On The Eucharist: The Mass is a Sacrifice

Nothing perks up the itching ears of Romophobic Protestants faster than the specter of Eucharistic sacrifice. Calling what happens in Holy Communion a sacrifice is the surest and fastest way to get yourself tarred as a crypto-papist. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the rest repeatedly refer to the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass as an abomination. It represented to them everything that was wrong with the medieval Roman Catholic Church – the abuse of power, the selling of salvation, and especially the removal of Christ and His cross from the center of the Christian faith.

Anglicanism retains the historic Christian teaching that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Our prayer book is bold in its proclamation of this truth. Far from being a teaching that denies the once and for all nature of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, the teaching of Eucharistic sacrifice is centered entirely on Christ’s work of atonement and our reception of His saving grace. As John Bramhall wrote against a Roman interlocutor while in exile in 1653, “You say we have renounced your Sacrifice of the Mass. If the Sacrifice of the Mass be the same with the Sacrifice of the Cross, we attribute more unto it than yourselves; we place our whole hope of salvation in it.”

Eucharistic Sacrifice in the Prayer Book

The Book of Common Prayer makes use of three images of sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist. The first and most important is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross through which He “made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” Through our celebration of the Eucharist, we keep “a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again.” In this sense, the Eucharistic sacrifice does nothing new. It is a memorial that calls to mind what Jesus has already done and finished. But it does more than simply call it to mind. It also allows us to receive the merits of Christ’s sacrifice as we ask the Father to grant that “we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.” As Jeremy Taylor put it, “As it is a Commemoration and Representation of Christ’s death, so it is a Commemorative Sacrifice. As we receive the symbols and the mystery, so it is a Sacrament. In both capacities, the benefit is next to infinite.”

Our Sacrifice Comes From His

While the central act of sacrifice in the Eucharist is the once for all sacrifice of Christ that we receive, the second and third kinds of sacrifice in the Eucharist are about us and what we offer to God. The postcommunion prayer, which made its way into the body of the actual Eucharistic prayer in the Scottish and American prayer books, pleads for God to “accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” In fulfilling the Lord’s command that we celebrate His Supper, we offer Him our praises and our thanksgiving for all that He’s done for us, which is in fact how the Supper becomes truly eucharistic since Eucharist means thanksgiving. Furthermore, we offer God not only our praise and thanks, but also “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto [Him].” It is particularly significant that at this point in the service we refer to our souls and bodies as “holy.” In this prayer’s original placement, this makes sense for us to say since we have just received Christ’s Body and Blood which have made our sinful bodies “clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.”

These other modes of sacrifice are important in that they spring forth from our reception of the primary sacrifice, that of Christ Himself. Our sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, or even of our souls and bodies, are not meant in any way to be propitiatory. We do not offer these things in the hopes that God will save us more than He already has. We count His finished work on the Cross to be perfectly sufficient to save our souls. Nevertheless, because He has redeemed us, we are filled with His grace and love, which makes us want to praise Him and give ourselves completely to Him. We make our sacrifice without hoping to incur favor with Him, but simply out of love for Him, a love which would not be possible for us to have were it not for the Holy Spirit opening us to receive it.

Why We Need a Doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice

All of this may seem like wordplay, but in fact it is essential that we understand the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, because if we do not, we will eventually fail to see the Eucharist as important at all. There are twin errors at work in the way that most of western Christianity has approached the notion of Eucharistic sacrifice for the past five hundred years. For some Catholics (though by no means all), the error has been to make the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ into a repeatable event, thereby asserting that the sacrifice that He made on the cross was insufficient for the forgiveness of all sins for all time. For Protestants, however, the error has been to see in the Supper no sacrifice at all and to lose track thereby of the fact that it is in our receiving of the Eucharist that we truly receive Christ, not just His Body and Blood in some sort of crude sense, but also the healing grace that comes through that Blood. As Bramhall said, the Eucharist is an “applicative sacrifice, an application of His Merits unto our souls.” Failure to see this reality leads inevitably to a sense that the Supper does not really matter. Sure, we receive Christ in the Eucharist, but it’s not like we’re saved by it. Except, we are saved by it. That is the whole point. The blood that spilled on Calvary is the only sacrifice that we need, the only one that saves us, but without stepping into the moment of that sacrifice, we have no way of receiving its grace. The commemorative sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist places us at the foot of the cross. Quite simply, it is what makes the wafer placed in our hands at the Altar Rail not just Christ’s Body but the Bread of Life.

