2. SACRIFICE - Every time Mass is celebrated we commemorate (i) the death our Lord at Calvary. It cannot be re-enacted. What we proclaim is to show forth our Lord's death until His coming again.
(ii) It is a sacrifice of 'our praise and thanksgiving' to God for His abundant blessings of His redemption.
(iii) It is a sacrifice 'of our selves, souls and body.'
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eats of this bread that I will give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the World. John 6.51.
1. THE REAL PRESENCE - Our Lord told us that the bread which He broke is His Body and the Cup of wine is His Blood, and so in the Eucharist we receive the life of Christ. It is best not to worry too much about how this happens as many theologians did in the past, but simply believe and exclaim with Thomas, 'MY LORD and MY GOD.'
A little verse, attributed to Queen Elizabeth I sums it aptly.
His was the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it,
And what is word doth make it,
That I believe and take it.
When we come to Communion at the Eucharist, heaven and earth meet. We participate in that the divine mystery when we receive the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation, knowing that we receive the Lord Himself who heals and forgives as well as being our eternal nourishment. It is a moment we approach in prayer, joy and penitence, knowing that we invited to the Lord’s banquet. Now that we have received this wonderful gift we must go out into the world and live as Christ. As the old Syrian hymn expressed it:
Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
That holy things have taken … .
4. UNITY - 'We who are many are one body in the breaking of bread; for we all share in the Body of Christ.' This most beautiful sacrament ideally unites all Christians on earth, in paradise and heaven and even the unborn. 'Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.' and from each other because in Christ we are all made one.
5. THEOSIS - "He is in us and we in him, we and Christ are made one, we receive him and he receives us: So that as God cannot hate Christ, so he cannot but love us, being engrafted into him." The fraction manifested this union. "Now 'the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body, of the flesh, of Jesus Christ?' It is surely, and by it and by nothing more are we made partakers of this blessed union."
6. THE COMFORTER - The Sacrament is the source of comfort in our pilgrimage to the Supper of the Lamb. How often do we read in Scripture that 'He hath ordained these mysteries of His love and favour, to our great and endless comfort', and 'The Father shall give you the Comforter.' That Comforter is Christ, and so "by the flesh we eat, and the blood we drink at His table, we be made partakers of His Spirit, and of the comfort of it", which cheers and gladdens the heart.
7. VIATICUM - As we prepare to leave this world for the next faithful Christians receive the Sacrament to strengthen them on their journey into the next world.
We must never think that we see and hear at Mass or the Eucharist today is as it always has been. It took a few centuries to evolve that would be recognisably to us in the twenty-first century. So let us go to the time of Jesus. What Jesus did at what we know as the Last Supper was the culmination of many meals He shared with others, especially those who were regarded as sinners and outcasts. In Luke's gospel there is no less than ten times of our Lord dining with others.
As an Australian Salesian priest wrote:
"Over the years we have understood the Eucharist as a place of encounter between Jesus and the worthy, yet the analysis of the Word of God that follows seems to show that it is a place of encounter between Jesus and the broken sinner" (A Body broken for a Broken People).
Every meal for a Jew is sacred as it is a way of communicating with God. It is always a reminder of being delivered from slavery and the covenant God made with them. A blessing is always said, but it is addressed to God, not the food. This is important when we come to the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples.
When Jesus dined with others, apart from the disciples, it was always with sinners who were ritually unclean, that in turn made our Lord unclean. But this did not disturb Him. He did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
The first Christians were Jews who still observed the Jewish tradition, summed up in the Law of Moses and who thus conformed to Jewish customs such as circumcision, of distinguishing between clean and unclean food, and refusing to eat with Gentiles or entering their houses as illustrated in Acts. X:14, 28; XI: 3). They continued to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem (Acts, II: 46; III:1; XXI: 20-26), and the Synagogues. The latter worship began with prayers in praise to God, and the Shema, (confession of faith). This was followed by readings from the books of the Law, the singing of a psalm, and a reading from the books of the Prophets, which was explained by the rabbi. The service ended with a collection for the poor, a prayer, and a closing psalm. We can still recognise this Jewish form of worship in the Liturgy of the Word that forms the first part of the Mass as the first Christians continued to use the Jewish structure for prayer even after being excluded from the Synagogue.
Afterwards Jewish Christians came to meet early on the day after the Sabbath in one of their homes for the Breaking of Bread. This worship has become known as the Eucharist, the second part of the Mass. So our structure of Mass has its roots in the earliest days of Christianity.
The earliest direction about the eucharistic meal is from St. Paul. It was a regular Jewish eschatological imagery to portray the kingdom of God at the end time in terms of a great banquet, at which all would sit down and eat and drink together. Jesus continued this teaching in his own life with his followers. So the command “Do this in remembrance of me” was not initiating a novel practice but something they understood. The only difference is that they also remembered Jesus in the future too. As Paul wrote:
When you meet together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was handed over took bread, and having given thanks, he broke( it), and said, "This is my body which (is) [broken] for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink (it), in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes 1 Cor. 11: 20-26).
When Jesus shares His last meal with His followers, the Passover in the Synoptic gospels, Luke and Paul have Jesus taking and blessing the bread, while the Marcan and Matthean has Jesus giving thanks. As it is a Jewish meal, Jesus would have prayed the berakah, that is addressed to God to bless the bread. Jesus would have then improvised prayer. Our Lord would have broken a piece off for Himself and then passed it around, and all present would have broken a piece It is in the sharing that Jesus says, this is my Body. (At Emmaus it is not in the blessing but in the breaking of the bread that Cleopas and his friend/wife recognised Jesus). Afterwards followed the full meal of roasted lamb and bitter herbs, fruits and nuts. Then came the long blessing over the cup of wine with Jesus improvising in view of impending death. Jesus passes the cup from which all present will drink and saying, in which the Lucan form is, This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
During this meal, there are seven ritual acts. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread before the meal and after took, blessed and shared the cup. By saying "this is my body" as the bread is broken and shared, Jesus is commissioning His followers to be His body in the world and to reconcile.
What Jesus is instructing is, if you eat this bread, that I now name my body, you too become my body. As a community of believers, you will be my endearing presence in the world. This commissioning Paul understood in his first letter to the Corinthians. "You are the body of Christ" (12.27). St. Augustine did too. You are the body of Christ, become what you eat.
The actions of Jesus with the bread, as he takes, blesses, breaks, and gives it to his disciples, are the same gestures He performed at the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand (Mk 6:41; 8:6). In the two feeding accounts the bread becomes a profound symbol for his messianic mission as he feeds both Jews and Gentiles. In the disciples' failure to understand the meaning of the loaves (6:52; 8:17-21), Mark shows their failure to understand the person of Jesus and the meaning of his Mission.
At the Eucharistic meal, Jesus goes further and identifies the loaf with his body, his very self. As Jesus is about to be handed over, broken, and put to death, this ritual action expresses Jesus' gift of himself for others. As Jesus broke the bread for the crowds, expressing his mission as the Messiah, so his action at the meal expresses the final act of that mission as he gives his very self.
The cup refers to the death of Jesus in other passages of the Gospel (Mk 10:38-45; 14:36). In each passage, the disciples are invited to share in his death. "To drink the cup God had mixed" was a Jewish expression for the martyrdom a prophet had to undergo. As the disciples drink from it they are joining themselves to a sharing in his death.
Jesus identifies the cup of wine with his blood, the blood of the covenant. Here he evokes the covenant ratified by Moses (Exod 24:8) as he sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice over the altar and on the people. Jesus is saying that his blood, which will be shed at his death, will establish a renewed covenant relationship. "For many" is a semitic expression that is not limited, but indicates the inclusive scope of his mission (Mk 10:45).
With another prophetic "amen" phrase, Jesus gives both finality and hope to the scene. No longer will He celebrate the Passover with his disciples. Yet Jesus looks beyond death to the banquet of God's Kingdom. The wine of the banquet is an Old Testament symbol for the abundance of the Kingdom (Isa 25:6-9). The cup of Jesus' death will be transformed into the wine of the coming kingdom. Thus, the celebration of the Eucharist is a remembrance of the saving death of Jesus, and also an anticipation of the kingdom.
The earliest written account of any authenticity of celebrating the Eucharist is in the DIDACHE, written towards the end of the first century. This too has an eschatological teaching. The Didache states, "and when you gather on the Lord's day, break bread and give thanks." Those present must confess any transgressions so that all may be reconciled. Prophets and teachers led the service, and bishops and deacons were encouraged to be these too.
As in both the Pauline and Lucan traditions thanks is given firstly over the cup:
We give thanks to you, our Father, for the holy vine of David your child, which you have made known to us through Jesus your child; glory to you for evermore.
Then the prayer of thanksgiving for the broken loaf:
We give thanks to you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have made known to us through Jesus your child; glory to you for evermore.
As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and having been gathered together became one, so may your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for evermore.
After they had all shared in the broken bread and cup this thansgiving prayer is offrered:
We give thanks to you, holy Father, for your holy name which you have enshrined in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have made known to us through Jesus your child; glory to you for evermore. You, Almighty Master, created all things for the sake of your name and gave food and drink to humans for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to you; but to us you have granted spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Jesus your child.
