Updated: May 28
By Luke Lancaster
"The Mass is a sacrifice." How, though? To understand this, first we have to understand Christ's sacrifice. Christ’s suffering and death on a cross 2000 years ago is called a "sacrifice," for He died for a purpose: to take on our punishment due to sin. This sacrifice is represented on earth through the Mass.
A sacrifice has a few elements.
First, there is the priest who offers the sacrifice. Second, there is the victim that is offered. Third, there is an altar on which the sacrifice is offered on. Jesus accomplished all three categories by being both priest and victim (Heb. 7:27), offering Himself on the altar of the cross.
This happened a long time ago, however, Jesus is an eternal being. He is God incarnate. For Him to act as a priest would mean that this event would be heavenly (Heb. 9:24). Christ's sacrifice did not begin and end in 30 AD, 2000 years ago. Rather, it was an eternal sacrifice. Jesus is a priest - not just on Calvary - but forever, ministering at His altar within Heaven (Heb. 8:1-2). This is going on continually, for Christ's heavenly sacrificial liturgy is described as "sacrifices" (plural) in Hebrews 9:23.
Scripture speaks not of Him being a priest of the past, but a priest of the present! Consider Hebrews 2:17, which says that Christ makes "expiation" for our sins, but instead of being in the past tense (since Christ died in the past), the word "expiation" is in the present infinitive tense! Read about this in The Expositor's Greek New Testament. He is a priest eternally offering His eternal sacrifice in Heaven, or as Hebrews 7:25 states, "He always lives to make intercession for them."
Now, what does this have to do with the Mass? Well, notice the sacrificial language of the Last Supper. Jesus took bread and associated it with His Body which would be "offered" for us. Then He took a cup of wine and associated it with His Blood, which would be "poured out" for us. Jesus is connecting the last supper with His sacrifice, which was to happen only a few hours after this! The two are one one and the same event!
Consider the significance of His separation of his Body and Blood. As the bread is His Body, and the wine is His Blood, the two are separated entities. However, when does Christ's Body get separated from His Blood? At His death on Mount Calvary, where He poured out all of it for us.
Thus, the heavenly sacrifice which Jesus offers in Heaven right now is represented before Catholics today through human representatives. Catholics today have not seen His sacrifice 2000 years ago, so Jesus does not want to leave anybody out. He acts through a Catholic priest to re-present His sacrifice to us on our "altar" (Heb. 13:10).
All of this can be thought of in terms of an analogy, although very imperfect analogy. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said to imagine a great drama. If the performance occurred on Broadway in 1950 AD, with spectacular actors and phenomenal effects, then word would get around. Other people would want to see it as well. So, the show would be put on elsewhere. Overtime, new actors would be needed to play the part over different sets. Similarly, the Mass is a copy of Christ's sacrifice in Heaven.