Are We Re-Crucifying Jesus in the Mass?

Are We Re-Crucifying Christ at every Mass?
Are We Re-Crucifying Christ at every Mass? (photo: Register Files)

Anti-Catholics often charge that Catholics “re-crucify” Jesus through the sacrifice of the Mass.

If we were, that would be a problem, because the Bible repeatedly indicates that Jesus suffered and died “once for all.”

What’s really going on here?

How should we understand the relationship of the Mass to the sacrifice of the Cross?


Question from a Reader

Some time ago, I got the following question from a reader:

You know the way non-Catholics always say we are re-doing the crucifixion at every Mass.

I want to say, “No, we’re re-doing the Last Supper (as He said to do).”

At the Last Supper, Christ is pre-presenting the Calvary sacrifice, so if they could participate in it ahead of time, why can’t we participate in it after that time?

So my question is: Is it accurate to say that the Mass is a re-enactment of the Last Supper, rather than of the crucifixion?

There’s a sense in which it’s a re-enactment of both, but I think the reader is on to something here. The way a current Mass re-enacts the two is not the same.


Last Supper, Crucifixion, Mass Today

To flesh out the idea, we need to consider the relationship between three events:

·      The Last Supper (a.k.a. The First Mass)

·      The Crucifixion

·      Any particular Mass being held today

Obviously, all three of these are related to each other, but the nature of the relationship differs.

The Masses (the first one and contemporary ones) make present the sacrifice of the Cross in a special sense.


The Catechism Speaks

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting the Council of Trent):

1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice:

[1] The victim is one and the same: 

[2] the same [Priest] now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; 

[3] only the manner of offering is different.

In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner."

I’ve added the [1], [2], and [3] in that for the sake of clarity. [1] and [2] spell out the senses in which the sacrifice is the same: It has the same victim ([1]) and the same priest ([2]).

Other sources add that the purpose of the sacrifice is the same (our redemption), making it the same sacrifices in those three senses.


What’s Different?

What is different is the manner of offering ([3]).

Christ offered himself on the Cross by the shedding of his blood (i.e., in a bloody manner) but today he offers himself without shedding his blood (i.e., in an unbloody manner).

Furthermore, according to the Credo of the People of God, he does this while "enthroned gloriously in heaven" (CPG 24).

So this doesn’t seem to be just a time warp to Calvary in A.D. 30.

And that’s how the Masses are related to the Crucifixion.


More from the Creedo

The Creedo of the People of God explains a bit further how the sacrifice of the Cross is related to the Last Supper and to the sacrifice of the Mass today:

We believe that the Mass, celebrated by the priest representing the person of Christ by virtue of the power received through the Sacrament of Orders, and offered by him in the name of Christ and the members of His Mystical Body, is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars.

We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His body and His blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, likewise the bread and wine consecrated by the priest [today ]are changed into the body and blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven [CPG 24].


How Is a Current Mass Related to the First Mass?

Jesus told his apostles:

This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me [Luke 22:19b].

This is the command by which Jesus ordained his apostles as priests (since he was performing a sacrificial action and commanded them to do it, thus commanding them to perform sacrifice), but what is it precisely that he is commanding them to do?


Is It to Nail Him to a Cross?

No, if we read the first part of the verse, we find:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them [Luke 22:19a].

So when Jesus says "Do this," the "this" he is referring to is the act of:

·      Taking bread

·      Giving thanks/blessing it (the word here in Greek is eucharistesas–"gave thanks"–from which we get "Eucharist")

·      Distributing it

In other words, he told them to say Mass.

So in fulfilling Jesus’ command to "Do this" what the Catholic priests are doing is to saying Mass, just as Jesus did, not nailing him to a Cross. (As should be obvious.)

That means that the thing that is being repeated is the celebration of Mass, not the Crucifixion.


Pre-Presenting and Re-Presenting

The reader’s point about the Last Supper pre-presenting the sacrifice of the Cross the way contemporary Masses re-presenting it is also a good one.

If Jesus didn’t have a problem with having the Last Supper pre-presenting what he would do on the Cross–and if he told us to keep doing it after the Crucifixion–then we should have no problem with the Mass re-presenting the sacrifice of the Cross (in the senses indicated above).

In other words, Jesus didn’t have a problem with it, so we shouldn’t either.



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