Blog Entries

“The Additions of Superstition”: Spurgeon’s Critique of the Mass

Quinn Mosier January 26, 2021

Sounding like the start of a bad joke, Spurgeon once said, “Imagine Paul or Peter attending mass.” After observing the movements and rituals of the priests, “Paul would pluck Peter by the sleeve, and say, ‘Our Master did nothing like this when he took bread and gave thanks and brake it.’ Peter would reply, ‘Very different this from the guest-chamber at Jerusalem!’”[1] A lion for the truth and a guard dog of right doctrine, Spurgeon continually defended the Lord’s Supper from Roman Catholic distortions, as well as calling fellow Protestants back to obeying the simple and plain commands of Christ. But his concern was not merely liturgical. Rather, Spurgeon understood that our teaching and practice of the Lord’s Supper connects with our understanding of the gospel. This was no less true for the Roman Catholic mass. Spurgeon pointed out three errors in particular:

First, the Mass turns the table of our Lord into an altar. Spurgeon said, “That which was only a table, they have made into an altar, and that which was a supper and nothing more, they have changed into a celebration.”[2] Rather than picturing a simple supper, the Roman Mass is an elaborate ceremony. In this ceremony, the sacrifice is re-enacted and Christ is offered to God once more for sins.[3] As a result, at the center of this ceremony is not a table, but an altar. Protestants, however, reject this understanding of the Mass. Of his sacrifice, “there is no continuation wanted.”[4] One of the ways to guard against such teaching is simply to recognize that in the Lord’s Supper, we come to a table, not an altar. Spurgeon said, “Use it as a table of fellowship and communion, but never dream of it as an altar. The one altar which sanctifieth the gift is the person and merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and nothing else.”[5] It is around this table where believers can gather around and enjoy their fellowship in the finished work of Christ.

Second, the Mass diminishes Christ’s person and work. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. The pseudo-sacrifice of Christ in the Mass ignores the once-for-all nature of the sacrifice accomplished on Golgotha. For, Christ “never said, ‘Do this as the perpetual repetition of my death.”[6] Rather, the Catholic Mass is a sacrifice devoid of blood. No less, it is devoid of the blood of the Savior, the only man that can cleanse us from our sin. Spurgeon said, “Take the blood away, and the communion of the Lord’s Supper has gone; there remains nothing but the Popish mass which is so blasphemously called an unbloody sacrifice for the quick and dead.”[7] For, “They blaspheme the sacrifice of Christ who imagine that any man, call him priest or not, can continue, repeat, or complete that sacrifice for sin. It is finished, and our Lord has gone into his glory. Sin is put away by his bearing it in his own body on the tree.”[8]

Finally, the Mass neglects the role of faith in the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics believe that grace is communicated to people in the mere act of consuming the consecrated bread and wine. Spurgeon thought it was absurd to believe grace would be communicated merely through the physical act of eating and drinking. Rather, this took away from the sufficiency of Christ’s death and made those partaking of the Supper faithless, not faithful. He asked, “Does grace operate through the stomach, and save us through our bowels?” No, but instead, “I receive the body and blood of Christ when my soul believes in his incarnation, when my heart relies upon the merit of his death, when the bread and wine so refresh my memory that thoughts of Jesus Christ and his agonies melt me to penitence, cheer me to confidence, and purify me from sin.”[9]

Spurgeon did not hold back criticism when he perceived that the gospel was at stake. Like a shepherd fending away wolves from the sheep, so Spurgeon guarded the doctrine and piety of his flock. This was true especially when it came to the ordinances of the church. Spurgeon said, “A church ceases to be a church of Christ in proportion also as she alters the ordinances of God.”[10] Why? Because the ordinances communicate the gospel.

Therefore, Spurgeon not only warned against the Roman Catholic mass but against any church tradition that would distort the Lord’s Table. In every denomination, whether Protestant or otherwise, there is a temptation to add to Christ’s commandments. But when it comes to baptism and the Lord’s Supper, our calling is not innovation, but faithfulness. May churches today proclaim the gospel powerfully from their pulpits and display the gospel clearly through the ordinances.

“Clear away all the additions of superstition, they are but the dust and the rust which have accumulated during the ages, and they spoil and mar the purity of Christ’s own ordinance. Our great concern must be, to observe it exactly as he has delivered it unto us, in accordance with his own injunction, ‘This do in remembrance of me;’—not something else in its place.”[11]

[1] MTP 34:445.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See session 22 of the Council of Trent that defines the dogma of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

[4] MTP 24:461

[5] MTP 14:520.

[6] MTP 34:446.

[7] MTP 30:174.

[8] MTP 34:446.

[9] MTP 11:555.

[10] MTP 24:551, italics original.

[11] MTP 45:423–24.