Do Catholics teach that Jesus Christ has to die again and again?

Some people accuse Catholics of teaching that Jesus Christ must die again and again at every Mass.  The interesting thing is that the Catholic Church has never taught such an absurdity.  Even if we disagree with someone else's doctrines, it is a sin to bear false witness and misrepresent their teachings.  The Church has always taught that the Mass, or Divine Liturgy as it is called in the Eastern Rites, is a Holy Sacrifice.  Many people, starting with Martin Luther in the 1500s, object to the Mass being called a Sacrifice. 

Doesn't the Book of Hebrews say that "there is no more sacrifice?"

Some will say the Book of Hebrews says, "there is no more sacrifice."  It is true that those five words appear in a sentence, but that is not what the sentence says.  The entire sentence is: "For if we sin wilfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26).   In context, Paul (I believe he wrote Hebrews) is warning them to not turn away from the Christian sacrifice (the Mass) and return to the Jewish temple sacrifices.  The text in context reads:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering (for he is faithful that hath promised):  And let us consider one another, to provoke unto charity and to good works: Not forsaking our assembly, as some are accustomed: but comforting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.  For if we sin wilfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice for sins: But a certain dreadful expectation of judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries." (Heb. 10:23-27).          

Paul is warning them not to turn from Christian worship (the "gathering together") or there would be no more sacrifice for them.  This makes no sense if there was no more sacrifice whether or not they turned away.  It would be like telling our children, "If you misbehave, there will be no ice cream on Friday night."  Then the children ask, "Are we having ice cream on Friday if we behave?"  And then telling them, "No, we never have ice cream on Friday."  This would not be much of a threat, and neither would Paul's statement if there was no more sacrifice for anyone. 

Throughout the Book of Hebrews, Paul compares the Christian sacrifice (the Mass) as being superior to the Old Testament sacrifices.  Jesus is called our High Priest.  By definition a priest is one who offers sacrifices.  As Paul explains, "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Hebrews 5:1).  Paul then explains how Jesus is a priest forever.  "For he testifieth: Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech" (Hebrews 7:17).  Jesus was not just a priest for three hours on the cross; He remains a priest forever. 

Paul contrasts Jesus sacrifice with the Old Testament sacrifices: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens: Who needeth not daily (as the other priests) to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, in offering himself  (Hebrews 7:26-27).  Here the one sacrifice of Jesus is being contrasted with the Old Testament sacrifices that had to be repeated over and over and couldn’t take away sin.  When it says “once” or “once for all” (Greek ephapax) it is not saying that Jesus’ sacrifice is over and done with, but rather that it continues throughout eternity because Jesus in His Divinity offers Himself up outside of time.  Just in case the Hebrews didn't understand this point, Paul goes on to explain it: 

"Now of the things which we have spoken, this is the sum: We have such an high priest who is set on the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens, A minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord hath pitched, and not man.  For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is necessary that he also should have some thing to offer.  If then he were on earth, he would not be a priest: seeing that there would be others to offer gifts according to the law.  Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things. As it was answered to Moses, when he was to finish the tabernacle: See (saith he) that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shewn thee on the mount.  But now he hath obtained a better ministry, by how much also he is a mediator of a better testament (covenant) which is established on better promises.   For if that former had been faultless, there should  not indeed a place have been sought for a second.  For, finding fault with them, he saith: Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord: and I will perfect, unto the house of Israel and unto the house of Juda, a new testament: Not according to the testament which I made to their fathers, on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: because they continued not in my testament: and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.  For this is the testament which I will make to the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord: I will give my laws into their mind: and in their heart will I write them. And I will be their God: and they shall be my people"  (Hebrews 8:1-10).

Notice that the verse says that it is necessary for Jesus to have something to offer (a sacrifice) or He wouldn't be our high priest (present tense).  Melchisadech offered bread and wine.  Jesus offered up bread and wine that became His Body and Blood, and told us to do this when we worship Him.  The same Greek word ephapax, “once” or “once for all,” is used later in Hebrews where our sanctification is attributed to Christ’s sacrifice.  In the which will, we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once” (Hebrews 10:10).    Obviously our sanctification is not a one-time event accomplished nearly 2000 years ago.  Our sanctification is accomplished by our being able to participate in the “once for all” sacrifice of Christ.  When Christians talk about being “washed in the blood of the Lamb  (Rev. 7:14, cf. Rev. 1:5), they are not referring to killing Jesus again, but rather to participating in His Sacrifice and applying it to their sins.  The Book of Revelation describes Jesus as the  Lamb which was slain from the beginning of the world” (Rev. 13:8).  John, witnessing the heavenly liturgy, hears “Weep not: behold the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Rev. 5:5).   When John looks up to see Jesus, how does He appear?  In the next verse we read, “And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures and in the midst of the ancients, a Lamb standing, as it were slain.” (Rev. 5:6).  Jesus is still appearing as a Lamb standing, as it were slain. 

