Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
The series of articles on the ars celebrandae, the art of celebration – of which this is the first – is intended to help us all in our participation in the Mass, in the Eucharist.
It is intended as a sort of complement to what is provided in the Missal itself, in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the rubrics included in the Order of Mass.
The liturgical books of the Church (for example the Missal, the Rite of Baptism, etc), was revised following the Second Vatican Council. Each now begins with an Introduction or Instruction – a user’s guide which summarises the theology informing the Rite, and offers practical instruction for its proper celebration. Both are invaluable. That said, so far as liturgical practice is concerned they are sparing in their detail: to advantage, probably, otherwise missals might provide impossible to carry! And they do tend to privilege comment on what the clergy does rather than the rest of the congregation. (Only in writing this article did I notice that although there is a rubric in the Order of Mass telling all to sit for the first readings of the Mass there is no corresponding rubric advising that all are invited to stand for the proclamation of the Gospel!).
In this series consideration of the externals of our worship (important as they are) will, I hope, be more than matched by attention to our inner participation – attending not only to what we do but considering also how and why we do it.
We begin at the beginning and look at what the Order of Mass (ie the ‘script’ and ‘stage directions’ for the celebration of Holy Mass) and the relevant sections of the General Instruction say.
The Order of Mass begins
When the people are gathered, the Priest approaches the altar with the ministers while the Entrance Chant is sung.
When he has arrived at the altar, after making a profound bow with the ministers, the Priest venerates the altar with a kiss and, if appropriate, incenses the cross and the altar. Then, with the ministers, he goes to the chair.
When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The people reply:
The Order of Mass, 1
The General Instruction (GI) elaborates on this. For example who might the ministers be in the procession and what order they should take in the procession; what they should wear; what might be sung as the Entrance chant, and what to do if there is no entrance chant. All useful stuff.
In the entrance procession we should expect a variety of ministers, because when we gather for Mass it is a community that celebrates. The priest is necessary and presides, but others are also delegated to serve the prayer of the community. GI mentions the thurifer, candle bearers, acolytes (among their role is assisting in the distribution of Holy Communion, so in the absence of acolytes we might expect to see the commissioned ministers of Holy Communion) and a reader. The absence of this variety of ministers may well be a ritual admission that we are a community that is floundering, and is not capable of taking up its responsibilities even for a key activity such as worship.
We all have a role to play in the worthy celebration of Mass. We make a contribution to the dynamics of worship – not only in the way that an audience does in a theatre, but because we – not an audience but a congregation – are participants in the worship. Hopefully we benefit from the ministry of others at Mass, but we are all called to help ‘realise’ worthy worship.
This is highlighted in GI when it talks about the function of the Entrance chant.
Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.
There is a certain asceticism to our participation in Liturgy. We are to sing not because we like it, and we should sing even if we do not feel like it because our common song manifests the unity that is ours as members of the Body of Christ, assembled in this place to pray as one in him.
The Christian faithful who come together as one in expectation of the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles (cf. Col 3: 16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2: 46). Thus St. Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves’, and there is also an ancient proverb: ‘Whoever sings well prays twice over’.
And when we sing, we sing not whatever we like, but something which focuses us on what we are doing and why. GI goes into more detail about this. The chant is to be:
suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, and whose text has been approved by the Conference of Bishops of England and Wales.
Why is such approval required? Because the bishop of a diocese has responsibility for ensuring, on the one hand, that faith is not misrepresented or trivialised in the Liturgy, and on the other, that we take full advantage of the resource that music and song offers of leading us into, and engaging us with the Liturgy of the Church
Again a certain ascetism is proposed – we are invited to conform ourselves to the demands of the Liturgy (symbol of Christ and our Catholic faith), rather than adapt it to suit ourselves.
That said the who, where and when of our liturgical assemblies is not a matter of indifference. What is sung at a Mass with 8 year olds is unlikely to be what is appropriate for a congregation of adults, and maybe vice versa too. But in each case what is sung should be equal to its intended function.
I often say to those considering how best to prepare themselves to participate in mass that they/we might have in mind three things to speak with God about during Mass – one thing we want to thank God for; another that we want to say sorry to God for; and a third thing that we want to ask God’s help with. Considering these things gives a particular focus to our personal participation in the Mass.
