Three Misnomers to Avoid


As a “mystery,” the Catholic Mass is by definition beyond human comprehension; yet, when Protestants explain what happens in the Mass, we often get it wrong, propagating misnomers that directly contradict the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church. Here are the big three. If effectiveness in gospel renewal is related to upholding truth and avoiding straw men, these lessons should be noted.

It has been said that it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, and it’s a theologians prerogative to make distinctions. It is how seminaries train us; it is the currency with which we trade. Among theologians, few excel in formulating and articulating these subtleties as much as our Catholic friends, and the mystery of the Mass is a place where this tendency is especially observed. Speaking to the issue intelligently and persuasively requires us to understand the following categories and terms.

Misnomer One: Catholics teach that Christ is “physically present” in the Mass.

When describing Jesus Christ as the Eucharist, Catholics will say that the Lord is “really,” “truly,” “wholly,” “continuously,” or “substantially” present, but not "physically.” To state the Jesus is “physically” present is to suggest that he is present “locally” (as he is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father). The Eucharistic presence of Christ, although understood as no less real, is sacramentally present in the transubstantiated host. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).

Misnomer Two: Catholics teach that Christ is Re-sacrificed at the Mass.

This is perhaps the most common misconception. If I had a dime for every pastor friend whom I’ve heard say that the Mass is a repetition of the cross, I just might have enough money for a cappuccino at Starbucks. It is permissible to say that the Mass is a repetition of the Last Supper, but not of Jesus’ cross. Catholic doctrine teaches that the Mass “renews” or “re-presents” the cross; but it doesn’t “repeat” it. Catholics assert that in a mystical and sacramental sense, the Mass is the cross, the once and for all offering of God’s Son continued through time. For those of you who enjoy grammar, it’s like an ingressive aorist: an action that has been completed and is also ongoing. It is, if you will, like a golf put. Please pardon the comparison of the supremely glorious cross with the banality of golf, but his is how my simple mind gets around it. When I swing my putter at the ball, the initial contact is the “put.” At the same time, the action of the ball rolling toward the pin (and in my case, past the pin) is also the “put.” The put has happened and it’s happening. So the sacrifice of Jesus is completed (hence informed Catholics know how to explain Jesus’ words “it is finished”) and it is also ongoing. Personally, this is one of two or three tenets of Catholicism that I find most troubling; but it is what it is, and we evangelicals only benefit from getting it right. Again, from the Catechism:

1407 The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.

Misnomer Three: Catholics teach that Christ Dies at the Mass.

This misunderstanding is a close second to the preceding. If one regards the Mass as a re-sacrifice, then, logically, he will view that sacrifice as constituting another death. However, according to the Catholic Church, Christ doesn’t “die” in the Mass, he is “immolated.” For some Protestants that will be a new term. “Immolation” comes from the Latin immolare, “to sacrifice.” Simply put, in the Mass, when the priest elevates the wafer and recites the words of consecration, Jesus is presented in a state of victimhood. In other words, he is presented in his death.

1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit:

[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper "on the night when he was betrayed," [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.

The implications of the above are numerous. For one, in light of numbers two and three, it explains why Catholics display the crucifix—the dead Jesus upon the cross. It also highlights how different is the Catholic and Protestant understanding of propitiation (the way to appease God’s wrath). One might argue that this issue of the Eucharistic sacrifice of Christ is a more substantial difference between Catholics and Protestants than our disagreement over the relationship between faith and works.

I want to underscore the need for us Protestants to use the proper terms. You know that feeling you get when you hear an adversary of Protestantism reduce the doctrine of faith alone to mere cheap grace (i.e., walk an aisle, say a prayer, be an anti-nomian slug…)? It’s inaccurate, unfair, and your respect for such a person’s argument is naturally diminished. Well, this is essentially what happens when we misrepresent the Mass. Fruitful gospel conversations require us to get the facts straight.


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  • I affirm that the communication is not clear. However, many of the main protestant arguments remain intact despite some lack of clarity. The catechism, in contrasting the offering on the cross and the offering of the Eucharist does say “the manner of offering is different”.If there is a different manner of offering, that implies multiple offerings, not simply a re-presentation of the offering. The sacrifice can be said to be”re-presented”, as foreign to the Scriptures as that is, that is different from the offering being re-presented. The issue is that multiple offerings implies mulitple sacrfices in biblical framework for sacrifices. That would mean a non-singular sacrifice. This is contrary to the theology of the book of Hebrews for starters. This is a consistent protestant objection. There are other related objections of course pertaining to issues of preisthood. I see the point regarding strawman arguments, but really the inaccurate descriptions are not totally unequivalent with the catechetical descriptions.

