The following is from a series of comments made on a post on the Pray Tell Blog. The comments have been edited slightly to keep the conversation focused on the matter of the Eucharist as a sacrifice "before" (my language) it is a meal.
Gerard Flynn: The offering, made by the community, of the body and blood of the Lord, to God, which takes places after the institution narrative, constitutes the sacrifice of the mass. It is the kernel of that which allows the mass to be called a sacrifice.
Jeffrey Pinyan: Certainly — it’s what makes the Mass a sacrifice. It’s what makes the Eucharist a sacrifice to God before It is a banquet for us.
Gerard Flynn: There is no basis for your claim that the eucharist is a sacrifice before it is a banquet. Your use of the word ‘before’ is ambiguous since, on the one hand, it may simply be an indication that X is anterior to Y. However, on the other hand, it may be interpreted in a qualitative, rather than in a temporal sense. In either case, it is unhelpful.
Jeffrey Pinyan: I don’t think that my claim is baseless or unhelpful. Chronologically speaking, the Eucharist is offered to (and received by) God as a sacrifice in the anaphora, and only after the anaphora is the Eucharist offered to (and received by) us as a communal banquet. Qualitatively speaking (from the Catholic perspective), does not the Eucharist as a communion meal derive its sign value and its efficacy from the very fact that it is a sacrifice? It’s not just Jesus’ favorite or last meal, or a meal to remember Him by. It is a sacrificial meal, not just of His Body and Blood, but of the Body which He gave and the Blood which He poured out. The Eucharist, being in the forms of bread and wine, is clearly meant to be received by us, to be eaten. I lament that western Catholics generally lost sight of that for centuries. But I think it is easier to lose sight of the Eucharist as being a sacrifice which we offer to God, and I would lament the loss of this understanding.
Gerard Flynn: If you simply mean that the eucharist is a sacrifice before it is a meal, in an anterior sense, the point is so trite and inocuous that it doesn’t deserve to have any cyber ink spilt over it.
Jeffrey Pinyan: I think it’s worth noting that such an important part of the anaphora, the offering of the Eucharist to God, can be missed if we’re not paying attention. It’s what makes the Mass a sacrifice and not just a factory for producing Communion. It’s hard to miss the Communion Rite, but it’s easy to miss the offering in the anaphora.
Gerald Flynn: Furthermore, to claim that God receives the sacrifice before the eucharist is consumed is to conflate and confuse the two spheres of human existence (time) and divine existence (eternity). It is anthropomorphic nonsense to speak of anteriority in this context.
Jeffrey Pinyan: Then keep the perspective temporal — we offer it to God before we presume to receive it ourselves. Or, you could say that God gets the first-fruits of the Eucharist.
At this point, Tom Poelker replied to my "qualitatively" point from my second response, which I'll repeat here:
Jeffrey Pinyan: Qualitatively speaking (from the Catholic perspective), does not the Eucharist as a communion meal derive its sign value and its efficacy from the very fact that it is a sacrifice? It’s not just Jesus’ favorite or last meal, or a meal to remember Him by. It is a sacrificial meal, not just of His Body and Blood, but of the Body which He gave and the Blood which He poured out.
Tom Poelker: Could someone better versed in Scripture and history than I please check this? Was not the Eucharist celebrated as a meal long before it was cited as a sacrifice? Was not the Eucharist valued as a memorial meal before it was valued as a sacrifice? If I am remembering this correctly,then it is impossible that “the Eucharist as a communion meal derive its sign value and its efficacy from the very fact that it is a sacrifice.”
Jeffrey Pinyan: The first Eucharist anticipated, or pre-presented, the sacrifice of the Cross. Christ called the bread His body “which IS given” and the wine His blood “which IS [being] poured out”. Our liturgical texts use the future tense because of the Clementine Vulgate, I think, but the Greek uses present passive participles.
Tom Poelker: Why are you not addressing the original perceptions of the Eucharist instead of repeating the later theological thoughts about it? This is exactly what I was trying to get away from, in seeking more information about what is known from Paul and Luke and the writings of the next generation or two. When did this looking back and connecting it to sacrifice begin, if I am correct that it is not the earliest frame of reference?
At this point, I decided to provide some scriptural starting points from which Tom and I could continue our discussion.
Jeffrey Pinyan: Tom, earlier, you had asked: “Was not the Eucharist celebrated as a meal long before it was cited as a sacrifice? Was not the Eucharist valued as a memorial meal before it was valued as a sacrifice?” Is the core of the matter whether Christians considered the Eucharist a sacrifice offered to God, or whether they considered the Eucharist to be sacrificial?
Here are some verses which I think display a first-or-second-generation perception of sacrifice in the (first) Eucharist.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28)
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mk 14:24)
“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. … This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Lk 22:19-20)
“Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Cor 5:7)
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16)
“This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. … This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ” (1 Cor 11:24-26)
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.” (Heb 13:10)
[Christians quickly (at least by Justin Martyr's time) saw the Eucharist as the fulfillment of Mal 1:11. That seems to say something about the nature of the Eucharist as an offering/sacrifice to God.]
Then I provided commentary on those verses.
Jeffrey Pinyan: Jesus says the bread is His body “which is (given) for” us; He refers to His blood as the “blood of the covenant”, or to the cup as “the new covenant in my blood.”
His institution of the Eucharist is marked by sacrificial language (especially when you consider the verb tense in the Greek) — the bread and wine become present manifestations of His future Passion. The “covenant” language evokes Exodus 24: “And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you …’” The blood comes from a sacrifice; my apologies if this point is trite or inocuous.
When Jesus says that we should “do this in remembrance” of Him, part of the “this” is the making present of the covenant-sacrifice by means of bread and wine. And it is not only being made present to us, but to the Father as well. This is why Paul can say that we participate in Christ’s body and blood via the bread and cup, and how we “proclaim the Lord’s death” by celebrating the Eucharist (and specifically by eating it).
The eating then brings us the “pasch” imagery. Jesus is our pasch, our Passover Lamb. Not only did the Israelites sacrifice a lamb and then eat it, but they smeared its blood on their doorposts, in effect “showing” the sacrifice to God. The Passover was at once a meal and a sacrifice, inextricably linked: if you sacrificed it but did not eat it, you were not following the commandment (and who knows if you would have ended up dead?); if you ate the meal without sacrificing the lamb (and smearing its blood), the meal was not a covenant meal at all.
So the Passover’s efficacy as a meal was rooted in it being a sacrifice, while its efficacy as a sacrifice was only realized if it was eaten as a meal.
Finally, the obscure mention of “an altar” from which Christians have a right to eat (I do not think I am out of bounds to say that) in Hebrews 13 implies a sacrifice offered on that altar, the fruits of which are consumed by those offering.