What Do the Scriptures Say about the Eucharist?

Bible Study: The Bible and the Mass (Lesson 1, Part 5)

This is Part 5 to 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.  This lesson points out how the Gospel of John explains the theological significance of the Eucharist and also summarizes what Scriptures say about the Eucharist.

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 (see John 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).

This is the summary of how the Eucharist is explained in the Scriptures:

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.

There is so much to the Eucharist, it is very difficult for me to absorb all at once.  It’s very clear to me that the Eucharist is what truly separates Catholic Christians from other ecclesial communities.  If what the Church says about the Eucharist is not true, then how can Catholics even be called Christians?  We would be guilty of idolatry because we’d be worshipping bread and wine.  The Eucharist is the center of everything!  Why can’t I go to daily Mass?  Lord, help me!

The New Covenant is the Mass


Bible Study: The Bible and the Mass (Lesson 1, Part 4)

This is Part 4 to 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.  This lesson shows how all the synoptic Gospels define what the New Covenant (Testament) really was (and still is).  The New Covenant is the Mass (specifically the Eucharist), not a collection of sacred documents canonized 300 years after the death of Christ.

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.

Are you convinced?  Do you see how the Scriptures themselves point to the Eucharist as the New Covenant?  This makes sense since the printing press wouldn’t be invented until 1,500 years later.  The Mass was the only way illiterate Christians (the majority of people of the time) could encounter Jesus.  Why would God condemn billions of Christians who did not know how to read and/or were not wealthy enough to own their own copy of the Bible?  From this perspective, to say “Bible alone” would be elitist, wouldn’t it?  In this lesson, I’m learning that Jesus Himself spoke of the Lord’s Supper in sacrificial terms.  The New Covenant is Jesus Himself, whose Body and Blood can only be found during a Catholic Mass.

St. Paul Corrects the Corinthians on How to Do the Mass


Bible Study: The Bible and the Mass (Lesson 1, Part 3)

This is Part 3 to the Bible study we are doing from St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.  The other parts can be found here: Part 1 – How is the Mass Based on the Bible? and Part 2 –  Why is the Mass Biblical Worship?  Today, we continue with Lesson 1: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass.  This lesson points out how when St. Paul was correcting the Corinthians, he was explaining to them how to do the Mass correctly.

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).

Interestingly, the very next few verses (1 Cor 11:27-29) Paul tells the Corinthians that no one should consume the Eucharist unworthily (i.e. in mortal sin) or else he will be drinking his own judgment.  I imagine St. Paul was trying to correct Christians even then who did not take the Eucharist seriously, who believed the bread and wine were just symbols and not really Jesus Christ.  How can “bread and wine” judge you unless they were really God you’re putting in your body?

Why is the Mass Biblical Worship?


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

This is Part 2 to the Bible study we are doing from St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.  The first part can be found here.  Today, we continue with Lesson 1: A Biblical Introduction to the Mass.  The lesson explains why the worship of the Catholic Mass is biblical worship.

In God’s plan of salvation, the Bible and the Mass are given for our salvation – to enable us to penetrate the mystery of God’s plan, and to unite our lives to His.

Scripture, Paul said, is “inspired by God” and given to us “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (see 2 Timothy 3:15-16; John 20:31).

The salvation and new life that Scripture proclaims, is “actualized” – made real in our lives – in the Mass.

As Jesus said: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (see John 6:53-54).

That’s why the worship of the Mass is biblical worship. The Bible gives the Mass its “efficacy” – its power to deliver what it promises, its power to bring us into communion with the true and living presence of Jesus.

Our worship can be life-transforming because the biblical Word we hear is “not a human word but . . . truly is the Word of God” (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Ordinary human language, no matter how beautiful or persuasive, could never communicate God’s grace. It can’t make us holy or bring us to “share in the divine nature” (see 2 Peter 1:4).

Only the sacred speech of God can perform the divine action of transforming bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord. Only the sacred speech of God can bring us into communion with the living God.

In God’s plan of salvation, the Bible leads us to the Liturgy. In the Liturgy, the written text of sacred Scripture becomes the living Word.

The Bible’s meaning and purpose is fulfilled in the Mass – the words of Scripture become “spirit and life . . . the words of eternal life” (see John 6:63,68).

I just love the explanation provided above.  This is why the Catholic Mass is so special — it is the only Christian service that actually gives you the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  The Word of God is a Person, and in the Mass, we literally consume the Word Made Flesh.  We share in the Divine Nature because we take Jesus into our own bodies, where He is integrated into our flesh and soul.  Dear Lord, I love you!  Help me grow in fervor for Your Body & Blood!

How is the Mass Based on the Bible?


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!

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