrifice acquiring a new place and a new time [2].

There are some philosophical issues about how the sacrifice can be at one time past and present, and Rush points to some contrivances in Casel’s theories, such as the impossibility of one succession both co-existing with another when it had previously went into non-existence. However, the premise that time is successive with the past going into non-existence is one which not all philosophers of time agree with, but even granting this were the case, we can agree that this is indeed a mystery, but one which God could reconcile as time is not something which we have yet fully grasped, and not something we created [3]. Regardless, he sees nothing objectionable theologically.

This theory belongs to a set of theses called relative sacrificial theories of the Mass. These theories hold that there is no district sacrificial act during the Mass, other than the double consecration of wine and bread, and is not a sacrifice in and of itself [4]’. These suffice to signify a sacrificial act has taken place, not as a new action, but as one where the victim is immolated as he was on the cross. One issue brought up in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia article is as follows,

This view soon found a keen critic in Cardinal de Lugo, who, appealing to the Tridentine definition of the Mass as a true and proper sacrifice, upbraided Vasquez for reducing the Mass to a purely relative sacrifice. Were Jephta to arise again today with his daughter from the grave, he argues … and present before our eyes a living dramatic reproduction of the slaying of his daughter after the fashion of a tragedy, we would undoubtedly see before us not a true sacrifice, but a historic or dramatic representation of the former bloody sacrifice [5].

While the same victim is present, this is either a new sacrifice, or a signification or dramatic reenactment to signify the last, neither of which can be said to be a real sacrifice. The objection here is answered rather succinctly on Casel’s view, Jephta’s sacrifice isn’t ubicatio et quandocatio with the remembrance of it.

The reason de Lugo’s objection is so powerful is because the sacrificial object is no longer achieving “union with Him; and to this idea there is added, on the part of those who are in sin, the desire for pardon and reconciliation [6]”. Rather, he is just signifying what he did already. While he could do both, he would just be offering up his daughter anew (hence it would be a re-sacrifice in addition) in addition to the act of memorial. However, if they shared a ubicatio et quandocatio Jephta’s original sacrifice would just be taking on a new mode of existence (being extended into a secondary time and location).

This fulfils all the criteria required by the Council of Trent as enumerated by Rush.

The Council of Trent in its 22nd session declared the Mass to be:

1. “a true and proper sacrifice” (can. 1);

2. “a sacrifice by which the bloody sacrifice of the Cross is represented and its efficacy applied” (chap. 1);

3. “an unbloody immolation” (chap. 2) “under visible signs,” i.e., “under the species of bread and wine” (chap. 1);

4. a sacrificial oblation “different only in the manner [i.e. mode] of offering” from the oblation of the Cross (chap. 2) [7]

Protestants have attacked the notion of the sacrifice of the Mass based on two objections which have been addressed above,

The Protestants based their denial of the existence of a true and proper sacrifice in the Mass, on two reasons: the oneness of the sacrifice of the New Law and the absence of any new immolation or destruction of Christ in the Mass [8]

It is these objections to keep in mind when we look at Lutheran and Calvinist objections.

The Church Father on the Mass

The following are just some quotes from the Church Fathers on the sacrifice of the Mass. The first is from Saint Epiphanius who condemns Aeirus for, among other things, denying not even the sacrifice of the Mass, but just for denying any offerings for the dead.

Aeirus…taught many doctrines contrary to those of the church and was a complete Arian in faith but carried it further. He says we must not make offerings for those who have fallen asleep before us, and forbids fasting on Wednesday and Friday, and in Lent and Paschal time. He preaches renunciation but eats all sorts of meat and delicacies without hesitation. But he says that if one of his followers should wish to fast, this should not be on set days but when he wants to, “for you are not under the Law.” He says that a bishop is no different from a presbyter [9]

Saint Cyril writes in his Catechetical lectures the following, verifying the propitiatory nature of the mass and describes the sacrificial nature of the Mass in full detail.

7. Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

8. Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice [10]

Furthermore, we turn to the Sacramentary of Serapion of Thmuis. There we read the Recital of the words of institution,

Lord of Hosts, fill also this sacrifice with thy power and thy participation: for to thee have we offered this living sacrifice (Rom. xii. i), this bloodless oblation (cp. Eph. v. 2). [11]

Furthermore, we read that it is sacrificed for the living and the dead

and make all who communicate to receive a medicine of life for the healing of every sickness and for the strengthening of all advancement and virtue, not for condemnation…Let this people receive mercy, let it be counted worthy of advancement, let angels be sent forth as companions to the people for bringing to naught of the evil one and for establishment of the Church….Sanctify these souls : for thou knowest all. Sanctify all (souls) laid to rest in the Lord [12]

Let this suffice as evidential that the Mass was sacrificial, that it was done for the forgiveness of sins for the living and the dead, that it was offered by a priest to God and as an oblation.

