Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Eucharist as Re-Presentation

There are folks who misunderstand what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, falsely supposing (possibly because they follow the erroneous opinion of Calvin or some other Reformer) that Catholics are to view the Sacrament as a re-sacrifice of Christ. This notion is false.
Therefore the identity between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrifice of Calvary could seem to be obvious, since 'our altar is the altar of Christ, on which we celebrate his sacrifice, in fact, on which we offer him up to the Father in the Sacrament of his very own body and blood.' For if the daily sacrifice of the church were other than the sacrifice offered once and for all on the cross, 'it would not be true but superfluous,' since the only sacrifice that truly availed was that offered on Calvary and an effective sacrifice in the Mass had to be identical with it. The two sacrifices were one sacrifice... Yet there remained the statement of the New Testament that the sacrifice of the cross had been 'once and for all.' From it there appeared to follow the thesis that the crucifixion of Christ could not be repeated 'as a punishment,' but only as a re-presentation of the mystery. [Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology, 190; emphasis added]
How then did Calvin (for example) get this wrong, so that he apparently believed otherwise about what the Church taught? I suppose he must have looked at the common language used with regard to the sacrifice of the Mass, and simply missed the fact that it is not intended as a literal re-sacrifice at all. I don't know.


Martin T said...

In my own life I have seen issues that seemed obvious and wrong. I have worked myself into a dander over the issue then, thank God, found I was the one in gross error all along. My pride has taken a few hits for this. I can only imagine that Calvin was in the same boat. He railed against what he "knew" but, in this case, was unwilling to accept or look for correction. He was more interested in being right than finding the truth.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

I suspect you're right. It often seems that philosophical or theological prejudices make it difficult for people to think about things in ways other than their own. When it comes to the Faith, we can avoid the consequences of this by submitting to the authority of the Magisterium, but this Calvin (and his fellows, and his heirs) would not do.

I think that in this case Calvin wasn't just a rebel, but a careless student. To falsely claim that the Church taught a re-sacrifice of Christ is to just get the facts badly wrong. Sadly, these sorts of errors get passed along to his disciples, who understandably (out of respect for him) but unfortunately suppose that he knew what he was talking about. We wind up with Protestants today who think that they know what the Church teaches, but they get it wrong. I'm thinking of that Abp. Sheen observation about the number of people who reject a straw man Church, and the few who actually know what they abhor ;-)

It's ironic, isn't it, that those who reject the authority of the Church happily accept the authority of others. :-(