  • See Mr. Wilcoxson, your post is an example of you should NOT begin a dialogue with Catholics. A Catholic says, I believe that a and b have a connection with c. The Protestant answers: If a and b have a connection with c, then you say that d is a, and that is unbiblical, because the book of Hebrews says… .
    First, believe it or not, the book of Hebrews is read out loud at Holy Mass. The idea that we read at Holy Mass, something that is completely contrary to our believe is quite ….hmm… dumb. We have not only copied this text for centuries, we read it, too. So you’ll hardly see that a Catholic after yout told him that in your opinion Hebrews contradict Catholic teaching: Hebrews? How could I have missed that? Of course, you’re right! The Catholic Church is wrong.
    For me there are no surprises in this biblical text that could shake my faith. Certainly not the faith in the mystery of the Eucharist.
    Secondly, what is in the book of Hebrews can – depending on interpretation – be held against the sacrificial character of a mass. However, you then have the problem that this interpretation also contradicts other parts of scripture. I mean, is that’s what Protestants always do with scripture. So much so that they can’t agree on what the bible says about baptism, marriage, Last Supper, leadership, what ever.
    But this is not the Catholic way to approach the word of God. When Jesus says: “This is my body.”, then we believe that. When the Bible says,that the Church is the Body of Christ, we believe that too. When Paul says, that we should give ourselves as living sacrifices, (ups! obviously more than one sacrifice) then we also believe this.
    If your really want to know how this fits together with the sacrificial character of the Mass you can read “What happens at Mass” by Fr. Jeremy Driscoll OSB.
    If you think you could make biblically-founded statements on the Eucharist, do yourself a favor teach it to the Protestants b/c obviously, they are pretty confused not only on this issue.

  • Hey bee,

    I do believe that its read in Mass, since I am a former Catholic and have heard it read. However, a perpetuating sacrififce is contrary to the finished nature of the sacrififce Hebrews 7-11. If there is perpetuating Hebrews is very unhelpful to say e least. Though you might be right about me, I may not be ready to have Internet dialogues with Catholics. My previous post probably didn’t clarify anything. I’ve asked the former post to be removed if unhelpful.

    I will think over what you have said bee. Thank you.

  • When it happened long,long ago somewhere in the east, how can it effect your life now? So somehow this event must have some perpetual in itself. And Pauls writes that it has somehow a dimension that the sacrifices at the temple did not have. So let’s look at it from a different angle.
    You’re in space and time and do not manage it beyond that. How will you ever be witness to the crucifixion and resurrection? The question is not whether it happened at one time in space and thus once and for all. The question is, how do we get there and be witnesses of what happened? Think about it. John saw a Mass in heaven. How does one get there? Faith is one way to get there. The sacraments are the other way. Like every sacrament of the Eucharist goes beyond the dimenison of time and space. We are at the Last Supper with the disciples, we are with Mary and John beneath the Cross, with the women at the empty grave, but we also see the Lamb in heaven, we see the multitudes, the angels and martyrs standing around the throne, etc. All this is present in the Eucharist and we take part in all those events. Has it or will it happen at a certain place in a particular time? Yes! Does time and space prevent us access to these events? No.
    And Paul, Paul wrote to Hebrews, for these were the temple, sacrifices and the rites at the temple the center of their faith. Paul, like John in his Gospel, explains to them, that the true temple is not built of stone and the true sacrifice are not lambs. So Paul and the liturgy of the Church are not contrary to another, they pretty much say the same.
    And really read Fr. Jeremy Driscolls book.

    • Many saw Jesus crucified but did not believe that he was God’s rescuing King, the long promised Messiah. I am pleased that I was not one of those. I, with many who are Christians today, are blessed because even though we were not there we have taken God at his word. Jesus said so himself when he spoke to the astonished Thomas after his resurrection: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

      Bee, I would encourage you to keep reading the Scriptures to see all that they are teaching on these matters.