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44 Responses to On The Eucharist: The Mass is a Sacrifice

  1. Father Thorpus says:

    Generally, this is fantastic. I think our Roman friends, however, would take issue with the characterization of the Mass as a sacrifice “anew” for the sake of “appeasing.” Yes, that is often thought, even by Catholics themselves, but the doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass, as best conceived, recognizes each Mass as a new moment of participation in the once-for-all sacrifice rather than a new sacrifice itself. It’s a straw man of the Reformers’ make that Catholics ever did claim (at their best) to make a new sacrifice of Christ. But the Reformers were not known for their rhetorical generosity to their opponents.

    And I have to try to rehabilitate the concept of propitiation. Remember there are two basic kinds of sacrifice: Expiation and Propitiation. Expiation is substitutionary atonement. Propitiation is usually explained with the word “appease” and evokes, for Western Christians, concepts of a God whose majesty is offended and who is full of wrath against sin and who needs to be calmed down. I always think of the old Garfield takes a Vacation TV special where they had to drive the car into the volcano. Of course, this tends to conflict with our concept of the loving Santa Clause God who just wants us to be happy. And the seeker-sensitive God who really doesn’t ask much for Himself and has really already forgiven us if we’d just realize it. What’s at stake here are cultural conceptions more than Christian systematics: in the feudal world of the middle ages, when the majesty of a monarch was a very practical, life or death matter, it made sense to describe propitiation that way. There is value for us in that concept yet, if we would chase it. And when we have a God without wrath against evil, even the evil inside us, we have a pretty poor God and not the biblical one. Both of these aspects of propitiation seem a little archaic but they reward some theologocal digging.

    But the best reason for rehabbing the concept of propitiation is that propitiation is all about relationship. Expiation (subst. Atonement) is forensic, almost legal – someone has to take the penalty, but Jesus does it for us. But Propitiation speaks of restoring a two-way relationship of love between us and God. We could call that “appeasement” but really it’s much more like making amends to a parent after you’ve sneaked out of the house, ‘borrowed’ the Lexus, and wrapped it around a telephone pole. Common sense tells you that relationship will not be restored simply by taking the penalty of being grounded for a year. There’s deeper work that must be done to restore the relationship, much of which includes not just earning enough to pay for the damages but also personal growth and maturity so that an apology can be meaningful. Because the parent doesn’t cease to love, Lexus or no Lexus – but full restoration is all of a piece with repentance and maturity in the offender. All these things are wrapped up in the concept of propitiation. It’s a whole-relationship fixer, a love-restorer – for us, not for God. It creates a clean, clear relationship where good things can flow properly back and forth among the parties. It creates the Love we see modeled in the Holy Trinity – Expiation alone can’t touch that. Is Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane properly described as “appeasement?” No – but propitiation effects that kind of relationship. Perfect love that casts out all fear. Propitiatory sacrifice is the antidote to spiritual dysfunction. It’s a much-needed concept of sacrifice in today’s American church.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:


      I agree whole heartedly with your sentiments about propitiation. You’re quite right to point out that expiation is merely legal, while propitiation effects a change in relationship. It’s the difference between saying, “I am letting you off the hook for doing this terrible thing to me,” and “I trust you and relate to you exactly as if you’d never done this terrible thing to me.”

      In terms of the use of the word “appeasement,” I was simply quoting from the documents of Trent. I realize that modern Roman Catholics make a different kind of argument, but it’s not comparing apples to apples to take the classical Anglican theology and place it next to modern Roman Catholic theology. The description in the current Roman Catechism is much more agreeable with the Anglican understanding, but Trent remains on paper at least to be the teaching of the Roman Church.

  2. BC says:

    Many thanks indeed for this. I think we would all agree that in amidst the bloody tensions of the Reformation era, Reformers and Counter-Reformers were (quite naturally) shouting at each other rather than prayerfully listening. Thus Trent’s statement on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist sounded to Anglican, Lutheran and Reformed ears to detract from the fullness and sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross (hence, of course, the plurals in Article 31: “the sacrifices of masses).

    To Roman ears, however, it ensured that it was indeed the sacrifice of the Cross that was made present in the Church through the eucharistic mystery, rather than being a mere remembrance of a past event. (Is the sacrifice of the eucharist propitiatory? Yes, says Trent, precisely because it is the sacrifice of the Cross made present.)

    Saepius Officio captured something of the Roman concerns in its insistence that Anglicans “truly teach the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice and do not believe it to be a ‘nude commemoration of the Sacrifice of the Cross’ … we plead and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the cross, and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lord’s Passion for all the whole Church”.