It is perhaps good to have one further thing in mind also – what might I bring to this celebration with my brothers and sisters in Christ? How I am going to add something to the quality of this celebration? It might be by preparing myself well. It might be by arriving in good time and perhaps saying hello to some of the others who are also there. It might be by singing or responding to the dialogues more clearly, or trying to listen more attentively to the Scriptures. But what am I going to do? How might I contribute?
What helps you best prepare for Mass?
What are the strengths and weaknesses about how your regular community gathers for Mass?
Have you experienced good practice elsewhere? What made it good?
What at Mass do you do for principal benefit of others?
What at Mass do you appreciate people doing for you?
The Roman Missal (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
Photographs. All (c) Allen Morris. (c) 2016 Glass work by Margaret Rope; (c) 2017, King David and musicians, Stained glass, Lichfield Cathedral; (c) 2017, ‘Bless ye the Lord’, glass work, Lichfield Cathedral.
With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep.
They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again.
Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’
Jesus said to the crowds: ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’
Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
Jesus said to the crowd, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’
He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’
Jesus began to teach by the lakeside, but such a huge crowd gathered round him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there. The people were all along the shore, at the water’s edge.
He taught them many things in parables, and in the course of his teaching he said to them, ‘Listen! Imagine a sower going out to sow. Now it happened that, as he sowed, some of the seed fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some seed fell on rocky ground where it found little soil and sprang up straightaway, because there was no depth of earth; and when the sun came up it was scorched and, not having any roots, it withered away. Some seed fell into thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it produced no crop. And some seeds fell into rich soil and, growing tall and strong, produced crop; and yielded thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Listen, anyone who has ears to hear!’
When he was alone, the Twelve, together with the others who formed his company, asked what the parables meant. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may see and see again, but not perceive; may hear and hear again, but not understand; otherwise they might be converted and be forgiven.’
He said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? What the sower is sowing is the word. Those on the edge of the path where the word is sown are people who have no sooner heard it than Satan comes and carries away the word that was sown in them. Similarly, those who receive the seed on patches of rock are people who, when first they hear the word, welcome it at once with joy. But they have no root in them, they do not last; should some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, they fall away at once. Then there are others who receive the seed in thorns. These have heard the word, but the worries of this world, the lure of riches and all the other passions come in to choke the word, and so it produces nothing. And there are those who have received the seed in rich soil: they hear the word and accept it and yield a harvest, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’
The mother and brothers of Jesus arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’
Jesus showed himself to the Eleven and said to them: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
Christians are very familiar with the idea of Jesus’ last supper – principal source of our Mass – being a Passover.
Each Palm Sunday we hear readings from a synoptic Gospel of the year – Matthew, Mark or Luke – which tells us this meal was a Passover. Indeed the Gospels go into some detail about the careful preparation for the meal, as in the following verses from Luke’s Gospel.
The Passover with the Disciples
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him…
Each Gospel then continues with words from the Lord in which Jesus interprets ritual actions in terms of his forthcoming death – and, in Luke’s account, asks the disciples to take, break and share bread (his body) in remembrance of him.
Institution of the Lord’s Supper ?
And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
So far, so straight forward? Well not exactly. Luke tells us of a meal with a cup before and after the sharing in bread. That might come as a bit of a surprise. And surprising too, perhaps, that we are not told anything particular to the celebration of Passover, most notably the feasting on the lamb sacrificed and roasted for the household’s meal.
When we compare Luke’s account to those of Matthew and Luke there are more things to note. Most notably there is no mention there of a cup shared before the words over the bread, and there is no command ‘Do this in remembrance of me’.
No-one seems to doubt that by the time these Evangelists were writing their Gospels the Church was celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist.
Our earliest account comes from a letter of St Paul, dated maybe 30 years before the Gospel of Luke.
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 he took 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.
I Corinthians 11.23-25
Paul’s account includes the words at the breaking of bread about ‘do this in remembrance of me’, indeed he adds something similar after the cup.
We do not know what the domestic Passover ritual was at the time of Jesus, so it is speculation as to whether or not there was a sharing in two cups. But it is interesting that there is such variation in the accounts of the last supper.
