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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mass - Handed On To You 2000 Years Ago

Handed On To You
Almost 2000 Years Old -And You've Hardly Changed a Bit

The first Mass was instituted by Jesus in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday night. [1] Though certainty is not absolute, we find a tradition, going back to A.D. 150, which sets the year for this event at A.D. 29. [2]
The earliest bible account of Mass being celebrated comes from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians written from Ephesus about A.D. 56. [3] In this letter Paul disciplines the Corinthians. Though they are celebrating what Christ instituted, they are doing so irreverently by discriminating against the poor and getting drunk. [4] Saint Paul reprimands the early Christians out of his profound love for them, knowing that if they eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord unworthily they will face severe judgment from God. [5]

Saint Paul was not there at the Last Supper, only the Twelve were present with Jesus. [6] Nor was he a Christian at that time, he continued persecuting followers of The Way after the Resurrection. [7]Yet Saint Paul clearly speaks of the Eucharist in words every Catholic will recognize. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you…” 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.”” [8]

Where did Saint Paul get these words if he wasn’t present at the Last Supper? He didn’t read them in the bible. The idea that the canon of the New Testament existed from the beginning of apostolic times has no foundation in history. The Catholic Church finalized the canon in Carthage in A.D. 419, long after Saint Paul was martyred. [9] How did Saint Paul know what was said Holy Thursday? He tells us in his own words, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…” [10] He was given these words by oral tradition, they were handed on to him, most likely from one of the Apostles.

Earlier than Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we have The Didache, also called the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles written circa A.D. 40. [11] This writing handed down states: “In regard to the Eucharist you shall give thanks thus: First, in regard to the cup: - we give you thanks, our Father….Glory be to you forever. In regard to the broken bread: We give you thanks, our Father…Glory be to you forever…After you have eaten your fill, give thanks thus:...Remember, O Lord, your Church. Deliver it from every evil and perfect it in your love. Gather it from the four winds, sanctified for your kingdom, which you have prepared for it. For yours is the power and the glory forever.” [12]These familiar words echo our current Mass; we hear them stated in the Preparation of the Altar, and Eucharistic Prayer I.

Years went by and the faithful continued to hand down the Eucharistic celebration as Jesus had established and commanded Holy Thursday. Saint Justin the Martyr around A.D. 155, wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius explaining what Christians did when they gathered together for Eucharist:

“The Day of the Sun is the day on which we all gather in a common meeting, because it is the first day,….and it is the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.” (my additions in parenthesis, Mass on Sunday)

“…all those who live in the cities or who dwell in the countryside gather in a common meeting, and for as long as there is time the Memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. When the reader has finished, the president verbally gives a warning and appeal for the imitation of these good examples.” (Liturgy of the Word, Readings, Gospel, Homily)

“Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for all others….” (Liturgy of the Eucharist, General Intercessions)

“Having concluded the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.” (Sign of Peace)

“Then there is brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of water and of watered wine; and taking them, he gives praise and glory to the Father of all, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; and he himself gives thanks at some length in order that these things may be deemed worthy.” (Preparation of the Altar, Presentation of the Gifts, Eucharistic Prayer)

“When the prayers and the thanksgiving are completed, all the people present call out their assent, saying Amen.” (Great Amen)

“Those whom we call deacons give to each one present to partake of the Eucharistic bread and wine and water; and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” (Distribution of the Eucharist)

“We call this food Eucharist….For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these….as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him….is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” [13]
A.D. 29, 40, 56, 155, 2009 it all sounds incredibly familiar. The Catholic Mass almost 2000 years old and it’s hardly changed a bit. Thanks be to God.



[1] Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:14-20
[2] ww New Advent, Bible Chronology, Date of the Crucifixion
[3] New American Bible, page 243
[4] 1 Corinthians 11:17-22
[5] 1 Corinthians 11:27-29
[6] Matthew 26:20
[7] Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:9-23
[8] 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
[9] New Advent , Canon of the New Testament, Fixation in the African and Gallican Churches
[10] 1 Corinthians 11;23
[11] The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol 1, Jurgens, p.1
[12] The Didache 9-10
[13] Saint Justin the Martyr, First Apology, 65-67, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Volume 1, page 55-56

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