Should I Attend or Not?
This is a question that arises from time to time. Someone we know through work, social connections or family links passes away, and that individual is a Roman Catholic. Should I attend the funeral mass? Would it seem rude if I didn’t 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 our Protestantism challenges our consciences. We must look for an approach that marries together Christian love with Biblical conviction.
Let us begin with a look at the life of Martin Luther at this time of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. As a young priest, he was required to celebrate Mass for the first time. As the cloister bells chimed, and as the choir chanted, “O sing unto the Lord a new song,” brother Martin took his place at the altar. As 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. Let us hear from Brother Martin, in his own words, the cause of his alarm at such a memorable time:
“At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘With what tongue shall I address such Majesty, seeing that all men men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince? Who am I, that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround Him. At His nod, the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say, I want this, I ask for that? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and the true God'”. (“Here I Stand” by Ronald Bainton, published by Hodder and Staughton, 1951, Page 41)
His spirit was invaded by such a deep sense of doubt, despair and depression that the only word that could possibly describe his malady was Anfectung. This is a German word that means a spiritual affliction caused either by God or Satan.
What was it about the Mass that sparked such despair in the sensitive soul of the already despondent Brother Martin? Was it the enormity of what he was about to do – transform the wafer into the body of Christ, the wine into His blood and offer Him upon the altar to make atonement for sin? When one analyses the claims Rome makes with regard to this doctrine of Transubstantiation, it causes one to question whether spiritually minded men can really and absolutely believe what they do is real. Surely, if every priest believed in the Mass, every celebrant would be plunged into the grief that plagued Martin Luther. About thirteen years ago when discussing this very doctrine with a Roman Catholic priest, I challenged him regarding the substance that the wafer and wine became, 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, following on from its famous founder, while rejecting the notion of Transubstantiation, could not quite part with the high mysticism of the sacrament, opted for a version of the Lord’s Supper known as 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. Had Christ not died once for sin, and was this one offering not sufficient? Therefore, the Mass came to be 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, the great Evangelical Anglican of the 19th Century recorded in his paper “Why Were Our Reformers Burned?” that, between 1555 and 1559, 288 Protestants were burnt to death. Why? What was the reason for such barbarism in the name of religion?
“But all without exception were called to special account about the real presence, and in every case their refusal to admit the doctrine formed one principal cause in their condemnation.” (“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, page 41)
Bishop Ryle argues that the Reformers were quite right to stand firm in their refusal to accept that Christ physically was present in the Mass because it undermined the finished work on the cross, the Priestly Office of Christ, 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, only Heaven and Hell. There is no man who can assist the soul beyond the grave. After death comes only one reality for the unrepentant sinner: JUDGEMENT. There is no more sacrifice for sin after death. Our eternal destiny is settled on earth. Heaven or Hell. Repent or Perish.
Can one therefore attend a Requiem Mass as a neutral observer? This is impossible. A Church is a place of worship. To be present is to be part of the worship, and, as at any Mass, the wafer is translated 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 for us? Indeed, I go further still – should we ever at any time place ourselves under the ministry of a Roman 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 never to be entangled with the yoke of bondage and to declare those who peddle another Gospel as accursed?
In this pluralistic age, we are encouraged to be accommodating and to resist the tendency to adopt entrenched positions. 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:
“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 worth while 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…” (“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, pages 15-16)
We live in similar days. Many Protestants 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? In this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation let us rededicate ourselves to the old paths. Let us reaffirm our opposition to Rome. Let us object to all which brings shame on the Gospel. The Christian is a cross-bearer who walks with Christ through persecution and bears His reproach without the camp. Will you be counted among those who walk in the paths of our Reformers, who preferred death rather than compromise?
We need the spirit that was in John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, who was challenged to recant and embrace a life of usefulness, by Sir Anthony Kingston, with the words, “Consider that life is sweet and death is bitter. Life hereafter may be good.” Hooper’s reply is moving, memorable and inspiring:
“The life to come is more sweet, the death to come is more bitter”
(“Light from Old Times” by J.C. Ryle, published by Evangelical Press, 1980, pages 95-96)
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)