July 30, 2013
ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.
Not an offering, not a sacrifice
Having once charted out what the Lord's supper is, the Confession now adds in many comments about what it is not. It is not, in the first place, an offering. 'In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father'. In fact, in the ceremony of the supper, there is 'not any real sacrifice made at all'. Jesus is not given up once more either for the forgiveness of the sins of the living, or of the dead, or for any other purposes.
As students of history will know, the Westminster assembly is here refuting the notion of a 'sacrifice of the mass'. As students of world religions will know, this continues to be an abiding error in the sacramental theory of the Roman Catholic Church. As students of the Bible will know, that Christ can ever be sacrificed again is denied in the most emphatic terms in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews 9.
First, in contrast to the Old Covenant regime, Jesus has no intention to 'offer himself repeatedly', or to 'suffer repeatedly'. The very thought is absurd to the author of the Hebrews. We see this in Hebrews 9:25-26.
Second, there can be no repetition to Christ's finished work. Jesus 'has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself'. Nothing more will ever be needed. There is only one Christian sacrifice and it is seen on the cross and not in a supper. We see this in Hebrews 9:26.
Third, the so-called bloodless 'sacrifice' that is supposedly offered in the Roman Catholic mass can have no merit because 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins'. We see this in Hebrews 9:22.
A commemorative offering or a commemoration of an offering?
The second point made in this second paragraph is that this sacrament is not a commemorative offering but a commemoration of an offering. Roman Catholics under siege will describe the mass merely as a commemorative offering of Jesus - a memorial offering. Given the stern statements of Hebrews 9, the Westminster assembly is right to see the supper instead as a commemoration of an offering - the one offering up of Jesus himself, by himself, upon his cross, once in history for all time. That is why Jesus kept saying that Christians are to observe the supper in his remembrance (1 Cor. 11:24-26): because it is that important, and because it will not be repeated.
By its very nature the Lord's supper is the kind of commemoration which is also a 'spiritual oblation'. Christians engage in this supper, like Christ, by blessing God and giving thanks (Matt. 26:26-27). As it is a meal which offers spiritual rather than physical benefit, in doing so we are giving thanks for Jesus more than we are giving thanks for wheat or wine. We are offering heartfelt sacrifice of praise to God for Jesus. We are publicly proclaiming the good news of what Jesus has done, which is yet another way of offering praise (1 Cor. 11:26). Nonetheless, it is praise that we offer again and again in the supper, not Jesus. The meal remains a commemoration.
It is for that reason that Reformation era theologians protested effectively, against what some major medieval theologians had earlier protested ineffectively: the 'popish sacrifice of the mass'. And for those reasons it is not an exaggeration to say that the mass 'is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect'. The 'sacrifice' of the mass requires the return to a priesthood, while we have priests enough in the one permanent priest who is Christ (Heb. 7:23-24). The 'sacrifice' of the mass calls for continued offerings when Christ has 'once for all . . . offered up himself' (Heb. 7:27).
So let us listen to the Scriptures! They tell us that Jesus 'offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins'. Let us trust the Word of God, which tells us that after Jesus offered himself and completed his work, 'he sat down at the right hand of God' (Heb. 10:11-12). Let us never drift into a church that ceremonially re-sacrifices Christ when 'by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified' (Heb. 10:14). Let us not look for grace or forgiveness mediated through the mass when we find it directly from Christ himself.
After writing eloquently about the end of daily sacrifices in the final sacrifice of Christ, the author of the letter to the Hebrews reflected on what this means for Christians who will one day be summoned to meet God. By the inspiration of the Spirit, he was brought to recall two promises of God in Jeremiah 31:33 and 34. In the first, God promised to put his law on our hearts and write it on our minds. In the second, he added, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more'.
If that is the essence of God's gracious covenant with us then, as Hebrews 10:18 rightly states, 'where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin'. The Lord's supper witnesses to what Christ has already done - the one who is the only propitiation, the only wrath remover, for all God's chosen ones.
Dr. Chad B. Van Dixhoorn is Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and associate pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. This article is taken from his forthcoming commentary on the Confession, published by the Banner of Truth Trust