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"A Reformed Catholic", William Perkins, (11) The Sacrifice of the Mass.

Many errors and idolatries follow from the false doctrine of transubstantiation, such as the elevation and worship of the host, but the grossest of these idolatries is when the Priest lays upon the altar what they suppose to be the very body and blood of Christ and offers to God a sacrifice, this the Papists call the sacrifice of the Mass.

The doctrine of the Reformed Church is contrary to this and is set out at Chapter XXIX, Section 2 of our Confession:

In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

In this Chapter from A Reformed Catholic Perkins deals with this doctrine of the real external and bodily sacrifice by confirming the doctrine of the Reformed Church that Christ's oblation on the cross was once offered by citing many scriptural proofs, and by confuting the reasons and objections brought by the Papists themselves.

This is a matter of great controversy between us and the Church of Rome and its stubborn and wilful holding to the doctrine makes it no Church of God.


What is a Sacrifice?

Touching this point, first I will set down what must be understood by the name "sacrifice". A sacrifice is taken properly, or improperly.

  • Properly it is a sacred or solemn action, in which man offers and consecrates some outward bodily thing unto God for this end, to please and honour him thereby. Thus all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, and the oblation of Christ upon the cross in the New Testament are sacrifices.

  • Improperly, that is, only by the way of resemblance, the duties of the moral law are called sacrifices.

And in handling this question, I understand a sacrifice both properly and improperly by way of resemblance.

I. Our Consent with Rome.

Our consent I propound in two conclusions.

Conclusion. I.

That the Supper of the Lord is a sacrifice, and may truly be so called as it has been in former ages; and that in three respects.

I. Because it is a memorial of the real sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, and contains in addition a thanksgiving to God for the same, which thanksgiving is the sacrifice and calves of our lips. Heb. 13. 15.

II. Because every communicant does there present himself body and soul a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice unto God. For as in this sacrament God gives unto us Christ, with his benefits; so we answerable give up ourselves unto God as servants to walk in the practise of all dutiful obedience.

III. It is called a sacrifice in respect of that which was joined with the sacrament, namely the alms given to the poor as a testimony of our thankfulness unto God. And in this regard also, the ancient fathers have called the sacrament, an unbloody sacrifice: and the table, an altar; the ministers priests: and the whole action an oblation not to God but to the congregation, and not by the priest alone but by the people. A canon of a certain Council says, We decree that every Lord's day the oblation of the altar be offered of every man and woman both for bread and wine. And Augustine says, that women offer a sacrifice at the altar of the Lord, that it might be offered by the priest to God. (Epist. 122.) And usually in ancient writers the communion of the whole body of the congregation is called the sacrifice or oblation.

Conclusion. II.

That the very body of Christ is offered in the Lord's Supper. For as we take the bread to be the body of Christ sacramentally by resemblance and no otherwise: so the breaking of bread is sacramentally the sacrificing or offering of Christ upon the cross. And thus the fathers have termed the Eucharist an immolation of Christ, because it is a commemoration of his sacrifice upon the cross. Aug. Epist. 23. Neither does he lie which says Christ was offered. For if sacraments had not the resemblance of things whereof they are sacraments, they should in no wise be sacraments: but from a resemblance, they often take their names. Again Christ is sacrificed in the last supper, in regard of the faith of the communicants, which makes a thing past and done as present. Augustine says, When we believe in Christ, he is offered for us daily. And, Christ is then slain for every one, when he believes that he is slain for him.( Lib. 2. quaest. vet. & Nov. Test. Ad Rom). Ambrose saith, Christ is sacrificed daily in the minds of believers, as upon an altar (Lib. 2 de Virg.). Jerome saith, He is always offered to the believers. (Ad Damas)

II. The Difference with Rome.

They make the Eucharist to be a real, external, or bodily sacrifice offered unto God: holding and teaching, that the minister is a priest properly: and that in this sacrament he offers Christ's body and blood to God the Father really and properly under the forms of bread and wine. We acknowledge no real, outward, or bodily sacrifice for the remission of sins, but only Christ's oblation on the cross once offered. Here is the main difference between us, touching this point: and it is of that weight and moment, that they stiffly maintaining their opinion (as they do) can be no Church of God. For this point raises the foundation to the very bottom. And that it may the better appear that we avouch the truth, first I will confirm our doctrine by scripture, and secondly confute the reasons which they bring for themselves.

