The Lord’s Supper and the Roman Mass: What is the Difference?
Historic Protestantism has regarded the Roman Catholic “Mass” to be a blasphemous and idolatrous distortion of the biblical sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ. For example, consider Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer # 80, which represents the position of confessional Reformed churches:
“Q. 80: What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the popish mass?
“A. The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we have a full pardon of all sin by the only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which He Himself has once accomplished on the cross; and that we by the Holy Ghost are ingrafted into Christ, who, according to His human nature is now not on earth, but in heaven, at the right hand of God His Father, and will there be worshipped by us – but the mass teaches, that the living and dead have not the pardon of sins through the sufferings of Christ, unless Christ is also daily offered for them by the priests; and further, that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine, and therefore is to be worshipped in them; so that the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.”
In today’s setting the above words may sound harsh and overly-polemical, even “mean”; but our Reformed fathers in the Faith understood better than most today do, that truth matters, that ultimate truth matters ultimately, and that serious sins which manifest disloyalty toward God and His truth — especially sins in the area of worship involving blasphemy and idolatry, as they believed the Roman Mass involved — must be strongly opposed. Strong opposition to error sometimes requires strong language that some might find hurtful and offensive.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, which the OPC has adopted as part of its doctrinal standards, has similarly critical words to say about the Roman Mass and its blasphemous character:
“Private Masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other, alone; as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people, worshiping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.” (Chapter 29.4)
“That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.” (Chapter 29.6)
The Lord’s Supper, as instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ, is a Divine sign, seal and pledge of our full and free forgiveness through the once-for-all atonement of Christ on the cross. It is a real (though Spiritual, not corporeal) communion or fellowship in the benefits of Christ’s Body and Blood which reassures us believers that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross was offered for us, and thus it confirms and strengthens our faith and our spiritual union with Christ. But the Roman Mass is believed to be a propitiatory sacrifice which re-sacrifices Christ (or, is said to re-present Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice on the cross) in an unbloody manner.
In the words of Father John A. Hardon, S.J., “The Eucharist is a sacrifice because Christ is now offering the same Body and Blood that He offered on Calvary. What He does now is make Himself present in order to apply the fruits of Calvary by communicating to us graces He merited on the Cross.” (emphasis added) He goes on to say, “The Mass and Calvary are one sacrifice. It is the same Victim who offered Himself then, in a bloody manner, who now offers Himself in an unbloody manner through the ministry of priests.” (p. 120 in The Faith: A Popular Guide Based on The Catechism of The Catholic Church; Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, Copyright 1995 by John A. Hardon, S.J.) There you have it, in the words of a recognized authority on Roman Catholic theology, that the Roman Mass is viewed as a sacrifice in which it is believed that Christ is re-offered to God the Father, in an unbloody manner, on Roman altars. But the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice (other than being a “sacrifice of praise” on our part); rather, it is a sacrament – an external sign and seal of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ, and a Divine pledge of His gospel promise.
God’s Word is clear that our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself up to the Father only once. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12, ESV, emphasis added). The fact that the risen Lord Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father indicates that He has accomplished His work of redemption, and thus no more sacrifice (including the so-called “sacrifice of the Mass”) is needed. To suggest otherwise is to denigrate the perfection, completeness and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.
The Lord’s Supper is not a re-sacrificing of Christ, or even a re-presenting of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. In the Lord’s Supper the church does not offer Christ up again to God the Father in an unbloody manner. Rather, in the Lord’s Supper Christ descends to us by His Spirit and through the gospel Word of promise to confirm and seal to us believers the glorious truth that His Body was broken and His Blood was shed “for you“! We don’t offer Him back up to the Father. He already did that, once and for all and forever, and He did it so perfectly that it does not ever need to be repeated! Instead, He comes down to us in grace to feed our souls and assure us of His ongoing love. This is the big difference between the biblical celebration of the Lord’s Supper as instituted by Christ, and the idolatrous distortion of the holy supper known as the Roman Catholic “Mass.” And it is a difference that still matters today, even in the 21st century church.