Do Scripture and the Church Fathers Depict the Eucharist as a Sacrifice?

A Protestant reader wrote to me, asking how we Catholics could rectify the Sacrifice of the Mass with Hebrews 10:8-14, which describes Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary as once-for-all:

When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

Personally, I view this as the strongest Scriptural argument against the Eucharist. After all, Catholic priests do daily offer up the Sacrifice of the Mass.  But it turns out that the Old Testament, New Testament (including Hebrews!), and Church Fathers provide a clear answer to how the Eucharist can be a Sacrifice without violating the once-for-all nature of Calvary.  Let’s examine each in turn.

I. Does the Old Testament Prefigure the Eucharist as a Sacrifice?

It does.  The Passover Lamb prefigured Christ, as St. Paul (1 Cor. 5:7) and John the Baptist (John 1:36) tell us.  This role of Christ as the Sacrificial Lamb is prefigured as far back as Abraham (Genesis 22:8).  Now, the Passover consists of two distinct but interrelated sacrificial actions.  On Preparation Day, a spotless lamb was slaughtered (Exodus 12:6).  That evening (the next day, by the Jewish reckoning) marks the beginning of Passover.  On Passover, the lamb is eaten (Ex. 12:8-11), applying the merits of the lamb’s atoning death. The blood is described as a “sign,” but it’s actually efficacious: it saves the lives of the first-born of the houses with the blood marking the doors (Ex. 12:13). If Preparation Day is the shedding of sacrificial blood, Passover is, as Hebrews 11:28 describes it, “the application of blood.

Now, the parallels to Christ are obvious.  Christ’s Death on the Cross occurs on, and is the fulfillment of, Preparation Day (John 19:31). As for the Last Supper, in which Jesus institutes the Eucharist, Jesus specifically describes it as the Passover (Matthew 26:18).  Christ is establishing the institution by which the Blood He is about to shed on Calvary will be perpetually applied to the faithful.

II. Does the New Testament Describe the Eucharist as a Sacrifice?

It does. Let me provide a few examples, from the words of Christ, St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and the letter to the Hebrews.

Matthew 5:23-24

Here is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:23-24:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

That is, Jesus depicts the Christians as making offerings at an altar, and it would be quite a stretch to suggest that He’s not referring to a literal altar (since we’re told to leave our gifts there to go make peace with our brothers).  But what is an altar, other than a place to offer sacrifice?  And what is this Sacrifice, if not the Sacrifice of the Mass?  Protestants have “altar calls,” but no altars.

1 Corinthians 10:16-21

Perhaps the clearest instance in the New Testament in which the Eucharist is treated as a sacrifice is in 1 Corinthians 10:16-21,

Catacombs art depicting the Eucharist,
San Callisto, Rome (3rd c.)

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. 

Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. 
You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

To prove that the Eucharist is a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, St. Paul equates it to the Jews eating the animals sacrificed at the altar, and the pagans eating the food sacrificed to idols. He then says that we have to choose whether we want to drink the cup of the Lord or of demons, and whether we want to “partake of the table of” the Lord or of demons. We already know that partaking of the table of demons means eating the food sacrificed to them, and Paul is clearly treating the Eucharist as the Christian equivalent: a sacrificial meal.

But if Protestants are right, and the Eucharist isn’t a Sacrifice, then there’s no equivalence between the Lord’s Supper and the sacrificial meals of Judaism and paganism.  In other words, if the Eucharist isn’t a Sacrifice, St. Paul’s argument from analogy doesn’t work.

Hebrews 9:15-24

The Book of Hebrews likewise supports a Sacrificial view of the Eucharist.  In Hebrews 9:15-24, right before discussing the once-for-all nature of Christ‘s death, there’s a discussion on the application of the atoning blood, and an important parallel drawn:

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 

Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

Like Exodus 12, this passage distinguishes between two distinct sacrificial aspects: the shedding of blood, and the application of (and purification with) blood. The first paragraph (Heb. 9:15-17) deals with the atoning death of animals under the Old Covenant. A parallel is drawn to Christ’s Death on the Cross on Calvary (Heb. 9:15), in which “a death has occurred which redeems” believers.

