The Offering of Christ once made in that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.
O God heavenly father, which of thy tender mercie diddest geve thine only sonne Jesu Christ to suffre death upon the crosse for our redempcion, who made there (by his one oblacion once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifyce, oblacion, and satysfaccyon, for the sinnes of the whole worlde, and did institute, and in his holy Gospell commaund us, to celebrate a perpetuall memory of that his precious death, untyll his comming again: Heare us (O merciful father) we besech thee; and with thy holy spirite and worde, vouchsafe to blesse and sanctifie these thy gyftes, and creatures of bread and wyne, that they maie be unto us the bodye and bloude of thy moste derely beloved sonne Jesus Christe. Who in the same nyght that he was betrayed: tooke breade, and when he had blessed, and geven thankes: he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saiyng: Take, eate, this is my bodye which is geven for you, do this in remembraunce of me.
Likewyse after supper he toke the cuppe, and when he had geven thankes, he gave it to them, saiyng: drynk ye all of this, for this is my bloude of the newe Testament, whyche is shed for you and for many, for remission of synnes: do this as oft as you shall drinke it, in remembraunce of me.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
It was assumed by the Roman Magisterium, in 1896, that the Church of England had rejected Eucharistic Sacrifice, on the basis of Article XXXI, quoted above in its entirety. But, is the meaning of the phrase "sacrifices of Masses" the same as Eucharistic Sacrifice? Note the plurality of that phrase in the Article. Was it an attempt to reject the Tradition of the Church, or to correct the popular mis-perception of the common man in that time and place?
The average layman needed to be taught two things about the Supper of the Lord. First, the specific sacramental act of the Church in each individual Mass was not, itself, an isolated sacrifice on behalf of the living and of the dead. In the "nun theology" of that time and place, each Mass was viewed just this way: And, so it seemed good for Christ to be offered quite often, over and over again, in as many sacrifices as the priests could reasonably perform.
What needed to be taught, in order to correct this popular error, was best summarized in those words that remind us of the Epistle to the Hebrews: "All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world..." Christ was once offered, and his offering is sufficient. No other sacrifice for sin can be made.
It was this essential truth of the Gospel that motivated the English Reformers to write the Article, and to give us so clear a teaching within the service of Holy Communion. This was the reason for their emphasis on his once for all sacrifice. In no way did this emphasis repudiate Eucharistic Sacrifice. Instead it helped to clarify the true meaning of Eucharistic Sacrifice, in terms that are true to the Tradition of the Holy Catholic Church, in perfect accord with the Scripture. The Anglican emphasis was not a mistake, not an error, and not a rejection of Catholic Faith.
There is one Sacrifice, and every Eucharist is mystically joined to that one event, that offering by Christ of himself as "priest and victim, in the Eucharistic feast." There is one Supper of the Lord, and every Eucharist is the same supper that Christ held in the night in which he was betrayed. When the Church gathers for this highest and most important time of worship, we are taken to the same table with Christ and his apostles, and we are also taken to the cross at Calvary.
"And although we be unworthy (through our manyfolde synnes) to offre unto thee any Sacryfice: Yet we beseche thee to accepte thys our bounden duetie and service..." If we are unworthy to offer a sacrifice, how can we nonetheless offer it? By asking the Lord, of his mercy, the request as it follows: "not waiyng our merites, but pardonyng our offences, through Christe our Lorde..."
Writing in 1624, speaking for the Anglican position, a Church of England priest named William Bedell wrote about Eucharistic Sacrifice:
"[If by it you mean] a memory and representation of the true Sacrifice and holy immolation made on the altar of the cross...we do offer the sacrifice for the quick and the dead, by which all their sins are meritoriously expiated, and desiring that by the same, we and all the Church may obtain remission of sins, and all other benefits of Christ's Passion."
The Eucharistic sacrifice is the complete sacrifice. It takes us to Calvary. It is our bounden duty and service, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and of ourselves as living sacrifices (following Romans 12:1,2); as the English Mass also says: "And here wee offre and present unto thee (O Lorde) oure selfe, oure soules, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee..." Nothing is omitted, nothing neglected, in this highest act of Christian worship.
The second thing they wanted to teach is that the people were supposed to receive the sacrament. For this reason they came up with yet another name for this ancient service, one taken directly from St. Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians: Holy Communion. It was not enough to "hear the Mass" of a priest. This offering of the whole Church (led by a priest) made the sacrament available so that each Christian could feed on the bread of life. "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."(John 6:54, 55) And, about this we have already written.
Once again, we see that the English Reformers did not attack the Catholic Faith. They defended it, and they restored it.
(Posted also on the Continuum.)