    There is also a very strong echo of this in Article 28, when the Eucharist is described in terms beloved of Augustine: “it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death”.

    Against this background, both classical Anglican and traditional Roman concerns are met in the ARCIC I document on the Eucharist, providing Anglicans and Romans with a shared theological grammar to understand the relationship between the sacrifice of the Cross and the eucharistic sacrifice:

    “Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection took place once and for all in history. Christ’s death on the cross, the culmination of his whole life of obedience, was the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. There can be no repetition of or addition to what was then accomplished once for all by Christ … Yet God has given the eucharist to his church as a means through which the atoning work of Christ on the cross is proclaimed and made effective in the life of the church … The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s mighty acts”.

    And that, I think, is what your last paragraph powerfully states. The eucharist makes the sacrifice of the Cross present *now* in the life of the Church and of the believer.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi BC,

      I actually considered quoting from both Apostlicae Curae and Saepius Officio but figured I was going on a bit long already. I think that you’re right that some of the division is simply tripping over language. Certainly, modern Roman Catholic theology has been much more nuanced in how it has described the Eucharistic sacrifice. And from the Anglican end, it is easy to see how the term “commemorative sacrifice” can be mistaken to mean simply a memorial and nothing more.

      Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s fair to blame the whole of our division on this topic on misunderstanding. What Trent says is not just that through the Mass we receive the grace of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice but that in the Mass itself, the priest offers Christ to the Father as a propitiatory sacrifice:

      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. For the Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. The fruits indeed of which oblation, of that bloody one to wit, are received most plentifully through this unbloody one; so far is this (latter) from derogating in any way from that (former oblation). Wherefore, not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those who are departed in Christ, and who are not as yet fully purified, is it rightly offered, agreebly to a tradition of the apostles…

      Certainly there is a hint here of what classical Anglicanism affirms, that what was done on Calvary is accounted to us through the Eucharist (although we would be quick to add “by faith”). Nonetheless, there is an affirmation here of the uniqueness of every Mass to be its own propitiatory sacrifice, offered by the priest and not by Christ Himself. To be sure, the sacrifice offered by the priest would not be possible without the original sacrifice offered by Christ, but this does not actually help to avoid the inherent contradiction. And the implications of this are vast. If each Mass is its own sacrifice, it can be directed to unique purposes and controlled by those who offer it. If, on the other hand, the sacrifice in the Eucharist is not unique to each celebration but a simple participation in the one sacrifice, then there is no directing of it, no taming it. There is only receiving it, by mercy, in faith.

  3. Father Thorpus says:

    I like the idea of the Eucharist as an “untamable” sacrifice. Good word there.

    The word ‘unbloody’ is an interesting one for me. The Orthodox use it, too, or some version thereof. It’s an old connection, appearing in some of the earliest liturgies that are extant. Was this just a way to emphasize that no human being or any other animal need die in this sacrifice? Surely it can’t refer to the Blood of Christ in the Real Presence. That has always kind of confused me.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      “After all, he’s not a tame lion.”

      I’ve not come across the word “unbloody” in Orthodoxy. Do you have an example you could point me towards?

      I generally find the term to be unhelpful for precisely the reason you cite. Obviously, it is bloody. If at each Eucharist we participate in the one sacrifice of Christ, we are effectively being transported to Calvary, to the foot of the Cross, where a very bloody sacrifice is taking place. If, however, each Mass is its own new sacrifice of Christ in some spiritual way, than I suppose it can be unbloody, but that would also negate it being a sacrifice since the key to the whole sacrificial system is blood. An unbloody sacrifice is a bit like a jumbo shrimp or a plastic glass.

      • Felix Alexander says:

        Why does something need to bleed in order for a sacrifice to be sacrificial? I understood the grain offerings and the like of the Old Testament to be sacrifices. Then, if the Eucharist is an unbloody sacrifice, surely it’s giving the Lord back some of his bounty in thanks and praise. (And also communion and a memorial of the Lord’s life and death.)

        I do say, though, that I speak from a position of ignorance and enquiry, not assertion.

        (About me: This week, I’ve been thinking about going to the local Anglican Church (in Australia), because the Baptist church I’ve been going to is too big to have any community, and what actually happens during the “services”—well, it’s quite empty and highly individualistic; I get more from just reading my bible to alleviate the boredom during the “sermon”. So I was just looking about at some Anglican stuff. If what I find at St Matthews is anything like your blog, it’ll be great—but I rather doubt I will!)