Josefa de Ayala, The Sacrificial Lamb (c. 1670-1684)

But the second paragraph transitions to discussing the application of the sacrificial blood. Here, the Old Testament example isn’t about animals being killed, but about Moses taking the blood of the sacrifices, and applying it repeatedly: first to the altar (Ex. 24:6), then to the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 24:7), then to the people themselves (Ex. 24:8), then to the tent, and finally, to the vessels used in worship (Heb. 9:21).

The New Testament parallel here isn’t to Calvary, but to the Last Supper. We see this from Hebrews 9:20, in which Moses is depicted as saying “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” This passage is vital, because instead of quoting Moses directly, the author of Hebrews blends the words of Moses in Exodus 24:8, with the words of institution at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

Calvary is a once-for-all action, just as the slaying of the animals was. But just as Moses is able to apply the blood first to the altar, and then to the Book, and then to the people, without re-sacrificing the animals, the Eucharist can be offered repeatedly without re-crucifying Christ.

One final point about this passage, while we’re on the subject: we are promised that the New Covenant consists of “better sacrifices,” plural, than the Old (Heb. 9:23), yet the Protestant view turns this upside down. That is, Protestants would have to say that Jesus Christ’s words of institution at the Last Supper were merely symbolic, while Moses’ words of institution (Heb. 9:20; Ex. 24:8) were efficacious, since they actually sealed the Covenant, and Moses and the elders proceeded to behold God and eat and drink in His Presence (Ex. 24:11). This is contrary to solid exegesis and typology, and runs counter to Heb. 9:23.

III. Did the Early Christians View the Eucharist as a Sacrifice?

Dieric Bouts the Elder,
Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (1464–67)

They did.  For instance, Tertullian, writing between 200 and 206 A.D., answered those who thought that on days of fasting, “they must not be present at the sacrificial prayers, on the ground that the Station [the fast] must be dissolved by reception of the Lord’s Body.” Tertullian answered,“Will not your Station be more solemn if you have withal stood at God’s altar?” and suggested it ensured “both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty.

Right around this same time, St. Clement of Alexandria explains that Melchizedek’s sacrifice of bread and wine in Genesis 14:18-20 is a consecrated food for a type of the Eucharist (Hebrews 5-7 draws this same parallel between Melchizedek and Jesus, by the way).

In the middle part of the third century, St. Cyprian explained that the Sacrifice of the Eucharist required wine to be a valid oblation:

Whence it appears that the blood of Christ is not offered if there be no wine in the cup, nor the Lord’s sacrifice celebrated with a legitimate consecration unless our oblation and sacrifice respond to His passion. But how shall we drink the new wine of the fruit of the vine with Christ in the kingdom of His Father, if in the sacrifice of God the Father and of Christ we do not offer wine, nor mix the cup of the Lord by the Lord’s own tradition?

And Eusebius said that, in the Eucharistic celebration, we are daily “admitted to a greater sacrifice than that of the ancient law.”  And later, he describes the two forms of sacrifice Christians partake of:

So, then, we sacrifice and offer incense: On the one hand when we celebrate the Memorial of His great Sacrifice according to the Mysteries He delivered to us, and bring to God the Eucharist for our salvation with holy hymns and prayers; while on the other we consecrate ourselves to Him alone and to the Word His High Priest, devoted to Him in body and soul.


Because the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass is related-but-distinct from the bloody Sacrifice on Calvary (in the same manner that the Passover is from the Preparation Day), there’s no contradiction between the fact that the Mass is a repeated Sacrifice, while Calvary is once for all.

This distinction, and the reality of the Eucharist as a Sacrifice, is found prefigured in the Old Testament, present in the New, and explained in the Church Fathers.


  1. I’ve been scratching my head over the passage in Hebrews 10 myself, so I was delighted to read this.

    I’d never heard of the *two* distinct but necessary elements of covenental sacrifice, but in light of that, Hebrews and the Eucharistic sacrifice is perfectly reconciled.

    Thanks and God bless!


  2. So let me see if this is right… “there’s no contradiction between the fact that the Mass is a repeated Sacrifice, while Calvary is once for all.”
    The jewish people understood their annual passover meal(repeated Sacrifice) to be a ‘reliving’ of the original meal (once for all) that occurred before their deliverance from slavery. Where am i wrong on this?