III. Our Reasons.

Reason. I.

Heb. 9. v. 15. and 26: and Ch. 10. v. 10. The Holy Ghost saith, Christ offered himself but once. Therefore not often: and thus there can be no real or bodily offering of his body and blood in the sacrament of his Supper: the text is plain. The Papists answer thus. The sacrifice of Christ (say they) is one for substance, yet in regard of the manner of offering it is either bloody or unbloody, and the Holy Ghost speaks only of the bloody sacrifice of Christ: which was indeed offered but once. We answer: But the author of this epistle takes it for granted, that the sacrifice of Christ is only one, and that bloody sacrifice. For he saith, Heb. 9. v. 25. Christ did not offer himself often, as the high priests did. & v. 26. For then he must have often suffered since the foundation of the world: but now in the end he has appeared once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. and v. 22. WITHOUT SHEDDING OF BLOOD is NO remission of sin. By these words it is plain, that the scripture never knew the two fold manner of sacrificing of Christ. And every distinction in divinity not founded in the written word, is but a forgery of man's brain. And if this distinction be good, how shall the reason of the Apostle stand - He did not offer himself but once, because he suffered but once.

Reason II.

The Romish Church holds that the sacrifice in the Lord's Supper is all one for substance, with the sacrifice which he offered on the cross: if that be so, then the sacrifice in the Eucharist, must either be a continuance of that sacrifice which was begun on the cross, or else an iteration or repetition of it. Now let them choose of these twain which they will: if they say it is a continuance of the sacrifice on the cross, Christ being but the beginner and the priest the finisher thereof, they make it imperfect: for to continue a thing till it be accomplished, is to bring perfection unto it: but Christ's sacrifice on the cross was then fully perfected, as by his own testimony appears, when he said, consummatum est, it is finished. Again, if they say, it is a repetition of Christ's sacrifice, this also they make it imperfect, for that is the reason, which the Holy Ghost uses, to prove that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were imperfect, because they were repeated.

Reason III.

A real and outward sacrifice in a sacrament, is against the nature of a sacrament and especially the supper of the Lord: for one end thereof is to keep in memory the sacrifice of Christ. Now every remembrance must be of a thing absent past and done: and if Christ be daily and really sacrificed, the sacrament is no fit memorial of his sacrifice. Again the principal end for which the sacrament was ordained, is that God might give and we receive Christ with his benefits: and therefore to give and take, to eat and drink are here the principal actions. Now in a real sacrifice God does not give Christ and the priest receive him of God; but contrariwise he gives and offers Christ unto God, and God receives some thing of us. To help the matter they say, that this sacrifice serves not properly to make any satisfaction to God, but rather to apply unto us the satisfaction of Christ being already made. But this answer still makes against the nature of a sacrament, in which God gives Christ unto us: whereas in a sacrifice God receives from man, and man gives something to God: a sacrifice therefore is no fit means to apply any thing unto us, that is given of God.

Reason IV.

Heb. 7. 24. 25. The Holy Ghost makes a difference between Christ the high priest of the New Testament, and all Levitical priests in this, that they were many, one succeeding another: but he is only one, having an eternal priesthood, which cannot pass from him to any other. Now if this difference be good, then Christ alone in his own very person must be the priest of the New Testament, and no other with, or, under him: otherwise in the New Testament their should be more priests in number than in the Old. If they say, that the whole action remains in the person of Christ, and that the priest is but an instrument under him (as they say) I say again it is false; because the whole oblation is acted or done by the priest himself; and he which does all, is more than a bare instrument.

