Bible Study: The Bible and the Mass (Lesson 1, Part 1)
I look forward to hearing your thoughts as we go through this Bible study together from St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. The first lesson is entitled, “A Biblical Introduction to the Mass.” You can find the complete Lesson here. Part 1 of the lesson focuses on the biblical way Catholics worship at Mass.
The Mass begins where the Bible leaves off. In God’s plan of salvation, the Bible and the Mass were made for each other.
That’s probably news to you. In fact, if you’re like a lot of people, including many Catholics, you probably haven’t given much thought to the relationship between the Bible and the Mass.
When you’re done with this course, you’ll have a much different perspective – and hopefully a far greater love and appreciation for the deep mystery of faith we enter into in each Mass.
Every Mass begins the same way. We make the Sign of the Cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
We’ll get to why we do that later.
For now, just note that the Sign of the Cross started with the Apostles, who “sealed” the newly baptized by tracing this sign on their foreheads (see Ephesians 1:13; Revelation 7:3).
This is interesting. I did not know that the Sign of the Cross is referenced in Revelation 7:3.
The words we pray as we make this sign come straight from the lips of Jesus. Indeed, they’re among the last words He spoke to His Apostles (see Matthew 28:19).
Next in the Mass, the priest greets us. Again he speaks, and we respond, with words from the Bible. We say: “The Lord be with you” (see 2 Timothy 4:22).
In Scripture these words are a pledge of divine presence, protection and help (see Exodus 3:12; Luke 1:28). The priest might opt to use a different greeting, such as “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” but that greeting too will be drawn from Scripture (see 2 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 1:2).
Amazing! I didn’t know that even the priest’s greeting is taken from the Bible.
The Mass continues this way – as a “dialogue” between the faithful and God, mediated by the priest. What’s striking – and it’s something we rarely recognize – is that we carry on this conversation almost entirely in the language of the Bible. [Emphasis mine. – KfG]
When we beg “Lord, have mercy” – our cry for help and forgiveness is one that runs throughout Scripture (see Psalm 51:1; Baruch 3:2; Luke 18:13,38,39).
When we glorify God, we use the song the angels sang that first Christmas night (see Luke 2:14).
Even the Creed and the Eucharistic prayers are composed of biblical words and phrases.
As we prepare to kneel before the altar, we sing another angelic hymn from the Bible – “Holy, holy, holy . . . ” (see Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). We join that to the triumphant Psalm sung by those who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes . . . ” (see Mark 11:9-10)
At the heart of the Mass, we hear Jesus’ words from the Last Supper (see Mark 14:22-24).
Then we pray to our Father in the words our Savior gave us (see Matthew 6:9-13). We acknowledge Him with a line from John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God . . .” (see John 1:29,36).
And before receiving Him in communion, we confess our unworthiness – in words once used by a Roman soldier seeking Jesus’ help (see Luke 7:7).
What we say and hear in the Mass comes to us from the Bible. And what we “do” in the Mass, we do because it was done in the Bible.
We kneel (see Psalm 95:6; Acts 21:5) and sing hymns (see 2 Maccabees 10:7,38; Acts 16:25); we offer each other a sign of peace (see 1 Samuel 25:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:26).
We gather around an altar (see Genesis 12:7; Exodus 24:4; 2 Samuel 24:25; Revelation 16:7), with incense (see Jeremiah 41:5; Revelation 8:4), served by priests (see Exodus 28:3-4; Revelation 20:6). We offer thanks with bread and wine (see Genesis 14:18; Matthew 26:26-28).
From the first Sign of the Cross to the last “Amen” (see Nehemiah 8:6; 2 Corinthians 1:20), the Mass is an aural and sensual tapestry woven with words and actions, even accessories drawn from the Bible.
We address God in words that He himself has given us through the inspired writers of sacred Scripture. And He in turn comes to us – instructing, exhorting and sanctifying us – again through the living Word of the inspired Scriptures.
I remember reading Dr. Scott Hahn’s “The Lamb’s Supper” and then having a greater appreciation of the Mass. These lessons, if you did not already know, are also from Dr. Hahn and his team at St. Paul Center. I really like this first part of Lesson 1 because it shows all the Scripture references to the different parts of the Mass. A Catholic attending one Mass is exposed to more Scripture than a whole month’s worth of Protestant Sunday sermons!