Hebrews 8–10. How the Sacrifice of Christ Came to Be Offered Repeatedly Through the Mass.

Key Notes: History of the Eucharist. Church service in the first century. Incorporation of OT priesthood into the Church. Adoption of imperial functions and titles in the Church. Luther and Zwingli's revised ideas of the Eucharist. The impact of infallibility.

The Eucharist controversy comes up here because of what Hebrews says about Christ's sacrifice: He died once for all. However, the Early Church, grounded as it was in the Old Testament, could not break away from memorializing the Sacrifice and sacralizing the weekly service. Jesus had said "...the hour is coming and now is when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father." "...the true worshiper will worship the Father in spirit and in truth...." "God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (Jn.4:l21–24) But the Church went ahead and adapted the Old Testament priesthood without a full understanding of the implications.

The first word is that no more sacrifice can be done.

"He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people; He did this once for all when He offered up Himself." (7:27)
"He entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (9:12)
"Christ having been offered once for all tobear the sins of many will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him." (9:28)
"And by that will we have been sanctified though the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (10:10)
"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until His enemies should be made a stool for His feet." (10:12–13) ""By a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." (10:14)

But the The Sacrifice of the Mass takes its inspiration from some of Jesus' last words to his disciples.
"Take, eat; this is My body...." (Matt. 26:26)
"This is My blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matt.26:28)
"I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh." (Jn.6:51)
{Note that these texts precede Christ's celebration of the Last Supper and are independent of it.}

Coincidentally, Paul said "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you...." (I Cor.11:23). This verse contains the concept of tradition--handing on what the apostles received. In time, tradition became as important as Scripture, and could be found in conflict with it. The argument was that the Church defined what Scripture was, and therefore it had authority equal to Scripture.

In the early church, the communion service was a simple shared meal as Paul describes in I Cor.11:17-.

Justin Martyr (150AD) described the order of worship in the second century: reading from the Prophets, Gospel and Epistles, a sermon and prayers of intercession. This was followed by the kiss of peace, and offering of gifts. It concluded with bringing of the bread and wine, a thanksgiving prayer...the amen of the people and the distribution of bread and wine. Justin Martyr also said "The food which is blessed by the prayer of His Word and by which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus which was made flesh." {International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE). Eerdman's,’79; "Lord's Supper." p. 166.}

The early church had presbyters / bishops, pastors, elders and deacons, but no priests. The Jewish priests were still carrying on their duties until 70AD and there was no interest in imitating them. But "by the middle of the third century the Christian ministry has come to be widely understood in terms of the levitical priesthood of the old covenant. Cyprian "treats all the passages of the Old Testament which refer to the privileges, the sanctions, the duties and the responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood, as applying to the officers of the Christian Church." {A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews. P.E.Hughes; Eerdmans,1977; p. 263.}

In OT,  priest is "kohen" in Hebrew. The NT English word "priest" is derived from Greek."presbys", meaning "elder". That is, there is no priest for the Church in the New Testament except in the sense that we are kingdom of priests.
I Pet.2:9–10.

As the Roman Empire faded, the Church took up many of its functions and became increasingly associated with the State. The Emperor, as the chief priest of the Roman pagan cults acknowledged by the State, was called Pontifex Maximus (literally the supreme bridge-maker; the High Priest; the mediator). Christian emperors after Constantine acquired this name. They declared what the councils determined as soundly Christian and enforced the decrees. As centuries passed, the bishops became more powerful, and the bishop of Rome by 500AD was acknowledged as head of the Church, and eventually was called "Pontiff" (from pontifex maximus—supreme bridge-maker). Later the pope would claim absolute authority.

Cyprian (250 AD) spoke for the exclusiveness of the Catholic Church: "You cannot have God for your father unless you have the church for your mother." {Historical Theology. G W Bromiley; Eerdmans,1977; p 56.}
 He was responding to the problem of divisions in the church and insisted that there was only one church. He developed the idea of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Chrysostome (400AD) gives us the fourth century view that the Eucharist is partaking of Christ spiritually, not physically. {Bromiley, op.cit. p 101}.
Augustine (400 AD) also said "believe and thou hast eaten". {Int'l. Stand. Bibl. Encyclopedia. (ISBE). G.W.Bromiley et al, Edit.; Eerdman's;’79, "Lord's supper", p. 166.}
But Ambrose (350 AD) suggested that the bread and wine were transformed into the body and blood of Christ. This transformation made possible the union of the believer with Christ.

Radbertus (800AD), an Irish monk, is credited with the first theological treatise identifying the bread with the actual body of the Lord, affirming that the real presence of Christ takes place by a transformation of the bread and wine.

"Radbertus, influenced by the hankering for the mysterious and supernatural which characterized his time, taught that a miracle takes place at the words of institution in the Supper. The elements are changed into the actual body and blood of Christ." {Dictionary of Theology. W.A.Elwell; Baker,’84; p.653.}

Gottschalk, another monk, "indignantly rejected the suggestion of Radbert that the Christ on the altar suffers anew and dies anew". (A History of Christianity. K S Latourette; Harpers,’53; p.361).

But Radbertus was supported and in 1215AD the Fourth Lateran Council asserted that
{The body and blood of Christ} "are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine, the bread being transubstantiated into the body and the wine into the blood by divine power, so that for the accomplishment of the mystery of unity we ourselves receive from his (life) what he himself received from ours (our devotion)." (ISBE. Lord's Supper;  p.167)
"Only the rightly ordained priest can perform this sacrament." (A Short History of Christianity. M E Marty; Meridian,’71; p.169).
Thereafter, the cup was withheld from laymen for fear that a drop of the precious blood might be spilled.