    • A finished propitiation/expiation is the issue. Hebrews 7-11 is talking about a historical event that is finished, the benefits of which reach beyond its historical scope, being appropriated by the sole instrument of living faith by people in any age. The once for all sacrifice is the good news that the believers sin is finally and fully dealt with, not perpetuated in a rite. This conclusive sacrfifice is in contrast with the OT shadows and types which the Roman idea of Eucharist imitates in its perpetuating nature. The once for all sacrifice is something decisively accomplished, something that the believer can rest in without requiring priestly intercession that imitates the temporary types presented in the OT system, which has been done away with because of the arrival of the antitype, the High Priest Jesus with his unrepeatable offering of the Cross. There is no constantly trying ineffectively to appropriate final, decisive, expiation/propitiation by a priestly caste. Praise God! Jesus makes the ultimate offering of Himself, not penultimate as in the Eucharistic notion.

      I will probably not read that book. But I can promise to keep carefully reading Scripture and contrasting it with the claims of men. Thanks for the interaction.

      • Yes read that book. Writing about the Mass on a blog, an attempt is probably the must fail. Fr. Driscoll worte 100 + pages for it and I think it’s the shortest book on this topic on the market.

  • I agree that we should avoid distorting what Catholics teach as we seek to show them why we believe that they are failing to follow the plain sense of Scripture. We actually do not need to distort their teaching – we can simply take what they are taught to believe from their Catechism and compare this with Scripture.

    Take 1407 above: “The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life . . .” The Gospel writers use much space to record Jesus teaching his disciples. Only a small section describes Jesus’ last Passover meal. Paul is the most prolific NT writer.Though he has a clear section on the Lord’s Supper, it makes up a very small part of his letters. Like the Gospels the concern is about teaching, teaching about God’s gracious intervention in our messed up world and his call to us to respond. The singular focus of Catholics on the Mass has had two results: It has in practice obscured the teaching of Jesus and his first followers. In doing so it has loosed itself from that of which it is meant to be a powerful visual reminder and a means to examine and if needed to correct the celebration.

    This reveals where I believe the fundamental difference between Catholics and historical Protestants lies: The authority of the Scriptures and the clarity of its message. This for every Christian should be the final arbiter of the Catholic celebration and understanding of the Mass.

    • See, and still we have to know what exactly we are talking about. The holy mass has two parts. First part is more or less about reading scripture, the second is the Eucharist. So how can the scripture and the teachings of Christ – to whom all scripture is pointing – be obscured by reading them out loud to the people? Think, if you want to obscure something you better not read it in public. At least this would be my plan.
      And I don’t know how you read the four gospels, but to me they seem somehow passion narratives with really long introductions. And for me Paul is the blueprint for every priest and bishop. He is celibate, he claims for himself the authority to corrected parishes, he sees himself as an intercessor for the people of God and yes, he teaches and is worried about the proper way to celebrate the Eucharist.
      In First Corinthians he says something to the effect: Okay, you are confused and you dispute about how women should dress. I’ve got an opinion and I’ll be happy to explain my opinion to you…. But what is really is important is what you do when you come together to celebrate the Eucharist. What you do now is harmful and I command you to stop it and stop it now. This is not my opinion, this is the Tradition aka something that has been revealed to us by Christ himself. You can go on and argue about vials and dresses, but there is no room for different opinions when it comes to the Eucharist. If you don’t obey this you put your lives and your salvation in jeopardy. So, yeah, maybe a small part but to me it sounds as he was very, very concerned about this.
      And, please excuse me, I hear Protestants praise the clarity of scripture, it authority and power and I tend to agree, but then I observe how the same Protestants go ahead and rip the scriptures apart, throw out books of the Old Testament, spreading doubt about the authenticity of New Testament writings, playing out verses against other verses, getting mad about some words and never ever finding common ground, while there parishes are shrinking and the people are turning away form God to find peace in yoga or whatever.
      You know God 9.0? Biggest thing on the christian market over here. Written by protestant pastors and theologians telling the crowed that neither the Bible nor Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God and that we are move into a totally new and better spirituality by overcoming Christianity. And of course they are up set b/c one of the mean old men with a funny purple hats said in passing that all this is nonsense and if one follows this nonsense he not only leaves Peter.
      So, yeah, I hear you and in the back round the noise of people fighting about baptism, the Eucharist (we still have some Old-Lutherans here), predestination, church structure, sex, morals, politics,….Afghanistan, yeah, some Protestant Bishops here say that if you support the troops your not a christian and I am sure they have a verse that says exactly that…So I think I pretty blessed with arguing about candlesticks, altar cloths, saying the black and doing the red and stuff.

