The Lamb’s Supper, Lesson 1.2

The Lamb's Supper: The Bible and the Mass

Lesson One: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass

Lesson Objectives

  1. To understand basic Catholic beliefs about the relationship between the Bible and the Liturgy.
  2. To understand the biblical basis for the Mass.
  3. To understand how in the Mass, the written text of the Bible becomes Living Word.

II. Finding the Mass in the Bible

A. Tradition Received from the Lord

The Mass is also biblical worship in a more obvious sense.

This is the worship Jesus commanded at His Last Supper.

When he wrote to the Corinthians - to correct abuses in the way they were celebrating the Eucharist - Paul reminded them of the night the Lord was handed over (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).

Paul described Jesus taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and saying, "This is My body" and in the same way taking wine and saying "this cup is the new covenant in My blood." He recalled Jesus telling the Apostles: "Do this in remembrance of Me."

Though Paul was not there at the Last Supper, he tells them he received this teaching from the churches founded by the Apostles; they, in turn, received this teaching directly from the Lord: "I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you"

The Greek words Paul uses - translated as "received" and "handed on" - are technical terms the rabbis of his day used to describe the keeping and teaching of sacred traditions.

Paul uses these same words when he talks about his teaching on Christ's death and Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:2-3).

These two sacred traditions - the truth about Christ's death and Resurrection and the truth about the Eucharist, the memorial of His death - were received from the Lord and and handed on by the Apostles.

These traditions were inseparable and crucial to the message of salvation they preached.

Through Christ's death and Resurrection, Paul said, "we are being saved." In the Eucharist, that saving event is "remembered" in a way that communicates that salvation to us: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup," Paul said, "you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes" (see 1 Corinthians 11:26).

B. In the Upper Room

The tradition Paul describes is very similar to the tradition handed on in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (see Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:15-20).

Each recalls the Eucharist's beginnings in close, though not identical, details.

Each agrees it was during Passover - the feast God instituted on the eve of Israel's flight from Egypt (see Exodus 12:1-28). They agree, too, that it was the night before He died, during His final meal with His Apostles.

During the meal, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, "This is My body." He also took a cup of wine; after giving thanks to God, He gave it to His disciples saying, "This is My blood . . . of the [new] covenant."

Matthew and Mark say Jesus spoke of the "blood of the covenant." Moses used those words when he ratified Israel's covenant with God, sprinkling the people with animal blood (see Exodus 24:4-8).

Luke, like Paul, says Jesus spoke of "the new covenant" (see Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

This probably refers to Jeremiah's prophecy that God would make a "new covenant" with Israel. Unlike the covenant He made when He led them out of Egypt, by this new covenant He would "write" His law upon their hearts, not in tablets of stone (see Jeremiah 31:31-33;2 Corinthians 3:3).

Jesus, in all three of these Gospel accounts, stresses a sacrificial meaning for His death. He says His blood is "poured out for many." In Matthew, He offers himself "for the forgiveness of sins."

All three add a note of urgent expectation - Jesus vows that He won't drink "from the fruit of the vine" until "the Kingdom of God" comes.

C. Bread of Life, True Vine

John's Gospel doesn't record the scene from the upper room.

This isn't surprising. In general, John is more concerned to explain the deep biblical background of Jesus' words and deeds and to fill-in apparent gaps in the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Though he doesn't narrate Jesus saying, "This is My Body" and "This is My Blood," John gives us two sermons in which Jesus says something very similar.

In the one, delivered in a synagogue at Capernaum during Passover, He says two times: "I am the Bread of Life" (see John 6:34, 51). In the other, delivered at the Last Supper (seeJohn 13:2,4), Jesus again says two times: "I am the Vine" (see John 15:1,5).

In both scenes, Jesus makes a direct statement about His identity ("I am"). He also uses the same expression in both to describe the life-giving communion He has come to bring.

Those who eat Him as the Bread of Life "remain in Me," he says. Those who are joined to Him through the Eucharistic wine, the fruit of the true Vine, also "remain in Me," He says (compare John 6:56; John 15:4-7).

D. The Eucharist According to the Scriptures

In coming lessons, we'll return to these narratives of the Eucharist's origins, along with numerous other New and Old Testament passages with Eucharistic overtones.

But from the texts we've just looked at, we can already sketch the outlines of the biblical teaching on the Eucharist we will explore:

  • The Eucharist is "covenantal." As presented in the Gospels, the Eucharist is the climax of the salvation history unfolded in the covenants of the Old Testament. It has a special relationship to Israel's Passover and Exodus.
  • The Eucharist is sacrificial and atones for sin. That's the literal meaning of the words attributed to Jesus at the Last Supper.
  • The Eucharist is a memorial that creates the Church, the body of those who believe. The command to "do this" calls the Church into being. Through its remembrance, the Church offers God's new and everlasting covenant to all generations.
  • The Eucharist is communion in the Body and Blood of Jesus that brings eternal life. As Paul says of the Eucharist: "Is it not a participation (literally "communion") in the Blood of Christ . . . in the Body of Christ?" (see 1 Corinthians 10:16).
  • The Eucharist is eating and drinking in the Kingdom of God until the Lord comes. The Eucharist remembers a past salvific event, relives that event in the present, and stirs hope for a future salvific happening - the final coming of the Lord.
  • Continue to Section 3

    Other Lessons

    • Lesson One: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. 1. To understand basic Catholic beliefs about the relationship between the Bible and the Liturgy.
      2. To understand the biblical basis for the Mass.
      3. To understand how in the Mass, the written text of the Bible becomes Living Word.

      Begin Lesson One

    • Lesson Two: Given for You - The Old Testament Story of Sacrifice
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. To understand the biblical background to the Penitential Rite and the Gloria in the Mass.
      2. To understand how God is worshipped in the Old Testament.
      3. To understand the biblical notion of sacrifice as it is presented in the Old Testament.

      Begin Lesson Two

    • Lesson Three: One Sacrifice for All Time
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. To understand the death of Jesus Christ on the cross as a sacrifice.
      2. To see the parallels between the Old Testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
      3. To understand how that sacrifice is re-presented to us in the Mass.

      Begin Lesson Three

    • Lesson Four: Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Liturgy of the Word
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. To understand Scripture as the living Word of God.
      2. To understand the place of Scripture at the center of the liturgy.
      3. To see Scripture as an encounter with Christ, the living Word of God.
      4. To see how the Liturgy of the Word prepares us for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

      Begin Lesson Four

    • Lesson Five: Heaven On Earth: The Liturgy of the Eucharist
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. To understand the deep biblical foundations for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
      2. To see how the Book of Revelation describes the liturgy of heaven.
      3. To understand how the Mass we celebrate on earth is a participation in the liturgy of heaven.

      Begin Lesson Five

    • Lesson Six: Memory and Presence: Communion as the Coming of Christ
    • Lesson Objectives
      1. To understand the deep biblical foundations of Jesus’ command that the Eucharist be celebrated “in memory of Me.”
      2. To see how Scripture portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb and how that portrayal is reflected in the Mass.
      3. To understand the Eucharist as parousia, the “coming” of Christ, and as the “daily bread” we pray for in the Our Father.

      Begin Lesson Six