Cranmer’s views on the Real Presence.

My own view of Cranmer is that he comes across as a receptionist, following Heinrich Bullinger. He can be called a Zwinglian in this sense, not as a memorialist, but as someone who believed in the spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament. I sense this is why he was called a Zwinglian, because Bullinger was Zwingli’s successor.

According to Cranmer,

The Papists say, that evil and ungodly men receive in this sacrament the very body and blood of Christ, and eat and drink the self-same thing that the good and godly men do. But the truth of God’s word is contrary, that all those that be godly members of Christ, as they corporally eat the bread and drink the wine, so spiritually they eat and drink Christ’s very flesh and blood ; and as for the wicked members of the devil, they eat the sacramental bread, and drink the sacramental wine, but they do not spiritually eat Christ’s flesh, nor drink his blood, but they eat and drink their own damnation [13]

This is receptionism in no unclear terms. In the Catholic Church, we also don’t believe that those with moral sin gain any spiritual benefits from eating the Eucharist, and Cranmer knows this. It is not the spiritual benefits, he claims, the wicked do not partake of, but the spiritual presence.

Receptionism makes the notion that the Mass was done was a means of providing a real sacrifice an absurdity. Any sacrifice needs to have a real victim offered at the altar (the Lord’s table), and suffice to say if he is received in the mouth through faith, it makes his presence contingent not on the minister, but the recipient.

There can, on this view, be neither a sacrificial object nor a sacrificial action since a spiritual presence is only there when the believer partakes. If the minister and the congregation (let’s say there is just one person in attendance) are both unbeknownst unbelievers, then the Mass is non-existent, meaning that there isn’t even a ministerial priest who has any power to do anything through his ordination.

Even if we were charitable and said Christ was present spiritually regardless of one’s faith, then there is no sacrificial action. A “spirit” is intangible, hence there can be no way to act onto the spirit and cause a transformative effect, unlike the body and blood of our savior which is separated at the moment of consecration of the two elements.

While we might be gracious in admitting that Cramer’s views were not pushed on the English, that is he was not bent on the positive intent of enforcing them, I would agree, and I am not making that claim. What I am claiming is that no one who holds these opinions could have intended on the Book of Common prayer determinative of a propitiatory sacrifice.

If not a propitiatory sacrifice, then what kind of sacrifice did he intend on? He again makes this claim in the same work,

One kind of sacrifice there is, which is called a propitiatory or merciful sacrifice, that is to say, such a sacrifice as pacifieth God’s wrath and in dignation, and obtaineth mercy and forgiveness for all our sins, and is the ransom for our redemption from everlasting damnation. And although in the Old Testament there were certain sacrifices called by that name, yet in very deed there is but one such sacrifice where by our sins be pardoned, and God’s mercy and favour obtained, which is the death of the Son of God our Lord Jesu Christ ; nor never was any other sacrifice propitiatory at any time, nor ever shall be.

This is the honour and glory of this our High Priest, wherein he admitteth neither partner nor successor. For by his one oblation he satisfied his Father for all men’s sins, and reconciled mankind unto his grace and favour. And who soever deprive him of this honour, and go about to take it to themselves, they be very Anti christs and most arrogant blasphemers against God, and against his Son Jesus Christ whom He hath sent. Another kind of sacrifice there is, which doth not reconcile us to God, but is made of them that be reconciled by Christ, to testify our duties unto God, and to shew ourselves thankful unto him ; and therefore they be called sacrifices of laud, praise, and thanksgiving.

The first kind of sacrifice Christ offered to God for us ; the second kind we ourselves offer to God by Christ. And by the first kind of sacrifice Christ offer ed also us unto his Father ; and by the second we offer ourselves, and all that we have, unto him and his Father [14]

Not only are propitiatory sacrifices not done, they are to be rejected, and instead it is by offering Christ, in our presence, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving by participating in the supper that we gain forgiveness of sin, not the by offering him up as a sacrifice.

