Is the Lord’s Supper a Sacrifice?

Is the Lords Supper a Sacrifice

William Perkins
The Reformed Catholic

A Declaration showing how near we may come to the present Church of Rome in sundry points of religion, and wherein we must forever depart from them.

Of the Sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper, which the Papists Call the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Touching this point, first I will set down what must be understood by the name sacrifice. A sacrifice is taken properly or improperly. Properly it is a sacred or solemn action in which man offers and consecrates some outward bodily thing unto God for this end, to please and honor Him thereby. Thus, all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and the oblation of Christ upon the cross in the New Testament, are sacrifices. Improperly, that is, only by the way of resemblance, the duties of the moral law are called sacrifices. And in handling this question I understand a sacrifice both properly and improperly by way of resemblance.

I. Our Consent.

Our consent, I propound in two conclusions:

Conclusion 1. That the Supper of the Lord is a sacrifice and may truly be so called as it has been in former ages, and that in three respects:

1. Because it is a memorial of the real sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and contains withal a thanksgiving to God for the same, which thanksgiving is the sacrifice and “calves of our lips” (Heb. 13:15).

2. Because every communicant there presents himself body and soul, a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice unto God. For as in this sacrament God gives unto us Christ with His benefits, so we answerably give ourselves unto God as servants to walk in the practice of all dutiful obedience.

3. It is called a sacrifice in respect of that which was joined with the sacrament, namely, the alms given to the poor as a testimony of our thankfulness unto God. And in this regard also, the ancient fathers have called the sacrament an unbloody sacrifice; and the table, an altar; and the ministers, priests; and the whole action an oblation, not to God but to the congregation, and not by the priest alone, but by the people. A canon of a certain council says, “We decree that every Lord’s Day the oblation of the altar be offered of every man and woman both for bread and wine.” (Concil. Matisc. 2 c. 2). And Augustine says that “women offer a sacrifice at the altar of the Lord, that it might be offered by the priest to God” (Epist. 122). And usually in ancient writers the communion of the whole body of the congregation is called the sacrifice or oblation.

Conclusion 2. That the very body of Christ is offered in the Lord’s Supper. For as we take the bread to be the body of Christ sacramentally by resemblance, and no otherwise, so the breaking of bread is sacramentally the sacrificing or offering of Christ upon the cross. And thus the fathers have termed the eucharist an immolation of Christ, because it is a commemoration of His sacrifice upon the cross. Augustine, “Neither does he lie which says Christ was offered. For if sacraments had not the resemblance of things whereof they are sacraments, they should in no wise be sacraments. But from a resemblance, they often take their names” (Epist. 23). Again, Christ is sacrificed in the Last Supper in regard of the faith of the communicants, which makes a thing past and done as present. Augustine says, “When we believe in Christ, He is offered for us daily.” And, “Christ is then slain for everyone, when he believes that He is slain for him” (Lib. 2, Quaest. Vet. & Nov. Test. Ad Rom.). Ambrose says, “Christ is sacrificed daily in the minds of believers as upon an altar” (Lib. 2 de Virg.). Jerome says, “He is always offered to the believers” (Ad Damas).

II. The Difference.

They make the eucharist to be a real, external, or bodily sacrifice offered unto God, holding and teaching that the minister is a priest properly, and that in this sacrament he offers Christ’s body and blood to God the Father really and properly under the forms of bread and wine. We acknowledge no real, outward, or bodily sacrifice for the remission of sins, but only Christ’s oblation on the cross once offered. Here is the main difference between us, touching this point. And it is of that weight and moment, that they stiffly maintaining their opinion (as they do) can be no church of God. For this point razes the foundation to the very bottom. And that it may the better appear that we avouch the truth, first, I will confirm our doctrine by Scripture, and second, confute the reasons which they bring for themselves.