The Council of Trent (1547), part of the counter-Reformation, said "It has always been the belief of the church that immediately after the Consecration the true Body of our Lord as well as His true Blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, His Soul also and His Godhead, are there;" (Truth vs. Dogma. J C McCauley; Moody,’46; p.49)

"It is finished" "...these words do not declare that His sacrifice was finished, but that He had finished His former, normal earthly life and was now fixed in the state of a victim". "When Christ victimized Himself at that Last Supper and on the cross was evidently fixed in that sacrificial state, He then began His everlasting career as the perpetual sacrifice of the New Law." (McCauley, p.29). "He perpetuates His humility in the Blessed Sacrament, and places Himself in the hands of His creatures, and is bid, morning by morning, by their word to be present upon the altar; and is by them lifted up, and carried to and fro, and, in the end, He is received by the worthy and by the unworthy. In this divine manner, He subjects Himself to the jurisdiction of His priests...." (McCauley, op.cit., p. 58 quoting Cardinal Manning).

The Eucharist became a source of grace in itself. In 1547 the Council of Trent said that the sacraments confer grace by the force of the action itself, provided that no obstacle is put in the way. That is, the sacraments give merit and do not depend on the faith of the recipient. Thus baptism can be given to a newborn which cannot act in faith. The action itself saves the child.

The Council of Trent said:
" If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Testament are not necessary to salvation, but are superfluous, and that without them, and without the desire thereof, men attain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification; though all (the sacraments) are not indeed necessary for every individual: let him be anathema".(Systematic Theology. A.H. Strong; Fleming Revell,1979; p. 967).

This view did not change with the proceedings of Vatican II (1963).
"In any community existing around an altar, under the sacred ministry of the bishop, there is manifested a symbol of that charity and 'unity of the mystical Body, without which there can be no salvation. By virtue of Him, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church gathers together. For 'the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does nothing other than transform us into that which we consume.'" (Documents of Vatican II. W.M. Abbott; Guild,’66; p. 50)

"The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before men can come to the liturgy they must be called to faith and to conversion.'" (The Documents of Vatican II, p.142. )

"Thus the Eucharistic Action is the very heartbeat of the congregation of the faithful over which the priest presides. So priests must instruct them to offer to God the Father the divine Victim in the sacrifice of the Mass, and to join to it the offering of their own lives. In the spirit of Christ the Shepherd, priests should train them to submit their sins with a contrite heart to the Church in the sacrament of penance."
(Doc. Vat. II. W.M. Abbott; op.cit. p.542)

The Protestant Reformation (1517) reacted strongly against these excesses. Luther and Calvin held the superiority of Scripture to tradition (sola scriptura). They put the Bible, and the liturgy in national languages into the hands the laity. Luther preached salvation by faith in Christ alone (sola fide), declared the priesthood of all believers, denied the use of indulgences and penances, denied the concept of purgatory, prayer to the saints and reclaiming the lost after death.

But Luther was careful with the Eucharist, repeatedly stressing the word "this is My body". He said the molecules of bread and wine were not changed, but were concurrent with the body and blood of Christ. Consubstantiation was a term used for this concept. Luther used the analogy of an iron bar heated in the fire: it did not cease to be iron but was raised to a higher temperature. (Christian Theology. M. J. Erickson; Baker,’86; p.1117). Luther also refuted the power of the priest to make the change in the bread and wine, saying that it was the power of Christ at work.

Calvin held that Christ is spiritually present in the elements. Zwingli maintained that the elements are only symbols of Christ's body. Zwingli emphasized the Lord's Supper as a commemoration of Christ's death: "This do in remembrance of me." (Lk.22:19)

We note that Jesus used other metaphors other than bread and wine to teach us about himself: I am the door of the sheepfold. I am the vine, you are the branches. I am the way. I am the bread of life. (Erickson, op.cit. p.1119)

It is probably best to make an analogy between the two ordinances, baptism and communion. In baptism, we are buried with Him, and raised with Him to new life. (Rom 6:2–7). We are also washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:22). But neither action is literally done by the baptism. We believe that the baptism symbolizes justification and sanctification which have already taken place and are now being acted out in public.

A wedding is another useful analogy. Two people declare their love for each other in public, making a commitment for life. The commitment was already made by an engagement before the wedding and the wedding makes it official, and because it is public, binding on both parties.

Similarly, in communion we are united with Him in the Passover meal which symbolizes his death. We partake of His life and incorporate His life into ours. But neither idea is literally done by the communion. The communion symbolizes an incorporation which has already taken place and is now acted out in public, with other believers and in memory of what Christ long ago did for us, once for all.

Karl Barth offers a critique:
"The mass in its conception, content and construction is a religious masterpiece. It is the high-water mark in the development of the history of religion and admits of no rival". But then he (Barth) goes on to say that that is just what is wrong with it. "Religion with its masterpieces is one thing, Christian faith is another.'" (Theology of the Sacraments. D M Baillie; Scribners,’57; p. 96).

How could God's people have gotten into such a spiritual tangle? An 11th century church document (Dictatus Papae) said "The Church has never erred and will never err to all eternity." (Marty, op.cit. p.158.)
Troeltsch said "The pope sums up in himself the whole conception of miracle and becomes the central miracle of Christendom; his miraculous power then radiates forth from him again in a precise and regular way through the different degrees of the hierarchy down to the most obscure village cure." (Marty, op. cit. p. 167).

When human beings are believed to be infallible and all-powerful, we can predict the consequences.