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Felix,

        You’re right that grain offering and the like are kinds of sacrifices, just like our praise and thanksgiving and even our offerings of ourselves are kinds of sacrifices. But the sacrifices that cover sin throughout the OT are sacrifices of blood. No blood, no atonement. So I suppose it would be more accurate for me to say that an unbloody sacrifice could not be an atoning sacrifice, even if it is a sacrifice in some other, lesser sense.

        Good luck finding a good Anglican parish. I don’t know much about the Anglican Church in Australia, so I don’t know what to tell you, although my understanding is that they still officially use the 1662 BCP, so if you can find a parish that is associated with the use of the prayer book or with the Prayer Book Society, you’ll probably be on solid ground. Of course, if you were in New Zealand I actually do know where I could point you, Ah well. I hope that you find a good Anglican parish where you can receive the fullness of Christ through Word and Sacrament!

      • MichaelA says:


        What part of Australia are you in? On this thread I am from Dio Sydney and Josh Bovis is from Dio Newcastle.

      • Felix Alexander says:

        Michael, I’m from (Dio) Melbourne.

        Fr Jonathan, there is a “Prayer Book Society of Australia”, but their website seems to have stopped being updated in 2009. Thanks for the clarification about sacrifices; it’s really not something I understand: I’m very new still at being Christian.

      • MichaelA says:

        Felix, from what I have heard there are some very good Anglican churches in Melbourne, and some you would want to avoid.
        Two I have heard good things about:
        1. All Saints Anglican at East St Kilda is supposed to be a good traditional anglo-catholic Anglican church.
        2. St Jude’s Carlton is a very evangelical Anglican church.
        Its probably worth visiting both, and when you do, tell them you are looking around. Most people in churches aren’t offended by such a question – they know that no church suits everyone. Even if these one aren’t right for you, they might refer you to one that is.
        Plus of course, in the process of visiting, you get to meet some more fellow christians!

  4. Joshua says:

    The only part I would have a slightly different understanding with you about is Lutherans generally believing in the real presence. You have to believe in the real presence to be a Lutheran. Some Lutherans accuse Anglicans of having a Calvinistic approach to the Eucharist or at least tolerating this view. I myself am very happy in the Anglican communion and my parish explicitly affirms the real presence. As a former Lutheran I do not know of any confesional Lutheran who would deny what you have written here about the Eucharistic sacrifice. A bigger issue with the Lutherans is the fact that they do not have the Episcopate with apostollic succession and the ones who do, do not believe it is mandatory but a better way to do things. Many Lutherans also only offer the Eucharist twice a month and this gives many the idea that preaching is somehow more important than recieving the body and blood of Christ. At the same time their are low Church Anglicans who do seem to have a Calvinistic approach to the Eucharist. At least until the rise of the Tractarian Movement just before the accession of Queen Victoria (1837) the Anglican Church inclined largely to Reformed theology. Dr. Tom Hardt of Stockholm,in a dialogue in Latvia (Riga, 1996) with Canon Christopher Hill regarding Porvoo, quoted the famous Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (1581–1656) as having said: “I do profess that with like affection I should receive the blessed Sacrament at the hands of Dutch ministers if I were in Holland, as I should at the hands of the French ministers if I were in Charentone” (the leading Calvinist church in Paris). Hardt also
    reports that Archbishop Wake of Canterbury established “in 1717 a formally recognized church fellowship between the Church of England and the Reformed Church of Zurich.” I agree that many Anglicans have a better understanding of the Eucharist then Lutherans do, but we are not without problems in this area. I have to commend Luther on this one: “Christ is “really” present in the sacrament. “Before I drink mere wine with the Swiss I shall drink blood with the pope”!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Joshua,

      I didn’t mean to imply that Lutherans don’t believe in the Real Presence, although I do have to admit to a certain amount of provocation. My point was simply that denying the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist inevitably leads to a lack of understanding of the Real Presence. One of the things that sometimes strikes me in conversation with Lutherans is the way in which the absolute truth of Christ’s objective presence in the sacrament is affirmed and yet there seems so little reason why it’s necessary. Understanding that through the Eucharist we share in Christ’s sacrifice, which in turn allows us to make our own kind of sacrifice, is crucial to a fully formed view of the Real Presence. But you’re correct that the bigger block between Lutherans and Anglicans is not over the nature of the Eucharist but the nature of the ministry.

