Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is there Mass in heaven? Is Christ a priest forever?

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)
and again,
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.


Marko Ivančičević said...

I know about the sacramental(and real) separation of Christ's Body and Blood on the altar which is due to [i]vis verborum[/i], and i know that this "causes" Christ to be in the state of victimhood on our altar. I know that when He is offered to the Father in the Mass, the sacrifice is the same for the offerer and the offering are the same - namely Christ Jesus.


I'd like to know in what way does He offer Himself to the Father. What is His inner state and how is that linked to natural and sacramental mode of existence? What does He think? Is it:"Abba. I offer You Myself..."? How is the sacrifice of the Cross re-presented? Is it somehow warped through time to us(for it is not multiplied but yet it is said that sacrifice of the Cross is renewed - could you also explain that)? How does He sacrificially offer Himself in the Mass?

How the Father looks upon this sacrifice of the altar? Is He merely reminded of the passion and death and the merits, which He then dispends on the faithful?

Unknown said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

I'm a little alarmed, because I'm hoping that I have not misled people in my helping them to understand the nature of the Mass.

Could you clarify: what ideas and opinions are you directing this post against? I need it spelled out.

I've found Scott Hahn's "The Lamb's Supper" and Ascension Press' "A Biblical Walk Through the Mass" to be very helpful to myself and others, for instance, but now you have me concerned that these materials might be (unintentionally) misrepresenting the Mass because of their heavy reliance on the parallels between the Mass and the Book of Revelation.

I was thinking of hosting Ascension Press' Mass study at a local parish. I'd like to understand what you are saying better before I go through with this.

Best regards,

Barry Peratt said...

Jesus the eternal Son of God made his act of sacrifice in the presence of his Father, who lives in eternity. Jesus' one perfect sacrifice is thus eternally present before the Father, who eternally accepts it. This means that in the Eucharist, Jesus does not sacrifice himself again and again. Rather, by the power of the Holy Spirit his one eternal sacrifice is made present once again, re-presented, so that we may share in it. Christ does not have to leave where he is in heaven to be with us. Rather, we partake of the heavenly liturgy where Christ eternally intercedes for us and presents his sacrifice to the Father and where the angels and saints constantly glorify God and give thanks for all his gifts.."

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That quote (from the US Bishops) can be a bit misleading ... notice, nevertheless, that they do not say that there is "Mass" in heaven, but rather speak of the "heavenly liturgy" ... because the sacrifice is not offered in heaven.

Still, it would seem to me that the particular phrasing is not all that helpful ... then again, even bishops can sometimes speak in a way that is not particularly clear.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Indeed, I have not read Scott Hans book -- though I have great respect for him as a Catholic man. From what I hear, it sounds like he would be somewhat falling into what I consider to be a mistaken approach. (and there are others far higher than he)

Still, I would rather recommend "A key to the doctrine of the Eucharist" by Abbot Vonier. This is the best book I've found on the Eucharist -- and it was written originally in English and only about one hundred years ago! Who would've thought?!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Very deep questions!
My short answer would be that we should consider the act of offering to be one -- that which Christ made upon the Cross. So, I am not sure that there is a second or third or thousandth offering of the sacrifice each time Mass is celebrated ... but that one offering of that one sacrifice is sacramentally re-presented.

Hope that helps, at least a little bit! +

Clinton R. said...


I agree with your comments on the modern(ist) approach to Mass in these times. Since when are jokes to be told in the homily? And the priests who seem to ab lib the prayers of consecration? Sadly, the Novus Ordo Mass opened the doors to improvising the Mass and taking the focus away from Jesus, who is to increase as the priest must decrease. Thankfully, good and faithful priests such as yourself and the new generation of priests coming out of the seminaries do take the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass seriously and do not see Mass as the time to try out their comedy routines.

James Joseph said...

Just making a comment on how awesome the associated illustration of Our Lord wearing vestments and elevating the Chalice is.

