A Wreath that Will Never Wither

(1 Corinthians 9:24-25)

All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize. You must run in the same way, meaning to win. All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.

It Seems Like Just Two Days Until Christ’s Resurrection

An Empty Tomb
An Empty Tomb

Have you ever wondered why it seems like just two days from Christ’s death on the cross before we celebrate his resurrection?  The reading for Holy Saturday’s Morning Office may hold the answer:

Thus says the Lord:
In their affliction, they shall look for me:
“Come let us return to the Lord,
For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;
he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds.
He will revive us after two days;
On the third day he will raise us up,
to live in his presence.”

Hosea 5:15b-16:2 (emphasis mine)

Isn’t that interesting?

The Early Church and the Eucharist

Dr. Scott Hahn on the Early Christian Church and the Eucharist.

Bread and Wine of Melchizedek

Bible Study: The Mass and the Old Testament (Lesson 2, Part 1)

For those who are just joining this study, we are going through the parts of the Catholic Mass and seeing how it is connected to the Bible.  For a convert like me, it is fascinating to learn how the Mass picks up where the Bible leaves off.  I learned that the Mass was the only way that Christians could encounter and learn about Jesus Christ for the first 1,500 years of Christianity (before the printing press was invented).  As a matter of fact, the Catholic Mass is still the only way Christians can physically encounter Christ — His Body and Blood through the Eucharist.  If you’re interested, the six parts to Lesson 1 can be found here.  Please join me in exploring Lesson 2 – The Mass and the Old Testament, an online Bible study provided by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

Biblical worship is the offering of sacrifice. Our worship in the Mass is likewise a form of sacrificial offering.

We hear this repeatedly in the Mass, although we may not notice it or fully understand what it means.

For instance, after the priest prepares the altar, he addresses us with these words: “Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”

We respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of His Name, for our good and the good of all His Church.”

Sacrifice was a universal practice in the religions of the ancient world and it is of the essence of the religious devotion and practice found in the Bible.

Here we have some examples of sacrifice in the Old Testament that prefigures what Catholics celebrate in the Mass:

Adam and Eve’s children offer sacrifices – Cain from the fruits of the earth, Abel from the firstlings of his flock (see Genesis 4:3-4). Noah, too, seems to have inherited a tradition of worship that includes burnt offerings of animals (see Genesis 7:2; 8:20).

Abraham, the father of the chosen people, responds to God’s call by building an altar and offering sacrifices (see Genesis 15:8-10; 22:13). Throughout the early part of the Bible, Abraham’s sons are frequently seen building altars and offering sacrifices (see Genesis 33:20; 35:1-7).

Of the sacrifices of Genesis, two are particularly important for our understanding of the Mass: that of the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek (see Genesis 14:18-20) and Abraham’s in Genesis 22.

Melchizedek is the first priest mentioned in the Bible. He is a “priest of God Most High.” He is also King of Salem, a land that would later be called “Jeru-salem,” meaning “City of Peace” (see Psalm 76:2).

This combination of priest and king is rare in the Old Testament. But later we will see this designation applied to the royal son of David (see Psalm 110:4) and, in the New Testament, to Jesus (see Hebrews 7).

Melchizedek’s sacrifice is also extraordinary in that it involved no animals. He offered bread and wine, as Jesus would at the Last Supper.

This is interesting… I didn’t know that Melchizedek offered only bread and wine as sacrifice.  Doesn’t the name “Melchizedek” come up again in the New Testament?

Melchizedek’s sacrifice concluded with the priestly blessing of Abraham.  And Abraham would later return to Salem to make his own offering.

At the mountain of Moriah, a site that would later be identified with Jerusalem’s Temple (see 2 Chronicles 3:1), Abraham is asked to sacrifice his only beloved son, Isaac.

As we will see in our next lesson, in the story of the “binding” of Isaac, the New Testament writers saw a foreshadowing God’s offering of his only beloved Son on the Cross (see Genesis 22:12,15; John 3:16).

Notice the language in the story told in Genesis 22. The words “his son” or “the boy” are used 11 times in 15 verses. The only words that Isaac speaks begin with the word, “Father.” As if to drive home the point even further, the narrator of the story says, “Isaac spoke to his father…

All of this will become even more important when we study our Lord’s sacrifice in our next lesson.

Where Did the Resurrected Jesus Give the First Mass?

Bible Study: The Bible and the Mass (Lesson 1, Part 6)

This is the last part to Lesson 1 of the Bible study we are doing from St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.  The other parts can be found here:

Today, we continue with Lesson 1: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass.  If the fact that the original Apostles celebrated the two-part Mass (see Acts 2:42, Luke 24:25, and Acts 20:7-12) is not enough to convince a person that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian faith, then what if the Mass was celebrated by the Resurrected Jesus Himself?  Do you know where Jesus gave the first Mass after He rose from the dead?  Check out Luke 24:13-35, again, and notice the parts of the Mass throughout the scene of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus proclaimed the Old Testament Scriptures (i.e. the First Reading in Mass), talked about how they are fulfilled (i.e. the Second Reading and the Gospel Reading during Sunday Masses), and celebrated with the blessing, breaking and giving of bread (i.e., the Liturgy of the Eucharist).  The phrase “breaking bread” was Luke’s code-word for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Lastly, Lesson 1 concludes with the significance of the Sign of the Cross.  It’s not only a humble gesture that marks a person as distinctly Catholic, but a mark of protection by which “the Lord knows who are His” (see 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Tim 2:19).  The Book of Revelation refers to the seal on our foreheads that spare us from destruction (see Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4).  Makes you want to do the Sign of the Cross more often, doesn’t it?  Amen!

http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/book-of-revelation-or-the-apocalypse-royalty-free-image/157613408

Hearing the Apostles, Breaking the Bread

The first descriptions we have of the Church in the New Testament are decidedly “eucharistic.”

