CLASS 13 - THE EUCHARIST AND THE MASS
I. Jesus introduced the idea of the Eucharist during His public ministry, and especially in the Bread of Life discourse recorded in John 6. At the Last Supper, He then instituted the Eucharist, in the context of the Mass and the priesthood.
A. Jesus indicated
that He would offer Himself as food in the Bread of Life Discourse that
is recorded in John 6. There, Jesus described Himself as "the
bread of life come down from heaven" and "whoever eats of this
bread will never hunger." John 6:35. In response to the
crowd's astonishment, Jesus made the teaching more definite saying
that the bread He gives is "My flesh for the life of the world"
and that "whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has life eternal,
and I will raise Him on the last day." John 6:51, 55. Many
left Him on that day, but He let them go, rather than water down the
B. The Last Supper, during which Jesus inaugurated the Eucharist and the Mass, was a Passover meal. See Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13. (John does record the Passover as beginning on the next day, but some rabbis moved the Passover back a day when it would otherwise fall on a Sabbath.)
- At the first Passover,
which God told the Chosen People to celebrate as a "perpetual ordinance,"
each family slaughtered a lamb, placed some of its blood on the doorpost
and ate the rest of the lamb that night. That night the angel
of death passed through the land of Egypt striking at the pagan households,
but not at those marked with the blood of the lamb. And on the
next day, all who had eaten the Passover meal were freed from slavery
in Egypt. See Ex. 12.
- At every Passover,
each family (or group of families) would likewise recall, and in a sense
make present, this liberation from Egypt and eat another Passover Lamb.
- The Eucharist fulfills
this symbolism and is the new Passover, celebrated as a perpetual ordinance.
See Ex. 12:24. In the Mass, we celebrate the sacrifice of Christ,
the Lamb of God, and that sacrifice does become present. Furthermore,
we then eat of this Lamb.
C. At the Last Supper,
Jesus took the bread and wine and said, "This is My body" and
"This is My blood." Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19-20;
1 Cor. 11:23-26. There is not any indication that He meant that
the bread and wine was merely a symbol, and it would have been very
odd for him to cause such confusion for all of history by saying absolutely
what He meant symbolically.
D. Although the Mass re-presents the sacrifice of Christ, see below, when we receive
the Eucharist, it is the risen body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ that we receive.
1. At the Eucharist
Christ is truly and fully present, body and soul, humanity and divinity.
At the Last Supper Jesus "took the bread, said the blessing, broke
it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given
for you: do this in memory of Me.' And likewise the cup after
they had eaten, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which will be shed for you.'" Luke 22:19-20; see also Matt,
26:26-29; Mark 14:22-26; 1 Cor. 11:23-25.
of Jesus is present in each particle of the Eucharist. Under the
appearance of bread, the body of Christ becomes present, but because
Jesus cannot be separated, all of Him must be present. And the
same is true of the Eucharist under the appearance of wine; the blood
of Christ is present; but, therefore, all of Christ must be present.
The fact that all of Christ must be present if any of Him is present
is part of what we call concomitance. See St. Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologica, part III, question 76, article 1.
3. Because the Eucharist is the risen body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, there is nothing like cannibalism, the eating of a dead or dying body. Rather, it is sharing in the holiness and (to the degree that a human being can) in the divinity of Christ.
have always been forbidden from eating meat with blood still in it because,
among other things, receiving the blood of an animal is, symbolically
at least, sharing in its nature. But receiving the Eucharist does
the opposite; it not only symbolically, but truly allows us to share
in the nature of Christ. Thus the life of heaven, very really
the blood of God, does run within us.
4. By receiving Christ Himself in the Eucharist, we become especially united with Him. "Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me and I in him." John 6:54-56.
- Because we are more
closely united to Christ and perceive the presence of God, the Eucharist
helps keep us from sin. "By giving Himself in us, Christ revives
our love and enables us to break our disordered attachment to creatures
and root ourselves in Him. . . The more we share in the life of Christ
and progress in His friendship the more difficult it is to break away
from Him by mortal sin." Catechism of the Catholic Church
E. Because a person receiving the Eucharist is receiving Christ Himself in the most sublime way one must be prepared and fully in God's grace to receive the Eucharist. As St. Paul wrote, "Whosoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. . . For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." 1 Cor. 11:28-29.
to receive the Eucharist, one must be in a state of grace, i.e., baptized
and having received sacramental absolution for any mortal sins committed
after baptism. (There are some very limited exceptions to the
requirement of confession when this sacrament is unavailable.)
to receive the Eucharist one must ordinarily be Catholic, even if one
believes in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is the sacrament of Catholic
unity. Members of the Orthodox churches, and other similar churches,
can also receive the Catholic Mass if their own faith allows it because
they have the same Eucharistic theology, the same sacraments and priesthood,
and generally the same beliefs as the Catholic Church does. There
are some rare cases, especially when there is a danger of death, that
a non-Catholic Christian can receive the Eucharist if he believes in
the sacrament as the body and blood of Christ.
F. In addition to being the Body and Blood of Christ very factually, the bread and wine have other fitting symbolism, both naturally and supernaturally.