Granting a Lutheran Reading

Let’s assume for the sake of argument Cranmer was a Lutheran, or at least allowed for a Lutheran to come to his service with the belief that Christ was in sacramental union and was objectively present in the sacrament. I think this is doubtful, at this time in the 42-articles, he said,

Forasmuch as the truth of Man’s nature requireth, that the body of one, and the self same man cannot be at one time in diverse places, but must needs be in some one certain place: Therefore the body of Christ cannot be present at one time in many, and diverse places. And because (as Holy Scripture doth teach) Christ was taken up into heaven, and there shall continue unto the end of the world, a faithful man ought not, either to believe, or openly to confess the real, and bodily presence (as they term it) of Christ’s flesh and blood, in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper [15]

This would exclude the Lutheran notion of the real presence since Christ would need to be in two places at once. Notwithstanding, this was reformulated later on, so I won’t push this in isolation to Anglicans down the line. In either case of a Reformed or Lutheran view, merely having the presence in Christ is not the same as offering him up as a sacrifice through the Mass.

The victim is not equivalent to the passion itself. Secondly, if we recall the thought experiment with Jeptha, a reenactment of the passion is not the same thing as the passion itself since it is not a thing done in itself for the forgiveness of sins (at least we run into the same Hebrews 10 objection). This is an issue some Catholic accounts have difficulty dealing with, but in that case, they would be inconsistent with Trent, whereas the reformers would have been likely to agree it was inconsistent and deny that is what they were doing or intended on in the first place.

Lutherans themselves disputed any claim to a representation of the passion for the forgiveness of sins, here we have Philip Melanchthon explaining the difference,

But Abraham did not sacrifice his son with the opinion that this work was a price and propitiatory work for the sake of which he was accounted righteous. Thus in the Church the Lord’s Supper was instituted that by remembrance of the promises of Christ, of which we are admonished in this sign, faith might be strengthened in us, and we might publicly confess our faith, and proclaim the benefits of Christ, as Paul says, 1 Cor. 11, 26: As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death, etc. But our adversaries contend that the mass is a work that justifies us ex opere operato, and removes the guilt and liability to punishment in those for whom it is celebrated, for thus writes Gabriel [16]

In short, for the Lutheran, the Mass forgives sins by pushing the believer in strengthening one’s faith, not ex opere operato (from the work performed). For the Catholic, the Mass is offered up to God, forgives the sins of the living and the dead, and frees the faithful from temporal punishments caused by venial sins. Hence, under Lutheran theology, there is no sacrificial end, but rather, a remembrance done to move one to admonish us towards faith.

For when the Gospel is heard and the absolution [i.e., the promise of divine grace] is heard, the conscience is encouraged and receives consolation. And because God truly quickens through the Word, the keys truly remit sins before God [here on earth sins are truly canceled in such a manner that they are canceled also before God in heaven] according to Luke 10,10: He that heareth you heareth Me Wherefore the voice of the one absolving must be believed not otherwise than we would believe a voice from heaven. And absolution [that blessed word of comfort] properly can be called a sacrament of repentance, as also the more learned scholastic theologians speak. Meanwhile this faith is nourished in a manifold way in temptations, through the declarations of the Gospel [the hearing of sermons, reading] and the use of the Sacraments.

For these are [seals and] signs of [the covenant and grace in] the New Testament, i.e., signs of [propitiation and] the remission of sins. They offer, therefore, the remission of sins, as the words of the Lord’s Supper clearly testify, Matt. 26, 26. 28: This is My body, which is given for you. This is the cup of the New Testament, etc. Thus faith is conceived and strengthened through absolution, through the hearing of the Gospel, through the use of the Sacraments, so that it may not succumb while it struggles with the terrors of sin and death. This method of repentance is plain and clear, and increases the worth of the power of the keys and of the Sacraments, and illumines the benefit of Christ, and teaches us to avail ourselves of Christ as Mediator and Propitiator [17]

Not much more needs to be stated, even the Lutheran conception is still saying that they are not performing a true sacrifice, but merely offering up the sign that one’s sins have been through the cross, actually forgiven. While the sign of our savior’s body is objectively there, it is a sign of a sacrifice that already happened.

For the Catholic, because the sacrament propitiates our sin, our faith is strengthened. For the Lutheran, because the sacrament first admonishes us to faith, it causes us to grow in that faith and then leads us back to the sole propitiatory sacrifice on the cross by which all our sins are forgiven. To use an analogy, Catholics see the Mass as a secondary way of applying your medication to keep you healthy, Lutherans see it as a supplement to your justifying faith.

The Anglican Ordinal, the Sacrifice of the Mass and Cranmer’s Moral Objection.