Many scholars suggest that writers’ accounts of the last supper meal will have been influenced not only by their authors’ knowledge of an oral tradition about what Jesus did and said; and knowledge of other written accounts (for example, possibly an influence of Paul on Mark and Matthew); but also possibly – even probably – by the way Eucharist was celebrated in their local community. This perhaps explains why Luke’s account varies from the others – Eucharist was celebrated in a ritual including two cups, perhaps because Luke knew a celebration of Eucharist which included not only ritual involving bread and wine, but even perhaps a full meal which began with the blessing of wine. On this joining of Eucharist and meal there is more below.
We often seem to assume all early Christians would do the same thing at celebrations of Eucharist, and any variation would be deviation from the norm. However it is at least plausible that different communities celebrated ‘the breaking of bread’, their sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ, in somewhat different ways, according to their circumstances – indeed given the variations of all sorts noted in other early sources this may the more likely case.
In particular sometime early in the history of the Church one major change took place in how Eucharist was celebrated. We may not know the full ritual content of the last supper, but we do know there was a meal.
We also know that at the time of Paul the particular rites which were the sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ were still being celebrated in the context of a meal. We know that because Paul was scandalised by the unchristian way in which the Corinthians conducted themselves at this meal.
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not…
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.
I Corinthians 11.20-22, 27-34
It is suggested that Matthew and Mark were familiar with their local Church celebrating the Lord’s Supper separate from any other community meal; and that maybe Luke’s community had not yet, or at least had only more recently separated the two ‘meals’.
By the 2nd Century AD that separation was commonplace – if not, perhaps, yet universal. But this Blog will come back to how Eucharist was celebrated in the 2nd Century in a month or so. Over the next few Sundays this Blog will spend a little time looking at how, in the Roman Rite, we presently begin our celebration of Mass, in the Roman Rite, and then looking at the pretty much standard pattern of the Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite.
But first to just notice the very different way in which John’s Gospel deals with the last supper.
Now you do as I have done to you
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”
Clearly what John presents is not a Passover meal – for this is a meal before the Feast. John tells us that Jesus was killed at the time that of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs. Scholars have all sorts of suggestions to account for this difference between John’s Gospel and the others. Perhaps John was linked with a different Jewish grouping, the Essenes, that followed a slightly different calendar (a little like the Orthodox Church today follows a different calendar, celebrating Easter and Christmas on different days to the rest of the Church, in the secular calendar).
Or maybe John is varying the narrative to make a symbolic point – that truly Jesus is the Passover sacrifice or, maybe more properly, that Jesus fulfils all that is promised in Passover, and that for those who acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Saviour there is now no need to celebrate Passover. John knows that Christians are to live in communion with Jesus, to eat his flesh and drink his blood (cf John 6). It is conceivable that John knows of a ritual meal that is Eucharist, but maybe, just maybe, for John what matters more than any such meal is mutual service. Without such mutual service, then perhaps John like Paul would say whatever you do by way of ritual or worship is not the Lord’s Supper, but brings judgement on ourselves.
The point was forcefully made by Saint Pope John Paul II when proposing a Year of the Eucharist to the Church.
There is one other point which I would like to emphasize, since it significantly affects the authenticity of our communal sharing in the Eucharist. It is the impulse which the Eucharist gives to the community for a practical commitment to building a more just and fraternal society. In the Eucharist our God has shown love in the extreme, overturning all those criteria of power which too often govern human relations and radically affirming the criterion of service: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mc 9:35). It is not by chance that the Gospel of John contains no account of the institution of the Eucharist, but instead relates the “washing of feet” (cf. Jn 13:1-20): by bending down to wash the feet of his disciples, Jesus explains the meaning of the Eucharist unequivocally. Saint Paul vigorously reaffirms the impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical sharing with the poor (cf.1Cor 11:17-22, 27-34).
Mane Nobiscum Domine, 28. John Paul II.
Questions for reflection
What does it seem to you makes for communion with the Lord?
The phrase ‘practicing Catholic’ is a familiar one. Often this is used to distinguish those who go to Mass from those who don’t. What four or five characteristics do you think that, together, might make for a better definition for a practicing Catholic?
What variations in celebrations of the Lord’s Supper are you familiar with in contemporary Christian communities?
What would might be the advantages/disadvantages of once more combining Mass with a community meal?
Scripture: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
Photographs. All (c) Allen Morris. (c) 2015, Last Supper, Sacred Heart, Coleshill, Birmingham; (c) 2015, Vasily Perov, ‘Monastery Refectory’ and Icon detail, Russian Museum, St Petersburg;
After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’ As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.
Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.