The Last Supper

February 20, 2009

Catholic priests—unlike Protestant ministers—offer a Sacrifice to God: the Mass. Before Mass they bring out a little disc of bread and some wine which they pour into a cup and if you watch them during Mass you will see them lifting that disc and that cup up to God in offering.

What’s it all about?

Well: if you went back in time two thousand years ago in the Mediterranean world you would find that bread and wine were the basic elements of a meal. If you went to an ordinary person’s house and sat down to eat, this is what you would get. Meat was for feasts; vegetables comparatively rare.

So: the Mass is a Sacrifice? But the Mass is also a Meal?

Yes. The Mass is the reenactment of some actions that occurred during a meal that the Bible tells us occurred the night before Jesus died.

That meal is usually called, The Last Supper.

Leonardo Da Vincis The Last Supper

Leonardo Da Vinci's 'The Last Supper'

Here is the account of the heart of the Last Supper as told in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My Body.

And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink this, all of you; For this is My Blood of the New Covenant, which will be shed for many for the remission of sins.

Matthew 26: 26-28.

An Icon of the Mystical Supper

An Icon of the 'Mystical Supper'

And at the heart of the most solemn part of the celebration of Mass, a Roman Catholic priest will say these or similar words:

The day before He suffered, He took bread in His Sacred Hands and looking up to heaven, to You, His almighty Father, He gave You thanks and praise.

He broke the bread, gave it to His disciples, and said:

Take this, all of you, and eat it:

THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.

When supper was ended, he took the cup.  Again He gave You thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:

Take this all of you and drink from it:

THIS IS THE CUP OF MY BLOOD, THE BLOOD OF THE NEW AND EVERLASTING COVENANT.

IT WILL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR ALL SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN.


DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME.

What do these strange words mean? What kind of a Sacrifice do they make? And how do they relate to what the Bible tells us Jesus did so long ago?

Well, the strands may be beginning to come together: This Sacrifice has something to do with Jesus’ death on the Cross.

The Last Supper-from Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ

The Last Supper-from Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ'

Bread and Wine

February 13, 2009

The Mass is a big deal.

And the Mass is a Sacrifice. That’s why the men who offer it are called priests.

Well, what kind of Sacrifice do they offer?

We said that really anything can be offered to propitiate the gods—or in the case of the Jews, the Living God. But we also said that what is usual is to offer a Life.

If you watched a Roman Catholic priest saying Mass, you would see him raising up two things. First, a white or brownish disc of something:

host-2

host

(“I will sacrifice to Thee the sacrifice of praise”)

And you would then see him raise up a cup, usually an ornate one made of metal.  It’s called a ‘chalice’:

chalice

chalice-2

When Mass begins, there are a lot of little white discs and one big one for the priest placed on the altar. They are ‘hosts’, a sort of cracker, bread without yeast or other leavening agent to make it rise.

And also near the altar is placed a little cruet of wine which the priest will pour into the chalice along with a little water during the course of the Mass.

So: the priest is offering bread and wine to God? Is that right?

Not quite, although that’s surely what anyone just watching the process from beginning to end would think.

The mystery deepens…

Priests and the Mass

September 25, 2008

We got an idea in the first post how important the Mass is to the Catholic Faith. It’s absolutely central and it is of immense significance.

In order to get to the heart of the matter, let’s take a look at the word “priest”.

Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians call their clerics “priests”.

Protestants call them “preacher” or “pastors” or “ministers”. Not “priests”.

Why?

Well, lots of non-Christian religions have priests.

Most of the ancient polytheistic religions of the Middle East had priests. The great native religions of America had priests. Hinduism has priests.

But the great monotheistic religion from which Christianity derives is Judaism, which saw itself in contradistinction to all these also had priests.

There are lots of different ways to define “priest” technically and most of them are kind of confusing!

But at the heart of all of them is something a priest does.

A priest offers sacrifice.

He goes to an altar, a table of sacrifice, and makes an offering to the Divine.

Sometimes that offering is cakes or wine or something like that.

But typically that offering is a life.

At their worst, the pagan religions would offer human sacrifice. Enemies taken in war or captives or even sometimes children from among their own people were killed. Their lives were taken often in brutal ways and their lifeblood was offered to the gods to appease them.

But the usual offering is an animal that would otherwise be eaten by people. An ox, a goat, a rabbit, a pair of turtledoves are given to the priest who takes them to the altar and kills them, offering their lives to the gods so that the gods won’t be angry at them.

This is what the Jews did in their great Temple in Jerusalem—except that they were offering their sacrifices to the One God Who made the universe. But they were offering their sacrifices to Him in recompense for Sin, to make their peace with Him.

So, why do Catholics have priests?

Because Catholic priests, like all other priests, offer sacrifice to the Divine.

When do they offer sacrifice?

When they offer Mass.

The Mass is a Sacrifice.

If you see a priest at Mass, even if you don’t know what he is doing and you can’t understand the language, you will see that the central action involves a priest going to the altar, the table of sacrifice, and offering something to God.

Here’s Fr. D’Alliessi offering Mass at old St. Mary’s with Billy serving on the left.

So, if the Mass is a sacrifice, what is being sacrificed?  What is being offered to God for our sins?

I’ll save that for the next post!

What is the Mass? It’s a Big Deal.

August 15, 2008

I think I’ll write a series of posts to introduce the curious non-Catholic to the Mass.

What is the Mass?

People generally know that when Catholics go to church on Sunday, they say, “I’m going to Mass”.

If they are familiar with Protestant services, they might well think that we gather together to worship, to pray, to sing, to praise God.

And that’s true.

But the Mass: the Mass is everything.

How important is the Mass?

Without the Mass, there is no Church, there is no Catholic Faith.

The Mass is the center of our existence, in fact, we would say, it is the Heart of the World.

In the Year 304, a group of Catholics were caught in what is now Tunisia celebrating Mass, which was a crime punished by execution. They were brought before the judge and asked why they were disobeying the Law and risking their very lives. The answer they gave (and as Latin speakers they naturally gave it in Latin) was:

“Sine Dominico non possumus”

That means both “We cannot live without Sunday” and “We cannot live without the Lord’s Gift”.

Down to this very day, Catholics in some places are forced to celebrate the Mass in secret, punished with jail or even death for celebrating it. In Soviet Russia a few decades ago, I read about a Catholic in Vladivostok, on the Pacific coast, who had no Mass available to him except in Moscow thousands and thousands of miles away. He would save all his money for the year and on Easter day he would fly to Moscow to attend Mass.

There is a lovely children’s book recently published called The Weight of a Mass. In it, a poor woman asks a baker for a crust of bread. The baker asks her what she will give him in return. She tells him that she will offer him her intentions at one Mass.

She writes this on a piece of paper and the baker, being a man with a heart of stone, says he will calculate the worth of her offer by giving her goods from his shop equal in weight to her note of promise.

He puts the paper on one side of the balance and begins to load the other side up. But no matter how much he puts on the scale, the weight of a Mass is always greater.

In the end, everything in his shop–bread, cakes, cookies and all–is on the balance and it still doesn’t tip.

He is a man of his word and offers everything to the old woman.

Well, she says, I am only going to take the crust of bread I asked for in the beginning.

“You see, my friend,” says she, “I too do not know the Weight of a Mass.”

weight-of-a-mass

So: whatever the Mass is, it is something great–infinitely, incomprehensibly great.

And to begin to understand it, we will talk about the man we usually see in charge of things at Mass:

The Priest.

I Thought…

August 13, 2008

I’d try blabbing a little about Catholic and other related stuff, though letting myself blab is certainly opening a can of worms!


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