1. As St. Paul points
out, bread and wine combine the many (grains or grapes) together to
make one, and the Eucharist likewise brings the Church together.
See 1 Cor. 10:16-17.
2. Bread is a
fitting symbol of the continued sustenance we need on a pilgrimage,
here the pilgrimage of life. And wine is a fitting symbol of celebration.
the primordial priest Melchizedek offered bread and wine when Abraham
came to him after his victories over local kings. And Jesus,
through His sacrifice, became, among other things, the fulfillment of
the priesthood of Mechizedek. Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7.
4. The notion
of a bread of life and a spiritual drink also reminds one of the manna
and water that sustained the Chosen People in the desert. See
John 6:30-40; 1 Cor. 10:2-3. Through the Eucharist, we receive
this heavenly food to guide us through the desert of this life towards
our final Promised Land.
bread and wine (sometimes combined with oil) are a symbol of prosperity
and joyousness in the presence and blessings of God. See, e.g.,
Gen. 27:28, Duet. 7:13, Ps. 4:7, 104:14-15, Joel 2:24, Is. 55:1-2.
(Wine given to the unjust can also be a symbol of the wrath of God.
See Ps. 60:5, 75:9; Is. 51:17, 21-23; Rev. 14:15, 18-20.) The
grain and wine, along with the olive oil used for other sacraments,
gives us that joy and spiritual riches from heaven. And thus,
even among the strife of the world, the angels are told to preserve
the grain, the wine and the oil. See Rev. 6:6.
II. The Eucharist are the Mass are inseparable. The Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist; and,
while the Eucharist can be given as Holy Communion outside of Mass, a priest can consecrate
the Eucharist on at a Mass.
A. The bread and wine become the true body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Mass and in particular at the Eucharistic Prayer when the priest does two things. First, he invokes the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine. Then he recites the words of Scripture that describe the first Eucharist, which Christ consecrated at the Last Supper. "With the Eucharistic Prayer - the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration - we come to the heart and summit of the celebration." Catechism of the Catholic Church 1352.
the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass and in fact of the whole
Catholic life of faith. "In the most blessed Eucharist is contained
the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, namely, Christ Himself as
our Pasch." Vatican II Council, Presbytorum Ordinis (1965)
5. "The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian
life." Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324.
B. In addition, at the Mass, Christ through His Church overcomes the barriers of space and time to re-present His suffering, death and resurrection and becomes truly present. "When the church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ's Passover and it is made present. The sacrifice of Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present." Catechism of the Catholic Church 1364.
1. Jesus instituted
the Mass at the Last Supper, but it is the re-presentation of the sacrifice
of Jesus on Calvary the celebration. It is not that Jesus is sacrificed
again and again, as the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear. Heb.
9:25-26. Rather, the barriers of time and space are overcome and
the sacrifice of Calvary becomes present; or, to put it another way,
we are transported in time to Calvary. Catechism of the
Catholic Church 1362-67.
2. And in the
Eucharist, the presence of the Risen Christ is among us, as the Church
gives thanks to the Almighty God for the Redemption won through this
sacrifice of His Son. See Vatican II Council, Sacrosanctum
Concilium (1963) 47.
C. By overcoming
space and time and uniting us with Christ, the Eucharist also unites
the entire Church throughout the world and all the ages, "The Eucharist
is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine
life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept
in being." Catechism of the Catholic Church 1325-26.
D. Christ remains
present in the Eucharist after the Mass. Because Christ continues
to be present in the Eucharist, we are reverent and prayerful in the
presence of the Eucharist. And there is in fact a liturgy of Eucharistic
Adoration outside of Mass. "The Church and the world have a
great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament
of love. Let us not refuse the time to go and meet in Him in adoration,
in contemplation full of love, and open to making amends for the serious
offenses and crimes of the world." Pope John Paul II, quoted in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1380.
III. The whole of the Mass thus guides us on our pilgrimage to heaven and thus be a first taste of the prayers and celebration in heaven. See Vatican II Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium 8. We can see this effect in several ways.
A. The ancient temple
was built upon the pattern in heaven that Moses saw. See Heb.
8:5-6. The idea is that there is a worship of God in heaven and
that even the ancient Jewish sacrifices reflected to some degree this
worship. (The Book of Revelation regularly refers to this worship
in heaven.) Now the Mass reflects this worship even more.
B. As noted above, the central Jewish feast and sacrifice was the Passover, the celebration of their freedom from slavery and calling as the People of God. The Mass fulfills this celebration, making us the new People of God, freed from sin and on our journey to the Promised Land. Jesus used the occasion of this feast to institute the Mass as the Last Supper. See Matt 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-38. And of all of the events of Christ's life, St. Paul refers to only three on this earth, His death, His resurrection, and the institution of the Eucharist. See 1 Cor. 11:23-26.
1. Jesus called
this celebration the new and everlasting covenant. The prophets
of old had promised a new in which all of us will know God in person
and be filled with the Spirit. It is through the Mass that this
covenant is renewed. See, e.g., Is. 55:1-5, 59:20-21, 61:8-11;
Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 34:25-31, 37:24-28.