It's pretty awesome. Just plain cool.

helgothjb said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

With all due respect, I do think you are in error here. Christ, after the ressurection, continued to have the wounds of the passion. In the vision of St. John, Revelations, He is shown as a lamb that has been slain. These things show that Christ Jesus continues to offer the one sacrifice to the Father. Although the sacrifice is no longer a bloody sacrifice, i.e. there is no physical suffering, it is the sacrifice of His will to that of the Fathers. This offering is eternal because Christ is eternal. It is the one and same offering made on the cross, although now the physical suffering has passes since God is unchanging and outside of time and physical suffering need both. On the sacrifice of the Holy Cross heaven ans earth kissed. It is true indeed that the Holy Mass is the prepetuation of the sacrifice of the Calvary in mystery throughout history. However, it is also true, since it is the ressurected Christ made present, that the Mass is a participation in the offering eternal presented to the Father in heaven. How else are we to understand the prayer asking for the Angel to take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven? It is not the future vs the historical sacrifice. It is both and.

Dick Landkamer said...

Fr, I appreciate what you are saying here. Nevertheless, it seems to me that what takes place in heaven is essentially a Mass outside of time, the reason being summed up in the following points:

First, Jesus’ offering of Himself on the Cross was the offering of a divine person (per the Council of Ephesus, 431, Jesus did not have human personhood). Since His divinity cannot experience time (the divine nature necessarily exists outside of time), His offering is necessarily an eternal offering (i.e., there has never been a “time” when His sacrifice was not present to the Father, even before the creation of the universe).

Second, based on the first point, Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary was an eternal sacrifice lived out in time by way of His human nature. Hence, His sacrifice on the Cross has both an eternal and a temporal aspect. “The Paschal Mystery of Christ . . . cannot remain only in the past . . . and all that Christ is . . . participates in the divine eternity, and so transcends all times while being made present in them all” (CCC 1085).

Third, the temporal aspect of Jesus’ sacrifice is forever out of our reach, for, clearly, the Mass is not a form of time travel where we are transported back to the moment of Jesus’ Crucifixion. However, because His sacrifice has an eternal aspect, it is not out of our reach, if God chooses to make it temporally present to us, which He does in the Mass.

It seems to follow, then, that what is intrinsic to the Mass, that is, the eternal offering of Jesus to the Father, is present in heaven. If this is correct, then would not one’s experience of heaven be, essentially, an endless participation in what is, in effect, a Mass, though of a form that differs significantly from the Mass that we experience in this life? If not, what is missing from the reality of heaven that would keep it from being Mass? Is His eternal sacrifice no longer made present to us? It seems like Rev 5:6 indicates that it is: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.”

Doug said...

Call it what you will, but wherever and whenever Jesus Christ is present, along with his resurrected human body, there is, truly present, the one time, once for all, perfect and eternal sacrifice for the sins of the world. As for all the other details you mentioned ... I hope to see you there, so we can better appreciate all this throughout eternity.

Unknown said...

Fr. Erlenbush,

I'll need to examine more carefully what these materials which I mentioned are presenting. While I think you are correct that there is a tendency to overly "heaven-ize" the Mass, I don't remember them going overly far in that direction. I'll post again here if something strikes me at worth commenting on.

There does seem to be an orthodox sense in which we can say that through the Mass we are joined with the heavenly worship that takes place eternally; but without a clear understanding that the Mass is most fundamentally a re-presentation of, and participation of the faithful in, the ONE Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, I agree that false understandings ("table," "presider," "banquet," etc.) will tend to cloud the ultimate understanding.

Best regards,

Howard said...

Arguments from the Apocalypse regarding time are famously dangerous; in fact, Rev. 13:8 mentions "the Lamb which was slain from the beginning of the world." We also know that God is not contained by time", and that "[w]e know that when he shall appear we shall be like to him: because we shall see him as he is."

CónegoZ+ said...


This column, and the responses it received, serve to remind us that not even the Magisterium can adequately explain that which is most truly (and briefly) defined as "a Holy Mystery". It is as impossible as it is necessary for our finite minds to attempt to understand the Infinite.

