Catholic apologist Trent Horn recently released a lecture titled, “Answering Protestant Distortions of the Church Fathers.” Aptly titled, I will spare you a summary of the lecture. I would like to refute one of his arguments he made about the Didache.
In the lecture, Mr. Horn began to discuss just how early we can find “the description of the Mass as a sacrifice.” Challenging a claim from a Protestant apologetics book which asserted the earliest this can be done is in the 6th century, Horn quotes from the Didache as proof that the Mass is described as a sacrifice far earlier in church history (minute mark begins at 6:21). He quotes this portion from the Didache,
But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: ‘In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations’ (Emphasis Horn’s).
Mr. Horn explicitly stated this passage was referring to the Eucharist, saying “[The Didache] says of the Eucharist” before reading the passage above (minute mark 8:34). Mr. Horn believes this passage of the Didache supports the belief that those who wrote and used the document believed “the Mass” to be a real sacrifice.
Ironically this claim was made during the first point of his lecture which was encouraging his Catholic audience to check their sources. So I happily took his advice and pulled out my copy of the Didache. After re-reading it, I do not think Mr. Horn’s claims are true.
Does the Didache Teach the Mass is a Sacrifice?
Mr. Horn claimed explicitly that the portion from the Didache cited above was “about the Eucharist” though there is no evidence for this claim, and good evidence to the contrary.
I think the editor of my edition was correct to make the heading of the portion Horn is relying on as “Concerning the Lord’s Day.” The context is more broad. The entire Sunday worship is considered “our sacrifice.” This is consistent with the teaching of the New Testament which often describes the whole enterprise of Christian worship in sacrificial language.
There is the well-known passage from Paul which describes the Christian life of worship in sacrificial language,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1 ESV).
But perhaps a more fitting example of this comes from the book of Hebrews,
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:10-16 ESV) [Emphasis mine].
How is it here that Christians participate in a sacrifice when they gather? Our praise is the sacrifice. Our confession of faith is our sacrifice. Treating the members of the church well is our sacrifice which pleases God. In like manner, the Didache is describing the whole of Sunday worship as the sacrifice of the Lord’s day.
If that is not convincing to you, what ought to leave no doubt what the Didache actually does explicitly mention about the Eucharist.
First, it would be strange that the sacrificial language allegedly surrounding the Eucharist in the Didache is not found in the portion of the Didache which explicitly addresses the Eucharist, but I digress. The fact of the matter is that the Didache describes the Eucharist in terms that are in contradiction to the Roman Catholic understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
First consider the prayer of thanksgiving prescribed for the elements:
We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David Your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever.
There is no sacrificial language present. There is nothing which hints at any kind of sacrifice, nor any proto-transubstantiation theology present at all. It is merely giving thanks to God for the knowledge of Christ, and even cleverly seeing a relationship between Jesus being called a “vine” and the fact that the wine in communion is “the fruit of the vine.” Which if anything, is stronger evidence that they did not see the cup as being blood, or being a sacrifice, but it remained wine to them.
The prayer to be made after the Eucharist is also quite illuminating,
But after you are filled, thus give thanks: We thank You, holy Father, for Your holy name which You caused to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory forever. You, Master almighty, created all things for Your name’s sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your Servant (Emphasis mine).
Not only is there still no sacrificial language whatsoever, but the text emphasizes the spiritual aspect of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is referred to as spiritual food and spiritual drink, which is directly contrary to the Roman Catholic understanding, which is crucial to understanding in what sense the Mass is sacrificial.
The Didache does not identify the Mass as a sacrifice. The Didache never uses such language of the Eucharist specifically, and it instead refers to the Eucharist as bread, and wine and interprets it in a spiritual way. The Didache’s liturgy for the Eucharist is more memorial than sacrificial, remembering Jesus and His salvation, and thanking God the Father for Jesus during the supper.
The only sense in which the Eucharist is referred to as a sacrifice is in a general sense that accompanies all Christian worship. This is why the breaking of bread as a church is referred to in the Didache, not as Christ’s sacrifice to us, but as our sacrifice to God. The Eucharist is our sacrifice.
Praise is our sacrifice; good works are our sacrifice; generosity is our sacrifice; our bodies are our living sacrifice. And yes, the breaking of bread is our sacrifice. Christ gave Himself once for all as His sacrifice for our sins. In return, we give back pleasing sacrifices to God out of the gratitude and thanksgiving in our hearts. We give back to him sacrifices of worship. Christian worship is our sacrifice to God in remembrance of the great sacrifice Christ made on our behalf, and that is all the Didache recognizes.