Saint Thomas Aquinas

Monday, May 24, 2010

Early Evidence of the Eucharistic Sacrifice

It is common for Protestants to claim that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or what is also know in the East as the Divine Liturgy, was a product of the middle ages. They claim that there was no sacrificial aspect to Christian worship. However if we look to the Scriptures and the early Church Fathers we see plainly that the Sacrificial aspect of the Liturgy was well understood. If we look to Saint Paul in the book of Hebrews chapter 10 verses 10-12 we read, “10 We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle. 11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the holies by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate.” There is no denying the sacrificial nature of St. Paul's words in reference to Christ in the Eucharist. We can also see St. Paul draw a similar comparison in 1 Corinthians, 10:14-21 with the sacrifice the pagans were offering in his time. 


We can also put forth more historical evidence to prove that not only was the sacrificial aspect of the Mass not slow in developing, it was an integral part of the early Eucharistic theology. Pope Clement I wrote around 80AD, "Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.” (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 ). Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 110AD, "Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice (Letter to the Philadelphians 4) Saint Irenaeus wrote in 189AD, "He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles" (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]). 


Although I could go on ad nauseam to prove my point, I will end with St. Cyprian of Carthage writing around 253 AD, "If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is himself the high priest of God the Father; and if he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if he commanded that this be done in commemoration of himself, then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ" (Letters 63:14 [A.D. 253]). I firmly state that it is therefore an act of intellectual dishonesty to lobby for a gradual development of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. It is firmly rooted in Biblical and Patristic Tradition from the earliest days of the Church.

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