      • In response to six points that you raised:

        1. “First part is more or less about reading scripture”
        There is no teaching mentioned. The homily is a poor excuse for teaching (time, content). My comment was that it was “the teaching of Jesus and his first followers” that was being obscured. A brief reading with no unpacking and applying of the central teaching is easily relegated to some of the trimmings of the ritual. The choice of totally unrelated readings is unhelpful to say the least especially with no unpacking and explaining.

        2. “The four gospels . . . seem somehow passion narratives with really long introductions”
        Look at how much of the gospels actually tell of the passion (Jesus praying in Gethsemane, his trial and beating, the crucifixion and his death). In actual fact the bulk of the gospel material for the last week before the crucifixion is teaching.

        3. “But what is really is important is what you do when you come together to celebrate the Eucharist”
        Paul actually writes very little about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (only in two passages). His letters are however chock-a-block with teaching.

        4. “I hear Protestants praise the clarity of scripture, it(s) authority and power . . . but then I observe how the same Protestants go ahead and rip the scriptures apart”
        I have never yet heard the same people doing these things. On the contrary, it is when those who call themselves Protestants begin to abandon the conviction that the Scriptures are the authoritative word of God that they deny the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection, reject key teachings, remove and reconstruct the Bible to make it fit what they want to believe. This is why I used the phrase, “historical Protestants.”

        5. “Protestant pastors and theologians telling the crowd that neither the Bible nor Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God”
        No one can be a follower of Christ and at the same time loudly contradict what he taught about himself. Those who promote “God 9.0” are people who understand nothing about the God and Father of Jesus Christ or about why the Protestant Reformation began in the Catholic Church. They are simply religious people deceiving others and also deceiving themselves.

        6. “In the background the noise of people fighting”
        You speak of people (Protestants?) arguing about doctrinal and ethical and political matters and having a Scriptural verse to support their views. These actually serve to bolster my case that if they were all serious about the authority and clarity of Scripture, they would find their many muddled views being radically challenged and corrected.

        But back to my main point: During his short ministry in Palestine, Jesus was busy – day after day – teaching, teaching, teaching. When we read through Acts and the New Testament letters we find the same pattern. The Good News was widely proclaimed and those who believed (forming the Church) were new disciples whom men like Peter and Paul, John and James kept teaching during their visits and through their letters. What were they teaching? About their incredible God and his undeserved kindness shown to them through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, and all about a life of obedience and of faithfully serving him.

    • Here is a clear message from a Church Father:

      The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (chapter 7)

      They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.

  • Paragraph 1376 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states,

    The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation (CCC, 1376).

  • Bee asks several interesting questions of which this is one:

    So how can the scripture and the teachings of Christ – to whom all scripture is pointing – be obscured by reading them out loud to the people? Think, if you want to obscure something you better not read it in public.

    To say that Catholics read the Scriptures “out loud to the people” is a bit of a gloss. A study done by a Jesuit scholar found that, with specific respect to the book of Hebrews, as little as 5.6% was read at mass before Vatican II; now only 27% is read.

    So one way the Catholic Church has obscured the Scriptures is by only reading part of it “out loud, to the people.”


    • Catholics read the scripture. Of course we can’t ready the bible in its entirety during the course of mass. The Bible is quite long after all. You don’t really believe that Catholics are only exposed to the bible during mass? Of course not.
      However, we do enjoy the communion of mass, it brings us together, building the Catholic community. It builds and fortifies each of the Churches members, we who are the Church. Of course it does much more than that, however this is enough to answer your question.

  • @Constantine: Have you ever seen a tridentine or post-V2 lectionary? If you would have looked into a lectionary, you would have noticed that 27% of Hebrews is read on Sundays. But we have daily Mass and so we hear 62%. (And believe it or not, people really got to daily Mass. It is not just me) This may not be much, but compared to evangelical church, we hear much more of the Scritures than the average Protestant. I mean, com’on, I’m in Europe but we have TV and (obviously) Internet here, too. What means I can watch the services form evangelical Mega-Churches, what means, that I am painfully aware of what they teach and how they use (or misuse) holy Scripture by picking a verse here and there and squees them into their show. I do not want sound mean, but is that really preaching, worship and the right administration of the sacraments, that was demanded by the Protestant Reformation?
    To me it looks more like a cross-breeding between variety show and Top of the Pops. And yes, there are exceptions such as the LCMS. But using an almost identical lectionary. So, do they do so to obscure the bible?
    I mean, really, switch on the TV and whatch God.TV or Hour of Power or Joyce Meyer or Marc Driscoll or whoever. Look at them. You really want to try to tell me that the Mass is blasphemous or the holy Scripture is obscured by the Catholic Church? How cute. Keep trying. It makes me laugh.