Cranmer shows how it was not just a matter of Catholics believing that the sacrifice was a whole new offering, he rejected the actual Catholic (or Papist) claim that the sacrifice on the cross was the selfsame propitiation. He writes,

For the Papists, to excuse themselves do say, that they make no new sacrifice, nor none other sacrifice than Christ made ; for they be not so blind, but they see that then they should add another sacrifice to Christ’s sacrifice, and so make his sacrifice imperfect ; but they say, that they make the self-same sacrifice for sin that Christ himself made. And here they run headlong into the foulest ‘ and most heinous error that ever was imagined. For if they make every day the same oblation and sacrifice for sin that Christ himself made, and the oblation that he made was his death, and the effusion of his most precious blood upon the cross, for our redemption and price of our sins: then followeth it of necessity, that they every day slay Christ and shed his blood ; and so be they worse than the wicked Jews and Pharisees, which slew him, and shed his blood but once [18]

Cranmer, and note this is a defense he runs into before Trent was over, accepts that Catholics do make a defense of their faith similar to what I have made. His response there is not to double down, but it is to resort to a moral objection. This moral objection is actually addressed in part by Saint Thomas Aquinas when he raised the objection of how in the Mass there are two victims (the priest and Christ), but on the Cavalry they were one and the same. He answers.

the priest also bears Christ’s image, in Whose person and by Whose power he pronounces the words of consecration, as is evident from what was said above (III:82:3). And so, in a measure, the priest and victim are one and the same [19]

To apply it to Cranmer’s objection, since Christ sacrifices himself by giving himself up to his enemies on the cross for his Church, the minister (by participating in Christ’s priesthood in persona Christi) likewise enjoins Christ (who bequeathed the minister his image) in giving him up. The difference is only in the mode, during the consecration, Christ takes up the likeness and vulnerability of food so our own sins may be propitiated in the Mass, and through the act of double consecration which is done in memorial.

Whereas Christ’s enemies (enjoined by those who eat of the sacrament to their condemnation) assault the body, the priest and Christ give up the precious Body and Blood. The priest does not attack Christ (nor do the worthy) in his act of immolation, they merely represent him and make him vulnerable in some new mode, as Christ himself knew and intended.

This way of thinking is foreign to Cranmer and his objection shows he does not think of the sacrifice of the Mass as we do, nor could he admit as much. This brings us back to the issue with the Anglican ordinal. In my last post, going over what it meant at the time of the early Protestant Reformation and the English reformation, to be “a faithful dispenser of the word of god, and of his holy Sacraments”, those terms in context of a follower of Cranmer, Luther, or Calvin, do not have any sacrificial context; as a Catholic would understand it.

Even to “dispense” the sacrament is more akin to the work of an extraordinary minister or deacon, they do not consecrate but instead are tasked to dispense it on someone else’s behalf. They did not mean it in the Catholic context, there was no way for a Calvinist to immolate a spirit, or a Lutheran to offer sacrifice for the forgiveness without appeal to faith first being admonished, or to a follower of Cranmer — who was made the presence of Christ contingent on faith and not the consecration (let alone the dispensation) of the priest — to bring it forth by the minister’s priestly power. To affirm this ordinal would not just be to ignore the contrary intentions of the Reformers, but to affirm they are indeed compatible with our faith.


[1] Joseph Pohle, “Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, Link

[2] Alfred C. Rush, On the Essence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 66

[3] ibid, p.67

[4] ibid, p. 65

[5] Joseph Pohle, “Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, Link

[6] ibid

[7] Alfred C. Rush, On the Essence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, p. 58–59

[8] ibid, 58

[9] Saint Epiphanius, The Panarion, Book II and III, de Fide, 411-412

[10] Saint Cyril, Catechetical Lecture 23, Translated by Edwin Hamilton Gifford. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 7. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1894.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Link.

[11] Bishop Sarapion’s prayer-book: an Egyptian pontifical dated probably about A.D. 350–356. p. 62. Link.

[12] ibid, p.63

[13] Thomas Cranmer, A Defense of the True Catholic Faith, p. 41

[14]ibid, p. 232–233

[15] Martin Davie, Our Inheritance of Faith: A Commentary on the Thirty Nine Articles, p.497

[16] Philip Melanchthon, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Part 7 Reply to the Arguments of the Adversaries. Link

[17] ibid, Part 15, Article XII (V): Of Repentance. Link

[18] Thomas Cranmer, A Defense of the True Catholic Faith, p. 238–239

[19] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Third Part, Article 1, Question 83, Reply to Objection 3, Link



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John Fisher 2.0

John Fisher 2.0

Catholic blogger, my views are not necessarily reflective of the Church’s. Please post corrections to help me avoid heresy.