Recently the Pope was in town (you already know this) prompting many discussions regarding Christians and Catholics. One question developed, “Can a Christian participate in Catholic Mass?” This may be a simple answer, but when someone responds, “Why?” I think we need a biblical response. Why is it not okay to participate in Mass?
Think about this from someone who says, “Yes, what’s the problem?” Here is the argument. Often the priests and people do not share similar views regarding Mass and therefore a person may partake with the right heart and theology despite the fact that leadership communicates a wrong theology. When you ask them, “Is Jesus recrucified in Communion?” They say, “No, of course not. Communion simply calls us to remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for our sins.” In fact, (continuing the argument) I know many Catholics who love Jesus, obey Him, and have no clue what Catholicism officially teaches. This is common. Some people practically reject Catholicism’s doctrine. So, why can’t Catholic Mass be both right and wrong at the same time depending on the individual’s perspective?
We do well to realize this distinction and not immediately assume every person understands Catholicism. I also applaud this argument for recognizing motives and actions must coordinate. Simply participating in communion with a solid church does not mean a person “participated” in communion. So, let’s reshape the question somewhat, “Why can’t a person who understands communion biblically participate in Mass?”
Answer: Because God says we should not participate in Communion in an unworthy manner. Paul says,
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. 28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).
I hear “worthy manner” interpreted as making sure I am a believer with no unconfessed sin. It’s not good for an unbeliever to participate. Make sure you’ve evaluated yourself and know you’re saved. If you are saved, and someone has something against you, go and be reconciled so you can participate in a worthy manner. So, is this wrong?
No. It’s the right doctrine from the wrong text. First, communion is for believers. Unbelievers should not partake. Second, before you bring any offering in corporate worship, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Jesus instructs, “leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come present your offering” (Matt 5:23). So, if you’re arguing with your spouse and have not sought reconciliation, then please skip communion. If you’ve sinned against someone in the church, then you are not unified with the church. Therefore, before communion, reconcile. Have a clear conscience.
So what does it mean to participate in a worthy manner? Paul calls the church members to make sure the church conducts communion in a worth-while manner. Consider the context.
17 But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 20 Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, 21 for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you (1 Cor. 11:17-22).
Paul confronts the Corinthian church regarding their worship. The church is not united. Some do not wait on others, taking the meals early. Others are drunk. Some come and get no food. There are factions in the church. Communion should unite the church as it collectively recalls and proclaims the death of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). This is a unifying participation adulterated by factions and selfishness. A Corinthian should have evaluated this, judged it improper, and abstained from the practice. This is precisely what Paul meant when he said, “Eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Cor. 11:29). What body is he talking about? Is Paul talking about our own, individual, fleshly body? In the context of 1 Corinthians 11 (& 12-14), he addresses the church body. The problem from verses 17-22 deals with the church body.
The following pericope focuses on body life too, “So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. Then in chapter 12 Paul discusses Spiritual gifts as they pertain to the church body. The focus of chapters 11-14 centers on the churches’ life and interrelationships in their worship to Christ.
So Paul instructs believers to evaluate their church and make sure the church participates in a worthy manner. Should the leaders have allowed this unruly worship? No. But Paul doesn’t even address them. He addresses everyone. Everyone is culpable. Know your churches’ Communion practice and beliefs. Make sure they partake in a worthy manner before you join them.
This brings us to the Catholic church. Simply put, Communion in the Catholic church recrucifies Christ every day. Christ is called down into the bread and wine. He is crucified and dies for your sins. Here is their catechism:
“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: ‘The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.’ ‘ And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner . . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367).
This is unbiblical. It does not match the Word of God. Christ has no need to ever suffer on the cross again. Consider Hebrews, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (10:10, 14). The author emphasizes the once, only once, and never needed again, sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To sacrifice him today, in Mass (all around the world), undermines the cross receiving zero biblical support. Therefore Mass is a sinful practice. It is every person’s responsibility to judge the church and participate in a worthy manner. To participate in another sacrifice, undermines the work of Christ.
Therefore, a sincere, truth-understanding, Christian cannot participate in the Catholic Mass.