by Markus Tymister
Theodoret of Cyrus (d. c. 460) was a monk in the environs of Apamea (Syria) and, from 423, bishop of Cyrus in present day north Syria. He was condemned at the so-called Robber Synod of 449, but then rehabilitated in 451. According to current scholarship, he is held to be of orthodox belief. In the eastern church he is venerated as a saint.
Among his works there is also a commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews.
In Hebrews 8:1-5 it states:
The main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus the necessity for this one also to have something to offer. If then he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are those who offer gifts according to the law. They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, as Moses was warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle. For he says, “See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (NAB)
Εἰ τοίνυν καὶ ἡ κατὰ νόμον ἱερωσύνη τὸ τέλος ἐδέξατο, καὶ ὁ κατὰ τάξιν Μελχισεδὲκ ἀρχιερεὺς τὴν θυσίαν προσήνεγκε, καὶ θυσίας ἑτέρας ἀνενδεεῖς καθέστηκε, τί δήποτε τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης οἱ ἱερεῖς τὴν μυστικὴν λειτουργίαν ἐπιτελοῦσιν; Ἀλλὰ δῆλον τοῖς τὰ θεῖα πεπαιδευμένοις, ὡς οὐκ ἄλλην τινὰ θυσίαν προσφέρομεν, ἀλλὰ τῆς μιᾶς ἐκείνης καὶ σωτηρίου τὴν μνήμην ἐπιτελοῦμεν. Τοῦτο γὰρ ἡμῖν αὐτὸς ὁ Δεσπότης προσέταξε· Τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν, ἵνα τῇ θεωρίᾳ τῶν τύπων, τῶν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν γεγενημένων ἀναμιμνησκώμεθα παθημάτων, καὶ τὴν περὶ τὸν εὐεργέτην ἀγάπην πυρσεύσωμεν.
(Theodoretus ep. Cyrensis, Interpretatio epist. ad Hebr. 8, ed. J. P. Migne (PG 82), 736B. Critically examined and reworked by S. Parenti.)
“Thus when the priesthood according to the law (of the Old Covenant) has attained to an end, and the high priest according to the order of Melchisedech [ = Christ] has brought the sacrifice and determined that no further sacrifices are necessary, then why do priests of the New Covenant celebrate the mystical liturgy?
It is clear to those who are educated in divine things that we do not offer another sacrifice, but rather, carry out the memorial of the only and salvation-bringing sacrifice. For indeed the Lord himself has commanded us: “Do this in memory of me,” so that we, in beholding the ‘image’ (τῶν τύπων), carry out the memorial of the passion undergone for us and are radiant with love for our benefactor.”
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Thus the celebration of Mass is not a new sacrifice, but rather an act of memorial of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We do not offer something new, nor do we sacrifice Christ again, but rather in remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ the action of the church is taken into the action of Christ. What remains for Christians of the new covenant, therefore, is praise of God and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us. In the celebration of the eucharist this finds its expression above all in the great prayer of praise and thanksgiving, the eucharistic prayer, in which we, mindful of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, praise God and thank him for his saving deeds. In this sense, the Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving (sacrificium laudis).
(Hearty thanks to my Sant’ Anselmo colleague Stefano Parenti, who is planning a more comprehensive publication on the topic, for the reference to Theodoret.)
Translated and reprinted with permission from the blog Populo Congregato. Original: “Die Hl. Messe als Opfer? Eine Stimme aus dem 5. Jahrhundert.” Fr. Markus Tymister is faculty member at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome.