Kevin Johnson over at “Reformed Catholicism” recently critiqued Mark Shea concerning the Catholic doctrine of worship. Shea rightly describes worship as centered in sacrifice. Johnson contests this. Let’s take a look.
For Mark Shea and other Catholics, worship is seen in the sacrifice of the Mass. But worship in the Bible did not always revolve around sacrifice. We learn in the very first part of Genesis that there was a time when men began to call upon the Lord (Gen. 4:26) but there is no indication that this is something that always involved sacrifice. In fact, Genesis 24:26 (and v. 48) shows us that men were able to worship God without any sort of sacrifice at all. One wonders, too, what the Jews did when there was no tabernacle or temple to bring the official sacrifices. In Nehemiah 8:6, it’s clear that the people were able to worship once again quite without a need to establish an official sacrifice in worshiping God.
Kevin’s citation of Genesis 24:26 is unusual. It speaks of Abraham’s servant “bowing his head and worshiping”. However, the very next line describes the orientation of the servant’s prayer toward “the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master.” This “steadfast love” is based on the covenant that God established with Abraham, a covenant through sacrifice!
I can worship God, but I always worship Christ through the sacrifice of Christ – either actually, as in the Sacrifice of the Mass; or virtually, when I pray at any time “in the name of Jesus”. In both cases, I only assume to approach the Father through of the precious blood of Christ. If one should assume to approach God without going through Christ our Passover, then he is committing idolatry. It is presumptuous.
For Mr. Shea, worship is a matter of “joining ourselves to the total self-offering Christ made to God on Calvary”.
Mr. Johnson, can we offer anything without joining our ourselves and our intercession with the self-offering of Christ? I find it odd that a Christian would deny this.
Christ died on the cross once for all and the sacrifice itself has no need of being “re-presented” or repeated. Still less does this perfect sacrifice need any effort on our part to fulfill its purpose in redeeming the saints.
Mr. Johnson reveals that he is more Reformed than Catholic. One should not lump “re-presented” with repeated. There is a big difference there and the Catholic Faith depends on that distinction. Also, the sacrifice of Christ does require that we continue to apply the sacrifice of Christ through word and sacraments. Even Calvin admits as much.
Our response to the work of Christ is one of gratitude, thankfulness, and service. If there is any sacrifice on our part at all, it is only in response to what has happened two thousand years ago as well as the salvation that is already ours by virtue of that once for all event (Hebrews 10:10).
Be careful Mr. Johnson. You’re walking onto the Catholic’s home-field advantage. The sacrifice of Christ is “once for all”. Protestants love to stress the “once” and forget all about the “for all”. For all what? The answer is “for all time”. The Sacrifice of Christ is both temporal (it happened once) and eternal (for all time). It resonates in the divine economy. It’s not a past event, but an anamnesis – the ever making present of this reality.
It is no accident then that the earliest Christian worship we have on record very much resembled the synagogue worship of our Jewish ancestors. In the synagogue, sacrifice too was absent but what the faithful did was hear from God and respond in thankfulness through prayer, the reading of the Word, and in song. Sacrifice has its place in worship but only in reference to the Sacrifice that was to come.
The earliest records of Christian worship (Justin Martyr and Hippolytus) describe the Sacrifice of the Masss. In the case of the latter, sacrifical language is used. Same goes for the Didache, which probably predates both.