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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 1 - The Mass From Scripture

I have now been posting our parish Bible studies that I have been leading for about 3-4 months, and this post begins the second book we are studying called The Lamb's Supper by renown Roman Catholic theologian (and a convert from Evangelicalism) Dr. Scott Hahn.  Although Dr. Hahn's book is the primary text for the study, I will also be utilizing other sources as well, much as the procedure has been throughout these studies.  I hope that this series will be a blessing to you, and hopefully you gain a greater appreciation for the material we are studying at our parish and it will be useful to you as well. 

When the term "Mass" is talked about, many people think it automatically means Roman Catholic by identification.  However, other Churches (including my own communion, the Anglican Catholic Church) also use this term to refer to the weekly liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, and in this study it will sometimes be used simultaneously with the terms "liturgy" and "Eucharist," although it is not exactly the same as the Eucharist itself.  Therefore, as Dr. Hahn begins his first chapter in our text The Lamb's Supper (New York: Doubleday, 1999), he appropriately starts out by giving a Scriptural foundation for the Mass, as well as defining some terminology, which will prove helpful in the remainder of the book.  I am also going to be referencing Fr. Peter Gillquist's Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1992) for this particular lesson, because he has a chapter in that book which supplements beautifully the material Dr. Hahn has.

So, for the unfamiliar reading all this, what on earth do these terms "Mass," "Eucharist," and "Liturgy" all mean anyway???  Are they the same, or is there something different about each of them?  To answer that, let us first get some Scriptural background as we look first at Acts 13:2 - "As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said..." (NKJV).  Fr. Gillquist, rather than using the NKJV that I normally reference, utilizes instead the NAB, which reads like this - "On one occasion, while they were engaged in the liturgy of the Lord and were fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke to them..."  You look at that, and probably are thinking, "Wow, that is confusing - which one is it then??"  Fr. Gillquist, when he began studying this passage so many years previous, came to that same question, and then he did a study of the original Greek and here is what he found out.  In the original Greek text, the word used in this passage is leitourgounton, which when translated is clearly the English root liturgy!  The word itself actually comes from three Greek words (laos, "people + the article tou. which is a genitive meaning "of" or from + ergon, which can translate as "work," "labor," or "offering.") that when put together mean " a work (labor, offering) of (or from) the people."  Therefore, when it is a "liturgy of the Lord" it means an offering of the people to the Lord, and that is what liturgy means!  More specifically in context, it is a work of the people of God of worship to God.  When God receives this from us in the proper spirit we offer it to Him, He then can speak to us as the Church during the Liturgy.  That being said, and as Fr. Gillquist correctly points out in his text on page 76, despite some Protestant Evangelical accusations of "dead liturgy," in reality liturgy can be neither dead nor alive - it is the people who participate in it who are either spiritually dead or spiritually vibrant.  Looking at it this way then, the Liturgy is an offering to God from us, in essence a labor of our love to Him, and our attitude and participation in it determines its vitality.  To be fair to the occasional Evangelical visitor to one of our parishes, oftentimes it looks as if many of our people do seem to "go through the motions," making sure this is right or that is right, without doing as Acts 13 that we read earlier says - letting the Holy Spirit speak through the Liturgy to us.  The robotic attention to rubric and form is often a put-off to the Evangelical Christian because of two things.  First, on the positive, Evangelicals believe that their faith requires a personal dimension, which of course all Christians should have - we are not only a corporate Body of believers, but also Jesus has reached out to us individually.  However, on the negative side of that, Evangelicals often fall into a trap of what is called the "better felt than telt" syndrome which often confuses emotional response with participatory worship, and that can be about as big of a danger as Catholic Christians just slogging through the Liturgy every Sunday because it is an obligatory thing we do.  Neither extreme is what God wants, because neither the mystical response of emotion nor the juridical action of mere obligatory acquiescence constitute true worship because both take the focus off where our worship is to be directed (Jesus Christ) and instead focuses on what we either think or feel at the moment.  The challenge to us is to get past both, and instead allow God to enjoy the worship of our hearts desiring to follow Him, and then He can speak to us.  Historic liturgy provides the form for this, but we have to learn what liturgy is in order to appreciate and more fully participate in it.  

This now leads me to the second term - Mass.  The Mass is almost exclusively associated with the Western Church, and the reason is because it is derived from a Latin root word rather than a Greek word.  The word "Mass" comes from the Latin word Missa, which means "dismissal" and comes from the concluding part of the Western Liturgy when the words "Ite Missa est" ("Go, it is the dismissal) which in more modern liturgies says this "The Mass has ended - let us depart in peace," or similarly worded benedictory statements.  In time though, it took on a more missionary/evangelistic dimension as it was rendered "Let us go in peace, to love and serve the Lord."  The term "Mass" for us as Anglo-Catholics should therefore present an evangelical challenge - we are to be the light of Christ to a world dying with sin, and when we receive Christ in the Eucharist it is to be transformative.  Therefore, despite the fact that some anti-Catholic fundamentalists sometimes try to villify the word "Mass," there is absolutely nothing evil, but rather something evangelistic, about the challenge we receive to share Christ, Whom we have received, with others in the world. 

