Saturday, July 30, 2011

The One Sacrifice

The different perspectives of my complicated Anglican soul do not always sit well with each other, forcing me to think them through. It would be so much easier simply to be what most people call “Catholic” or what most people call “Protestant.” But, an Anglican is not only free from that particular false choice, he is also bound to reconcile the truth with the truth, no matter how successfully the forces of history have fragmented it, no doubt with the help of other forces who choose to remain invisible. Therefore, think we must while others are free merely to react, using as they do phrases like “too Catholic” or “too Protestant.”
          When I come across “Reformed” or “Evangelical” denunciations of Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Anglo-Catholic inside of me is quick to defend it. In every age and place the Church called the Eucharist a sacrifice. After all, our tradition has expressly rejected only the double plural “sacrifices of masses,” an idea that each time a priest celebrates it is a propitiation for the quick and the dead, in and of itself and by itself. And the condemnation of that in Article XXXI may have been written to correct popular misunderstanding rather than any actual doctrine.
But, the Evangelical inside of me, though usually quite content to live with the Catholic in there, begins to be uncomfortable. That is because no one can deny that the words of the Article are absolutely true and correct according to the only possible understanding of what the Bible clearly teaches, especially the Epistle to the Hebrews. “The offering of Christ once made is the 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,” says our Article.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:24-28)
          So, there is only one sacrifice; as we say in every Anglican celebration: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who 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.
          But, the Scriptures also speak of an altar of the Church, not merely a table, which means that sacrifice is offered by the Church. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” (Heb. 13:10) Lest anyone try to interpret the plain meaning away, we know from all the evidence of Patristic literature, history and archeology, that Christians had altars even in the chapels that were in homes or hidden away during the time of Roman persecution.
          So, how do we reconcile apparent contradictions? We must reject “the sacrifices of Masses,” on one hand, and yet celebrate what clearly is called sacrifice at an altar. The words, “our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” really mean the same as Eucharistic Sacrifice. Then we have, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee.” What is all this? Is it now sacrifices of the Mass, with only a single plural? The we come to, “And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service.” In the context and by the grammar, the “service” is, indeed, sacrifice, clearly hinting by way of the Biblical allusion (Rom. 12:1) to the word λατρεία (latreia), meaning worship, or service in the sense of a liturgy or service of worship.
          Of course, sacrifice means not only an offering for sin, but any and every act of worship. Nonetheless, that does not explain everything in our Book of Common Prayer Service of Holy Communion. Yes, there is only one sacrifice for sin, and it was made, as everyone knows, once for all by Christ on the altar of the cross. “There is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone.” It was the one perfect offering for sin, for all the sins of the entire human race (I John 2:2).
          It was also the one perfect act of human worship from the one who lived in perfect obedience. In truth, we cannot offer sacrifice at all, not even worship, except through and in Christ and by His cross and passion. Indeed, this is the key for reconciling the truth to the truth, for reconciling the fact of Christ’s once for all sacrifice with the offering of the Church in every time and place on the altar we have; that altar from which we eat, but from which those who serve under the old system of types and shadows may not partake, “for the newer rite is here.”
          We may indeed call the Eucharist the sacrifice, not really a sacrifice as much as the sacrifice. “This do in remembrance of Me” was spoken in the context of the New Covenant meal (Jer. 31: 31-34), something that Jewish understanding could not miss. Just as every year Jews hold not a Passover, but the Passover – the same Passover that Moses held – so there is only one Eucharist, or Mass, or Divine Liturgy or service of Holy Communion.
          This one Eucharist is the same supper that Christ gave to His disciples in the upper room; and it is the same sacrifice that He offered once for all on the altar of the cross. We do not sacrifice Christ again, but neither do we merely celebrate a metaphor. We gather with the disciples and our Lord in the Upper Room for the one feast that never ends until He comes again (I Cor. 11:26); and we worship at the altar of His cross where He offered the one sacrifice for everyone throughout all time. We are really there with Him without a barrier, neither time nor space dividing. There is one Sacrifice, and every celebration of the Eucharist is mystically joined to that one event, that offering by Christ of Himself as "priest and victim, in the Eucharistic feast." There is one Supper of the Lord, and every Eucharist is the same supper that Christ held in the night in which he was betrayed.
          Writing in 1624, speaking for the Anglican position, a Church of England priest named William Bedell wrote about Eucharistic Sacrifice:

"[If by it you mean] a memory and representation of the true Sacrifice and holy immolation made on the altar of the cross...we do offer the sacrifice for the quick and the dead, by which all their sins are meritoriously expiated, and desiring that by the same, we and all the Church may obtain remission of sins, and all other benefits of Christ's Passion."
By thinking through the apparent contradictions, both my inner Catholic and my inner Evangelical come together as an Evangelical Catholic, which is what constitutes an Anglican. 


James said...

