The Mass and Confession Explained to Protestants

[The following is from Questions Asked by Protestants briefly answered by Father M. Philipps, Rector of St. Joseph’s Church, Buffalo, NY. Cabinet of Catholic Information, 1903 Imprimatur: Archbishop John Farley]

The Mass

What do Catholics mean by a sacrifice?

A sacrifice is the oblation of a sensible thing made to God through a lawful minister by a real change in the thing offered, to testify to God’s absolute authority over us, and our entire dependence on Him.

Does God want sacrifices from us?

At the very beginning of the world there were sacrifices offered up to God, as Cain and Abel, Noe, Abraham, etc. God Himself regulated the sacrifices of the Old Law. The sacrifices of the Old Law were to typify the sacrifice of the cross, where Christ offered His Body and Blood to God for the sins of the world. This sacrifice of the cross is daily commemorated in Mass, and daily offered to God for the living and for the dead.

Does the Bible say that a sacrifice should be offered in the New Testament?

In the prophecy of Malachi we read that the sacrifices of the old law shall be abolished, that a new sacrifice shall take their place, and be offered in the whole world: “I have no pleasure in you, sayeth the Lord of Hosts: and I will not receive a gift of your hand. 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 a sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation.”

Did this prophecy of Malachi come to pass?

Yes, the Jewish sacrifices are all abolished, the new sacrifice is the death of Jesus Christ, which is commemorated in Holy Mass every day and offered to God in every Catholic place of worship, from the rising of the sun even to the going down.

According to the teaching of Catholics, Jesus has daily to suffer and to die.

No, in Mass Jesus does not suffer nor die, but His sufferings and death on the cross are commemorated and offered again to God the Father for the remission of sins.

St. Paul says: But Christ…by His own blood entered once into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12), and: So also Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many (Heb. 9:28), and: For by one oblation He hath perfected forever them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14); all this shows that the one sacrifice on the cross was enough and no other sacrifices are needed.

The one sacrifice on the cross is enough to redeem all men, but it must be commemorated and applied to our souls, as Jesus commanded it, saying: “Do this in commemoration of me.” This is done every day in Mass.

Christ died for our sins, therefore, we are saved, and Mass is not necessary. If those words: Christ died for our sins, therefore we are saved, were all we need to do and believe, there would be no need of preaching, or of having churches, no need of leading a holy life; all people would be saved; there would be no hell; the greatest wrongdoers would be on the same footing as the most honest men. Christ, however, beside His death on the Cross, commanded us to do many other things in order to be saved.

But St. Paul says: For it is fitting that we should have such a high priest, who needeth not daily (as other priests) to offer sacrifices first for his own sins and then for the people, for this He did once in offering Himself; daily Mass, therefore, is not necessary. St. Paul speaks of Jewish sacrifices, and of Jewish high priests, who were no longer needed on account of their imperfections. Priests do not offer a new, but the same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, as they were commanded to do.

Does St. Paul say that ministers should, beside preaching, also offer sacrifices to God for the sins of the people? St. Paul (Heb. 5:1) says: “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 sin.” Therefore, ministers should not only preach, but also offer the Holy Sacrifice.

If the Sacrifice of the Mass is necessary, then the Sacrifice of the Cross was not sufficient to reconcile us to God. The Sacrifice of the Cross was sufficient to reconcile us to God, but Christ wished that His Sacrifice of the Cross should often by commemorated in remembrance of Him, and as St. Paul says: “For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink this chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come.” (1 Cor. 11:26). As faithful children, therefore, we often commemorate and offer the Unbloody Sacrifice of the Cross to God for the welfare of the world.


Who can forgive sins? Only God can forgive sins, and those to whom God has given the power to do so.

To whom did God give this power to forgive sins?

To the apostles, to bishops and to priests.

Does the Bible say that God gave power to men to forgive sins?

In John 20, 22, 23, we read: “Jesus breathed on the apostles and said: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins ye shall retain they are retained.”

And again Jesus said to His apostles: “To me is given all power in heaven and on earth, as My Father hath sent Me, so I also send you. (John 20:21). Jesus was sent to forgive sins, and He sent the apostles to forgive sins.