Reason V.

If the priest do offer to God Christ's real body and blood for the pardon of our sins, then man is become a mediator between God and Christ. Now the Church of Rome says, that the priest in his mass is a priest properly, and his sacrifice a real sacrifice differing only in the manner of offering from the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross: and in the very Canon of the mass they insinuate this much, when they request God to accept their gifts and offerings, namely Christ himself offered, as he did the sacrifices of Abel and Noe. Now it is absurd, to think that any creature should be a mediator between Christ and God. Therefore Christ cannot possibly be offered by any creature unto God.

Reason VI.

The judgement of the ancient church.

A certain Counsel held at Toledo in Spain reproves the Ministers that they offered sacrifice often the same day without the holy communion. The words of the Canon are these. Relation is made unto us that certain priests do not so many times receive the grace of the holy communion, as they offer sacrifices in one day: but in one day, if they offer many sacrifices to God, in ALL THE OBLATIONS, THEY SUSPEND THEMSELVES FROM THE COMMUNION. Here mark, that the sacrifices in ancient masses were nothing else but forms of divine service; because none did communicate, no not the priest himself. And in an other Counsel the name of the mass is put only for a form of prayer. It hath pleased us, that prayers, supplications, Masses, which shall be allowed in the Council—, be used. And in this sense it is taken when speech is used of the making or compounding of masses: for the sacrifice propitiatory of the body and blood of Christ admits no composition.

Abbot Paschasius saith, because we sin daily Christ is sacrificed for us MYSTICALLY, and his Passion is given in mystery. These his words are against the real sacrifice: but yet he expounds himself more plainly, Chapter 10. The blood is drunk IN MYSTERY SPIRITUALLY: and, it is all SPIRITUAL which we eat. and Chapter 12. The priest—, distributes to every one not as much as the outward sight giveth, but as much as FAITH RECEIVETH. Chapter 13. The FULL similitude is outwardly, and the immaculate flesh of the lamb is FAITH INWARDLY—, that the truth be not wanting to the sacrament, and it be not ridiculous to Pagans that we drink the blood of a killed man. Chapter 6. One eats the flesh of Christ spiritually and drinks his blood, another seems to receive not so much as a morsel of bread from the hand of the priest: his reason is, because they come unprepared. Now then considering in all these places he makes no receiving but spiritual, neither does he make any sacrifice but spiritual.

IV. Obiections of Papists.

Objection I.

Gen. 14. v. 18. When Abraham was coming from the slaughter of the Kings, Melchizedek met him, and brought forth bread and wine; and he was a priest of the most high God. Now this bread and wine (say they) he brought forth to offer for a sacrifice; because it is said he was a priest of the most high God: and they reason thus. Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek: therefore as Melchizedek offered bread and wine, so Christ under the forms of bread and wine offers himself in sacrifice unto God.


Melchizedek was no type of Christ in regard of the act of sacrificing, but in regard of his person, and things pertaining thereto, which are all fully expounded, Heb. 7. the sum whereof is this:

I. Melchizedek was both king and priest: so was Christ.

II. He was a prince of peace and righteousness: so was Christ.

III. He had neither father nor mother: because the Scripture in setting down his history makes no mention either of beginning or ending of his days: and so Christ had neither father nor mother: no father, as he was man; no mother, as he was God.

IV. Melchizedek being greater then Abraham blessed him, and Christ by virtue of his priesthood blesses, that is, justifies and sanctifies all those that be of the faith of Abraham.

In these things only stands the resemblance and not in the offering of bread and wine. Again the end of bringing forth the bread and wine, was not to make a sacrifice, but to refresh Abraham and his servants, that came from the slaughter of the Kings. And he is called here a priest of the most high God, not in regard of any sacrifice; but in consideration of his blessing of Abraham, as the order of the words teaches, And he was the priest of the most high God, and therefore he blessed him. Thirdly, though it were granted, that he brought forth bread and wine to offer in sacrifice, yet will it not follow, that in the sacrament Christ himself is to be offered unto God under the naked forms of bread and wine. Melchizedek's bread and wine were absurd types of no-bread and no-wine, or, of forms of bread and wine in the Sacrament.