This is something I have struggled with for the last couple of years. I now find myself in an odd position: too Catholic for the Protestants and too Protestant for the Anglo-Catholics. This has made it necessary, especially in the past year, to sort through the elements of my faith and practise, with no little degree of discomfort. Perhaps I have at last become truly Anglican.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

...too Catholic for the Protestants and too Protestant for the Anglo-Catholics.

I suppose that depends on the Anglo-Catholics. I do not think that the Tractarians (all of whom but one died Anglican) would have an objection to this. But Anglo-Papalists, like very extreme folks on the other end, don't like to think anything through in Anglican terms.

Anonymous said...

I now find myself in an odd position: too Catholic for the Protestants and too Protestant for the Anglo-Catholics.

You too, huh? :-)

Doubting Thomas

Fr. Wells said...

This post comes after a week which saw John Stott, that hero of Christ and champion of the Faith, fall asleep in the Lord. His work "The Cross of Christ" is a truly great book which I recommend wholeheartedly. The only point where I would part company with Stott is his criticism of the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice. It is odd that he was arguing with a German Lutheran, Joachim Jeremias, who in his important work "The Eucharistic Words of Jesus" explained that: "Do this in memory of me = Do this for My memorial = This is a Memorial for you to make of Me before the Lord."

Jeremias showed how the idea of "memorial"(Grk anamnesis) understood from an OT perspective is something bery close to the theology of our Hymn 189, "And now, O Father, mindful of the love." This of course is Patristic theology, and it took a Lutheran to find its rootage in the Scripture itself.

The NT could not be more emphatic that the sacrifice of Christ, offered once for all on a Friday afternoon is unrepeatable and it exclusively is propitiatory. That's why it is unique.
One whole book of the NT (Hebrews) is devoted to this theme.

Now since Christ is present in the Eucharist not merely in the "stuff" of His flesh and blood, but in His sacrifice, so that Calvary becomes contemporary to us, it is possible, by jumping through some hoops and performing metaphysical gymnastics, to call the eucharistic sacrifice "propitiatory." If you merely mean that God is pleased when we offer this Memorial of His Son's Sacrifice, that is okay. We offer the Eucharist to God as a memorial of Calvary and God surely is delighted with that offering.

But two problems emerge: (1) the term "propitiatory" has been evacuated of the meaning it has in the NT, where it clearly indicates the assuaging of Divine wrath, and (2) the uniqueness, perfection, and finality of our Saviour's sacrifice has been compromised.

So what advantage is gained by calling the Sacrament of the Altar "propitiatory"? Cui bono?

Fr. Wells said...

James and DT: I feel your pain. Thank you for being here for me.

Brian said...

This is a fine post: anyone (such as Stott, I'm afraid) who neglects the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist really ought not call himself a priest. On the other hand, the popular misconception/"nun theology" that every Mass is a new bloodless sacrifice is of course ridiculous; the Cross is the unique axis on which all of history turns.

Anonymous said...

In order to move from the Radical Reformation edge to the Reformed Catholic center, many will have to get past 3 big monsters.

First, there is the whole idea of sacramental efficacy of any kind. The radical Protestant has usually been carefully schooled to believe that there are only two ways to look at the sacraments: strict memorialism, which is Biblical; or ceremonialism, which is just works righteousness in Bible dress. The key to breaking the impasse, for me at least, and I think for others, is to recognize that the sacraments are nothing more or less than the word of God, Scripture itself, in action. We baptize and communicate because we are told to do so; full stop, period, end of sentence. The grace of the sacraments comes from His word, not our actions. There is no quid pro quo, express or implied. The radical Protestant needs to hear that clearly, but he also needs to realize that if he really believes in the power of the word, he should be able to believe in the sacraments in general.

Second, there is baptismal regeneration, a subset of sacramental efficacy. The radical Protestant see that this is clearly a case of confusing ritual with actual purity. To be fair, catholic writers of every sort don't always make that issue any easier to understand, at least not for the radical Protestant. Again, it is not baptism that saves; it is the promise of God, the answer of a good conscience before God, relying not on its own obedience, but on His promises.

Finally, there is the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Real Presence, inseperable mysteries. Radical Protestants believe that the Real Presence is a kind of gross cannibalism. Likewise, the Eucharistic Sacrifice is for them a frank denial of the sufficiency of the Cross, in addition to being a monstrous sacrilege, a supposed "re-offering" of the Son to the Father. For me, the open door came when I began to take seriously the "blood songs" I grew up with.

Kneel at the cross;
Christ will meet you there;
He intercedes for you...

There is a fountain,
filled with blood,
drawn from Immanuel's veins;
and those who plunge
beneath its flood,
loose all their guilty stains...

Is that cross still standing? In the Eucharistic mystery, yes, it is. Does that fountain still flow? Definitely. Are we really, truly, washed in the blood? Absolutely...and yet, not in a gross, carnal fashion; rather, in an impenetrable mystery, but still very, very real.