III. Our Reasons.

Reason 1. [Heb. 9:15, 26; 10:10.] The Holy Ghost says Christ offered Himself but once, therefore not often. And thus there can be no real or bodily offering of His body and blood in the sacrament of His Supper. The text is plain.

Objection. The papists answer thus: “The sacrifice of Christ,” say they, “is one for substance, yet in regard of the manner of offering, it is either bloody or unbloody, and the Holy Ghost speaks only of the bloody sacrifice of Christ, which was indeed offered but once.

Answer. But the author of the epistle takes it for granted that the sacrifice of Christ is only one, and that a bloody sacrifice. For he says, “Christ did not offer Himself often, as the high priests did” (Heb. 9:25), and “For then he must have often suffered since the foundation of the world: but now in the end he hath appeared once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26). And, “without shedding of blood is no remission of sins” (v. 22). By these words, it is plain that the Scripture never knew the twofold manner of sacrificing of Christ. And every distinction in divinity not founded in the written Word is but a forgery of man’s brain. And if this distinction be good, how shall the reason of the apostle stand, “He did not offer himself but once, because He suffered but once?

Reason 2. The Romish Church holds that the sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper is all one for substance, with the sacrifice which He offered on the cross. If that be so, then the sacrifice in the eucharist must either be a continuance of that sacrifice which was begun on the cross, or else an alteration or repetition of it. Now let them choose of these two which they will. If they say it is a continuance of the sacrifice on the cross, Christ being but the beginner, and the priest the finisher thereof, they make it imperfect. For to continue a thing until it be accomplished is to bring perfection unto it. But Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was then fully perfected, as by His own testimony it appears when He said, Consummatum est, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Again, if they say it is a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, thus also they make it imperfect—for that is the reason which the Holy Ghost uses to prove that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were imperfect, because they were repeated.

Reason 3. A real and outward sacrifice in a sacrament is against the nature of a sacrament, and especially the Supper of the Lord; for one end thereof is to keep in memory the sacrifice of Christ. Now every remembrance must be of a thing absent, past, and done. And if Christ be daily and really sacrificed, the sacrament is no fit memorial of His sacrifice. Again, the principal end for which the sacrament was ordained is that God might give and we receive Christ with His benefits. And therefore, to give and take, to eat and drink, are here the principal actions. Now in a real sacrifice God does not give Christ and the priest receive Him of God; but contrariwise he gives and offers Christ unto God, and God receives something of us. To help the matter, they say that this sacrifice serves not properly to make any satisfaction to God, but rather to apply unto us the satisfaction of Christ being already made. But this answer still goes against the nature of a sacrament, in which God gives Christ unto us. Whereas, in a sacrifice, God receives from man and man gives something to God. A sacrifice, therefore, is no fit means to apply anything unto us that is given of God.

Reason 4. In Heb. 7:24–25, the Holy Ghost makes a difference between Christ, the high priest of the New Testament, and all Levitical priests, in this: that they were many, one succeeding another; but He is only one, having an eternal priesthood which cannot pass from Him to any other. Now if this difference be good, then Christ alone in His own very Person must be the priest of the New Testament, and no other with or under Him. Otherwise in the New Testament there should be more priests in number than in the Old. If they say that the whole action remains in the Person of Christ, and that the priest is but an instrument under Him (as they say), I say again it is false. Because the whole oblation is acted or done by the priest himself—and He which does all is more than a bare instrument.

Reason 5. If the priest offers to God Christ’s real body and blood for the pardon of our sins, then man is become a mediator between God and Christ. Now the Church of Rome says that the priest—in his mass—is a priest properly, and his sacrifice a real sacrifice, differing only in the manner of offering from the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. And in the very canon of the mass they insinuate thus much when they request “God to accept their gifts and offerings,” namely, Christ Himself offered as He did the sacrifices of Abel and Noah. Now it is absurd to think that any creature should be a mediator between Christ and God. Therefore, Christ cannot possibly be offered by any creature unto God.

