Devotional Word for Tuesday, July 27, 2021
As I have worked with both children and adults over the years, I commonly hear many repeated questions. One of them pertains to denominations. Specifically, people often wonder why there are so many denominations. A follow up to that question would be if denominational differences are important. Put in more common language, we might ask, “Why can’t we all just get along?” While it would a good idea to examine denominational differences, that goes beyond the scope of this devotion. However, as we continue to look at the Heidelberg Catechism, question 80 asks a probing question about the differences between the Reformed and the Roman churches in the area of the Lord’s Supper. It asks, “What difference is there between the Lord’s Supper and the papal Mass?”
The answer responds, “The Lord’s Supper testifies to us that we all have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ which He Himself has accomplished on the cross once for all; (and that through the Holy Spirit we are incorporated into Christ, who is now in heaven with His true body at the right hand of the Father and is there to be worshiped.) But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the sufferings of Christ unless Christ is again offered for them daily by the priest (and that Christ is bodily under the form of bread and wine and therefore to be worshiped in them). Therefore the Mass is fundamentally a complete denial of the once for all sacrifice and passion of Jesus Christ (and as such an idolatry to be condemned).”
That is a long answer and it might sound somewhat confusing at first listen. In essence the primary difference between the Reformed Lord’s Supper and the Roman papal Mass is a view the definition of a sacrament. Remember that question and answer 66 define the sacraments as “Visible, holy signs and seals instituted by God in order that by their use He may the more fully disclose and seal to us the promise of the gospel, namely, that because of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the cross He graciously grants us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” This means that the Lord’s Supper and Baptism are signs and seals. They point us to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Supper points us specifically to the once for all atoning death of Christ upon the cross.
Roman Catholics have a different understanding of the sacraments. Consider what it says in “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.” “Sacraments are ‘powers that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church. They are ‘the masterworks of God’ in the new and everlasting covenant.” Consider also the Roman Catechism when it says, “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God. Because they are signs they also instruct. They not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it. That is why they are called sacraments of faith.” The Roman church believes that sacraments are powers that come forth from the body of Christ. They also believe that Communion contains the transforming of bread and wine into body and blood. Therefore it follows that communion is of value to the Roman Catholic because it is grace from God proceeding from the body of Christ in the elements of bread and wine (which have been transformed into Christ’s actual body) for our ongoing sanctification. Each time a Roman Catholic participates in communion, they are participating again in the sacrificed body and blood of Jesus.
Question and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism helps us understand why this is not an acceptable position. The Lord Jesus’s atoning work on the cross was once for all. He now reigns seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies. There He is to be worshipped. If we understand that His body is actually physically transubstantially present in the bread and wine of communion, then we deny that once for all character of His death for His people. We deny His resurrected and ascended presence at the right hand of the Father, and we are left with an idolatrous understanding that we should be worshipping the Son in the form of the bread and the wine. This we should not do. Instead, let us celebrate the Sacraments that the Lord has ordained and enjoy the reality they serve as a sign for.