The third term in relation to this, Eucharist, is from the Greek word eucaristw, which simply means "thanksgiving."  As this study goes on, we will be exploring that more in-depth, but suffice to say the Eucharist is the actual sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ we receive as the pivotal point of the Liturgy.  Remember, the whole of our discipleship and Christian life is Christocentric, meaning that all points back to the Lord Jesus Christ as part of our worship.  And, that is why we as Anglo-Catholic Christians believe very much in the Real Presence - Christ is really in the elements we partake in the Eucharist, not just being merely contained within them but rather they become His Body and Blood in a mystery we cannot necessarily explain, but the Holy Spirit confirms (see Acts 13:2 again!) that this is Jesus being made present to us.  

Dr. Hahn's book also takes another very unique approach to the Mass by centering his study around Revelation.  In his text (page 9 specifically) Dr. Hahn notes that Revelation comes to life before our eyes.  And, although Dr. Hahn takes more of a preterist position on Revelation rather than the historic futurist position I would subscribe to, what he says here does make sense - Revelation therefore is both a prophetic and a liturgical text, and Dr. Hahn focuses on Revelation 4 as the start of the liturgical dimension of this mysterious last book of the Scriptures.  As mentioned, the Eucharist is a covenant meal - it is the covenant Christ made of offering Himself for the remission of our sins and our restoration to what God originally created us to be - and it forms a sacred bond of the family of God.  And, in a tangible way, when we participate in liturgical worship in an earthly liturgy, we participate in a foretaste of the heavenly.  Many years ago, I heard a Pentecostal minister (as well as a relative of mine) named Perry Stone talk about how when God set up for Israel via Moses the worship He instituted first in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, it was modeled on what happens in the throne room of heaven.  Keeping in mind the Jewish roots of Christian worship, the Church picked up on this in her liturgy as well, but Jesus added a whole new dimension of it to His Church - He becomes a sort of shekinah that we can be nourished by, and He also becomes both the principle Priest and the sacrificial victim (more on that in the next study).  So, when we pray as discussed in the previous lessons on the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," the Mass and celebration of the Eucharist in particular embodies that in that the kingdom of God comes to us now (in the Mass) but not yet (prophetic/eschatological).  

All of this tells us that the language of worship, therefore, plays a vital role in unifying Revelation as a book.  Liturgy, in essence, helps us to make sense of prophecy.  As my mentor and Greek Orthodox priest Fr. Eusebius Stephanou points out on page 62 of his book Sacramentalized But Not Evangelized (Destin, FL: St. Symeon the New Theologian Press, 2005), the ministry of the Word and the Eucharist are interrelated in the Liturgy - therefore, the subject of the sermon must be related closely to the altar, something that Monsignor Eugene Kevane in his works on Catechetics calls "Christocentricity."  Although Fr. Eusebius relates this to the Homily at Mass every Sunday, it also applies as well to our reading of Scripture too - although we obviously believe Revelation has an eschatological/prophetic message, it must also be read in a spirit of worship and it relates to the Liturgy of the Church, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us prophetically (if we care to listen!) throughout the Liturgy too.  And, as Dr. Hahn notes on page 12, Revelation was written about Someone (Jesus Christ) who was to come, and therefore in the Mass we have in essence "heaven on earth."

In addition to Revelation 4, Fr. Gillquist tells us about a related Scripture in Isaiah 6 that says that the prophetic insight we are to receive from the Liturgy is sensory, and he notes on pages 77-79 of his text that this passage of Isaiah is laden with sensory verbiage.  Of course, for our various liturgical traditions, Eastern and Western, we know of the Isaiah passage due to one thing we have in our Liturgies called the Sanctus - "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Sabaoth.  Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory.  Hosanna in the Highest!"  As the famed Anglo-Catholic cleric and theologian Dom Gregory Dix notes in his classic text On the Shape of the Liturgy (New York: Seabury, 1945) this also evolved in the architecture of church buildings too, as Revelation 4 was made essentially to be more tangible in the place of worship as well as the words of worship.  Dix notes on page 32 of his classic text that in the East it was Jesus as the King Enthroned, as represented by the classic icon of Jesus Christ the Pantocrator.  In the Western Church, it was more of Jesus as the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, As we'll see in the next study though, the Lamb represents not a contradiction of the Kingship of Christ, but rather the dimension of His Kingdom coming to us via His shed Blood and broken Body that makes us worthy of His kingdom.  This is given symbolic expression, Dix notes on page 30, in the throne of the bishop we have in many of our parishes being both the "throne of God and of the Lamb" - the bishops office, therefore to Dix, would embody both the revelation and redemption of Christ.  Hence again, the Word and Sacrament become interrelated to each other as one great act of God's love for us.