    1. Teomatteo,

      The once-for-all portion of the Passover sacrifice is the killing of the lamb on Preparation Day. Consuming the lamb’s body could be done repeatedly, and by multiple parties (until, of course, they ran out of lamb, a concern that doesn’t exist for the Lamb of God).

      Let’s say you’ve got a family with 9 people in it. Each of them eats the lamb: that doesn’t re-sacrifice the lamb, in the sense of killing the lamb over and over again. But each person who eats the lamb does uniquely enter into the sacrifice each time.



    2. At Seminarian Joe: You contention there’s no contradiction between the fact that the Mass is a repeated Sacrifice, while Calvary is once for all. You wrote: “But each person who eats the lamb does uniquely enter into the sacrifice each time.” Where at the Last Supper does Jesus even remotely imply your position? The meal is done as a living memory. That’s why at Calvary Jesus said “It is finished.” No more sacrifices are required. He is the completed and perfect sacrifice.

    3. “Reader”

      From my understanding, we don’t consider the Eucharist sacrifice as a “repeated” sacrifice in the sense that we “re-sacrifice” Jesus every time we partake. Rather, we partake of the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.

    4. Reader,

      I think that there are five major arguments that I’m making, three about the Passover and two about the Passion:

      1. The Passover meal was a participation in the sacrifice of Preparation Day, not a re-sacrifice. It was a distinct-but-interrelated sacrificial action.
      2. The lamb’s death served as a sort of atonement for all who participated in the sacrifice by eating the lamb (see Ex. 12:3-4). You didn’t need a separate lamb per person, or need to kill
      3. The Passover meal was not once-for-all. On the contrary, “all the members of the community of Israel” had to individually participate in it (Ex. 12:6-8).

      4. Christ’s death on the Cross parallels and fulfills Preparation Day.
      5. Christ’s Last Supper (including the institution of the Eucharist) parallels and fulfills the Passover meal.

      Which of these points do you disagree with? I’m not sure what you’re objecting to in your comment. You raise Christ’s “It is finished” on the Cross. I’m glad you did, because it further establishes the point I’m making about the Passover connection with the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. I’ve written a post addressing this subject at greater length, but here’s a teaser:

      “So what’s finished? Not, as some Protestants claim, the work of salvation: Romans 4:25 says that Jesus “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” The Resurrection hasn’t happened yet, so that’s not finished. No, what’s finished is the long fore-shadowed Paschal Feast and Sacrifice. It’s all one thing.”

      So I agree with you that Christ’s words there have some serious implications for the Sacrifice, but I think that you’re misreading them.



  3. My favorite part of “The Life of Brian” is when the mob chasing Brian grabs his shoe and gourd, they then promptly schism yelling to “Follow the gourd!” “No! Follow the shoe!”.

    Once again, if your god is so great why can’t it create a religion that would make confusion and the inevitable dissension that results impossible?

    If your god is real it must really want people to fight over it.

    1. Salvage,

      This is the second post in a row in which I’ve written something comparing Catholicism and Protestantism, and you’ve hijacked the comments to shill for atheism. I think I’ve been more than fair in letting you run rampant on that last post about Calvinism (there are currently 121 comments, and I don’t think that any of them are related to the original post), but I’m not going to let you do it repeatedly. If you want to keep up that discussion, keep it up there. But hijacking every post is rude, and I’m going to have to ask you to stop.



  4. It is not hard to find sources that describe the Eucharist as a sacrifice. They were using the religious vocabulary to describe a great gift of God for the people of God. The Early Church Fathers picked up this language and imagery. No big surprises! But the question that you do not address is: is sacrifice the only language to use for the Eucharist? I believe that the answer to that question is undoubtedly “No!” If we force all language to describe the Eucharist as sacrifice, then we go down a dark path where the service itself can become a destructive force for oppression. That was the world that Martin Luther lived in and the service that he knew. I believe that the current Roman Catholic service in America today is not even close to the oppressive service in the early 1500’s. (Martin Luther would probably feel very comfortable in a modern Roman service, but that is a topic for another day.) Even the words used for the sacrament of the table reflect that fact. Eucharist comes from the Greek word “Eucharisteo” which is translated as “to thank.” Eucharist is a gift from God. The sacraments are a means of grace. This gift from God and means of grace ultimately come to us from the sacrifice of Christ, but it would be wrong to focus upon the sacrifice only. There is so much more to the Eucharist than just the sacrifice.