  • My dear Bee,

    So we are agreed. By only including 62% of Hebrews on weekdays you necessarily censor 38% of that book. Did you know that Rome also censors passages it deems to be “sensitive”. For example, those passages that clearly show Jesus had many siblings. And why only include 24% of 2 Peter? He was your first pope, no?

    I hope you won’t spend so much time watching TV. Here in the State we are all aware of what a distortion that brings to reality – especially in televised liturgies.

    I don’t believe I ever said the Mass was blasphemous. I just noted – as you have confirmed – that to participate in the Mass is to purposivelly censor the Scripture.


  • […] Chris Castaldo: As a “mystery,” the Catholic Mass is by definition beyond human comprehension; yet, when Protestants explain what happens in the Mass, we often get it wrong, propagating misnomers that directly contradict the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church. Here are the big three. If effectiveness in gospel renewal is related to upholding truth and avoiding straw men, these lessons should be noted. […]

  • So is John O’Brien wrong when he writes this in “Faith of Millions”?

    When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.
    Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man—not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.
    Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ. (O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, 255-256)

    • O’Brien and millions may believe what he writes. The New Testament letters including that to the Hebrews and the four Gospels strangely say nothing resembling this teaching.What is more, these writings are the testimony of eyewitnesses and the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. I am simply unable to reconcile what O’Brien writes with the plain and natural sense of the language of the Scriptures.

      I have a similar difficulty with the resources for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Dublin in June Imposing a “spiritual sense” on the language of the Scriptures opens the door for all sorts of fanciful interpretations that the language itself does not support.

  • Tim writes: “If there is a different manner of offering, that implies multiple offerings, not simply a re-presentation of the offering.” I don’t see your logic here. Perhaps an example will help. All Christians–Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox–believe that Jesus died once for sinners. But every day someone converts and appropriates Christ’s sacrifice, and these occur in different times and places over generations. In each case, the Christian convert participates in the one sacrifice, and thus it is permissible to say that each of us has received Jesus into his heart. But that does not imply that there are multiple Jesuses. Remember, an unchanging eternal reality can be instantiated in time and space without undermining its uniqueness or its solitary nature. With Christ’s death–though taking place in time and space–we have an event with eternal consequences, meaning that its effects can be in more than one place at the same time. Think of the number “2,” an abstract object that has limited by time and space. You and I can each of the number 2 in our minds without requiring that there is more than one number 2.

    It seems to me that if God is omnipotent, he can pull this sort of stuff off.

    • Thank you for your reply Francis, 

      In short, one offering appropriated by faith alone is consistent biblically. However, a different manner of offering modifies the offering and actually makes it a different kind altogether. For my logic just consider OT offerings. A different manner of offering is actually a different kind of offering in the OT paradigm. The diversity of the nature or kinds of offerings, and the necessity of repetition,  points us to the need for an ultimate offering. Now, the NT shows us that the Cross is the final manner of offering that fulfills all the offerings which are but OT shadows. 

      Further, it seems at first glance that you are confusing the offering itself with the approrpriating of the beneifits of the offering. We must distinguish between the notions of instantiation and appropriation. Everyone can appropriate the benefits by faith in Christ. However, the  Cross cannot be re-instantiated in any form or manner without it diminishing the glory of the Event and totally reversing the logic of the book of Hebrews, the text which most clearly shows the temporal type to antitype finality of the Cross-offering.  So to conclude this thought, Roman dogma teaches that the once for all offering is instantiated repeatedly, therefore, again, not once for all in nature. A notion which is in contradiction to the major theme of Hebrews. 

      In response to your last thought, I limit God to what He says in His Word. I will let Him tell me how He choses to exercises His omnipotence. So there is no question about His omnipotence. just His free exercise thereof.   

      I hope this is clarifying!

      • Another helpful way of putting it: the Eucharist is a proclaimation of the Cross (1Cor 11:26), rather than a mystical instantiation of the Event.