We now want to look at something else in Exodus 25:30, which Catholic theologian Brant Pitre notes in his book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York:  Doubleday, 2011) is one Old Testament precursor of the Eucharist of which we will see many as this study progresses.  Pitre notes, on pages 132-133 of his text, that although many of today's Bible translations render the meaning "showbread" in this verse, the actual Hebrew word was panim, which translates as "bread of the face" or "bread of the presence."  The Bread in Exodus, therefore, represents an earthly sign of God's face and a visible sign of His love.  This therefore hearkens back to John 3:16, which many of us can quote from memory - God so loved us, that He sent His only begotten Son, and one of that Son's titles is the "Bread of Life" (John 6:48) and we are told by Jesus Himself, when He instituted the Eucharist, to "take this Bread and drink this Cup" because they are His Body and Blood, of a new covenant given for the remission of our sins (Matthew 26:28).   Therefore, unlike some quasi-gnostic tendencies among some Evangelicals to "spiritualize" everything in Scripture, God works through symbols and physical means to convey His eternal message to us, and he does it via seeing, hearing, touching/tasting, and smell.   As we go through this study, we will be addressing those areas more as well. 

There is also little doubt that Jesus was partaking of what today we would call a Jewish Passover Seder, and as Pitre points out on pages 150-157 of his book, there is an interesting parallel here as embodied in the four cups of wine partaken during a Seder meal.   The first cup, for instance, is called the Kiddush, and symbolizes sanctification.  If we look in our Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1928 American Edition) at the point in the Mass just as the Liturgy of the Word ends and the Liturgy of the Faithful begins, there is a General Confession that is prayed in unison by worshippers at the Mass.  One part of this Confession is of interest to this study - the petition "Forgive us all that is past, and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please Thee in newness of life."   This prayer prepares our hearts for the Body and Blood of Christ, much as the Kiddush cup prepares its participants to partake of the Passover lamb. The second cup is called the Haggadah, and has to do with proclamation of the Word.  In our Mass, this corresponds to the readings of Scripture and the Homily.  The third cup is called Berakah, and is a cup of blessing - in the Mass, this corresponds to when the priest consecrates the elements and they become the Body and Blood of Jesus.  This is played out in a very interesting way in the Eastern Church in that the priest, as he is praying the consecration, crosses his hands and makes a motion like wings flapping, symbolizing the Holy Spirit's entering the elements and transforming them.  In the Western Anglo-Catholic tradition, it is more subtle than that, as the priest blows - a symbol of wind, the Holy Spirit - on the consecrated elements symbolizing that they are now the Body and Blood of Christ for us to receive.  Between the third and fourth cups, the meal is then partaken, and at the conclusion of the meal is the cup of Hallel, or praise and acclamation, which serves as a sort of offering of thanksgiving (remember eucaristw)   and the words for that blessing if you want to read them are found in Psalm 118:5, 17-22.    This brings back the premise that this is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and is indicative of a "finished work" - Ite missa est - and this is where the more profound dimension of the term "Mass" comes into play.  As we go on in this study, you can then see how it all fits together.

This lesson kind of introduced us to what we will be studying over the next several lessons, and as we delve deeper into Dr. Hahn's book more specific details will be discussed on these various aspects.  However, there are a couple of conclusions we need to draw from this lesson.  First, contrary to what some of our Fundamentalist brethren may accuse those of us who are Catholic Christians, the Mass is actually very Bible-based, as well over 95% of its read/recited content comes right from the pages of Holy Scripture itself.  If one took the effort to do so, the whole Mass could be referenced with Scriptural citations.  Second, the words Mass/Eucharist/Liturgy are often used interchangeably, and in some contexts this is permissable.  However, it must be also kept in mind that the Eucharist is the central focus of the Mass or Liturgy, and as such it has a unique place of recognition.  Third, ancient Hebraic practices are precursors to the Mass, but even those may be an icon of the worship that takes place in the heavenly throne-room of God - I am of the conviction that much of what we do in our worship mirrors the Kingdom in many aspects, and perhaps God illumined the prophets of old regarding Temple worship as a way of revealing a glimpse of His kingdom to us, and the Church carried on that in its liturgical traditions.  As we advance in this study, more of this will come together for us as we come to appreciate the richness of our worship as a Church.  God be with you until next time.