Does Jesus save us or does Jesus and the priest or how does all this work? This is the question addressed by Article 20, though before we get to the interesting bits, we need to address the unfortunate anti-Catholic Elephant that quickly saunters into the room.
As I have mentioned multiple times while remarking upon the Articles of Religion, at their conception in the mid 16th century, the authorities of the Church of England were deeply anti-Catholic. John Wesley cut out a number of articles (14 to be exact) but he left many of the supposedly anti-Catholic ones when he edited the Book of Common Prayer into the Sunday Service for the Methodists in the new country of the United States of America.
Article 20 is different from the others in that it speaks to a distortion of Catholic dogma, not to its faithful practice. In short, the article declares that Christ’s offering on the cross was perfect and total for the satisfaction and saving of all the sins of the world. It then goes on to say “wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.” John Henry Newman, in the final Tracts of the Times, articulates quite clearly how this article is not speaking of Catholic doctrine (Newman actually quotes the Council of Trent to the same effect).
Okay, that is pretty deep church nerdy and if I’m losing you, don’t worry, we’re about to change directions.
The importance of this article is not found in the anti-Catholic part but in the declaration about the satisfaction of the offering of Christ. Jesus saves. Priests don’t. Pastors don’t. Parents don’t. Friends don’t. Rich Aunts don’t. Jesus saves and his offering has already been made and accepted. Theologically, this is called the Atonement of Christ. Christ offered himself for us, for all of us, for all the sins of the world. We are saved only by Christ. Not by our worship or works but by the faith of Jesus Christ, as Paul writes in the letter to the Galatians. The cross is not a sign of morbid fascination but a mark of victory over death. Death no longer rules this world and our Lord went to the depths of hell to win the victory!
This is Good News. Jesus Christ makes whole the brokenness of the world. We see but a foretaste for now we look through a glass darkly, but soon we shall see Him face to face. Thanks be to God!
Article XX - Of the One Oblation of Christ, Finished upon the Cross
The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifice of masses, in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit.