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Why the Mass is a Perpetual Sacrifice

There is the common criticism that every Mass is “crucifying Christ again”.

The argument is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross, a sacrifice that only needed to happen once, therefore there is no need to nor can He be crucified again at Mass.

As usual, these arguments are vague and muddles issues, deliberately or otherwise. To avoid confusion, simply focus on what each transaction is paying for: Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the Mass are not paying for the same thing.

1. The Need for Christ’s Infinite Merits

God is infinitely good and just, therefore any sin causes Him infinite offense.

Justice demands everything to be accounted for. In order for there to be salvation, there must be redemption, and in order for there to be redemption, there must be reparation. In other words, someone has to pay.

The price is proportional to the guilt, which is proportional to the offense suffered by the offended party. Therefore, there is the infinite price due to the infinite offense caused by sin. The offending parties were our first parents who, as human, are not infinite by nature. They could not pay it even if they wanted to.

Only God who is infinite can pay it but any substitutional sacrifice must be in comparable form. Since the human is the offending party, the sacrifice must also be human. But God is not human, so He becomes one in order to be a valid sacrifice as He is merciful and just.

Jesus Christ paid for the infinite price due to all the sins of humanity, both original sin and personal sins, by His infinite merits earned by dying on the Cross on Calvary. It is not that He died for some sins and not others. And by dying for all sin, Salvation is made possible for and offered to all. This transaction (sacrifice) only needs to happen once.

Since Christ is the only one who can pay the infinite price due to sin, He is necessary and indispensable for Salvation.

2. The Need for Man’s Finite Merits

As Christ’s infinite merits pay for the infinite price due to sin, it also deals with the temporal (finite) price due to sin. But “deals with” does not imply taking away all consequences.

There is a distinction between the infinite merits of Christ and the temporal (finite) merits of man.

Temporal justice is commonsensical and man’s finite merits and demerits must somehow be accounted for as well.

To illustrate with a crude example: If someone crashes into your car and it is their fault, you would want some sort of compensation.

On a related note, the definition of penance is “temporal remission of sin”—that is, temporal merits necessary to make up for temporal demerits.

In case one is confused as to why the infinite simply does not override the finite, think of it in qualitative rather than quantitative terms—that is, value (type) and not amount.

3. The Need for Sacraments

In a general, overarching sense, Christ’s infinite merits make the Mass possible. Without it, there would be no Mass in the first place. In that respect, Christ has paid for it.

However, that is not the transaction for each and every particular Mass. Each Mass results in graces for the Church and world which has to be paid for somehow. Before elaborating, two aspects of man’s temporal merits need to be highlighted:

  • Humanity’s fallen state means, amongst other things, that man does not have the indwelling of the Holy Ghost and therefore does not have supernatural (or spiritual) life. It follows that any good acts do not earn any supernatural merit. However, if one is still naturally alive, then good acts still earn natural merit.

  • As already mentioned, man’s temporal merits are by its nature finite.

Man’s natural and finite merit cannot, on its own, achieve Salvation no matter the quantity.

Some then simplistically argue that man’s natural and finite merit are non-existent or unnecessary. However, insufficiency does not imply non-existence or unnecessary.

To illustrate: You give a homeless man a hot meal, his first in a few days. He will go hungry again but your good deed still made a real difference to this man’s life, even if merely temporary. Such merit does not save your soul, but it is no less real.

More pertinent to the topic, consider the following crude analogy: You owe a person a sum who demands to be repaid in currency X. You have the required sum in currency Y. Obviously, you are not in a position to repay this person, but it is false to state that you have nothing or that it doesn’t count.

The problem is qualitative and requires currency conversion.

In order to supernaturalize one’s natural merit, one must receive supernatural life; that is, to be “born again”. (John 3:5) This addresses the consequence of the Fall, where the consequence of sin is death (Genesis 2, Romans 6) and said consequence is passed to subsequent generations. (Romans 5, Psalm 50)

The ordinary means to effect the indwelling of the Holy Ghost is Baptism. To continue with the analogy, this is like becoming a member of Christ’s Bank (read, Church) before you can access whatever services the institution has to offer.

At this point, one’s supernaturalized merits are still finite and in order for it to gain infinite value, it must be united to Christ’s infinite merits. The Mass is the means to make this currency conversion. When a person receives Holy Communion, they truly receive the Body of Our Lord and in a sense become one flesh with Him. The term “Holy Communion” obviously emphasizes this union, amongst other things.

It is no mere coincidence that Baptism and the Mass are Sacraments. The broadest definition of a sacrament is “the mechanism by which God effects graces for the benefit of humanity with the end purpose of Salvation”.

The transaction that is executed at Mass, if it is valid, is that the finite merits of the whole Church are offered up in union with Christ’s infinite merits, thereby gaining infinite value—in other words, it is through Christ that our merits become worthy to God the Father—and this payment goes up to the Father for the graces to come down to the Church and the world.

To clarify, and this is where the analogy breaks down, there is still the distinction between the finite value and the infinite value of man’s temporal merits once it is united to Christ’s infinite merits. It becomes worthy to the Father and one’s personal reward in Heaven is eternal but the degree is still proportional to one’s temporal (finite) merits earned during life.

It should be noted that it is not merely the finite merits of the members attending a particular Mass that are offered up and in turn only they get graces. The finite merits of the whole Church are offered up in union with Christ’s infinite merits—if a Mass is said in Seville whilst there is a Christian on a starship at the far end of the galaxy, even this person’s finite merits are offered up.

It is for this reason that the Mass is so important. This is presumably why a priest who has one foot in the grave (and should be retired but isn’t because there aren’t enough priests) says Mass even though only two old Italian ladies who barely speak English and can’t understand his thick Indian attend. It is also the reason why the enemies of Christianity have and will continue to attack the Sacraments and the idea of sacramentals in general.

There are, of course, other reasons for the Mass and the other terms, such as “Holy Communion”, reflect this but that is another discussion.

To conclude: Christ offering Himself as a bloody sacrifice and being actually crucified for all our sins only needed to happen once (Romans 6:10, 1 Peter 3:18), “nor yet that he should offer Himself often…” (Hebrews 9:25), and the Mass can be considered an application of that sacrifice. During Mass, Christ is mystically crucified in an unbloody sacrifice since His infinite merits are offered up.

This is supported by Hebrews 5:6 which refers to Christ, “Thou art a priest for ever…” The primary function of the priesthood is sacrifice and He is a priest “for ever”, hinting that He is really and truly present in the Eucharist and the Mass is indeed a “perpetual sacrifice”.

To use a very crude analogy: Salvation requires a startup cost as well as operating costs. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is like the startup cost which only He can pay and the Mass is its application that requires operating costs. He provides a part of the operating cost but our contributions are required as well.


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