      You also rightly point out the heavy prevalence of Calvinist or Reformed thought in Anglicanism over the centuries. This is not altogether inappropriate. Anglicanism is Reformed Catholicism, after all. There is much that is similar between Calvinism and Anglicanism. Our Eucharistic theology in particular would not be inadequately described as having both Lutheran and Calvinist elements within it. That said, much of what accounts for this is a particular naivete on the part of many early Anglicans in the way they read what the Calvinist churches were doing on the continent. For the sake of perceiving a kind of Reformed Protestant solidarity, they often chose to interpret in the best possible light things like the abandonment of the episcopacy and supralapsarianism, things which on their face are antithetical to classical Anglican theology.

      • Joshua says:

        Those are some great points. I think Calvinism is fine once limited atonement and double predestination are removed from the equation. Always a pleasure Fr. Jonathan. I wish you were my Priest. If you get a chance you should check out my parish website:www.stjohnsdetroit.org

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        How wonderful that this is your parish! I’ve come across this website before, after seeing some videos of Baptisms on YouTube. I’m always glad to see parishes that remain in TEC but continue to use the 1928 prayer book. Warms my heart.

  5. Derek says:

    “We offer this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”. Fr., It also makes me feel good to see the “28” in use. Great blog! I’m glad I found it.

  6. MichaelA says:

    Thank you for another good article. It is always difficult to analyze different views on the Lord’s Supper, as two different people can use the same words but mean different things.

    Its helpful to recall that Calvin’s view on “sacrifice” was nuanced. Sometimes those who claim the mantle of “calvinist” can be the worst at misrepresenting Calvin’s views!

    This is from Calvin’s “Short Treatise on the Supper of our Lord”. He first affirms that “we understand that Jesus Christ gives us in the Supper the proper substance of his body and blood, in order that we may possess it fully, and possessing it have part in all his blessings”. Then he deals with the issue of calling it a sacrifice in section 17:

    “…The first error is this—While the Lord gave us the Supper that it might be distributed amongst us to testify to us that in communicating in his body we have part in the sacrifice which he offered on the cross to God his Father, for the expiation and satisfaction of our sins—men have out of their own head invented, on the contrary, that it is a sacrifice *by* which we obtain the forgiveness of our sins before God. This is a blasphemy which it is impossible to bear. For if we do not recognise the death of the Lord Jesus, and regard it as our only sacrifice by which he has reconciled us to the Father, effacing all the faults for which we were accountable to his justice, we destroy its virtue. …”

    Thus Calvin agreed that the Mass is the means whereby we partake of Christ’s one sacrifice on the Cross and gain its benefits, but he strongly disagreed with those who taught that the Mass itself was the sacrifice that took away sin. Such a belief was more common in medieval times than we might nowadays suppose.

  7. Harold Stassen says:

    Does anyone sane truly think that if you fed “consecrated Host” to a parrot you would be committing sacrilege? That there is an all-powerful being who gives a rat’s a** about what you do with wafers?
    And then you wonder why “None of the Above” is the fastest-growing category in US religion. Why would anyone want to involve himself in these trivia?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Harold,

      I can’t imagine that anyone in history has ever become an atheist because he felt that the Church cared too much about eucharistic doctrine. For Christians, this is not a matter of trivia but a matter of the most intense importance, because it has to do with how God manifests Himself to us, how He acts in our world. I am not sure what brought you onto this page today, or what about this teaching is making you so angry, but you aren’t the first. In John 6, when Jesus teaches about the Eucharist, many people said, “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?” Certainly, if it turns out that there is no God, or that the Eucharist is just a poor substitute for lunch, then those of us who invest our time in confessing the truth of the sacrament ought to be pitied as fools. But if it is true that in the Eucharist we partake of the very Body and Blood of the one and only true Savior of the world, than there is hardly any other topic that deserves more attention.

  8. Joshua Bovis says:


    Thankyou for your hard work on this! I have just printed it up and very much looking forward to reading it. ( I could read it on the screen, but there is something nice about reading things from paper).

    Hope you are well.

  9. Joshua Bovis says:

    Again, thankyou for your very stimulation post. There was a lot I agreed with but I found your post slightly confusing at times (though I readily confess that this says more about me than you). For example you state that:
    [i] Anglicanism is alone amongst the Reformation traditions in retaining the historic Christian teaching that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. Our prayer book is bold in its proclamation of this truth. [/i]
    What about Article XXXI?
    [bOf the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross'[/b]
    [i] The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.[/i]

    It seems to me that this article is correcting the theology that presents the Mass as a complementary form of satisfaction for sin [i]in addition to [/i]Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And is also affirming the sacrifice of Christ is the [i] only [/i] sacrifice.
    Yet you rightly state:
    [i] Nevertheless, the way in which we understand what this means is very different from the understanding of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. While the Roman understanding lead away from the cross and towards the power of the priest, the Anglican teaching is centered entirely o Christ’s work of atonement and our reception of His saving grace.[/i]

