William Webster Christian scholar shows that the Catholic doctrine that the Mass or Eucharist is a sacrifice to God and the same sacrifice as Jesus made on the cross.  This is a chunk of his work The Eucharist.

He writes,

The propitiatory nature of the eucharist is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and it claims that its interpretation and practice is a fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi 1:11 that a pure and bloodless sacrifice would be offered throughout the world which was acceptable to God. Once again, however, we find this interpretation disputed by the vast majority of Fathers in the early Church. The Roman Catholic Church would lead us to believe that its particular teaching of the eucharistic sacrifice has been the view universally held in the Church from the very beginning. But, as with the teaching on the Real Presence, there is a parallel situation historically with the concept of the eucharist as a sacrifice. Some of the Fathers approach the Roman Catholic interpretation, but the majority do not. Their writings reveal that they viewed the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of thanksgiving and praise in commemoration or remembrance of Christ’s once-for-all atoning sacrifice, and not as a propitiatory sacrifice for sin. They referred to the prophecy of Malachi and taught that the eucharist was indeed a partial fulfilment of that prophecy, and even referred to it as a sacrifice, but they did not interpret this in the same way as the Church of Rome has done. As with the term ‘tradition’, the Roman Church has given the word ‘sacrifice’ a certain content and meaning and has read that back into the use of the word by the early Church. Because the Fathers use the term sacrifice to refer to the eucharist it does not mean that they accepted the meaning the Roman Church gives to the word, as a brief survey of the writings of the Fathers reveals.

The Didache seems to refer to the eucharist as the believer’s sacrifice, reflecting the idea of self-giving to the Lord through an offering of praise and thanksgiving for the finished work of Jesus Christ. There is no mention of its being a propitiatory sacrifice. Roman apologists have often appealed to Clement of Rome as a support for their sacrificial interpretation of the eucharist but this is done as a result of a mistranslation. Keating, for example, gives a translation of 1 Clement 44 where Clement mentions those ‘from the episcopate who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices’.  The problem with this translation is that Clement does not use the word ‘sacrifices’ in his original letter but the word ‘gifts’. So the appeal to Clement of Rome is an empty one.

Justin Martyr believed the eucharist was a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which commemorated the death of Christ by a Church which now counted Gentiles among its members.  Irenaeus also referred to Malachi’s prophecy and characterized the eucharist as a thank-offering to God. He maintained that the real sacrifice intended within it was the prayers of true believers, which came from pure hearts wholly yielded to God and undefiled by sin. Similarly, Tertullian argued that the true sacrifices offered to God were not of a carnal, physical kind, but the spiritual sacrifice of a broken and a contrite heart before God.  Origen and Clement of Alexandria stressed this same theme: that the real meaning of the eucharistic sacrifice was as a memorial or commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ which demanded the self-surrender of the soul to God. It was a sacrifice because it involved the prayers and praise of God’s people; the self-surrender of themselves to God from broken and contrite hearts; and the giving of material offerings to the poor. There is absolutely no mention of the eucharist as the literal and renewed sacrifice of Christ as a propitiatory sin-offering.

Eusebius also explicitly states that the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi of a pure and bloodless sacrifice was to be found in the prayers and thanksgiving of true Christians throughout the world from contrite hearts.

But the most influential advocate for this point of view was, once again, Augustine.  He was unequivocal in his belief that the Lord’s Supper was a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, a commemoration of Christ’s passion. The eucharist is simply a sacramental way of remembering Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. The sacrament is called a sacrifice only because it is identified with Calvary as a memorial or commemoration of that unique sacrifice. It was not Christ who was offered in this memorial but the Church, who offered herself to God through Christ as a living sacrifice from a broken and a contrite heart. He, too, saw this as the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi.

Though the early Church generally viewed the eucharist in spiritual terms, the concept began to emerge of a literal sacrifice in the eucharist. Nearly all historians agree that this change had it beginnings with the third century North African bishop and martyr, Cyprian. The Church at this time was drifting from reliance on God’s grace in Jesus Christ to a theology which included the concept of human works to gain merit before God and to atone for sin through penance, asceticism and good works. Thus, the eucharist as a sacrifice began also to be looked upon, by some, as a means of propitiating God for sins committed after baptism. Men began to view the priest and Christian ministry as being parallel to the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament. And though this analogy had been set forth by earlier Fathers, they always emphasized that the carnal sacrifices of Judaism had been displaced with the spiritual sacrifices of the Church on the basis of the completed sacrifice of Christ. There were no more sacrifices for sin. But the analogy began to lose its strictly spiritual character. Along with a materialistic view of the elements in the eucharist there began to develop through Cyprian, with his view of the sacerdotal nature of the priesthood, the concept of the eucharist as a literal sacrifice.

He laid down the axiom:

If Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the great High Priest of God the Father, and first offered Himself a Sacrifice to the Father, and commanded this to be done in remembrance of Himself, surely that Priest truly acts in Christ’s stead, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full Sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he begins to offer it according as he sees Christ Himself offered it.
In this way Cyprian extended the traditional interpretation of the eucharist to include the concept of a sacramental re-enactment of the original sacrifice of Christ. In his mind, the eucharist was a sacrifice in the sense that it set forth as a memorial the original sacrifice. But given the materializing influences within the Church, it did not take long before the view of the eucharist as a sacramental re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice, in commemoration of him, was extended to the idea that Christ was truly and literally immolated on the altar. Chrysostom, for example, teaches that Christ physically suffers in the eucharistic sacrifice:

The bread which we break, is it not a communion of the Body of Christ?. . . But why adds he also, ‘which we break’? For although in the Eucharist one may see this done, yet on the cross not so, but the very contrary, For, ‘A bone of Him,’ saith one, ‘shall not be broken.’ But that which He suffered not on the cross, this He suffers in the oblation for thy sake, and submits to be broken, that He may fill all men.


No Copyright