Cochem's Explanation Of The Holy Sacrifice Of The Mass: CHAPTER I. THE NATURE OF HOLY MASS.

JOOS van Wassenhove 
St Augustine 
c. 1474



THE holy Mass is called in Latin sacrificium , a sacrifice, by which word a thing far greater and higher than an offering is signified. A sacrifice, in its full and proper signification, is an offering external to ourselves, made to the most high God, and consecrated or hallowed in a solemn manner by a lawfully appointed and duly qualified minister of the Church, to recognize and testify to the supreme dominion of Almighty God over all creatures. From this definition it will be seen that a sacrifice is much more than a simple offering. It represents a lofty and sublime act of worship, due to the infinite God alone, and not to any creature.

That this solemn sacrifice may be offered to none other but God alone is proved by St. Augustine from the universal custom of all nations. Who, he says, has ever been found to assert that sacrifice should be offered to any one save the true God only, or to such false deities as are wrongfully held to be the true God ? And in another place he says: The devil would not require sacrifices from his votaries if he did not know this to be a prerogative of the divinity. Many of the great and powerful ones of the earth have arrogated to themselves other acts of homage which are of right paid to God alone; but few indeed have presumed to command that sacrifice should be offered to them. Those who did this desired to be regarded as gods. Hence it may be seen that the offering of sacrifice is an act of divine worship, which it is not fitting to pay to men, to the saints, or to the angels, but to God alone.

St. Thomas of Aquin says: “ It is natural to mankind to make sacrificial offerings to the omnipotent God, and man is incited thereto by a natural instinct without an express command or special injunction. This we see exemplified in the case of Abel, Noe, Abraham, Job, and other patriarchs, who offered sacrifice, not in obedience to the law of God, but to the mere impulse of nature. And not only did those persons who were enlightened by God offer sacrifices to Him: the heathen also, simply following the light of nature, sacrificed to their idols, believing them to be true deities. In later times the law given by God to the children of Israel made it obligatory upon them to offer sacrifice to Him daily; on feasts a more elaborate ceremonial was to be observed. They were to offer to Him lambs, sheep, calves, and oxer; and these animals were not to be offered only, they were to be immolated by an anointed priest, with certain prayers and ceremonies. They were to be slaughtered, flayed, their blood was to be poured roundabout on the altar, and their flesh burnt upon the altar, amid the blowing of trumpets and chanting of psalms. These were the sacred oblations whereby the Jews were wont to pay to God the homage due to Him, and acknowledge Him to be the supreme Ruler over all creatures.

Inasmuch as the idea of sacrifice is so deeply rooted in human nature that all peoples and nations, besides serving God with prayers, hymns, almsgiving, and works of penance, offered some kind of sacrifice whereby they honored the true God or the false deities they venerated as such, it was meet, nay, it was even necessary, that Christ should institute in His Church a holy and divine oblation as a visible service, whereby the faithful should give to God the glory which is His due, and express their own subjection to Him. No sensible man could imagine that Christ, Who ordained everything in His Church in the most perfect manner, should have omitted this highest act of worship, and left it wanting in so all important a matter. Were it so, the Christian religion would be inferior to Judaism, for the sacrifices of the Old Testament were so glorious that heathens of distinction came from distant lands to assist at them, and some heathen kings, as we read in Machabees (11. iii. 3), even paid out of their revenues the charges belonging to the ministry.

The holy Catholic Church, in the Ecumenical Council of Trent, teaches us what manner of sacrifice or sacred oblation Christ has given to and ordained in His Church.

“ Forasmuch as, under the former Testament, according to the testimony of the apostle Paul, there was no perfection, because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood (Heb. vii. n, 18), there was need, God, the Father of mercies, so ordaining, that another priest should rise, according to the order of Melchisedech, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who might consummate and lead to what is perfect as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of His death, there to operate an eternal redemption ; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the Last Supper, on the night in which He was betrayed —that He might leave to His own beloved spouse, the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit — declaring Himself constituted a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and under the symbols of those same things He delivered His own body and blood to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament: and by those words, ‘Do this for a commemoration of Me’ (St. Luke xxii. 19), He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood to offer them; even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught.” (Session xxii. ch. 1.)

This, and move besides, holy Church teaches us, and enjoins upon us to believe that in the Last Supper Christ did not only change bread and wine into His body and blood: He also offered them up to God the Father, and thus instituted and ordained in His own person the sacrifice of the new covenant. This He did in order to show Himself to be a priest according to the order of Melchisedech, of whom Holy Scripture thus speaks: “ Melchisedech, the King of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God, and he blessed Abram.” (Gen. xiv. 18.) The text does not here expressly state that Melchisedech offered sacrifice to the most high God; but from the first the Catholic Church has understood this to be meant, and the fathers have thus expounded it. David himself interprets it thus when he says: “The Lord hath sworn, and He will not repent: Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” (Ps. cix. 4.) That both Christ and Melchisedech offered sacrifice is to be inferred from the words of St. Paul, writing to the Hebrews: “ Every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices.” (Heb. viii. 3.) “ Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins.” {Ibid. v. 1.) And almost immediately after he adds: “ Neither doth any man take the honor to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was; So Christ did not glorify Himself, that He might be made a high priest, but He that said unto Him : Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. . . . Thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” And again: “And being consummated, He became, to all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation, called by God a high priest according to the order of Melchisedech. Of whom we have much to say, and hard to be intelligibly uttered; because you are become weak to hear.” (Ibid. v. 4-6, 9-1 1.)