    So I am not sure what you mean. It seems to me that you are saying that; [/i]Jesus death is the sacrifice, the mass is not a sacrifice in the way the RCC says it is a sacrifice,but it is a sacrifice because it commemorates Christ’s sacrifice[/i] . You point out that the
    [i] The Book of Common Prayer makes use of three images of sacrifice in the celebration of the Eucharist. The first and most important is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross through which He “made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” Through our celebration of the Eucharist, we keep “a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again.” In this sense, the Eucharistic sacrifice does nothing new. It is a memorial that calls to mind what Jesus has already done and finished. [/i]
    You stated that the BCP makes use of three images of sacrifice. I agree with you. But notice they are images of sacrifice, not the sacrifice. Also the BCP states that sacrifice is finished.
    I am also not sure how the line in the BCP “we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood”; supports the notion that we receive the merits of Christ sacrifice the way you think it does. Do we not receive them by faith? What about the role of the Holy Spirit?

    I loved how you said
    [i] Our sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, or even of our souls and bodies, are not meant in any way to be propitiatory. We do not offer these things in the hopes that God will save us more than He already has. We count His finished work on the Cross to be perfectly sufficient to save our souls. Nevertheless, because He has redeemed us, we are filled with His grace and love, which makes us want to praise Him and give ourselves completely to Him. We make our sacrifice without hoping to incur favor with Him, but simply out of love for Him, a love which would not be possible for us to have were it not for the Holy Spirit opening us to receive it. [/i]
    My take is that our sacrifice which is a response to what Christ has done echoes Romans 12:1, but I am not sure if it is helpful to say that relegate this to being the second and third kinds of sacrifice in the Eucharist. I think we are to respond to God this way after we meet with his people, when the Word is read and proclaimed and when we receive Holy Communion.
    I agree that Anglicans need a good understanding of the Eucharist, but I think we will have a good understanding of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist when we understand the sacrificial nature of the cross.
    To say that the Eucharist is a sacrifice I think is confusing. Yes we respond by offering ourselves to God as living sacrifices. We are saved by what the Eucharist points to, what it commemorates. To say that [i] The blood that spilled on Calvary is the only sacrifice that we need, the only one that saves us, but without stepping into the moment of that sacrifice, we have no way of receiving its grace.[/i] I think it is imply a split where none exists. When we trust in Christ we have received that grace fully.We are always in that moment of sacrifice at the cross, the Eucharist reminds us very powerfully and vividly of this.
    “As we share in this fellowship, we remember his death for us, we remember his sacrifice of himself which made for our sake, and we remember Jesus our redeemer, our Lord and our coming King. All remembrance of Jesus by a regenerate, Spirit-filled soul is full of precious fellowship. Thus the remembrance is not a bare remembrance. It is not bare, as we are remembering Jesus and his Spirit is present to our spirit whenever we relate ourselves to him our thoughts. It is a heartfelt remembrance of Christ, a remembrance which the Lord’s Supper especially and vividly evokes as we eat and drink together in obedience to our Lord’s command, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    I look forward to your response. Again, may I qualify my post by saying that the confusion may like with me not understanding what you are saying.

  10. Fr. Jonathan says:

    Hi Joshua,

    I’m not entirely sure what you are asking. Perhaps some of the confusion lies in the idea of time itself, since for strict memorialists it is impossible to continuously step again and again into a moment that is already completed. As I tried to show with the quotes from Bramhall and Taylor, every Eucharist is not a new sacrifice but the Sacrifice made real and present for the Church. Faith is, of course, the means by which we receive the grace of the Eucharist, but the Eucharist itself is not merely an incidental reminder of that grace, it actually gives it to us. In this sense, to deny that the Eucharist is sacrificial is to deny that Christ is truly present.

  11. Daniel says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I’m a bit surprised to hear you say that only Anglicans (and not even Lutherans) hold that the Eucharist is in any way a sacrifice. When I was in seminary we were taught that the Lord’s Supper participated in (but did not repeat) the past event of the cross, as anamnesis, and I was under the impression that this was a standard mainline Protestant view. In my own (United Methodist) Church, our liturgy (after the words of institution) says “And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith…”
    God’s “Mighty acts in Jesus Christ” presumably refers not only to the events of the Last Supper but also of the cross, where his body was broken and his blood spilled. We offer ourselves – our souls and bodies as the old liturgy puts it – our whole selves as a sacrifice to him who gave all for us. And we do so “in union with Christ’s offering for us…” this might be variously interpreted, but it seems to me that we are saying “because this meal participates in Christ’s offering (or sacrifice), therefore we who receive it can also become a living sacrifice (as St. Paul says). Would you say this is much the same as the Anglican understanding? If we United Methodists have maintained an Anglican understanding it is no doubt because the we inherited it from the Church of England.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Daniel,

      It is entirely possible that I have overstated the case. I was thinking, however, mostly just about sixteenth century Protestant groups. I know very little about Methodist approaches to the Eucharist, although I have to say that what I do know does not give me any great confidence that Methodists believe in Christ’s Real Presence. But perhaps you can educate me otherwise. It would be a pleasant discovery.