Once I made the connection, once I realized how many times the NT says we are buried with Him, baptized with Him, crucified with Him, and so on, all without doing violence to the uniqueness and sufficiency of His Sacrifice, things began to come together for me.

I hope I have not offended or caused anyone to stumble; it just all came pouring out.

As always, many thanks to Frs. Hart and Wells for their ministry.


Fr. Robert Hart said...


As your name suggests you are a mystic, and in the best possible way.

Confessor said...

I love the Communion prayer of St. Phliloxenus of Mahbug, ( expresses both the purpose and efficacy of the Eucharist.

Anonymous said...


Your comment about being washed in His blood... think of how offensive this must have sounded/sounds to Jewish ears. For blood was/is untouchable for Jews. Why? Hebrew Publishing published a book titled "Jewish Customs and Ceremonies" by Ben Edidin in 1941. In it Ben states the following: "Blood is expressly forbidden in the Bible, for "Blood is life." What kind of life? Page 82 of the BCP is specific: "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean through his body, and our SOULS washed through his most precious blood..." There is an answer: His blood cleans our souls, not our bodies. What is a "soul?"

Thank you for any answer you may provide.


Anonymous said...

welshmann said:


You probably ought to consult either of the good fathers for more insight. With that said, I didn't want to ignore your question, so I'll offer such as I have.

You are quite correct that first century Jews would have been horrified by the idea of being "washed in the blood", for the reasons you suggested. Certainly, they were very disturbed when Jesus suggested that they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they were to have eternal life. I can only think that it is the difference between the Old Covenant and the New, the symbolic and the real. Even in the Old Covenant, though, as the Hebrews writer said, all things were cleansed with blood. Aaron and his sons were annointed with blood; the implements of the tabernacle and the book of the law itself were all sprinkled with blood. The blood of the Old Covenant was that of animals, offered by a sinful human priest. The blood of the New Covenant is the life's blood of the sinless Son of God, offered freely. So to drink or be washed in the former would be a gross sacrilege, while the later is a life-giving cleanser and medicine.

In my original post, I was trying to make the point that "real" and "literal" should neither be separated, nor confused. To be "washed in the blood" is neither a carnal literalism, nor a metaphor. For me, raised with radical Protestant assumptions, that idea was not easily grasped.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

"For the life (nefesh-soul) of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." Lev. 17:11

"He poured out his soul (nefesh) unto death..." (Isa. 53:12)

Anonymous said...

Welshmann and Fr Hart,

Thank you for your responses! They are thought-provoking and enlightening... much appreciated.

Forgive me as I piece together my stream-of-consciousness. Blood is life. I asked what kind of life... I assume the life of the soul, which is separate yet contained within the body. Christ's body cleans our bodies in the Eucharist, but His blood cleans our souls. Does the seat of our soul dwell in our blood? That would make sense, as our blood contains our DNA markers. So when Christ's blood cleans our souls, it cleans our blood which carries among other things the original sin of our ancestors. When we drink His blood we drink His soul... we become His brethren literally... via His blood... hence the "newness of life" that my priest spoke of just yesterday during his sermon. But that "newness" must be continually renewed, because our sinfulness, or tendency to sin remains within us while we are in our mortal bodies. Our blood/souls can never be perfect as Christ is perfect.

Without the Blood of Christ, will our souls die, or will they be destined to spend eternity writhing in the endless agony of hell? That is, do our souls ever die? If they never die, when are they created?


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Created or made? Mankind, and therefore the human soul, was created long ago. Each soul is made at the moment of conception. I say that with all assurance that it is the right scientific answer, which includes the science of theology as well as biology. It is revealed, especially in light of the Annunciation. It is also the only correct biological answer as to when life, or the nefesh, begins.

The Bible does not present the Hellenistic notion of the soul, but rather the Jewish understanding that a soul is an individual, a person, and that the individual is alive. Neither does the Bible ever confuse the soul with the spirit, but consistently presents them as two distinct parts of each person.

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

Yes, "made" is the correct word; "create" is not in the context I used it in. Now, if our souls are made at conception, what is meant in the Lord's words to Jeremiah? (Jer 1:5) - "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."

If the Lord "knows" us BEFORE He knits us together in the womb, then our souls are already conceived in His mind prior to our physical conception. That is, they pre-exist in the Father's mind, Who dwells in eternal time. What might this say about predestination?

Regarding the soul and the spirit, of course they are distinct! Did I imply otherwise?


Canon Tallis said...

The problem with the Anglican liturgy and our American canon is that it plunges one into the very heart of the greatest mystical theology and for those of us trained to believe in nothing more than the surface of reality that is a terrible journey. Yes, the sacrifice of Christ is over and in one sense, done. But we must plead it continually because he commanded us to do so. How could or can we assert our belief in Holy Scripture and not do what our Lord therein commanded? Is it not the very heart of being truly His?

I truly feel for James, DT and Father Wells, because I am there myself. Nor could or would I be anywhere else.