        It cannot be both proclaimation and instantiation. Proclaimation tells of the Event and its meaning, instantiation means the Event, in some sense, in our own moment and time happened. The Event itself is not a proclaimation of itself. There is the Event. and then there is the witness to the Event. The Eucharist is the latter accroding to the above cited text. The two notions are very mutually exclusive.

    • “It seems to me that if God is omnipotent, he can pull this sort of stuff off.”

      I groan every time I see someone say this sort of thing. Got a logical contradiction in your theory? No worries, God is omnipotent! No need to find out what God actually *does*, just posit what he *could* do.

      • A Stev writes: “I groan every time I see someone say this sort of thing. Got a logical contradiction in your theory? No worries, God is omnipotent! No need to find out what God actually *does*, just posit what he *could* do.”

        I agree. But the issue in question does not involve a logical contradiction. It involves a metaphysical inquiry.

        That an historical event may have eternal effects that may be appropriated and re-presented in time is certainly odd. But it’s not a contradiction. A contradiction occurs when two claims cannot be both true and false at the same time, e.g., “All men are mortal” and “Some men are not mortal.”

  • @Chris Castaldo,
    You say that Catholics hold that Christ is present “substantially” but not “physically” in the Mass. You say that “physically” suggests that Christ is present locally, but this cannot be the case because Christ is in heaven.

    I do not understand the distinction between “substantial” and “physical” presence. “Substantial” means physical matter. And the Council of Trent seems to affirm this very thing, saying that the bread and wine are converted into “the substance” of Christ:

    Council of Trent, Session 13, On Transubstantiation: “by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.”

    Does this not teach that Christ is “physically” present in the Mass, in that the bread and wine are changed into the physical body and blood of Christ?

    • To understand the distinction see Aristotle on “substance” and “accidents”. This is Aristotle’s advance on Plato’s theory of forms; Aristotle preserves what we observe as real by saying it is the “accidents” of a thing. The accidents of a dog may or may not include a tail or four legs; it is the substance of a dog that make the dog substantially a dog. Aquinas applied this kind of understanding to transubstantiation. His Summa Theologica would be the place to go if you want to understand the best defense of Catholic metaphysics.

      Myself, I think Aquinas and Papal pronouncement is the epitome of “weariness of the flesh.” Very few of us are called to “out-metaphysicize” the Roman Catholics. It’s better to live in a way that makes the true gospel attractive and be ready to give an honest answer even when it is humbling to admit you have not read the entire corpus of Western theology and philosophy.

      • I am familiar with Aristotle’s distinction between accidents and substance, but it still does not makes sense that Catholics would deny that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. In their view, the bread and wine retains the appearance of bread and wine, but it is still the body and blood of Jesus.

  • Further explination please?

    It is all well and good to say that Catholics believe Christ is “really,” “truly,” “wholly,” “continuously,” or “substantially” present, but not “physically” to explain what they believe.

    But it doesn’t help me understand the difference between the really, truely, wholly, continually, and substanially compared to physically.
    Please explain the differnce?

    If the sentance that followed is an explination it still need further explaination, please.

    “The Eucharistic presence of Christ, although understood as no less real, is sacramentally present in the transubstantiated host.”

    To my mind “The Eucharistic presence of Christ” seem to be what your referring to as the really, truely, wholly, continually, and substanially. But, if I understand you, this Eucharistic presence of Christ is not physical, but it is real? How can it be real and not physical? How can it be Christ body? How can transubstantiation taken place with out it being physical?

    It’s not making any sense to me. The fact that the word physical is not used doesn’t mean it’s not physical does it? If Christ is not physically present once transubstitation has taken place what is physically present?

    The bread & wine is no longer physically present, right? So what is? It can’t be Christ, because you’ve told me that he’s not. So what is physically present?

    Further explination please?