From these passages it is evident that, since Christ and Melchisedech were high priests, they both offered oblations to the true God. Melchisedech did not sacrifice victims, as did Abraham and the earlier adorers of the true God, but, acting by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and at variance with the custom of the times, he sanctified bread and wine with certain prayers and rites, raising them aloft, and offering them to God as a holy, acceptable offering. Thus he became a type of Jesus Christ, and his offering a type of the bloodless sacrifice of Jesus Christ under the New Testament. Now since Christ was not anointed high priest by God the Father according to the order or manner of Aaron, who slaughtered victims, but according to the order of Melchisedech, who presented bread and wine as an oblation, it follows that He also exercised His priestly functions during His lifetime, and offered to God an oblation of bread and wine.

When, we ask, did Christ exercise His priestly office according to the order of Melchisedech ? At the Last Supper, when He took bread, blessed it, and said to His disciples: “ Take ye, and eat: This is My body.” In like manner, taking the chalice with wine, He blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: “ Drink ye all of this, for this is My blood. Do this for a commemoration of Me.” (St. Matt. xxvi. 26-28; St. Luke xxii. 19.)

On that occasion, therefore, Christ exercised His priestly office after the manner of Melchisedech. For if He did not do so then He never did so at all throughout His whole life, and in that case He would not have been a priest according to the order of Melchisedech. And yet in what exalted language St. Paul describes His priesthood: “The others indeed were made priests without an oath, but this with an oath, by Him that said unto Him: The Lord hath sworn, and He will not repent: Thou art a priest forever. . . . But this, for that He continueth forever, hath an everlasting priesthood.” (Heb. vii. 20, 21, 24.) Hence we see the truth of what the Catholic Church teaches in the Council of Trent: “ In the Last Supper He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and commanded His apostles and their successors in the priesthood to offer them under these symbols when He said: Do this for a commemoration of Me; even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught. And this is indeed that clean oblation which cannot be defiled by any unworthiness or malice of those that offer it, which the Lord foretold by Malachias was to be offered in every place clean to His name.** (Session xxii. ch. i.)

The offering of this clean oblation was predicted by the prophet Malachias in the following words : “ I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts ; and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean offering.** (Malach. i. io, n.) All the fathers of the Church consider this passage to refer to the sacrifice of the Mass. For this prophecy does not find its fulfilment in the Old Testament, but in the New, wherein are also fulfilled the words which were spoken by God the Father to His Son : “ Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance.” (Ps. ii. 7, 8.) This was accomplished when the heathen were converted to the faith by the preaching of the apostles. The sacrifice here predicted by Malachias cannot be that which was offered by Christ on the cross, as non-Catholics assert; for that was made in one place only, on Calvary, not in every place, as the prophet declares. Nor can the supposition be entertained that the prophecy refers to a sacrifice of praise or of good works* for these are no oblation in the proper sense of the word, nor are they always a clean oblation; as the prophet says: “ All our justices are before Thee as a filthy rag.” (Is. lxiv. 6.)

This prophecy is consequently to be understood as; expressly referring to the holy Mass as the one only and true sacrifice of the New Testament; an oblation in itself perfectly pure and holy, which is offered up to God the Father in all times and in all places by Christ Himself through the instrumentality of His priests. Christ is the chief High Priest, our priests are but His servants, and He makes use of their hands and their lips for the offering of a material sacrifice. It is because Christ in His glorified body is not perceptible to our senses, it being at the same time necessary that there should be a visible victim seen by mortal eyes, that He employs the cooperation of the priest in offering up His sacrifice. This oblation will continue to be offered until the end of the world.

It is alleged against us as a reproach by non-Catholics that the word Mass is not found in the Bible. This is unquestionably true, but the same may be said of the word Trinity, yet we are bound to believe that sacred mystery. We are not commanded by Holy Scripture to sanctify Sunday or to baptize infants, yet we know both one and the other to be our solemn duty. In the writings of the early popes and doctors of the Church we frequently meet with the word Mass; witness the writings of St. Clement, the third successor of St. Peter, and those of Popes Evarist and Alexander, who lived in the first century. St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Chrysostom, and other holy fathers of the Church, make use of the word Mass when speaking of the sacrifice of the New Testament. St. Ambrose writes: “ I remained at my post, commenced saying Mass, and during the sacrifice I besought Almighty God to come to our assistance.*' St. Augustine says: “ We see, in the lections which are ordered to be read in the holy Mass," etc. Both these doctors of the Church, who lived three hundred years after Christ, employ the word Mass, which shows that it was certainly in common use at that time.

That the apostles were in the habit of saying Mass we learn from Holy Scripture and the lives of the apostles.

St. Matthew was stabbed at the altar whilst offering the holy sacrifice. Tradition relates of St. Andrew that he said to the judge: “ I offer daily to the Almighty God upon the altar not the flesh of oxen or the blood of goats, but the spotless Lamb of God." Liturgies for the Mass composed by the apostles St. James and St Mark are still extant. The Canon of the Mass is ascribed to St Peter, and other parts were added by some other holy popes. From all that has been said it follows that Mass was celebrated in the Church from the very beginning, and that it has at all times been regarded as the true sacrifice of the New Testament

Cochem's Explanation of the holy sacrifice of the Mass ~ Martin, von Cochem, 1634-1712