The holy Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Mass is “the source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324), to which the other sacraments are oriented. The Church also teaches that the holy Mass is exactly the same sacrifice that Our Lord Jesus Christ offered on the Cross at Calvary wherein He offered His own Body and Blood to God for the attonement of sins. In fact, “at the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood … in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the centuries until He should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of His death and resurrection” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47). “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’” (Luke 22:19).
The term “Mass” is derived from the Late Latin word “missa” which means “dismissal“, a word used in the concluding formula of Mass in Latin: “Ite, missa est (Go, it is the dismissal)”. In a deeper meaning, the word “dismissal” has come to imply a “mission” which succinctly expresses the missionary nature of the Church.
Aside from the holy Mass, the celebration is also called as follows (CCC 1328-1332):
⚫ The Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words “eucharistein” and “eulogein” recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification.
⚫ The Lord’s Supper, because of its connection with the supper which the Lord took with his disciples on the eve of his Passion and because it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.
⚫ The Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meat when as master of the table he blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper. It is by this action that his disciples will recognize him after his Resurrection, and it is this expression that the first Christians will use to designate their Eucharistic assemblies; by doing so they signified that all who eat the one broken bread, Christ, enter into communion with him and form but one body in him.
⚫ The Eucharistic Assembly (Synaxis), because the Eucharist is celebrated amid the assembly of the faithful, the visible expression of the Church.
⚫ The Holy Sacrifice, because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior and includes the Church’s offering. The terms holy sacrifice of the Mass, “sacrifice of praise,” spiritual sacrifice, pure and holy sacrifice are also used, since it completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.
⚫ The Holy and Divine Liturgy, because the Church’s whole liturgy finds its center and most intense expression in the celebration of this sacrament; in the same sense, it is also call its celebration the Sacred Mysteries.
⚫ The Most Blessed Sacrament because it is the Sacrament of sacraments.
⚫ The Holy Communion, because by this sacrament the members of the Church are united to Christ, who makes them sharers in His Body and Blood to form a single body. It is also called: the holy things (ta hagia; sancta) – the first meaning of the phrase “communion of saints” in the Apostles’ Creed – the bread of angels, bread from heaven, medicine of immortality, viaticum.
While the Breaking of Bread, Eucharistia, Synaxis, Litourgia, Prosphora, Koinonia, etc. were commonly used in the first two centuries of Christianity, the use of the term Missa for the celebration became gradually known in the beginning of the third century and became widely known in both the West and East in the fourth century. The earliest use of the term in literature was credited to St. Ambrose (d.397 AD), bishop of Milan, in a letter written to his sister Marcellina describing the troubles of the Arians in the years 385 and 386, when the soldiers were sent to break up the service in his church: “The next day (it was a Sunday) after the lessons and the tract, having dismissed the catechumens, I explained the creed (symbolum tradebam) to some of the competents (people about to be baptized) in the baptistry of the basilica. There I was told suddenly that they had sent soldiers to the Portiana basilica. . . . But I remained at my place and began to say Mass (missam facere coepi). While I offer (dum ofero), I hear that a certain Castulus has been seized by the people” (Epistle., I, xx, 4-5).
It will be noticed that missa here means the Eucharistic Service proper, the Liturgy of the Faithful only, and does not include that of the Catechumens. St. Ambrose used the word as one in common use and well known. The use of that term during St. Ambrose’s time does not mean that the celebration only started in that period. The celebration has its origin since the apostolic age. But how come? Did the apostles also celebrate the holy Mass?
Remember that in the first century, the celebration was known as the Breaking of Bread which was taken from its very act — to break bread. In the Emmaus account (Luke 24:13-35), there were two disciples travelling to a village named Emmaus shortly after the women from the tomb had proclaimed to them that Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus appeared to them, but they did not recognize Him. Jesus conversed with them about the scriptures and then broke bread with them. It was only after breaking bread with them that the two disciples recognized Him whereupon he vanished. It is here that the two disciples say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And then they run back to Jerusalem and tell everyone how Jesus was revealed to them in the breaking of the bread. Jesus emphasized in this action that it is through the breaking of bread that He can be recognized.
After our Lord’s ascension, His followers did not simply treated the breaking of bread as a mere ritual but with a more profound devotion to it. In the Acts of the Apostles, it reads: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). In the 20th chapter it reads: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). Thus, it is very clear that the first-century Christians did not gather on the first day of the week just to fully study the scriptures but to devote themselves to the breaking of bread.
St. Paul reminded the faithful:
“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 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” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Hence, the very words of St. Paul explicitly showed that the Church did not invent the celebration of the Breaking of Bread but it was handed down to her as a sacred Tradition by the apostles. Jesus Himself commanded His disciples to do it in remembrance of Him (cf. Luke 22:19). But how did the early Christians celebrate the Breaking of the Bread?
In the First Apology of St. Justin of Flavia Neapolis (100-165 AD), early Christian writer and martyr, addressed to the Roman Emperor Titus Ælius Adrianus Antoninus Pius Augustus Cæsar and to the entire Roman Empire, he wrote:
“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.” (1 Apologia, lxv)
In chapter 65, St. Justin Martyr says that the kiss of peace was given before the bread and the wine mixed with water were brought to “the president of the brethren.” The language used was doubtless Greek, except in particular for the Hebrew word “Amen“, whose meaning Justin explains in Greek (γένοιτο), saying that by it “all the people present express their assent” when the president of the brethren “has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings.”
Also, in Chapter 66 of St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology, he described the change (explained to be transubstantiation) which occurs on the altar: “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Saviour was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology lxvi:1–20 [AD 148]).
The descriptions of the Mass liturgy in Rome by St. Hippolytus (died c. 235) and Novatian (died c. 250) are similar to St. Justin’s. See its similarity in the present Mass? The Church truly possesses the deposit of true Christian worship.
Now, would you hesitate participating in the holy sacrifice of the Mass?
“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Truly, the Holy Mass is not an invention of the Holy Catholic Church but handed down by the apostles in accordance with the commandment of Christ: “Do this in memory of me.”
In the Old Testament, the levitical sacrifices of the children of Israel were usually done through burnt offerings [(Hebrew — Olah) Leviticus 1:3-17; 6:8-13]. But, “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come — one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law” (Hebrew 7:11-12). Again, the order of priesthood that has in effect for Christians is no longer in the order of Aaron but of Melchizedek.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Consequently, how is sacrifice made in the order of Melchizedek? In Genesis 14:18, it reads: “Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine, for he was the priest of the most high God.” And Christ, being a priest after the order of Melchizedek, offered His Body and Blood as a sacrifice for the atonement of sins; yet before His passion and crucifixion, He said in the Last Supper account that the bread is His Body and the wine is His blood (cf. Matthew 26:26-28) and commanded His apostles to do it in memory of Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). This is what the Holy Catholic Church does — to offer the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. Where? Hebrew 13:10 says: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” Indeed, the sacrifice is offered in the altar from which the levitical priests have no more right to eat.
The Holy Catholic Church holds all of these — the manners of the New Testament sacrifice in the priesthood of Christ after the order of Melchizedek. The Holy Mass is absolutely patterned in the heavenly Sacrifice offered by the eternal Most High Priest, Jesus Christ our Lord.