  • Catholic Catedchism
    • The last supper was a real sacrifice in which Christ’s blood was poured out for our sins in the cup. (*610, 621, 1339)
    • In the Mass the bread & wine become the literal body & blood of Christ. (*1373-1377)
    • Christs body & blood exist wholly & entirely in every fragment of consecrated bread & wine in every Roman catholic church around the world. (*1392, 1405, 1419)
    • The consecrated bread & wine are heavenly food which can help one to attain to eternal life. (*1392, 1405, 1419)
    • The consecrated bread & wine are to be worshipped as divine. (*1378-1381)
    • Christ has ordained certain men to the ministerial office of the priesthood to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross by the performance of the mass. (*1142, 1547, 1577)
    • The sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice of the cross. Only the manner in which it is offered is changed (*1085, 1365-1367)
    • The sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated in the sacrifice of the Mass. (*1323, 1382)
    • The Mass makes Christ present in His death & victimhood. (*1353, 1362, 1364, 1367, 1409)
    • At each Mass the priest presents again to the Father the sacrifice of Christ. (*1354, 1357.)
    • The Mass is an unbloody sacrifice which atones for the sins of both the living and the dead. (*1367, 1371, 1414)
    • Each sacrifice of the Mass appeases God’s wrath on sin. (*1371, 1414)
    • The faithful receive the benefits of the cross in fullest measure through the sacrifice of the Mass. (*1366, 1407)
    • The sacrificial work of redemption is continued through the performance of the sacrificial Mass. (*1364, 1405, 1846)
    • The Church is to continue the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the world. (*1323, 1382, 1405, 1407)

  • Thanks so much for your work! I am an adult convert to Catholicism from Protestant Evangelicalism. It was such a treat to read what you wrote and some of the comments, and be able to know clearly, that I just disagree with some of what you believe. Which would be why I’m Catholic and you’re Protestant 😉 Nearly every Protestant who has ever approached me about my faith uses something like, “Why on earth do you worship Mary??” as an opening salvo. Decent communication is almost impossible, because their questions aren’t really questions. I’m not interested in being told about what I supposedly believe from a person who hasn’t got a clue what that is and isn’t willing to hear it, and/or who cannot respect the fact that it took me three long thoughtful years to convert and I wasn’t suddenly deceived by Satan. So I’m looking forward to following your blog and the discussions that come out of it. All the best to you!

  • What is the difference between how you (Castaldo) describe the Catholic understanding of Christ’s presence at mass different from Calvin’s real presence of Christ at communion? Doesn’t Calvin say he’s truly present but not physically present? To be honest, I’ve never really understood the Reformed view of Christ’s presence, and I don’t really get your description of the Catholic view either. They sound the same.

  • “…the way in which Christ becomes present in this Sacrament is through the conversion of the whole substance of the bread into His body and of the whole substance of the wine into His blood, a unique and truly wonderful conversion that the Catholic Church fittingly and properly calls transubstantiation. (51) As a result of transubstantiation, the species of bread and wine undoubtedly take on a new signification and a new finality, for they are no longer ordinary bread and wine but instead a sign of something sacred and a sign of spiritual food; but they take on this new signification, this new finality, precisely because they contain a new “reality” which we can rightly call ontological. For what now lies beneath the aforementioned species is not what was there before, but something completely different; and not just in the estimation of Church belief but in reality, since once the substance or nature of the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His physical “reality,” corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place.”
    (Paul VI, Mysterium Fide,

    Hopefully this statement from a papal encyclical is sufficient to end debate concerning point one. Physical presence is not a misrepresentation of the Roman view.

  • My objection to Rome’s teaching about the sacraments and “fullness” is that Rome teaches that only Rome has its hand on the spigot of the saving Grace of Christ, which is only dribbled out in tiny drips when Rome opens the spigot. Evidence for this: you can have a bunch of “Masses” said for a dead relative, with no notion that he or she is out of “purgatory”. The priest will just keep accepting your “alms” to continue to say “Masses”. If Christ were truly “present” in any way, His Grace and Glory would simply overwhelm every single person immediately out of “purgatory” Rome’s vision of “fullness” is entirely focused on itself.

    Scripturally, rather, God’s grace pours out upon us at all times, in very many ways, as from a fire hose. Or a better metaphor is: God’s grace pours from God like energy from the sun; we are only one small planet, millions of miles away, and we are purely and directly bathed in God’s grace.

    Among other things, the Roman Catholic version of God is just too small, with its conception that “the fullness” of God’s grace comes through the Roman “church”.

    • John, the “Church” is clearly central in Roman Catholic teaching.This is obvious from documents like “CHURCH 2011:THE NEED FOR A NEW BEGINNING.”

      This memorandum of Catholic professors of theology uses “Church” thirty seven times but “Jesus” only twice. The teachings of Jesus and his earliest followers, as recorded in the New Testament, are not held up as a mirror to reveal what is wrong with the “Church” nor to show the “Church” what God requires. The word “Gospel” is used six times but with no explanation of what it is. What is missing is the realization that “The true treasure of the Church is the Most Holy Gospel of the glory and the grace of God.” (M Luther Thesis 62).

