What does the Bible say about worship services?
The Last Supper was a Passover meal where Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the Twelve Apostles, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me;” and then the cup of wine, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you” (see Luke, 22:19-20).1
Because the only sacrifice worthy to be offered to God in the New Covenant is Jesus Himself, we can take His words from the Last Supper at face value, acknowledging the bread and wine which He offered are indeed be His Body and Blood, the Covenant of His love. (That’s the notion of transubstantiation.)
The Holy Eucharist is the very Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, where he was crucified. Of course, this does not mean that Jesus dies repeatedly at every Mass. As Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Hebrews 10:10: “He died once for the sin of the world and no further offering shall be required.”
Jesus’ sacrifice is not an event confined to the distant past. It has an eternal dimension to it that supersedes space and time, which is why the Bible calls Jesus the Lamb slain “before the foundation of the world.” (See the Book of Revelations, 13:8.)
So, in the celebration of the Eucharist, God, who is outside of space and time, makes the sacrifice of Jesus present to the assembly of His people, re-presenting it to us in an unbloody manner.
God does this in order to provide the Church in every age a way to be part of His Son’s saving sacrifice–by offering that sacrifice to Him in praise and thanksgiving. This is why Saint Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians 10:16, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” This is the ineffable joy and mystery of the Mass, in which we receive the fullness of the love of Jesus.
The Church’s regard for the Eucharist as a Living Sacrifice is thoroughly biblical, fulfilling as it does Malachi’s prophecy of a future sacrifice that would be perpetually offered by the Gentiles, “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering; for great is my name among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi, 1:11).
The Church’s interpretation of Malachi is supported by Christianity’s earliest historical writings. For example, The Didache, which is a Church manual dating from around the year 70 A.D., identifies the Eucharist as “the offerings” spoken of by the prophet Malachi. Similarly, in about the year 150 A.D., Saint Justin the Martyr calls Malachi’s “sacrifices,” “the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the Gentiles, that is … the Bread of the Eucharist and likewise … the cup of the Eucharist” (Dialogue with Trypho 41).
The Last Supper is the New Testament fulfillment of the Passover, which is the ritualistic meal eaten by the Israelites on the eve of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. During the Passover it was necessary for those who would be saved to paint the blood of the sacrificial lamb upon the doorposts and lintel of their home (prefiguring the blood of Jesus on the wood of the Cross) and to consume the lamb’s flesh (see Exodus, 12:8). By eating the lamb’s flesh, the Israelites in a sense became one with the lamb, taking its spotlessness upon themselves. At the Last Supper, which occurred on the eve of man’s liberation from sin, Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, gave His own Flesh and Blood to be eaten by the faithful sacramentally under the form of Bread and Wine. Through this Holy Communion, we become one with His life-giving sacrifice, taking His sinlessness upon ourselves.
Catholics believe that any worship experience apart from the Eucharist falls short of what God Himself has prepared for us. The Lord desires true intimacy with us; to unite with us body and soul. Holy Communion provides a real way for Jesus Christ to give His whole self to us and for us in turn to give our whole selves to Him: a complete, mutual self-giving; a true personal encounter with God in our entire being.
This wondrous, salvific experience is the heart of every Catholic Mass.
- With this consecration of the bread and wine, Jesus fulfilled the actions of Melchizedek, a priest in the Old Covenant who also made an offering to God of bread and wine (see Genesis, 14:18). So, in his Letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul calls Jesus “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (5:6). ↩