The Protestant at the Mass – Should I Attend or Not?
This is a question that arises from time to time. A Roman Catholic whom we know through work, social connections or family links passes away and we ask, “Should I attend the funeral mass? Would it be rude if I do not attend? What would be the best approach out of respect for the family? The same question may also arise when invited to a Roman Catholic wedding. As Christians we wish to show sympathy, but we must also remain faithful to the gospel.
The mass is the centre of the entire Roman Catholic system of worship. It purports to be a representation of the sacrifice of Christ. According to Roman Catholic statements, the mass is a “paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed.” It is claimed, “In the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and …there is a conversion of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, which the Catholic church calls Transubstantiation.” Simply stated, when the officiating priest performs the mass, allegedly changing the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, he claims to offer up a true, proper, propitiatory sacrifice to God for the living and the dead.
This is contrary to all that is taught in scripture concerning the sacrifice of Christ. When writing to the Hebrews, Paul affirmed of Christ, “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Christ has offered Himself once for the sins of His people. His sacrifice is sufficient therefore no further sacrifice is required. No man can re-offer Christ and to purport to do so, is a gross offence and sin against Him. This explains why the Articles of the Church of England refer to masses as “blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits” and the Westminster Confession of Faith states, “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 the elect.”
As a young priest, Martin Luther was required to celebrate the mass for the first time. When he came to recite the words, “We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God”, he was struck with such a sense of fear that he collapsed and had to be carried limp from the altar. He later said, “At these words I was utterly stupefied, and terror-stricken.” His spirit was invaded by a deep sense of doubt, despair and depression.
About thirteen years ago when discussing this very doctrine with a Roman Catholic Priest, I challenged him regarding the doctrine of transubstantiation and he accepted that no scientist would ever discover one drop of blood in the consecrated wine. This revealed to me that transubstantiation is too much even for the most devout follower of the papacy. The idea that a man can sacrifice our Lord over and over is so awesome that to really accept this, would be too much for a mortal to take on board.
The Lutheran movement, while rejecting the notion of transubstantiation, could not quite part with the high mysticism of the sacrament, and opted for the theory of consubstantiation. It was the Reformed Churches, which dominated Protestantism outside Germany, that went further than Luther on this issue, perceiving the inherent error in claiming to transform the wafer and the wine into Christ’s substance and sacrificing him on the altar. Therefore, the mass became one of the defining points articulating the distinction between the reformation movement and the papacy.
This was especially so in England. Bishop J C Ryle observed that between 1555 and 1559, almost three hundred Protestants were burnt to death, and that “all without exception were called to special account about the real presence, and in every case, their refusal to admit the doctrine (of transubstantiation) formed one principal cause in their condemnation.”
Bishop Ryle argues that the Reformers were quite right to stand firm in their refusal to accept that Christ was physically present in the mass because it undermined His finished work on the cross, His priestly office, the doctrine of Christian ministry and the truth regarding Christ’s real humanity.” The mass, therefore, overthrows the gospel.
Where a requiem mass is concerned the stakes in the battle for gospel truth are even higher. The word requiem is derived from the Latin word meaning rest and is found in the opening line of a funeral mass: “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord”.
The requiem mass presupposes that the soul is languishing in purgatory and that a sacrifice must be offered for the relief of the deceased. The priest becomes a little Christ – a mediator, standing between the living and the dead, interceding for the soul of the departed. There can be no greater assault on the gospel. The Scriptures never refer to purgatory. There is no man who can assist the soul beyond the grave. After death comes judgment. There is no more sacrifice for sin after death. Can one therefore attend a requiem mass as a neutral observer? This is impossible. A church is a place of worship. At any mass the wafer is allegedly changed into Christ and this becomes the object of worship. Do we not owe it to Christ to be separate from such evils which grossly offend the Christ who offered Himself once for us?
Indeed, I go further: should we ever at any time place ourselves under the ministry of a Roman Catholic priest who claims power over the souls of men, to forgive sin and to offer our Lord upon his altar? Does the Scripture not command us not to be entangled with the yoke of bondage and declare those who preach another gospel as accursed? Bishop Ryle as an evangelical within a denomination which was moving rapidly in the direction of Anglo-Catholicism was aware that his views were unpopular in the fashionable circles of Victorian England. He noted, “It is fashionable in some quarters to deny that there is any such thing as certainty about religious truth, or any opinions for which it is worthwhile to be burned. It is fashionable in other quarters to leave out all the unpleasant things in history. Last but not least it is thought very bad taste in many quarters to say anything which throws discredit on the Church of Rome.”
We live in similar days. Many today, rather than sacrifice their reputation, willingly expose themselves to the blasphemy of the mass. Where are the men and women who would rather burn than cause offence to Christ and deny the gospel of grace? The Christian is a cross bearer who walks with Christ through persecution and bears His reproach without the camp.
Rev Peter McIntyre
(Minister of Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church.)