The Mass continued:
A sacrificial offering
Jesus is a high priest of the order of Melchizadek (Heb 6:20). Now Heb 7:24 says that Jesus’ priesthood remains for ever, so he is always able to save those who approach God through him. Moreover it continues Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices (Heb 8:3). Therefore logically Jesus continues to offer gifts and sacrifices and he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Heb 9:12).
Consider these two texts:
Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain. (Rev 5:6).
The Lamb is Jesus and he is both alive and is slain.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary with blood that is not his own; if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. (Heb 9:25-26).
Jesus one sacrifice, one offering, is applicable for all time, both before his actual death on the cross and afterwards. The Mass is a re-presentation (not a re-sacrifice) of Christ’s Passion, of his once for all sacrifice.
The Mass is how we participate in that one sacrificial offering. The Eucharist is how we participate in the body and blood of Christ (1Cor 10:16); the body and blood that Jesus said we must eat and drink if we are to receive eternal life (1Jn 6:54) and to remain in him (1Jn 6:56)
Let us go back to Paul and consider two texts:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (communion) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (communion) in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (1Cor 10:16-17)
Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, (they sacrifice) to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons.
Paul is clearly linking the Eucharist (the bread that we break) with sacrifice. The “table of the Lord” is contrasted to the “table of demons” where sacrifices to idols are made.
Moreover there is one other place in scripture where the phrase “table of the Lord” is used – Malachi 1:6-7 – where it is clearly an altar of sacrifice.
But you ask, “How have we despised your name?”
By offering polluted food on my altar!
Then you ask, “How have we polluted it?”
By saying the table of the Lord may be slighted! (Malachi 1:6-7).
At the altar of sacrifice we participate in the eternal sacrifice that Jesus made on Calvary.
Malachi also prophesied that the gates of the Temple would be closed, that animal sacrifice would cease but that gentiles would offer a pure offering to God
Oh, that one among you would shut the temple gates
to keep you from kindling fire on my altar in vain!
I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts;
neither will I accept any sacrifice from your hands,
For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting,
my name is great among the nations;
And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name,
and a pure offering; (Mal 1:10-11)
This pure offering is the Lamb without blemish (1Pet 1:19), the Lamb who was slain and is worthy to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honour and glory and blessing. (Rev 5:12).
The Last Supper was sacrificial in nature. It was instituted in the context of the Passover which itself is a sacrifice. And Jesus talks about body and blood which would call to mind the Passover lamb, the blood of which was separated from the body.
Jesus used other words that were sacrificial:
"This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19). The given is didomai which is used in sacrificial terms elsewhere (Lk 2:24, Mk 10:45, Jn 6:61 & Gal 1:4).
Similarly Jesus says “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Mt 27:28) alluding to the Temple sacrifices where the blood is poured out over the altar for the purpose of bringing forgiveness (Lv 4:7, 18, 25, 30, 34)
The English word worship comes from the Saxon weorðscipe meaning being worthy of honour or renown. So worship meant honour. Thus in the Anglican wedding service devised by Thomas Cranmer after the Reformation the man said to the woman with my body, I thee worship.
In recent years however the scope of meaning of worship has been narrowed to refer to God alone.
On the other hand in ancient Judaism worship was basically sacrificial worship. We can see worship meaning sacrificial worship in Jesus’ exchange with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4.
She says “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus replies Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The Samaritans sacrificed in a temple on mount Gerizim, the Jews in the temple in Jerusalem. When they used the term worship they both were clearly referring to sacrificial temple worship
So in another sense the scope of meaning of worship has been broadened from the biblical term to mean any praise of God. Catholics believe we practice true biblical worship as our central worship – the sacrifice of the Mass. This is the highest form of worship. And this is the true worship that Jesus refers to when he says true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
At the last supper Jesus says Do this in remembrance of me (1Cor 11: 24&25). The Greek work here for remembrance is anamnesi. However this word expresses much more than just remembering a past event, it is making it present. Apart from the Last Supper the only other place this word is used in the New Testament is in Heb 10:3 where the remembrance is the carrying out of a sacrifice -those sacrifices there is only a yearly remembrance of sins. In the Mass we are making present (anamnesi) Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.
At the Last Supper Jesus promised the New Covenant which would be inaugurated with his blood. Covenants need a sign which reminds us of the Covenant. By this remembrance of the Last Supper (making it present to us) we are also remembering (making present us) the New Covenant. Holy Communion is the sign of the New Covenant.
The Biblical Pattern
The Mass follows the pattern of Jesus meeting the disciples on the road the Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35. We have the scriptures explained to us (vs27), we recognise him in the breaking of bread (vs 31), we leave to proclaim the risen Lord (vs 33-35).
It also follows the pattern given in Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.
So the main elements of the Mass are still:
The prayers (all through the Mass)
The apostle’s teaching (scripture readings & homily)
Breaking of bread (the Eucharist)
Fellowship (Gk koinonia = communion)
The Mass is full of scripture. Apart from four readings from scripture we proclaim with the angels at Bethlehem “Glory to Gods in the highest, and peace to men on earth” (Lk 2:14); with John we affirm that Jesus is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29); we cry out with the four living creatures before the throne “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, God almighty” (Rev 4:8).
We also find many aspects of temple worship in the Mass – priest, vestments, altar, tabernacle, candles, incense, sacrificial victim (the lamb that was slain). This is not surprising as it points out in Hebrews, the temple sanctuary was a copy of the heavenly tabernacle. And the book of Revelation also describes many of these things as being in heaven.
Jesus’ sacrificial life, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven is what we remember and re-present in the Mass and particularly the events from the Last Supper to his Resurrection. All this is pre-figured in many places in the Old testament, in the sacrifice of Abel, the sacrifice of bread and wine offered by Melchizedek (Gen 14:18), the Todah (praise) sacrifice, the peace offering (Lev 7) which was a sacrifice of thanksgiving (eucharistica in Greek), the offering of Isaac (Gen 22), the Passover (Ex 12), The Covenant sacrifice (Ex 24) and The Day of Atonement (Lev 16).
The Catholic Church is Judaism fulfilled. Thus there are ceremonial similarities. For example, the Mass is the Passover fulfilled. But whereas Judaism was focused on ceremonial law, Catholicism is focused on Christ, on the law of Christ not on the old Law of Moses.
The Mass is a joining with the heavenly liturgy. We worship Jesus in his glory in heaven.
In the Mass we cry out with the four living creatures before the throne “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, God almighty” (Rev 4:8).