Reason 6. The judgment of the ancient church. A certain counsel held at Toledo in Spain reproved the ministers that they offered sacrifice often the same day without the holy communion. The words of the canon are these: “Relation is made unto us that certain priests do not so many times receive the grace of the holy communion, as they offer sacrifices in one day; but in one day, if they offer many sacrifices to God in all the oblations, they suspend themselves from the communion…” (Tolet. Concil. 12 c. 5). Here mark, that the sacrifices in ancient masses were nothing else but forms of divine service—because none did communicate, no not the priest himself. And in another council, the name of the mass is put only for a form of prayer: “It has pleased us, that prayers, supplications, masses, which shall be allowed in the council…be used” (Milevet c. 12). And in this sense it is taken when speech is used of the making or compounding of masses, for the sacrifice propitiatory of the body and blood of Christ admits no composition (Concil. Tol. 4 cap. 12 & Iacob de consecr. dist. 1). Abbot Paschaesius says, “Because we sin daily, Christ is sacrificed for us mystically, and His passion is given in mystery” (Lib. de corpor. & sang. dom. cap. 9). These his words are against the real sacrifice, but yet he expounds himself more plainly, in chapter 10, “The blood is drunk in mystery spiritually.” And, “it is all spiritual which we eat.” And in ch. 12, “The priest…distributes to everyone not as much as the outward sight gives, but as much as faith receives,” and in ch. 13, “The full similitude is outwardly, and the immaculate flesh of the lamb is faith inwardly…that the truth be not wanting to the sacrament, and it be not ridiculous to pagans that we drink the blood of a killed man.” And in ch. 6, “One eats the flesh of Christ spiritually and drinks His blood, another seems to receive not so much as a morsel of bread from the hand of the priest.” His reason is because they come unprepared. Now then considering all these places, he makes no receiving but spiritual, neither does he make any sacrifice but spiritual.

IV. Objections of Papists.

Objection 1. When Abraham was coming from the slaughter of the kings, Melchizedek met him and brought forth bread and wine; and he was a priest of the most high God (Gen. 14:18). “Now this bread and wine,” say they, “he brought forth to offer for a sacrifice; because it is said he was a priest of the most high God.” And they reason thus: “Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek; therefore, as Melchizedek offered bread and wine, so Christ under the forms of bread and wine offers Himself in sacrifice unto God.

Answer. Melchizedek was no type of Christ in regard of the act of sacrificing, but in regard of his person, and things pertaining thereto, which all are fully expounded in Hebrews 7, the sum whereof is this: 1. Melchizedek was both king and priest; so was Christ. 2. He was a prince of peace and righteousness; so was Christ. 3. He had neither father nor mother—because the Scripture in setting down his history makes no mention either of beginning or ending of his days—and so Christ had neither father nor mother. No father, as He was man; no mother, as He was God. 4. Melchizedek, being greater than Abraham, blessed him, and Christ, by virtue of His priesthood, blesses—that is justifies and sanctifies—all those that be of the faith of Abraham. In these things only stands the resemblance, and not in the offering of bread and wine. Again, the end of bringing forth the bread and wine was not to make a sacrifice, but to refresh Abraham and his servants that came from the slaughter of the kings. And he is called there a priest of the most high God, not in regard of any sacrifice, but in consideration of his blessing of Abraham, as the order of the words teaches: “And he was the priest of the most high God, and therefore he blessed him.” Third, though it were granted that he brought forth bread and wine to offer in sacrifice, yet will it not follow that in the sacrament, Christ Himself is to be offered unto God under the naked forms of bread and wine. Melchizedek’s bread and wine were absurd types of no-bread and no-wine, or of forms of bread and wine in the sacrament.

Objection 2. The paschal lamb was both a sacrifice and a sacrament. Now the eucharist comes in room thereof.