 The Sacrifice of the Mass was foretold by the Prophet Malachi:

For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation (Hebrew minchah or sacrifice): for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

The sacrifice that Malachi prophesied was to be every place in the world and among the gentiles.  Either this is describing the Mass or the prophecy is not true.  Even dispensationalists, who believe that the Temple will be rebuilt and the Jews will resume the Old Covenant sacrifices, deny that there will be a sacrifice world-wide among the Gentiles in the future.  Due to the different time zones, there is a Mass being offered at any given time somewhere around the world. 

Hebrews tells us that the New Covenant has better sacrifices (plural):  It is necessary therefore that the patterns of heavenly things should be cleansed with these: but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.”  (Heb. 9:23).  Our sacrifices of bread and wine are better because they become the Body and Blood of Jesus shed for us (Luke 22:19-20).  We have an altar whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle.” (Hebrews 13:10).   An altar (Greek thusiasterion) is by definition a place of sacrifice.  In the Mass, we are present not only at the Last Supper, but at Calvary.  The Passover feast that began at the Last Supper is complete on the Cross when Jesus says, “It is finished” or “It is consummated” (John 19:30).     

The Fourth Cup: It is finished  

What did Jesus mean when He said, “It is finished” or “It is consummated” just before He died?  Did He mean that everything for our salvation was accomplished?  This completed the act of redemption, but our salvation depended on Our Lord’s whole life, death, and His resurrection that hadn’t happened yet.  Paul wrote Jesus “was delivered up for our sins and rose again for our justification” (Romans 4:25) and “if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain: and your faith is also vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).  There are different levels of meaning in the phrase “it is finished,” but to understand how it applies to the Last Supper, we must understand the structure of the Jewish Passover.  

Jesus and the Apostles were celebrating a Passover Seder (Hebrew for “Order”) at the Last Supper.  Mark writes, “Now on the first day of the unleavened bread, when they sacrificed the Passover, the disciples say to him: Whither wilt thou that we go and prepare for thee to eat the Passover?” (Mark 14:12).  Luke writes: “And they going, found as he had said to them and made ready the Passover.  And when the hour was come, he sat down: and the twelve apostles with him.   And he said to them: With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you, before I suffer” (Luke 22:13-15).  Jesus institutes the Eucharist: “And whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread; and blessing, broke and gave to them and said: Take ye. This is my body. And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, he gave it to them. And they all drank of it.  And he said to them: This is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many” (Mark 14:22-24).  In a Jewish Passover there are four cups of wine that everyone drinks.  The third is the cup of blessing.   This is the cup that Mark describes in Mark 14.  Paul later writes, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  (1 Cor. 10:16).  After Jesus offers the Communion cup, the cup of blessing, He says something interesting: “Amen I say to you that I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25).  After the third cup, the cup of blessing, the Great Hallel (Psalms 114-118) is sung.  Jesus and the Apostles sing the song and then leave for the Mount of Olives.  And when they had sung an hymn, they went forth to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26).  Why would Jesus leave without finishing the Passover?  Jesus wouldn’t skip the most important part of the Passover.  He had been celebrating Passover since He was a little boy.  His statement about not drinking of the fruit of the vine gives us a clue.  The participants at a Passover Seder are allowed to drink additional cups of wine between the first, second and third cups, but not between the third and the fourth.  After the third cup they pour a cup for Elijah, who is expected to come to usher in the Messiah.  While in the Garden Jesus prays, “saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done.” (Matt. 26:42, cf. Luke 22:42, Mark 16:36).  Jesus prayed this prayer three times (Matt. 26:44).  What did Jesus mean by “cup” rather than “cross?”  Perhaps this goes back to the imagery in Jeremiah and Isaiah describing the cup of God’s wrath or fury.  But remember what Jesus said about not drinking of the fruit of the vine and the fact that the Passover was interrupted suddenly before going to the garden. 

On the way to the cross Jesus is offered wine, but refuses it.  And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh.  But he took it not.” (Mark 15:23).  In John’s Gospel, Jesus is shown on the cross as the fulfillment of the Passover.  Jesus wears a seamless garment (John 19:23) which is what the priest wore as he sacrificed the Passover.  Unlike the criminals at His side, Jesus’ bones were not broken (John 19:31), as a suitable Passover lamb could not have broken bones.  In John 19:28 we read, “Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst.”   Jesus had been on the cross for hours and had lost much blood.  Surely He was thirsty before this.  Before when He was offered wine he refused it.  Remember He has said that He wouldn’t drink of the fruit of the vine until He would drink it in the kingdom.  After Jesus says this He drinks the wine: “Now there was a vessel set there, full of sour wine.  And they, putting a sponge full of sour wine about hyssop, put it to his mouth.  Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the Spirit” (John 19:29-30).  At a Passover, when they drink the fourth cup they say, “Chasal siddur Pesach k’hilchato” (“Our Passover Seder is now complete.)”  Hyssop was what the Jews used to sprinkle the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorposts so that their firstborn sons would be saved (Exodus 12:22).   The Jews couldn’t just kill the Passover, every member in the household had to eat of it.  As Paul tells us, “For Christ our Passover is sacrificed.  Therefore, let us keep the feast”  (1 Cor. 5:7-8).  We need to participate in Christ’s Passover that started at the Last Supper and was finished on the Cross.  Jesus, being God, makes His Sacrifice available to us.  The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?” (1 Cor. 10:16).