      • SLink says:

        I was a United Methodist for many years and one of the reasons that I eventually left (to first become Lutheran and to now investigate membership in an Episcopal church) was that I began to believe in the Real Presence but the teaching at my old parish was definitely far more aligned with it being a memorial meal.

        I remember about 10 years ago the United Methodist church comissioned a study and drew up an official paper on how they currently understood the Eucharist. I think that one would find it difficult to have read that document and come away thinking that the UMC believed or taught the Real Presence.

  12. Joshua Bovis says:


    I am not asking for anything ( I think I am not), I just found some of your post confusing. It seems to me that you are saying that
    a.Jesus death is the sacrifice,
    b.The mass is not a sacrifice in the way the RCC says it is a sacrifice,
    c. But because it commemorates Christ’s sacrifice it is a sacrifice

    And I am not certain if calling the Eucharist a sacrifice is helpful. Articles XXXI seems to want us not to move in this direction.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Joshua,

      I think that the place where it is easy to come to confusion is in point C. To say that it is a commemorative sacrifice is technically correct, but we don’t tend to mean as much by that word today. It is not simply to say that we remember Christ’s sacrifice when we celebrate the Eucharist. Through the Eucharist, we actually participate in it, in a way that is impossible anywhere else.

      Article XXXI cautions against “the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ…” As always, it is most helpful if we can look at the article through the lens of the prayer book and not the other way around. As I tried to show above, the prayer book clearly uses the language of sacrifice. What the article is condemning isn’t Eucharistic sacrifice but the kind of understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice that Romanism has in which the priest is the one offering Christ rather than Christ offering Himself by way of the priest’s ministry. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

      • MichaelA says:

        I wonder about the idea that Christ “offers himself by way of the priest’s ministry”? Surely he has already offered himself (Hebrews 9:12) since he alone is the High Priest and only the High Priest can offer atonement for sin?

        So doesn’t the priest as elder lead the celebration of Holy Communion, through which we are all linked to Christ’s one sacrifice, and feed on his body and blood which are truly present?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        True, Michael, it’s easy even for this idea to be understood. The priest does not offer the sacrifice by way of his own power or merit, as if offering anew. Rather, in offering Himself, the great and only priest, Jesus Christ, speaks and works through the priest who stands at the altar. This is similar to what happens when the priest absolves sins, saying “I forgive you.” The priest forgives not through a priesthood of his own possession, but because he is the instrument of Christ’s priesthood, through which Christ exercises His priesthood. The Christian priest is not sacerdos but presbuteros. His priesthood is totally derivative and he is totally subordinate.

  13. Javier says:

    Father Jonathan:

    I liked and enjoyed your explanation of the Holy Eucharist. Many blessings!

  14. MichaelA says:

    An interesting comment from one of the authors of the prayerbook, Nicholas Ridley’s “Brief Declaration of the Lord’s Supper”:

    “For what the meaning of the Fathers was, it is evident by that which St Augustine writeth in his epistle to Boniface, and in his book against Faustus the Manichee, besides many other places ; likewise by Eusebius the Emissene, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Fulgentius, Bertram, and others, who do wholly concord and agree together in this unity in the Lord ; that the redemption, once made in verity for the salvation of man continueth in full effect for ever, and worketh without ceasing unto the end of the world; that the sacrifice once offered cannot be consumed; that the Lord’s death and passion is as effectual, the virtue of that Blood once shed as fresh at this day for the washing away of sins, as it was even the same day that it flowed out of the blessed side of our Saviour ; and finally, that the whole substance of our sacrifice, which is frequented of the Church in the Lord’s Supper, consisteth in prayers, praise, and giving of thanks, and in remembering and shewing forth of that Sacrifice once offered upon the altar of the Cross ; that the same might continually be had in reverence by mystery, which once only, and no more, was offered for the price of our redemption.”

