The issue of the Roman Catholic Mass, and whether Protestants should attend it, has been much in the news recently. Those who have objected to attending the funeral or wedding of a Roman Catholic, because of the mass, have been derided as bigots, of being stuck in the past, and as not being representative of evangelicalism as a whole. We therefore have to ask ourselves what is the mass, and thy is it such a big issue as to whether a believer should or should not attend it. In times past it was an issue of such importance that men and women of God were prepared to die rather than attend the mass. In his famous Book of Martyrs John Foxe records the following about the actions of the Duke of Savoy towards the Waldensians concerning the issue of the mass:
He, accordingly, issued express orders for all the Waldenses to attend Mass regularly on pain of death. This they absolutely refused to do, on which he entered the Piedmontese valleys, with a formidable body of troops, and began a most furious persecution, in which great numbers were hanged, drowned, ripped open, tied to trees, and pierced with prongs, thrown from precipices, burnt, stabbed, racked to death, crucified with their heads downwards, worried by dogs, etc.
Rather than attend the Roman Catholic Mass they preferred to suffer the most cruel tortures and were 'persecuted this way unto death'. This attitude to the mass was not limited to the Waldensians, but has been held by many people down through the ages, who would rather suffer the flames of martyrdom, than give in to their conscience on this matter. In his Institutes of Christian Religion John Calvin says that 'in the mass intolerable blasphemy and insult are offered to Christ'. What is it about the mass that roused the fury of the reformers and caused the blood of the martyrs to flow before they would attend it? Perhaps the lax attitude of many believers toward being present when the mass is celebrated is due to their lack of understanding as to what the mass really claims to be. Its is not the same as the communion celebrated by Protestants, but is so far removed from it as night is from day. In looking at what the mass is, we do not want to be accused of misrepresenting Roman Catholicism, therefore all of our observations about the mass will be based on what the Church of Rome itself says in its own documents.
1. It is claimed that in the mass the elements literally become the whole Christ
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church states the following:
The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."
(Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 1374 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
This doctrine of transubstantiation is the most blasphemous of errors that that has been propagated in the history of the church. Well did the framers of the 39 Articles of the Church of England describes the mass as 'blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits'. While many believers may be aware of Rome's claim that the elements become the literal body and blood of Christ, yet the blasphemy of the mass is far worse even that that. Not only his body and blood, but soul and divinity also, both his divine and human nature, they claim are united in the wafer! It is not surprising then that Roman Catholicism has been described as the religion of the wafer god, for they claim that the wafer is wholly God, truly, really and substantially. The priest holds in his hand, not simply the element of bread, but God! When we consider this awful blasphemy, is it any wonder that the reformers reacted so strongly against the mass? While it ought to be no wonder that they reacted such, it is however a great wonder that so many today are indifferent in their opposition to attending the mass.
What then of this claim of Rome that the bread literally becomes the body of Christ, is that how the words of Matthew 26:26, Mark 14:22, Luke 22:19 and 1st Chronicles 11:24 should be interpreted? No, for when Christ says 'this is my body' concerning the bread, it is no more to be take literally than where he says 'I am the door' or 'I am the true vine'. Scripture is to be interpreted reasonably and in describing the bread and wine as his body and blood, Christ is speaking of them as a symbol of his sacrifice on the cross. To claim that the bread becomes the literal body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, indeed the whole God, is contrary both to reason and to scripture.
2. The mass claims to be a further sacrifice of Christ
Again we will look to the official documents of the church of Rome to establish that this is what the Church of Rome actually teaches about the mass:
Because it is the memorial of Christ's Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in the very words of institution: "This is my body which is given for you" and "This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood." In the Eucharist Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross, the very blood which he "poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins".
(Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 1365 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since 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. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory."
(Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 1367 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
These are but two of the many statements within the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church which describe the mass or eucharist as a sacrifice. When we consider these statements how apt are the words of Hebrews 10:11 that 'every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.' The Church of Rome here claims the mass to be more than simply a commemoration of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, but a continuation and a re-offering of it. When the priest pronounces the words of consecration and offers the bread and wine, he does so claiming that Christ is once again being sacrificed for the sins of the people, a sacrifice that is truly propitiatory. It is described as one single sacrifice, the same as that which was offered at Calvary, the same body and the same blood, as true a sacrifice as the sacrifice of the cross.
Whatever way you wish to put it, to describe the mass as a sacrifice is to deny that Christ has offered 'one sacrifice for sins forever' and to take all true meaning from his cry of 'it is finished' which was uttered on the cross. There is no further need for sacrifice for sins and for the church of Rome to claim that the mass is a sacrifice, and that that sacrifice is truly propitiatory is a great heresy. Christ's sacrifice for sins is complete and it is sufficient. Every Protestant who attends the mass attends is observing a priest claim to sacrifice Christ once more. What true believer can in good conscience do this?
3. The mass is an act of idolatry
What is idolatry? It is the giving to anything other than God the worship and adoration which is due him alone. So does Rome encourage idolatry in mass? We look again to their own documents:
Worship of the Eucharist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. "The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession.'
(Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 1378 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Because Christ himself is present in the sacrament of the altar, he is to be honored with the worship of adoration.
(Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 1, Article 3, Paragraph 1417 Catechism of the Catholic Church)
There can be no doubt from the quotations given here that the Roman Catholic Church instructs its faithful to adore and worship the sacrament of the mass. Because, they teach, through the miracle of transubstantiation it becomes the whole Christ, and therefore God, then it ought to be adored. Why do Roman Catholics bless themselves when they pass an open chapel, why do they bow down as the sacraments are carried through the streets, why are special provisions made for those consecrated wafers which have not been used during the mass? It is because they believe the wafer to be wholly Christ, and therefore God, and that it ought to be worshiped as such.
Yet the bread is nothing but bread, whether a priest has 'consecrated' it or not. What then is the Roman Catholic instructed to honour 'with the worship of adoration? He is instructed to worship bread and nothing more than that. The honour and worship which is due to God alone, is given to a piece of bread, to a wafer. What clearer example of idolatry can there be than that? When you as a born again believer sit in the Roman Catholic mass, you sit in on an act of idolatry. The mass is not to be regarded as similar to the Lord's Supper, but is more akin to the idolatrous worship of Babylon or that of Baal.
Is there any excuse for a Protestant to attend the mass? Are you content to be part of a service which claims that the wafer becomes the Holy God, that purports to offer the sacrifice of Christ again, and that instructs the people to worship the wafer? The view of the reformers and martyrs on the mass was the correct one and it is one to which we should continue to hold today.