Luke says, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to . . . the breaking of the bread” (see Acts 2:42).

The “teachings of the Apostles” are sermons like those recorded in Acts and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Peter 3:15-16; 1 Corinthians 2:13). The “breaking of the bread” is Luke’s word for the Eucharist (see Luke 24:35; Acts 20:7,11).

Here then, in this most ancient description of the Church’s life, we see Word and Sacrament, Bible and Liturgy, united.

And the New Testament was composed and developed in the context of the early Church’s worship.

The epistles were first written to be read publicly “before” those gathered for the Eucharist (see 1 Thessalonians 5:26; Colossians 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:13).

Greetings and blessings in these letters were often adapted from prayers and hymns used in the Liturgy (see 1 Peter 1:2-5; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Colossians 1:15-20; Philippians 2:6-12; 1 Timothy 4:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

The Book of Revelation was written to be “read aloud” during worship (see Revelation 1:3). And the shape of the Gospels – which consist of many short episodes from Jesus’ life and teaching – probably indicates that these scenes were first written down to be read in the Mass.

Hearing is Believing

“Faith comes from what is heard,” Paul said (see Romans 10:17). And the early Church heard God’s Word in the Mass.

Early Eucharistic celebrations followed the same “two-part” structure as our Mass today – readings from “the teachings of the Apostles” followed by the “breaking of the bread.”

We see this in a story of Paul celebrating the Eucharist in Troas. His sermon lasted until midnight, causing one of his parishioners to fall asleep and plunge to his death. Undeterred, Paul revived the man and continued the service. He “broke the bread” (see Acts 20:7-12).

In addition to the Apostles’ teachings, the earliest liturgies probably included readings from the Old Testament.

That’s the testimony of perhaps our oldest account of the Eucharist outside the Bible. Describing this part of the Mass in 155 A.D., St. Justin Martyr said “the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the prophets are read” followed by a homily (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1345.)

Use of the Old Testament in the Liturgy – as well as the “two-part” structure of the Mass – can be traced to the example of Jesus.

In fact, the Bible and the Mass were inseparably united for all time by Jesus himself on the first Easter night.

Luke tells us that upon rising from the dead, Jesus encountered two disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35).

They didn’t recognize Him at first. Nonetheless, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” Jesus explained the meaning of the Old Testament to them – showing how all the promises God made there were fulfilled in Him (see also Luke 24:44-48). As He spoke their hearts were “burning within.”

Then Jesus sat down at table, took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them.

Notice Luke’s deliberate use of the same words used in his Last Supper narrative: At table, Jesus takes . . . blesses . . . breaks . . . and gives the bread (compare Luke 22:14-20).

Luke is giving us a picture of the Eucharist, the first to be celebrated after the Resurrection.

Jesus first “proclaims” the Scriptures, showing how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Testament made in His blood. Then He gives thanks for this covenant in the breaking of the bread.

When He does this, the promise of the Scriptures, Old Testament and New, is fulfilled – the disciples’ eyes are opened and they come to “know” Jesus in intimate communion.

Since that night, believers have gathered every Sunday, the day of the Resurrection known as the Lord’s day (see Revelation 1:10; Acts 20:7). In this gathering we open the Scriptures, and break the bread.

And when we do that in the Mass, we relive the experience of the disciples at Emmaus. The Scriptures are fulfilled – the Word of His new covenant “burns within” as if being written in our hearts; and our eyes are opened in faith to know Him in the breaking of the bread.

Back to Mass

That’s why we begin the Mass the way we do.

Jesus commissioned His Apostles to preach His Word and to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28:19).

As newborn sons and daughters of the Father, the baptized gain access to the family table of the Lord’s supper. There they “tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit and tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come” (see Hebrews 6:4).

This is the biblical legacy we recall – and become a part of – at the start of every Mass. As we make the Sign of the Cross and repeat the words of the Lord’s final commission, we remember and renew our covenant with God, made when we were baptized.

The Apostles began the tradition of marking the newly baptized with the Sign of the Cross.

It was a seal of the Lord’s salvation (see 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13) and a mark of protection by which “the Lord knows who are His” (see 2 Timothy 2:19).

The Bible’s last book reveals that those marked with “the seal of God on their foreheads” are spared from destruction (see Revelation 7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4) and are called to participate in a heavenly liturgy – “the wedding feast” or “marriage supper of the Lamb” (see Revelation 19:7,9; 21:9).

As we’ll see in this course, that’s where we truly are in the Mass. We have been saved from sin and death and are happy to have been called to the Lamb’s Supper.

He is truly with us as we gather in His name (see Matthew 18:20). The words of the biblical promise – “The Lord be with you” – are fulfilled in our hearing (see Luke 4:21).

The Bible leaves off with the Lord’s promise that He is coming soon (see Revelation 22:20). And where the Bible leaves off, the Mass begins.

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