  15. Fr Diego says:

    Hello there! Great blog and article.
    I have to say though, that i really do no agree with this statement “Each Mass is an “unbloody sacrifice” in which Christ Himself is sacrificed anew by the priest on the altar for the sake of “appeasing” the Lord that He might grant us mercy.”

    As a former Roman I can say that is a very naive interpretation of Trent. To be sure some Roman Catholics have interpreted it in the same way too over the past centrury; however, the official line does not envisge Christ to be sacrificed anew by the priest.
    It is a sacramental sacrifice which applies in the here and now “all the benefits of his passion”.

    Abbot Vonier in “A key to the doctrine of the Eucharist” is very helpful on this matter though not exhaustive.

    • MichaelA says:

      Fr Diego,

      Good point, however Trent is the official line. I am sure I don’t need to tell you that, by Roman definition, Trent is an Ecumenical Council of the Church. As such, its unanimous findings (which Fr. Jonathan referenced) are dogma. They are just as much part of the magisterium as a pronouncement by the current Pope.

      If the current “official line” follows the emphasis to which you refer (and I don’t disagree with you on that point) then that is great. But it is still useful for Fr. Jonathan to point out where we differ from Roman dogma (on some points; on many others we would agree).

      Plus of course, as you implicitly acknowledge, there are yet many members of the RCC today who have a very different view on the meaning of the mass. It doesn’t hurt to indicate clearly where we differ from them. Who knows, some of them might be led to examine the teachings of their current Pope and theologians like von Balthasar, more closely?

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I agree with the way that MichaelA has characterized it. There is a lot that has happened since Trent and a lot that modern Anglicans and Roman Catholics can agree on, as is evidenced by some of the great work done by ARCIC. Nevertheless, unless Trent is repudiated or altered, I think it is fair to quote from it as a legitimate source of Roman Catholic dogma.

      • Fr Diego says:

        Thank you both for your reply. My point was more about the actual interpretation of Trent. I wouldn’t be necessary to “ripudiate” Trent but just to interpret it differently or in its proper context. We are seeing now that some documents of Vatican II are being re-interpreted and only a few decades after the Council. It is possible…

  16. Trent was basically a rebuttal to the reformation. The Mass is called an unbloody sacrifice to clarify the fact that we do not behold the Lord’s bloody body as it was seen on Calvary. Instead his body and blood are under the appearances of bread and wine.

    “Once for all”

    Through his intercessory ministry in heaven and through the Mass, Jesus continues to offer himself to his Father as a living sacrifice, and he does so in what the Church specifically states is “an unbloody manner”—one that does not involve a new crucifixion.

    This is what Trent was saying.

  17. MichaelA says:

    Re Nicholas Ridley’s teaching (quoted above) that the mass shows forth “that Sacrifice once offered upon the altar of the Cross ; that the same might continually be had in reverence by mystery, which once only, and no more, was offered for the price of our redemption.”, I would assume that he based this on the following apostolic teaching:

    “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” [Hebrews 10:11-14]

  18. I says:

    Long time reader, first time for a comment. Also, new Episcopalian, raised in the ELCA.

    I’ve got to say, Fr. Johnathon, that you did a really good job of clarifying for me what Anglicans mean by the sacrifice of the mass. It was very difficult for me to comprehend the RC position (or what I’d been exposed to in it/been taught about it in my Lutheran upbringing). I never quite could come to grips with the idea that the priest could actually re-sacrifice Jesus. Where does the priest get that sort of authority?

    The idea that the sacrifice of Christ is being joined to in the mass and in that process we make a sacrifice of our selves and our prayers and thanksgiving has a much more rational ring to it. If I can defend Lutheranism for a moment, I’d just say that that’s how I was taught to understand Holy Communion growing up. In Luther’s small catechism he says that in the sacrament of the altar we receive the body and blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sins. We aren’t making a sacrifice but Communion is salvific in that it joins us to Christ, through his Word, and frees us from our sin.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the gracious comment. I do a lot of hair splitting here to make clear where differences lie, but the truth is that there is much greater unanimity between Anglicans, Lutherans, and even Roman Catholics on the question of the power of the sacrament than there is division.

  19. “Romophoblic”? Please, I was raised Irish Roman Catholic (the old Latin Mass in Dublin in the 5o’s), but thank God for certain aspects of Vatican II (save some of the Pastoral). But for the last 30 years or so.. I am though an Anglican, closer to Luther on the Eucharist, and you guessed it, actually more Reformed on soteriology! See an old OP book by Olive Wyon: The Altar Fire, Reflections on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (SCM Press, 1954 / American, The Westmister Press)…just a nice little book!

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