The Twin Pillars of the Mass
17th Sunday Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018
In the next few weeks, the gospel will be taken from the sixth chapter of John, which is all about Jesus, the Bread of Life, our Eucharist. We will be looking at some of the parts of the Mass during this time to renew our understanding of the deep mysteries we celebrate each Sunday.
Everything we do at Mass is built around two twin pillars: Scripture and Tradition. Every part of the Mass has a biblical foundation as well as a direct connection to Judaism. Remember that all the apostles were Jewish and, in the earliest years of the church, most of the converts to Christianity were from Judaism as well. So it is not surprising that many essentially Jewish worship practices of the 1st century were incorporated into the Mass.
The Mass is divided into two parts: the Liturgy of the WORD and the Liturgy of the EUCHARIST. The Liturgy of the Word begins with the Entrance Song and continues all the way through the Prayers of the Faithful. When the collection begins and the altar is prepared, we have entered into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The Liturgy of the Word finds a parallel in a first century synagogue service. By the time of Christ, and particularly after the fall of Jerusalem, Jews were living all over the known world. For practical reasons, many could not be present at the Temple in Jerusalem, so the synagogue began to become more and more important. There, the Scriptures would be proclaimed and then someone would expound on their meaning. When Jesus returns to Nazareth, we can see him participating in such a service (Luke 4:16-24). Prayers of thanksgiving and petition would also be offered to God, and all present would enter into fellowship. When the first Christians began meeting to worship the Lord, naturally they borrowed this formula, which is still used in the Mass today.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is, of course, a modified version of the Passover celebration, modeled after the accounts of the Last Supper that have been handed down to us from the synoptic gospels and St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10). At the Last Supper, Jesus explicitly taught his disciples to do this in memory of me. Because Jesus offered his Body and Blood on the cross and at the Last Supper, when we celebrate these mysteries in his memory as he commanded us, we are participating in both a Sacred Meal and a Sacrifice, Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross, the same one from 2000 years ago made mystically present to us in our own time and place in the Mass. Jesus wanted to feed and nourish us spiritually through the twin pillars of the Mass; our minds by speaking his word to us and our souls by consuming and believing in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.