Above all we give thanks to you because you are mighty; glory to you for evermore. Amen.
In the second decade of the second century, Ignatius, in writing to the various churches on his way to Rome for his martyrdom stated in his letter to the Smyrnaeans for Christians to celebrate the Eucharist /Agape with their bishop and not with anyone else. However he does not give any detail of how it was celebrated or the format.
In writing to the Philippians, he emphaised that the Eucharist is the bond of unity:
For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup for union with his blood.
3. NOURISHMENT - The Eucharist is also the means for each Christian being nourished by Christ as the Johannine Gospel makes so clear. "Unless you eat of the flesh of theSon of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." I think this is the most important aspect of communicating. We need to be nourished by Christ to do His work in the world.
In the Apostolic Tradition probably of third century origin in Syria we have the first known Anaphora of the Eucharist that is recognisable for Catholic and Orthodox Christians today.After the Sursum Corda the celebrant prays:
We give thanks to you God,
through your beloved son Jesus Christ,
whom you sent to us in former times
as Savior, Redeemer, and Messenger of your Will,
who is your inseparable Word,
through whom you made all,
and in whom you were well-pleased,
whom you sent from heaven into the womb of a virgin,
who, being conceived within her, was made flesh,
and appeared as your Son,
born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin.
It is he who, fulfilling your will
and acquiring for you a holy people,
extended his hands in suffering,
in order to liberate from sufferings
those who believe in you.
Who, when he was delivered to voluntary suffering,
in order to dissolve death,
and break the chains of the devil,
and tread down hell,
and bring the just to the light,
and set the limit,
and manifest the resurrection,
taking the bread, and giving thanks to you, said,
"Take, eat, for this is my body which is broken for you."
Likewise the chalice, saying,
This is my blood which is shed for you.
Whenever you do this, do this [in] memory of me.
Therefore, remembering his death and resurrection,
we offer to you the bread and the chalice,
giving thanks to you, who has made us worthy
to stand before you and to serve as your priests.
And we pray that you would send your Holy Spirit
to the oblation of your Holy Church.
In their gathering together,
give to all those who partake of your holy mysteries the fullness of the Holy Spirit,
toward the strengthening of the faith in truth,
that we may praise you and glorify you,
through your son Jesus Christ,
through whom to you be glory and honour,
Father and Son,
with the Holy Spirit,
in your Holy Church,
now and always, [Amen].
After the Sanctus from the sacramentary of Serapion, bishop of Thumis, in the fourth century, this is what Christians gathered for worship would have heard:
To you we offer this bread, the likeness of the Body of the Only-begotten. This bread is the likeness of His holy Body because the Lord Jesus Christ, on the night on which He was betrayed, took bread and broke and gave to His disciples, saying, 'Take and eat, this is My Body, which is being broken for you, unto the remission of sins.' On this account too do we offer the Bread, to bring ourselves into the likeness of His death; and we pray: Reconcile us all, O God of truth, and be gracious to us. And just as this Bread was scattered over the mountains and when collected was made one, so too gather Your holy Church from every nation and every country and every city and village and house and make it one living Catholic Church.,
We offer also the cup, the likeness of His Blood, because the Lord Jesus Christ took the cup after He had eaten, and He said to His disciples, 'Take, drink, this is the new covenant, which is My Blood which is being poured out for you unto the remission of sins.' For this reason too we offer the chalice, to benefit ourselves by the likeness of His Blood. O God of truth, may Your Holy Logos come upon this Bread, that the Bread may become the Body of the Logos, and on this Cup, that the Cup may become the Blood of the Truth. And make all who communicate receive the remedy of life, to cure every illness and to strengthen every progress and virtue; not unto condemnation, O God of truth, nor unto disgrace and reproach!,
For we invoke You, the Increate, through Your Only-begotten in the Holy Spirit. Be merciful to this people, sent for the destruction of evil and for the security of Your Church. We beseech You also on behalf of all the departed, of whom also this is the commemoration: - after the mentioning of their names: - Sanctify these souls, for You know them all; sanctify all who have fallen asleep in the Lord and count them among the ranks of Your saints and give them a place and abode in your kingdom. Accept also the thanksgiving of Your people and bless those who offer the oblations and the Thanksgivings, and bestow health and integrity and festivity and every progress of soul and body on the whole of this Your people through your Only-begotten Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, as it was and is and will be in generations of generations and unto the whole expanse of the ages of ages. Amen.
This Anaphora reveals that receiving the blessed Bread and Chalice are means of reconciliation, unity, and healing grace to strengthen the Christian. By the end of the fourth century a Christian of today would recognise a similarity with the Liturgy in which we partcipate on Sunday.