This article is the second in a series on the Mass which focuses on the scriptural basis of the Catholic Celebration of the Eucharist, the Breaking of the Bread. See Part I– Mass in Harmony With Scripture: The Real Presence.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that there is a twofold form to the structure of the Mass:
The liturgy of the Eucharist unfolds according to a fundamental structure which has been preserved throughout the centuries down to our own day. It displays two great parts that form a fundamental unity: – the gathering, the liturgy of the Word, with readings, homily and general intercessions; – the liturgy of the Eucharist, -with the presentation of the bread and wine, the consecratory thanksgiving, and communion. (CCC 1346 )
The liturgy of the Word and liturgy of the Eucharist together form “one single act of worship”; the Eucharistic table set for us is the table both of the Word of God and of the Body of the Lord.
We need to look no further than the first day Jesus resurrected to determine where this twofold form came from. St. Luke tells in detail about two disciples who were discussing Jesus as they walked the seven miles to Emmaus. They did not recognize Jesus when he joined their conversation as they recounted the tale of His crucifixion and the mystery of an empty tomb:
And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:15-27)
It is from this example of Jesus that we can consider the Liturgy of the Word comes and the harmony between what we practice and what is in Scripture.
The form of the Mass is fulfilled when what happened in Emmaus is examined:
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. (Luke 20: 28-31)
The Breaking of Bread, the celebration of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Eucharist fulfills the form of the Mass which has not changed from the earliest times of the Catholic Church.
Nor has the frequency with which the Mass is celebrated changed from the earliest times. It should be seriously noted that Jesus celebrated the Eucharist on the first day of His resurrection as recorded by St. Luke.
While some use the excuse “Nowhere in the Bible is there a command of how frequently the Eucharist should be celebrated.” Can be debated, which we will do later. Let us for the moment assume it is true and move to the axiom “Actions speak louder than words.” informs. Most important of all is the action of Jesus celebrating the Breaking of Bread on the first day of His resurrection. Then there is the practice of the earliest, Christians described so clearly in Scripture:
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:46)
Taking these two examples to mind, it should be obvious that this prime act of worship should be exercised frequently – daily – as the Catholic Church does. This concept of frequent celebration St. Paul states come directly from the Lord:
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.” 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:23-26)
Now let us look at the Lord’s Prayer, first of all from the first Gospel:
Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; (St. Matthew 6:9-11)
Yet in the same chapter, a few verses later, Jesus tells us:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ (v.31)
We might well ask what is going on here? Jesus has just told us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for our daily bread, not even just bread, and moments later He twice tells us not to worry at all about what we are going to eat.
The same thing happens in St. Luke’s Gospel:
And he said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; (St. Luke 11:2 & 3)
Then, in the following chapter, there is a repeat of twice being told not to worry about what we will eat”
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. . . . And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. (v.29)
This only makes sense if the “bread” referred to in the Lord’s Prayer is the bread which came down from heaven as St. John tells us:
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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.” They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (St. John 6:32-35)
Given this review of the Lord’s Prayer and the subsequent instructions from Jesus not to worry about what we eat, there is a very good case to be made that what is in the Lord’s Prayer is a definitive instruction to celebrate the breaking of bread, the Eucharist, each day.
With all of this information, it is not inappropriate to ask those Christian brethren in Protestant denominations, who celebrate only once per month, how that lines up with what is in Scripture. If they claim “Sola Scriptura”, only Scripture, then the justification for their practice of only once per month should be examined rigorously?
It is comforting to know that there is consistency, from the earliest times, in the manner the Mass has been celebrated, as the Catechism informs:
As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did:
On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits. When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . . and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen.’ When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons to give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent. (CCC 1345)