Objection. II.

The paschal lamb was both a sacrifice and a sacrament: now the Eucharist comes in room thereof.


The paschal lamb was a sacrament, but no sacrifice. Indeed Christ said to his disciples, Go and prepare a place to sacrifice the Passover in, Mark. 14. 12. but the words to offer, or to sacrifice, do often signify no more but to kill. As when Jacob and Laban made a covenant; it is said, Jacob sacrificed beasts, and called his brethren to eat bread, Gen. 31. 54. which words, must not be understood of killing for sacrifice, but of killing for a feast: because he could not in a good conscience invite them to his sacrifice, that were out of the covenant, being (as they were) of another religion: secondly, it may be called a sacrifice, because it was killed after the manner of a sacrifice. Thirdly, when Saul sought his father's asses, and asked for the Seer, a maid bids him go up in haste: for (she said) there is an offering of the people this day in the high place, 1. Sam. 9. 12. where the feast that was kept in Rama, is called a sacrifice; in all likelihood because at the beginning thereof, the priest offered a sacrifice to God: and so the Passover may be called a sacrifice, because sacrifices were offered within the compass of the appointed feast or solemnity of the passover and yet the thing it self was no more a sacrifice than the feast in Rama was. Again, if it were granted that the Passover was both, it will not make much against us: for the supper of the Lord succeeds the Passover only in regard of the main end thereof, which is the increase of our communion with Christ.

Objection. III.

Mal. I. II. The prophet foretells of a clean sacrifice that shall be in the New Testament: and that (say they) is the sacrifice of the Mass.


This place must be understood of a spiritual sacrifice, as we shall plainly perceive if we compare it with 1. Tim. 2. 8. where the meaning of the prophet is fitly expounded. I will (says Paul) that men pray in all places, LIFTING UP PURE HANDS, without wrath or doubting. And this is the clean sacrifice of the Gentiles.Thus Justin Martyr saith, That supplications and thanksgivings are the ONLY perfect sacrifices pleasing God, and that Christians have learned to OFFER THEM ALONE, (.Dialog. eum Triph.) And Tertullian saith, We sacrifice for the health of the Emperor: as God hath commanded with pure prayer, (Ad Scapu, lam.). And Ireneus saith, that this clean offering to be offered in every place, is the prayers of the Saints.(Lib. 4. c. 3).

Objection. IV.

Heb. 13. 10. We have an al∣tar, whereof they may not eat, which serve in the tabernacle. Now (say they) if we have an altar then we must needs have a priest: and also a real sacrifice.


Here is meant not a bodily, but a spiritual altar; because the altar is opposed to the material Tabernacle: and what is meant thereby is expressed in the next verse, in which he proves that we have an altar. The bodies of the beasts, whose blood was brought into the holy place by the high priest for sin, were burnt without the camp; so Christ Jesus, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Now lay the reason or proof to the thing that is proved, and we must needs understand Christ himself, who was both the altar, the priest, and the sacrifice.

Objection. V.

Lastly, they say, where alteration is both of law and covenant: there must needs be a new priest and a new sacrifice. But in the New Testament there is alteration both of law and covenant: and therefore there is both new priest and new sacrifice.


All may be granted: in the New Testament, there is both new priest and sacrifice: yet not any popish priest, but only Christ himself both God and man. The sacrifice also is Christ as he is man: and the altar, Christ as he is God, who in the New Testament offered himself a sacrifice to his Father for the sins of the world. For though he were the lamb of God slain from the beginning of the world, in regard of the purpose of God, in regard of the value of his merit, and in regard of faith which makes things to come as present, yet was he not actually offered till the fullness of time came; and once offering of himself, he remains a priest for ever, and all other priests beside him, are superfluous: his one offering once offered, being all-sufficient.


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