    1. I’m not really sure how one could say that viewing the Eucharist in primarily sacrificial terms is “oppressive” or that it results in a Mass which becomes a “destructive force for oppression” :-/ Could you please explain this a little more? (Would you describe the Todah sacrifice of the Old Covenant as oppressive too?)

      What particular aspects of today’s Roman liturgy do you think would have appealed to Luther in contrast with the Mass of the 1500’s?

    2. Restless Pilgrim: I used to be a Lutheran; the offertory in the Mass of Pope Paul VI, among other prayers in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, plays much more to the sensibilities of a Lutheran than the Mass of Pope St. Pius V. The general use of vernacular also plays more to the sensibilities of a Lutheran.

      Rev. Hans: All of what you say is true and beautiful, and I love the emphasis that Lutherans put on the sacraments as means of grace. That said, none of that changes the fact that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, especially because all grace that we receive comes from that sacrifice and is then applied particularly directly in Holy Communion (i.e. eating the Lamb to complete the Passover). I think it’s more than a coincidence of language and imagery.

    3. Martin Luther would probably feel very comfortable in a modern Roman service because the Second Vatican Council and specifically Archbishop Bugnini distorted the Traditional Mass. Novus Ordo is a desacralised profane Protestant joke (apart from being a valid Mass, if done properly).

    4. Rev. Hans: I think we can all agree that the Mass is more than a Sacrifice. But at the same time, it’s certainly not less than a Sacrifice. What we see in the writings of the early Christians is consistent with this view: the Eucharistic Sacrifice is a Sacrifice, whatever else it may be.

      I don’t think that the sacrificial imagery of the Mass can be written off as the Fathers simply using the religious vocabulary of the period, either. When Tertullian (for example), talks of “both the participation of the sacrifice and the discharge of duty,” he seems to be rather specific in what he’s talking about. But even if you assume that it’s simply a casual use of language, I’d suggest that if the early Christians had a Protestant view of the implications of Christ’s Atonement, I can’t fathom them using this sort of language. Your thoughts?

      Petrus: Is it your contention that the pope is a Protestant? And do you reject the ability of the Roman Pontiff to make changes to the Liturgy, both in his capacity as pope and as Patriarch?



    5. @ Joe: No, of course the pope is no Protestant nor is he a heretic. I’m not a sedevacantist. 🙂 Btw our current pope does the TLM in private as far as I know.

      Since the pope primary function is to protect (the depositum fidei) and not to change, I’d argue that while he might have the ability, he certainly doesn’t have the right to distort the liturgy (Vatican II made more than changes and they were not organic). Secondly, Pope Paul VI hardly had the reins there…

    6. Petrus,

      To me, sede vacantism makes more sense than assailing the Mass you recognize as valid, and which was promulgated by your spiritual fathers. Look at it from this angle: Pope Benedict was ordained a bishop in 1977, in a ceremony that you’ve just described as “a desacralised profane Protestant joke (apart from being a valid Mass, if done properly).” When you undermine the Novus Ordo Mass, you undermine the validity of Benedict’s papacy – even if you pay lip service to the Mass being valid, and Benedict being pope. If someone were to take you seriously, that the Mass is Protestant, they’d quite reasonably reject the validity of Benedict’s ordination – and thus, his legitimacy as pope. Given that, I tend to agree with Dr. Mirus’ point:

      “The Magisterium cannot be set against itself without destroying the fundamental claims of Catholicism. What many or most Traditionalists claim—that the Magisterium since 1960 has contradicted the Magisterium of “eternal Rome” by teaching errors as distinct from “perennial doctrine” is a clear and total subversion of the authority principle which animates Catholicism, which makes it wholly unique, and which alone guarantees its veracity.

