It is believed that of the majority of those who call themselves Catholics, most do not attend Sunday Mass weekly, if at all regularly. Yet the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin”[2180, 2181]. Obviously something is not getting across to this majority who say they are Catholic and yet neglect attending Mass on Sundays, which are holy days of obligation.
To understand why the Church places such emphasis on attending Mass one must understand what the Mass itself is, for a failure to understand it, is surely the reason why so few attend. Is it simply a gathering of the Catholic community where we listen to the Word of God, to the priest’s teaching, and then watch him act out the events of the last supper and eat the bread which is a supposed to remind us of Jesus, or is it something more, something much more? This is the question that must be clearly answered.
If we take a look at the Ten Commandments, first given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, we see that the third commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” For the Jews the Sabbath day was Saturday, the seventh and last day of the week, for God “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” [Genesis 2; 2]. So if the Sabbath was on a Saturday, why do Christians celebrate it on a Sunday?
The Catechism tells us that ‘Jesus rose from the dead” on the first day of the week.’ Because it is the “eighth day” following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day – Sunday.’ [CCC-2174]
‘The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all.” Sunday worship fulfils the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.’ [CCC-2176]
John Chapter 6
The Scriptures (and the Eucharistic Prayers of the Mass) tell us that on the night before He died Jesus took bread, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying “Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.”
And then he took the chalice and said “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.”
These words of Christ are spoken at every Mass by the priest who is acting “in persona Christi” in the person of Christ, at the consecration when the Church teaches that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. But did not Christ simply say “Do this in memory of me” you might ask? And would that not mean that He simply intended it to be a memorial to be re-enacted by His followers that they might keep His memory alive among them?
The Last Supper was not in fact the first time Jesus spoke of the eating of His body and the drinking of His blood. In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we find some very interesting words which shed a good deal of light on this question of whether the Eucharist is a simple memorial or something more.
St. John tells us that after the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, when Christ multiplied the five barely loaves and two fish, the people wanted to take Him and make Him king, so He left them. That night, the disciples were sailing across the sea to Caphernaum without Him when they suddenly saw Christ coming toward them, walking across the water. They were afraid, but when He had reassured them that it was He they took Him into the boat and continued on. The next day, when the crowds saw that He had left, they went searching for Him for they knew that He had not departed with the apostles.
When they eventually found Him they said; “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labour for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” He then told them that to be doing the works of God they must believe in Him whom He had sent. They then asked for a sign that they might believe in Him for “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” But Jesus said to them that “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.”
And they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
At this, the Jews murmured among themselves, wondering “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”
“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
He said this as he taught in the synagogue at Caphernaum and many of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe. ” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
After this, many of His disciples left him and no longer followed Him. And Jesus let them go. He did not run after them and tell them that they had confused His words, that He had only been speaking symbolically, because He had not, He had meant what He said in the literal sense. He had told them that they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood that they might have eternal life.
He then turned to the Twelve, the men He had handpicked to follow Him and asked if they too would leave. “Will you also go away?” He asked. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.”
It is here that Jesus speaks of His betrayer Judas, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?”, and it is rather significant that He says it here, after so many had just left Him because of His teaching of the Eucharist. It seems that it was with Christ’s teaching on the Eucharist that Judas lost faith in Him, for if not, why would Christ call him a devil at that moment? Was it here that Judas Iscariot set out on the path to betray the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver? Did his road to betrayal begin with his rejection of the Eucharist?
I have established that Christ was not speaking in figurative or symbolic terms when He spoke Himself as the Bread of Life which by eating, a man might have eternal life, and thereby established that He also meant this when He broke the bread and gave it to His disciple and did likewise with the chalice of wine at the Last Supper. To have eternal life one must eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Jesus Christ. Yet why would Christ choose to give Himself to us under the appearance of a piece of bread, and a chalice of wine and ask us to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood? Does this not seem a strange idea?
If we know something about the sacrifices the Jews offered to God however, it will not seem at all strange, in fact, it will seem fitting, even necessary…