Fr. Dwight Longenecker on the sacrifice of the Mass

Fr. Longenecker has updated his post, making it clear that the Mass is a type of sacrifice, but the Old Testament bloody sacrifices have ended. Give his post a read. I will update my post below accordingly:

A post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker attempt to answer the question of a reader: Why Do We Call the Mass a “Sacrifice”? His updated answer presents Roman Catholic teaching on the sacrifice of the Mass. I will add my own thoughts below.

Here is what the Bible says about the origins of sacrifice:

{4:3} Then it happened, after many days, that Cain offered gifts to the Lord, from the fruits of the earth.
{4:4} Abel likewise offered from the firstborn of his flock, and from their fat. And the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his gifts.

Cain and Able were the children of Adam and Eve. So this passage is saying that, from the earliest times, human person knew that God exists — and the Church teaches that the existence of God can be known by reason alone, apart from Divine Revelation — and so they offered “gifts to the Lord”, i.e. sacrifices.

Then, during the time of the Law, these gifts became formal sacrifices of animals and offerings of grain (as happens at Passover, in the wave offering), as a sacrifice to the Lord. Then, as a foreshadowing of the Mass, another type of sacrifice was of unleavened bread:

{2:1} When a soul will offer an oblation of sacrifice to the Lord, his oblation shall be of fine wheat flour, and he shall pour oil over it, and he shall set down frankincense,
{2:2} and he shall bring it to the sons of Aaron, the priests. One of them shall take a handful of the flour with oil, as well as all the frankincense, and he shall place it as a memorial upon the altar, as a most sweet odor to the Lord.
{2:3} Then what will remain of the sacrifice shall be for Aaron and his sons, the Holy of holies from the oblations of the Lord.
{2:4} But when you will offer a sacrifice baked in the oven from fine wheat flour, specifically: loaves without leaven, sprinkled with oil, and unleavened wafers, rubbed with oil:
{2:5} if your oblation will be from the frying pan, of flour tempered with oil and without leaven,
{2:6} you shall divide it into little pieces and pour oil over it.

So the sacrifices of the Israelites did not develop out of the human sacrifices of primitive cultures, but as a most ancient way to give thanks to God.

Then Fr. Longenecker says “It is clear that the old sacrificial system has come to an end.”

He also says: “So why then do we call the Mass “a sacrifice”? It is not because it is a sacrifice as understood under the old dispensation. Sacrifices have ended. Instead it is what the church calls a re-presentation of what Christ did on the cross. Every Mass and the whole liturgical cycle of the church is a constant reminder that Christ was sacrificed to end the old cycle of sacrifice.”

Now I would say that the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is unique, full, and the source of all graces found in any other holy sacrifices, in any time period. But only the old type of sacrifices have ended. The Mass is a new type of sacrifice. It is a sacrifice of praise, and a representation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, but so much more.

Jesus did not die to “end the cycle of sacrifice”, but to obtain all the graces of every kind which any and all human persons throughout all time and place have ever received or been offered. He died to obtain redemption for fallen humanity, so that we might have everlasting life.

The Council of Trent has a long section of teachings, titled “Doctrine on the Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Council says that the holy Eucharist is “a true and singular sacrifice.” Then the Council teaches on “the institution of the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”

Jesus died as the sacrifice for our redemption, but “because His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, at the last supper, on the night that he was handed over, so that He might bequeath to His beloved Spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice by which, just as the nature of mankind requires, that bloody [sacrifice], completed once upon the Cross, would be represented, and its memory would remain, even until the end of the world, and its salutary power would be applied” [Trent, Sacrifice of the Mass, Chap. I]

The Mass is a visible sacrifice which not only represents the bloody sacrifice on the Cross, but also applies its saving power. And the Council of Trent teaches this origin of sacrifices, in contradiction to the blog post in question:

“And finally, this is that [oblation] which was represented under the figure of various types of sacrifices, during the time of nature and [during the time] of the law — in as much as it comprises all the good things signified by those [sacrifices], as the consummation and perfection of them all.”

The sacrifices during the “time of nature” (before Abraham and Moses) and those during the time of the Law given to Moses, contained good things, which are still signified in this oblation and sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is not merely a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice. It is itself a sacrifice, and so “the holy Synod teaches that this sacrifice is truly propitiatory, and that, by means of it, this is effected: we obtain mercy and find grace…” [Chap. II] And the Council further says that “out of all things this sacrifice is the most holy” [Chap. IV]. Then there are the Canons of Trent on the Sacrifice of the Mass:

CANON I — If anyone says that a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God in the Mass, or that what is offered is nothing other than that Christ is given to us to eat: let him be anathema.

CANON III — If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is only an act of praise and thanksgiving, or that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice completed on the Cross, but not a propitiation, or that it profits only the one who receives, and that it should not be offered, for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema.

Fr. Longenecker’s updated post is much improved. I’ve left the teachings of Trent in this post, to add to what he has already said. Finally, the Council says:

“Sacrifice and priesthood are so closely joined, by the ordination of God, that both have existed in every law. Therefore, in the New Testament, since the Catholic Church has received, from the institution of the Lord, the holy visible sacrifice of the Eucharist, it must now also be admitted that there is, in Her, a new, visible, and external priesthood, into which the old has been translated.”

What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach on this subject?

1330 The memorial of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. the terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used, since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

1566 “It is in the Eucharistic cult or in the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful (synaxis) that they exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father.” From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength.

The Mass is not merely a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross; it is that and so much more. It is, in itself, a “pure and holy sacrifice”. The Mass itself is a bloodless type of sacrifice, a “unique sacrifice” of the New Covenant. It’s meaning and graces flow from the Cross, but the Mass is also a sacrifice, and not merely a re-enactment of a past event.

Thanks for Fr. Longenecker for his updated post and his gracious response to my post.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Fr. Dwight Longenecker on the sacrifice of the Mass

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    But the claim that “all sacrifices will end” is not correct. The Mass is a type of sacrifice.

    Will sacrifice end at the Parousia and General Judgement?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Mass ends at the general Judgment. But the sacrifice of Christ provides grace forever. Even the graces that are given to the faithful after the general Judgment, continuing forever, come from the Cross. It is an eternal timeless sacrifice that never passes away.

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