Answer. The paschal lamb was a sacrament but no sacrifice. Indeed, Christ says to His disciples, “Go and prepare a place to sacrifice the Passover in” (Mark 14:12), but the words to offer, or to sacrifice, do often signify no more but to kill. As when Jacob and Laban made a covenant, it is said, “Jacob sacrificed beasts, and called his brethren to eat bread” (Gen. 31:54). Which words must not be understood of killing for sacrifice, but of killing for a feast—because he could not in good conscience invite them to his sacrifice that were out of the covenant, being (as they were) of another religion. Second, it may be called a sacrifice because it was killed after the manner of a sacrifice. Third, when Saul sought his father’s asses and asked for the seer, a maid bids him go up in haste: “For,” says she, “there is an offering of the people this day in the high place” (1 Sam. 9:12), where the feast that was kept in Rama is called a sacrifice; in all likelihood because at the beginning thereof, the priest offered a sacrifice to God. And so the Passover may be called a sacrifice because sacrifices were offered within the compass of the appointed feast or solemnity of the Passover (Deut. 16:2); and yet the thing itself was no more a sacrifice than the feast in Rama was. Again, if it were granted that the Passover was both, it will not make much against us, for the Supper of the Lord succeeds the Passover only in regard of the main end thereof, which is the increase of our communion with Christ.

Objection 3. “The prophet (Mal. 1:11) foretells of a clean sacrifice that shall be in the New Testament. And that,” say they, “is the sacrifice of the mass.

Answer. This place must be understood of a spiritual sacrifice, as we shall plainly perceive if we compare it with 1 Timothy 2:8, where the meaning of the prophet is fitly expounded: “I will,” says Paul, “that men pray in all places, lifting up pure hands without wrath or doubting.” And this is the clean sacrifice of the Gentiles. Thus, Justin Martyr says that “supplications and thanksgivings are the only perfect sacrifices pleasing God, and that Christians have learned to offer them alone” (Dialog. cum Triph.). And Tertullian says, “We sacrifice for the health of the Emperor…as God has commanded with pure prayer.” (Ad Scapulam). And Irenaeus says that this clean offering to be offered in every place is the prayer of the saints (Lib. 4 c. 35).

Objection 4.We have an altar, whereof they may not eat, which serve in the tabernacle” (Heb. 13:10). “Now,” say they, “if we have an altar, then we must needs have a priest; and also a real sacrifice.

Answer. Here is meant not a bodily, but a spiritual altar, because the altar is opposed to the material tabernacle. And what is meant thereby is expressed in the next verse, in which he proves that we have an altar: “The bodies of the beasts, whose blood was brought into the holy place by the high priest for sin, were burnt without the camp; so Christ Jesus, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate” (vv. 11–12). Now lay the reason or proof to the thing that is proved, and we must needs understand Christ Himself, who was both the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice.

Objection 5. Lastly, they say, where alteration is both of law and covenant, there must needs be a priest and a new sacrifice. But in the New Testament there is alteration both of law and covenant, and therefore there is both new priest and new sacrifice.

Answer. All may be granted: In the New Testament there is both new priest and sacrifice, yet not any popish priest but only Christ Himself both God and man. The sacrifice also is Christ as He is man. And the altar Christ, as He is God, who in the New Testament offered Himself a sacrifice to His Father for the sins of the world. For though He was the Lamb of God slain from the beginning of the world, in regard of the purpose of God, in regard of the value of His merit, and regard of faith which makes things to come, as present, yet was He not actually offered until the fullness of time came. And once offering of Himself, He remains a priest forever, and all other priests beside Him are superfluous, His one offering once offered, being all-sufficient.


2 thoughts on “Is the Lord’s Supper a Sacrifice?

  1. This is an important distinction. It’s funny though how comfortable with the Real Presence he is. I think most modern Presbyterians, let alone Evangelicals, would have issues with this kind of language. The Reformers were not the Memorialists that most Protestants are today.


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