2. Thus, the
Mass is the celebration of Christ's sacrifice, which paid the debt
of our sin, and thus saves us from everlasting death. Through
Jesus, we are enabled to be in the company of heaven beyond death.
Through His sacrifice, and through His body and blood, which we consume,
we are freed from sin, and so enabled to make this journey to everlasting
IV. The Mass is divided into two main parts and two supporting parts. The main parts are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The supporting parts are the Introductory Rites and the Concluding Rites. General Instructions to the Roman Missal 28. They proceed from preparing the way for God, to guidance for the passage, to the actual presence of Christ and re-presentation of His sacrifice on Calvary, and finally a commissioning to bring His salvation into the world.
A. The introductory
rite prepares us for the entrance into God's presence. Although
at times God, or an angel, would appear to people suddenly, in general
people were supposed to prepare themselves for God's presence, e.g.,
on Mount Sinai and in the Temple. See Ex. 19:9-12; Neh. 9:3.
The priests of the Old Testament had to prepare themselves carefully
before approaching the Ark of the Covenant for sacrifices. E.g.,
Ex. 40:12-15; Lev. 8:14-30; 22; 2 Chron. 5:11. The Day of Atonement
was meant to obtain forgiveness of sins so that all Israelites would
be worthy to be God's people. See Lev.16, 23:26-31. There
is an overall notion of approaching God with repentance and thus being
rendered by Him worthy to being His presence. See, e.g., Isaiah
6:6; Rev. 1:17-19.
B. The Liturgy of
the Word proclaims God's written word to us before the personal Word
of God become present. This proclamation of the written word of
God reflects the fact that God prepared His people through revealing
Himself in words and deeds throughout the Old Testament before sending
His Son. In addition, the Chosen People heard the word of God,
and a summary of His saving acts, in preparation for entrance into the
Promised Land, and again when the Temple was dedicated and rededicated
so that God's presence would again be more easily accessible to them.
Duet. 5-33, 1 Kings 8:14-21; Neh. 9:3-37. In the Liturgy of the
Word we received Jesus' "words of eternal life" before we receive
Him as the bread of eternal life. See John 6:68. In the
context of describing Himself as the Bread of Life, Jesus said, "Everyone
who listens to My Father and learns from Him comes to Me." John 6:45.
C. Standing at the
high point of the faith, the Liturgy of the Eucharist brings Christ
to us in the Eucharist. The prayers leading up to the consecration
prepare the way by offering God bread and wine, along with other offerings
representing our lives. As Jesus prayed the high priestly prayer
at the Last Supper before this sacrifice, see John 17, so we progress
up to the sacrifice of the Eucharist with prayers in the Eucharistic
Prayer. See also 1 Kings 8:22-53 (the prayer of Solomon before
the consecration of the Temple.)
D. The Concluding,
or Dismissal Rites reflect a commissioning to bring the word of God
as heard and the personal Word of God as received in the Eucharist forth
into the world. When Jesus appeared after the Resurrection, He
consistently commissioned His disciples to bring the gospel to others,
at least implicitly. Above all, at Pentecost, He sent the Spirit
upon Mary and His disciples so that they could witness to the faith.
The Concluding Rites reflect this commissioning.
E. These parts of the Mass reflect, not only the last Supper, but also the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus' public ministry as a whole. See Luke 24:13-35; John Paul II, Mane Nobiscum Domine (October 7, 2004).
1. The disciples
on the road to Emmaus, although unaware of the fact, were being prepared
for Jesus' presence by discussing the events surrounding His
life and death, and longing for His presence. Jesus then came
to them (without their knowing who He was) and opened the word of Scripture
to them, explaining how it pointed to Him. They then invited Him
to stay with them, and so they did. He then revealed Himself to
them in the breaking of the bread. After recognizing His presence,
the disciples immediately proceeded to Jerusalem, despite the dangers
of nighttime travel, to tell others about Jesus.
2. Jesus' public
ministry was introduced by John the Baptist with his preaching and call
to repentance. Then, through His preaching and actions, Jesus
gradually revealed Himself and prepared the way for His sacrifice.
Finally, from the Last Supper through His passion, death, and resurrection,
Jesus accomplished the ultimate saving works for our salvation.
He then sent His disciples forth to witness to the world. The
Mass reflects this progression through the Introductory Rites, the Liturgy
of the Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the Dismissal Rites,
3. In addition, the
progress of the Mass reflects any good narrative, with an introduction
(the Introductory Rites), a buildup of the plot (the Liturgy of the
Word), a climax (the Eucharist) and a Conclusion (the Dismissal Rite.)
V. A couple of prayers
are good to know in preparing for and giving thanks for the Eucharist
Adoro Te (I Adore You)
"Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord in thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, lost all in wonder at the God thou art.
Seeing, touching, tasting are in Thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
For what God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
For truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing that is true."
St. Thomas Aquinas, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1381
Anima Christi (Soul of Christ)
Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, enrich me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesus, hear me.
In Your wounds, hide me;
Permit me never to be parted from You.
From the malignant enemy protect me.
In the hour of my death call me,
And bid me to come to you
That with Your saints, I may praise You
For ever and ever. Amen.