      This is so true that the bizarre sede vacantists among Traditionalists actually make more theological sense by arguing that the See of Peter has been vacant since Pius XII, which is at least theoretically possible.”

      Personally, I would suggest two things. First, to attend the Ordinary Form Mass celebrated by a priest with a genuine love for the Extraordinary Form. I think you’ll find the continuity between Forms that you’re looking for. For example, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL (who played an important role in the new translation), publicly celebrates both forms beautifully and reverently. To the extent that you have a grievance against liturgical abuses or a general air of irreverence, your criticisms may well be grounded: but I think seeing the Mass prayed correctly, you’ll see that most of your criticisms are against abuses of the O.F., not the O.F. itself.

      The second thing that I would advise is humility. The Archbishop of Paris, in the 19th century, described an order of Jansenist nuns of Port Royal as “pure as angels and proud as devils.” That’s the perennial temptation: that a devout concern for showing the proper respect for our Lord can be corrupted into an unhealthy and prideful obsession with liturgical externals.

      I think that there’s a two-sided coin to remember during the Mass. On the one hand, the center of the Mass is our Eucharistic Lord, so it should be as reverent and as beautiful as possible. But on the other hand, if the Mass is good enough for our Lord, we should be mindful about how we speak of it, and circumspect and deferential in our criticisms.



    7. Another thing that people are wont to forget is that the Extraordinary Form/ Tridentine Mass is itself a “new” way of celebrating the Mass in light of 2,000 years of Church history.

      If it was good and holy to switch over to the Tridentine Mass of Trent, then it is similarly good and holy to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass of V2.

    8. @ Joe,

      Of course, humility is most important. Thanks for reminding me of that.

      For me, it’s not just lip service; Benedict XVI is Pope of Rome. His ordination, of course, was valid. This doesn’t mean that the novus ordo isn’t a simplified, desacralized version of the TLM and Protestant, inasmuch the Lutherans there present accepted it valid for their own faithful to attend. I’ve never said the Magisterium contradicted itself, this would be impossible: it’d go against Christ’s Word.

      As to your suggestion: the sad thing is there is almost no chance one could find a priest who celebrates the novus ordo with love for the TLM. At least here in Hungary. All but a few Bishops possess utter hatred towards the TLM and us, Traditionalists. TLM is banned almost everywhere, we had to go out to a small town to celebrate the Holy Days of Easter (where I was baptised last year). Our Cardinal and the Primate of Hungary actually thinks this is just a fancy of “an old man” and everything will go back to “normal” when Benedict dies. Another Bishop actually expressed this in a television interview and he was called to Rome for a little chat..

      And that’s another thing: ‘normal’ novus ordo was almost never celebrated. You couldn’ find it here, that’s certain. I for one’d die to attend an ad orientem novus ordo in latin but I’m afraid the vernacular and turning towards the people and Communion on the hand ARE already novelties that must be purged.

  5. Another argument on how the Sacrifice on Calvary can be both once-for-all and yet daily and everywhere could be based on the Chapter on Time and Eternity from the Confessions of St Augustine. If God is transcendent to the Universe and exists outside of time and space, then, for Christ, the Sacrifice on Calvary and the Sacrifice at Daily Mass are one and the same. Not only does Christ have no trouble bridging the gap, for Him there is no gap to bridge.

    It has always struck me as odd that we acknowledge the Transcendence of God, but still worry about “then” and “now” when thinking about Him. In the context of another misunderstanding about how Salvation works, Christ told St Peter “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Matthew 16:23.

  6. Daniel asked “How is it more than a sacrifice?”

    If a sacrifice is thanking God for the life of an animal before killing and consuming it, Christ’s sacrifice is more than that.

    Not only is Christ the sacrifice, but He is also the God to whom the sacrifice is being offered. In consuming the animal sacrifice, you have life. In consuming Christ, we have eternal life. Christ is also the door to eternal life and He is the purpose of eternal life when we pass through that door. All the different aspects of a traditional sacrifice are united in Christ’s Sacrifice.

    [fixed typos]

  7. Joe,

    Great post as usual. You might also be interested in Hebrews 13:10, which says “We [Christians] have an altar whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle.” I wrote a Post on it Here if anyone is interested in further details.

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