Pax tecum,

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. You have not read Dr. Scott Hahn's ideas re Apocalypse and Mass? How dare you call yourself a Priest? :)

Dr. Hahn is the apotheosis of Catholicism, a position he ascended to due to the refusal of AmBishops to discharge their duties to Teach, Rule, and Sanctify.

Dr. Hahn's materials and sources are suffused with protestant theologians and there are far better, and more reliable, sources for the Catholic layman.

Any Father could do his family a great blessing by investing in Dom Gueranger's, "The Liturgical Year."

Seraphim said...

Respectfully, Father, without disagreeing with anything said here, it would seem that two facts are overlooked or underemphasized - forgive me for repeating what the other comments have said:

(1) The Eucharist consecrated is the *glorified* Body of Christ, not the suffering (i.e., it is a mystical re-presentation). But this implies that the Eucharist does have eschatological connotations.

(2) Quoting St. Symeon of Thessaloniki regarding church architecture: "The narthex represents the earth, the nave heaven, and the sanctuary that which is above heaven." The structure of the church interior is itself eschatological.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I hope everyone knows that you are being sarcastic in that first line! :-)

However, I would try to be a bit more gentle with Dr Hahn, he really is a kind man and good hearted.

However, I would agree that it would be far better to read Gueranger! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

There has been some confusion in earlier comments (from helgothjb, and Doug, and others) which results from not understanding that there are some actions which Christ performs by virtue of his divinity and others performed by virtue of his humanity.

He is a priest by his humanity, thus his priestly sacrifice is offered within time ... it is not outside of time ... it is not eternally present to the Father as an eternal act ... rather, it is an action which was accomplished in time.

Jesus is not being born of the Virgin right now in heaven ... neither is he preaching the sermon on the mount right now in heaven ... so too, he is not offering the sacrifice of the Cross right now in heaven.

I urge all to think that through a bit, and they will quickly see why they have been confused on this point. +

Anonymous said...


I think that the theology of the eucharist and Mass here presented are somewhat impoverished because of an apparent over-reliance on the Tridentine paradigm at the expense of the broader liturgical tradition of the Church, especially that of the east.

For instance, the understanding of the eucharist as a "mystical banquet" is a primary theme in the east, dating back to the earliest days. It is fully supported by the fathers. Indeed, the Catechism contains a section on this aspect of the Eucharist. The Catechism contains an ancient prayer: "O sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of His Passion is renewed, and the soul is filled with grace..."

Perhaps most importantly, you've severely truncated the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not simply the representation of Christ's "pasch," but to our own participation -- indeed, the participation of the whole world -- in that sacrifice. "In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and resurrection of Christ ... Christ unites the faithful to His person, to His praise, and to His intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with Christ, to be accepted in Him" (CCC 1359, 1361). It goes on to say that the "Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church. With [Christ] she herself is offered whole and entire The lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ" (CCC 1368).

The earthly eucharist is a shadow of the heavenly eucharist, wherein the Body, united to the Head, offers itself -- body, heart, and mind -- to the Father. This is an eternal sacrifice, albeit a "reasonable" one, to use the language of the liturgy. One of the eucharistic prayers even speaks of a "heavenly altar."

You cannot bind the mystical passover of Christ in time. Pope Benedict writes as much: "The sacrifice of Christ is not situated behind us as something past. It touches all times and is present to us. The Eucharist is not merely the distribution of what comes from the past, but rather the presence of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, Who transcends and unites all times. "

St. Augustine wrote, "Such is the sacrifice of Christians: the multitude is one single body in Christ. The Church celebrates this mystery by the sacrifice of the altar, well known to believers, because in it, it is shown to her that in the things which she offers, it is she herself who is offered." This offering -- of the Church through, with, and in Christ, the Body with the Head -- shatters any spatial or temporal boundaries. It is in the past, it is in the present, it is in the future -- and in eternal kingdom.


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