      • Since the aim of the memorandum is a structural and doctrinal reforms of the German-speaking Catholic Church, it is no wonder that the Church and its structures and dogmatic statements are the focus.
        The signatories of the memorandum are part of an “Break with Rome” movement, which appears repeatedly in my country under different signs.
        While this movement, in fact, is usually driven by Catholic professors and lay officials, there are in the church-based opposition to these efforts. Not all opponents of the memorandum are traditionalists, but provoking the resistance is just the Protestant tone of the document for German ears, which is not only for me begs the question why people stay in the Catholic Church, when all they require is already implemented in the evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany.
        So to review this document as a typical Catholic is just plain wrong, when one sees the reactions it has triggered.

  • I think Frank Beckwith is obfuscating the issue.

    He writes, “With Christ’s death–though taking place in time and space–we have an event with eternal consequences, meaning that its effects can be in more than one place at the same time.” Is Dr. Beckwith saying that the Mass is merely the “effects” of Christ’s death? That would certainly be at odds with Rome’s theology.

    As Chris Castaldo showed, the Cathecism says, “Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity.” These are not, as I understand them, the mere effects of Christ.

    So Christ in the Mass is not the same as two people thinking of the number 2.

    And of course an omnipotent God could do anything He wanted to. But that is not the question. The question is what “did” He do?


  • @Jamie Houghton

    Hi Jamie,

    You are rightfully confused. Confusion is baked into the Roman Catholic scheme. But let me try to help.

    We can say that the problem started with Pope Gregory I who stated that Christ was sacrificed “again” in the Mass. That unfortunate phrase caused problems for centuries because to be sacrificed again implies a physical sacrifice.

    The Roman Catholic liturgical scholar, Fr. Robert Daly, S.J., writes about how the problem was exacerbated at the Council of Trent. Because the council Fathers over-reacted to the Reformation and exhibited some influence from scientific humanism of their day, they “freighted the whole discussion with heavily physical connotations that disrupted the fragile balance between the symbolic and the realistic that, up to this time, have never been totally lost.” In other words, the Roman Catholic church tilted the whole discussion in a way that was ahistorical and indefensible. Fr. Daly even goes on to note that the although the word “sacrifice” was used by the Council it was never strictly defined. He documents how the Council just left it to the theologians to slug it out. How’s that for exercising the teaching authority of the church, huh?

    And you are certainly right to wonder how Christ can be “really,” “truly,” “wholly,” “continuously,” or “substantially” present but yet not physically. Of course, the assertion is merely nonsense but there is an historical reason why Rome has to resort to it.

    First, you will remember that Trent “freighted” the whole matter to the physical. Once that happened, the question you ask was only natural. But Rome cannot say that Christ is “physically” present because that would violate the Council of Chalcedon. So in a very real sense, Rome is caught between Chalcedon and Trent. And because she views her pronouncements as “irreformable” she does not have the liberty of an honest conscience to say that one of the other was wrong.

    So that means that good people like you, looking for an objectively honest answer will be served nothing but gobblety-gook.

    Let me have Fr. Daly have the last word:

    “It should be noted that this idea of sacramental representation, although now quite characteristic of contemporary Catholic theology, is actually one of the weak points of that theology. For this theory – that the historical saving acts of Christ are “metahistorically” made present to us – is not significantly supported by the biblical witness, nor by the Jewish background, nor by broad patristic evidence. Still more, it is also the kind of theory that creates further problems, since there is little agreement among scholars on how to explain what is being asserted.”

    (Daly, Robert S.J., Bellarmine and Post-Tridentine Eucharistic Theology, in “From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations.” Oxford, 2006. Pp. 81-101)

    See, Jamie. Not even Catholic experts can explain it.


    • Luke 22:19 – 22:20

      19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

      20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.t

    • John 6:54 to 6:55
      Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say unto you: except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.
      He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.

      John 6:57
      He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him.
      My understanding of the subject:
      The Lord our God is outside of time and space. All time is now for him. He is on the cross Now, and here Now, and in Eden Now, and in tomorrow Now. When we abideth in God, we abideth in his reality, in the Now and so yes, on the Cross Now. This is what Jesus is telling us, that the Catholic Church is the body of Christ here on earth.
      C. S. Lewis is a good source of literature for those grappling with this idea.

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