Christ meant that priests should forgive sins through baptism, but not in confession.

The Bible speaks of two distinct forgiving of sins, namely: sins committed before baptism, when it says: “Every one of you be baptized unto the remission of sins,” and sins committed after baptism, when Jesus said: “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them.”

Jesus Christ forgives our sins, and not the priest.

Jesus Christ forgives our sins, providing we confess them to the priest, if we have a chance to do so. If the President grants pardon to a man condemned to death and empowers the Governor to execute the pardon, the condemned man will be pardoned only when the Governor executes his power of pardoning.

The Bible say that the forgiveness of sins shall be preached to all nations; if the forgiveness is granted in preaching, confession is not necessary. By preaching the forgiveness of sins, Christ meant the forgiveness of sins either through baptism, or through confession, or through any other means established by Him.

According to the Bible, to forgive sins means to excommunicate sinners, or to take them in again.

Christ gave to His apostles a twofold power: The power to forgive sins, when He said: Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, and the power to excommunicate, when He said: Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.

In the Acts we read: Do penance, and every one of you be baptized….unto the remission of sins; sins, therefore, are forgiven by doing penance and by being baptized.

Jesus speaks here of sins committed before baptism, and not sins committed after baptism; because none of those people to whom He spoke were baptized.

To Mary Magdalen sins were forgiven, because she loved much; sins, therefore, are forgiven by love.

By the outward manifestation of her great sorrow, Mary Magdalen made a confession to Jesus, and Jesus knowing her sins, forgave her. Love alone, therefore, is not sufficient, but sorrow, confession if possible, satisfaction and a firm will to sin no more.

The Bible does not say that we shall confess our sins.

The words of Christ: Whose sins you shall forgive, and whose sins you shall retain, imply that we should confess our sins. How could a priest forgive or retain sins, if people did not confess them? The fact that the early Christians and Catholics during the last 2000 years confessed their sins, is proof that Christ instructed the apostles that sins should be confessed.

St. Paul says: “Prove yourself before eating of this bread”; he did not say: Go to confession.

St. Paul meant a proving according to Christ’s teaching; that is to prove and examine our consciences, and if we find any sins we should confess them before eating of this bread. St. Paul would not contradict Jesus, Who commanded the apostles to forgive sins.

In the Our Father we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Sins, therefore, are forgiven by forgiving others. The words in the Our Father mean that if we wish God to forgive our sins we must first forgive our neighbor.

If sins can so easily be forgiven, confession will cause relapses into sin. No, a good confession requires a sincere sorrow and a firm will to sin no more; the more a sinner feels and expresses this sorrow in confession the less he will fall into sins.

We do not read that the apostles went to confession. We know that Jesus told the apostles to forgive sins, and certainly they forgave sins to one another, if they committed any.

Can a priest forgive the sins of theft if the thief does not intend to give back the stolen property? No, the stolen property must, if possible, be restored to its owner or a promise given to restore it, before the sin can be forgiven.

Does the Bible say that some sins are mortal?

Yes, the Bible says that some sins deserve death and that they exclude the sinners from the kingdom of heaven. In St. Paul to the Galatians 5:19 we read: “Those who commit such sins… shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven.” And in 1 Cor. 6:9, St. Paul enumerates a number of mortal sins that debar a man of the kingdom of heaven.

Does the Bible say that some sins are venial; that is more easily forgiven?

Yes, we read in Proverbs 24:16: “The just man falls seven times, and rises again.” This shows that people commit certain sins and still are called just men. If, however, a man commits a mortal sin he is no longer called a just man. See also St. James 3:2.

Does the Bible say that God punishes mortal sins by eternal and temporal punishments?

In 2 Sam. 12:9 we read that David was guilty of murder, which deserved the pains of hell. Nathan warns David of the danger. David repents and says: I have sinned against the Lord. Nathan replies to David: The Lord also has taken away thy sin, that is, the eternal punishment of hell. Nathan says further: “Thou shalt not die. Nevertheless, because thou hast given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, for this thing the child that is born to thee shall surely die,” which is a temporal punishment.