Hebrews 9:25-26
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages to take away sin by his sacrifice.
These two verses from Hebrews are part of the primary texts that evangelicals use to counter our referring to the Eucharist as the Sacrifice of the Mass. Their argument is based on the statement that Jesus died once for all. We agree that Jesus died once. But what our brothers and sisters in Christ do not understand is the richness that the writer to the Hebrews was referencing.
This entire section of the letter to the Hebrews is referencing the sacrifices in the temple. That is why verse twenty four talks about Jesus entering the sanctuary. The sanctuary was the holiest place in the temple. The temple and its holy of holies was built to reflect what Moses saw of the heavenly throne room of God.
But the sacrifices that occurred in the temple could not fully accomplish forgiveness of sins. This is why Jesus came. The temple sacrifices anticipated the sacrifice that Jesus was going to do in his work on the cross, but more importantly and permanently in the sanctuary in heaven.
But here is a very important distinction, and I believe it is the one that is most important to use to dissuade the onslaught of attacks from non-Catholics. Those who participated in the sacrifices that occurred in the temple, had to eat part of the sacrifice for it to be valid. This is why Jesus set in motion the idea of the Eucharist being his body and blood.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, as Saint John the Baptist described in the gospels. The Paschal lamb was mainly a reminder of the covenant between God and the Israelites as they left Egypt. The Passover was not primarily a time for asking for forgiveness of sins. That was a different holiday for the Jewish people.
But now, Jesus is taking things to a new level. This is the point of the last line of our reading today. Christ offered himself once to take away the sins of many. (The reason it is not for all is because not all will accept Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. This is why the Eucharistic Prayers were changed in the English Missal a few years ago.)
Again, remember that those who made the sacrifice in the temple had to eat part of the sacrifice. So, how was Jesus going to make his sacrifice available for all of time? He had to establish some way for his followers to participate in the onetime sacrifice of the cross. That is why we have the Eucharist as we do.
So without an understanding that this section of Hebrews is speaking about the comparison of the sacrifices in the temple with the sacrifice of Jesus, I can see why the evangelicals would think that something is wrong with us referring to the Mass as a sacrifice. This is why it is important to have a good understanding of the entirety of the Bible, rather than only picking out a few verses that seem to support an idea that is not part of the history of the church.
The church has always understood that the Eucharist is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, and that we are called to eat Jesus. When it is put that bluntly, it does sound a little shocking. The early church WAS accused of cannibalism. But it is a lack of understanding of the beauty of God’s revelation that Jesus himself started by giving us his body and blood in the form of bread and wine.
So, how do you address this with our brothers and sisters who do not like the idea of the Sacrifice of the Mass? First, understand that the reason they do not like it is that they think we do not accept the completeness of what Jesus did on the cross, at least this is my understanding of their position. Once you understand their concern about the fullness of the work of Jesus on the cross, you can tell them that you believe the same.
But then remind them that the sacrifices in the temple that were an example, though incomplete, of what Jesus was to do required that the Israelites eat those sacrifices. This was so that they could participate in the graces of those sacrifices. So we now need a way to fully participate in the grace of the cross which is the sacrifice of Jesus. Our participating in that fullness of Jesus’ sacrifice happens through the Sacrifice of the Mass which is united in the one perfect sacrifice of the cross.
All of time is stripped away and brought into the one moment of Jesus’ sacrifice for us all, along with the Last Supper. But in his wisdom, he also knew that he had to establish a way for us all to participate directly – directly – in the offering of the cross. That happens through the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Jesus, we give you thanks first of all for your sacrifice on the cross, and then for the gift that you have given that allows us to participate in that sacrifice all these centuries later. As we participate in this Sacrifice of the Mass, we know that you are inviting us to unite ourselves to the cross. Strengthen us through this Eucharist that we can give ourselves as a sacrifice for the glory of your name.
Be our ever present source of strength that what we offer will be worthy to be considered part of your own suffering. And in that way, help us to give glory to your Heavenly Father and to you. Amen.