Dear Friends October: All About That Mass!

Dear Friends,

When was the last time you went to Mass?

The answer is of course probably last Sunday or, one of the midweek services at All Saints. We don’t tend to use the word Mass very often, but most of us go to a service named Mass at least once a year – at Christ- Mass for Midnight Mass.



The different words we use for Holy Communion have different meanings and origins.



We might talk about the Lord’s Supper which reminds us that we are sharing a meal. St Paul writing to the Corinthians admonished them however:

When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.

The Corinthian practice was to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal, a ‘bring and share’ if you like. However it was clear that there was more bringing than sharing going on! We can’t assume that all early celebrations of the Eucharist were informal – the Last Supper itself was part of a very ritual meal. However the language of Eucharist as a shared feast, both now and pointing towards the heavenly banquet is part of our worship and liturgy.

We might use the term Holy Communion. Again to the Corinthians Paul writes:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

Communion speaks of being made one body with Christ, of the real presence of Christ in bread and wine, of holy intimacy with God. God does not force intimacy upon us, but in the Eucharist it is always available - God is reaching out to us in Jesus. The danger is that Communion can become a private devotion, Communion must be shared with one another as well as God.

At All Saints we refer to our main service as the Eucharist. This again comes from Paul

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me".

Eucharist means ‘Thanksgiving’ and this was the term used by many of the early Christian writers. When we gather at the table we give thanks to God for all he is and has done especially in Jesus. ‘Eucharist’ suggests far more than just saying ‘Thank you for the bread & wine’, it suggests a full prayer of Thanksgiving just as we use. In the early church these Thanksgivings would have had space for extempore prayers and have lasted far longer than the shorter Eucharistic prayers we use today – be warned!

Another term was also used by early Christian writers was the Offering. The Eucharist was understood not just as a supper, not just as intimacy with God, not just as thanksgiving, but as a sacrifice. Not that we need to re-sacrifice Jesus every Eucharist, but that at the table we participate in that sacrifice. This is most explicit in John’s Gospel where the story of the last supper doesn’t involve the ‘words of institution’ (‘This is my … Do this’) over bread and wine, but the images of bread and wine, body and blood encompass the whole of the crucifixion.

Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot … Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips … One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

For John what happened at Holy Communion was what happened at the crucifixion. The use of the term Offering by early writers also suggests that that they understood Jesus’s words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ to mean ‘Offer this as a memorial offering of me’ although Greek scholars don’t all agree!

So what then of Mass, the term that many Lutherans and Catholics use on a regular basis, and Anglicans use less often – sometimes only at midnight? Mass comes from the conclusion of the service in Latin ‘Ite, missa est’ (‘Go; it is the dismissal’). Mass refers to the mission God gives us at every Eucharist, to take the Good News and share it with the world in word and action. The Mass then is a starting point rather than an ending point in our Christian lives. We express the term Mass as we ‘Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord’.

It is no wonder that in the Eastern Church avoids all these terms and simply call the Eucharist ‘The Holy Mysteries’ as one word cannot encompass all that God does for us at every Mass! All of these terms are found in our liturgy, so why not prayerfully listen for the words ‘Supper’, ‘Communion’, ‘Thanks’, ‘Offer’ and ‘Send/Go’ at your next Eucharist?

God bless,

Fr. Eddie

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