31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Hebrews 7:23-28
Jesus, because he remains forever, has a priesthood that does not pass away.
And again we read, Thou art a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech. (Psalm 109:4)
Jesus is indeed truly a priest, rather the priest, forever – nevertheless, he has offered the once sacrifice of the Cross only once, for all. Thus, while our Savior is truly a priest in heaven, we must admit that he does not make continual offerings for sin, for he has entered heaven once through the one sacrificial offering of his own most pure body.
A priest forever, the Lord no longer makes the offering of the Cross (excepting through the representation of this one self-same sacrifice through his ministers upon the altars of the Church) – but now, having died once for all, Jesus is always living to make intercession for us. (Hebrews 7:25)
Then, we ask, is there “Mass” in heaven?
Is Christ a priest forever?
As is revealed in Sacred Scripture, Christ is surely a priest forever. However, when considering the office of a priest, we may distinguish two realities: The offering of sacrifice (for every priest must have a sacrifice to offer), and the consummation of this sacrifice through the sanctification of those for whom the sacrifice is offered.
Now, the sacrifice which our Savior offered was made within time, outside of the heavenly Temple – and this was prefigured by the fact that the High Priest of old did not offer the sacrifice in the Holy of Holies, but without.
However, the effect of this sacrifice is eternal, since it was by his own blood that our Lord entered into the heavenly Sanctuary and so also opened to us the gates of eternal life. And thus, the High Priest of the Old Law would enter the Holies once a year by virtue of the sacrifice he had already offered without.
Thus, our Lord in heaven no longer offers the sacrifice of the Cross. Rather, he consummates this sacrifice by interceding for those who still live as well as for the poor souls in purgatory, and by giving glory to his saints. Christ is not a priest who continually offers sacrifices, but he is the priest consummated and consummating all.
As St. Paul says,
And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:9)
For by one oblation he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11)
Only through the sacramental offering of the Cross in the Most Holy Mass, which he offers through his ministers the priests, does Jesus function in any sense as a priest offering sacrifice. However, even in this case, it is more proper to say that the priests sacramentally participate in the once act which Christ made upon the Cross, since we must not say that our Lord is currently in heaven offering sacrifice in which earthly priests participate.
[for more, see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica III, q.22, a.5]
What is the Mass?
The Mass is the memorial of our Lord’s passion and resurrection. Above all, the Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross. [cf. CCC 1330; Catechism of Trent, “The Sacrament of the Eucharist”]
This is what distinguishes the Mass from the reservation of the Most Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle – the Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross re-presented through the true and real presence of Christ in the sacramental species.
The Mass is a sacrifice, and if it is not a sacrifice it is not Mass. Hence, Catholics say, “The Sacrifice of the Mass”. Mass is the true, real, and sacramental sacrifice of Calvary, which the priest offers (in the person of Christ) in behalf of the Church, in behalf of the living and the dead.
We must understand, further, that the “Mass” does not exhaust the “Liturgy”. The Liturgy is broader than the Mass alone – since the Liturgy includes not only the other sacraments, but also the sacrifice of praise which the Church makes through the recitation of the psalms in the divine office (i.e. the breviary). Merely because something is a “liturgy” does not make that action to be “Mass”.
Does the book of Revelation say there is “Mass” in heaven?
Although many contemporary theologians like to speak as though there is “Mass” in heaven – and they are quite fond of pointing to the Revelation of St. John as the biblical foundation for their novelties – we must reject this notion as foreign to both Scripture and Tradition.
The book of Revelation does not say that there is “Mass” in heaven. In fact, St. John specifies that there is no longer any sacrifice being offered in heaven – therefore, there can be no Mass!
In the fifth chapter, St. John presents the “Lamb who had been slain”, which is Christ. This is the closest to sacrifice the book comes, but even here it is clear that the Lamb is not being offered – rather, the Lamb has already been consummated and now comes to bring final consummation and judgment upon the earth!
And I saw: and behold … a Lamb standing as it were slain, having seven horns and seven eyes … and he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat on the throne. And when he had opened the book … And they sung a new canticle, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; because thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood … I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne … saying with a loud voice: The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power, and divinity, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and benediction. (Revelation 5:6,7,8,9,11,12)
The Lamb once slain is not a priest offering sacrifice, but is priest consummated. Indeed, it is clear that he is not being offered, for the heavenly host says thou wast slain in the past tense. Indeed, the Lamb which once was slain and has redeemed his people, now (in heaven and at the end of time) gives eternal glory to his saints and receives their praises.
There is no Mass in heaven, because there is no re-presentation of the Sacrifice of the Cross. While there is surely “Liturgy” (insofar as the saints and angels praise God forever), there is no sacrifice – but Christ reigns as priest consummated and consummating.
A necessary correction to modern theologies
This then is a digression in many modern approaches to the Mass – modern(ist) theologians look more to the future than to the past, when presenting the Mass. Thus, little by little, the Mass is more about the “banquet” of heaven, than about the “sacrifice” of the Cross. More and more, the “altar” becomes a “table”, and the priest exchanges his role of offering sacrifice for a new post as “presider” (which is often little more than “entertainer”).
Sadly, this tendency to look more to heaven than to the Cross when speaking of the Mass is common in our day. Even some would-be conservative theologians have fallen into this habit – without necessarily denying that the Mass is a sacrifice, they speak more of the foretaste of heaven than of the pouring forth of Christ’s blood.
Surely, the Eucharist is the foretaste and promise of heavenly glory, but the Mass itself (per se) is a sacrifice – therefore, if we want to understand the Mass, we must ever look to the Cross. Longing for the eternal Day when even the Mass will pass away, the priests of the Church yet offer the one Sacrifice here on earth outside the heavenly Temple.