The Eucharist as Sacrifice

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We hear it endlessly from many Protestants: “There’s no need for sacrifice anymore.”  The early Church did not think this way.

“The oblation of the Church, therefore, which the Lord gave instructions to be offered throughout all the world, is accounted with God a pure sacrifice, … Inasmuch, then, as the Church offers with single-mindedness, her gift is justly reckoned a pure sacrifice with God.” ~ Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (Adversus Haereses 4:18:1-4)

Saint Irenaeus, a 2nd century bishop and Church Father, added this this oblation and sacrifice is the Eucharist (ibid, 5).  Of course in the Eucharist we are “nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood”.

Saint Justin Martyr earlier on mentioned how the Holy Eucharist was a sacrifice, oblation or offering.

“God has therefore announced in advance that all the sacrifices offered in His name, which Jesus Christ offered, that is, in the Eucharist of the Bread and of the Chalice, which are offered by us Christians in every part of the world, are pleasing to Him.” (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 117)

Again he continues, mentioning that the Holy Eucharist fulfills Saint Malachi’s prophesy.

“Accordingly, God, anticipating all the sacrifices which we offer through this name, and which Jesus the Christ enjoined us to offer, i.e., in the Eucharist of the bread and the cup, and which are presented by Christians in all places throughout the world, bears witness that they are well-pleasing to Him. But He utterly rejects those presented by you and by those priests of yours, saying, ‘And I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles (He says); but you profane it.'” (ibid)

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, in the 4th century, makes it clear as well.

“Then having sanctified ourselves by these spiritual Hymns, we beseech the merciful God to send forth His Holy Spirit upon the gifts lying before Him; that He may make the Bread the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ ; for whatsoever the Holy Ghost has touched, is surely sanctified and changed.

“Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world ; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.” (Catechetical Lecture 23:6-7)

Saint Augustine of Hippo mentions that it was a custom of Christians in different nations “some partake daily of the body and blood of Christ, others receive it on stated days: in some places no day passes without the sacrifice being offered” (Letter 54:2).

So, it is clear the Church Fathers taught that the Holy Eucharist is truly a sacrifice.  So what is the meaning of sacrifice?  Webster Dictionary defines sacrifices as “Anything consecrated and offered to God, or to a divinity; an immolated victim, or an offering of any kind, laid upon an altar, or otherwise presented in the way of religious thanksgiving, atonement, or conciliation.”  Note that a sacrifice must be made for atonement if there is no sacrifice, then there is no atonement.  Protestants cannot say our praise alone is a sacrifice since our praise does not atone for sins.

In Catholic theology, we unite our sacrifice of praise with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which does atone for sins since it contains the Body and Blood of Christ offered on the Cross.

It should be noted that frequently in the New Testament, the Greek term used for ‘to give thanks’ is eucharistein which is the root of the word Eucharist.  It is appropriate to say that in such parts of Scripture where it says to give thanks, it is saying to do so in unison with the Holy Eucharist.

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