Sacrifice or Fellowship Meal?

“But Father, the Mass is like the Last Supper when we all gather around Jesus in a fellowship meal! That’s why the priest should face the people–because it’s like we’re all sitting around the family dinner table with Jesus.”

It’s easy to see how this thinking came about, and within the “spirit of Vatican 2″ it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that the Mass is essentially a fellowship meal and a re-enactment of the Last Supper. However, this is not the case.

The remembering of the Last Supper takes place within the two liturgies of Holy Thursday. The Chrism Mass commemorates the establishment of the priesthood and apostolic ministry in the church. This is why the holy oils are blessed at the Chrism Mass and the priests and deacons re-affirm their vows of service.

That evening the church gathers to celebrate the memorial of the Last Supper–the institution of the Eucharist and the sharing of the apostolic ministry amongst the faithful. This is why the foot washing takes place at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening rather than at the Chrism Mass. The priests, having affirmed their vows of service earlier in the day at the Chrism Mass, come back to their parishes and share that apostolic ministry with the people of God. The symbolic foot washing links their apostolic ministry with the bishop and their people in the parish.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper is the one commemoration of the Lord’s Supper in the liturgical year. The regular daily and weekly masses, while they may echo the Last Supper, are not primarily a commemoration of the Last Supper. The Mass is first and foremost a commemoration of Calvary. Through the holy sacrifice of the Mass the one, full, final sacrifice of Christ, both priest and victim, is brought into the present moment and it’s eternal benefits are applied to our needs here and now.

When we go to Mass therefore, we stand at the foot of the cross, we do not sit down with Jesus at the Last Supper. To be sure, the Mass is a “fellowship meal” but it is a ritual meal into which the Jewish Passover is echoed and  the sacrifice of Calvary is made present. The Last Supper was the bridge between these two–a bridge between the Passover and the death of Christ the Lord.

Why does this matter? For several reasons: first of all, if the Mass is a fellowship meal it is easy to forget the importance of the sacrifice of Our Lord. Is it any mistake that in Catholic churches where the emphasis is on the fellowship meal that the crucifix is often small in size, relegated to a side position, replaced with a resurrected Lord or absent completely?

When the emphasis is on the fellowship meal too often the emphasis of worship shifts from Christ the Lord and his once for all sacrifice for the sins of the world and moves to us, our fellowship, our feelings and all the good things we are going to do next week. This shift makes our worship people centered not Christ centered, and the iconography, architecture, liturgy, music and everything else soon reflects this fundamental shift from Christ-centered worship to ‘people centered worship’ and this soon slides into worship of ourselves instead of God.

Finally, the shift to fellowship meal rather than the sacrifice of the Mass reduces the sense of reverence. If it is all about us and our community then what is the need for reverence in worship? If it is a fellowship meal the church becomes our house not God’s temple. The mood is therefore one of the campfire, the shared picnic or the family reunion.

The ironic thing is, that when we focus on the sacrifice of the Mass we, in the end, get the fellowship we desire as well. As we face the altar together we are drawn togethers. As we focus on the same eternal beloved we come to regard one another as beloved. As we move to the same destination we also move closer to one another. Like lines from different starting points converging we come together in a mystical communion which is far more profound and eternal than an enjoyable, but earthly fellowship.

 

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Bill

    Fr. Dwight,
    I thought every Mass was a Commeration of the Lord’s Last Supper???

  • Darren O.

    OK, sorry, I don’t quite get it. Is the problem situated in confusing the fact that He said “This is my body…” & “This is my blood… Do this in memory of me.” at the Last Supper vs. His intent to have it be about the sacrifice He was about to make?
    If the emphasis is placed upon the Last Supper, you get a fellowship meal. If the emphasis is placed upon His sacrifice on the cross being all of a piece from Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday, you get… what do you get?

  • http://oldbob44.blogspot.com Bob Wirth

    If I remember rightly, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal, in itself a ritual commanded by God. Jesus had the authority to change it, and did, establishing the New Covenant on the Old.

  • Matthew

    Fr. L.:
    I would disagree with your reading of the foot-washing ceremony. You seem to see this primarily as an affirmation of service to the people, in general. If you are correct than it makes no sense that the Church would restrict this to men, which she in fact does. The problem seems to be some uncertainity as to the primary meaning of the foot-washing ceremony. Is it primarly a re-enactment of what Christ did which would include the sharing in priestly apostolic service OR is it to be understood more generally in the sense that as Christians we are to be the servants of all?
    It is worth noting that the addition of the foot-washing ceremony to the evening Mass of Holy Thursday is a 20th Century invention – 1955 to be precise. Prior to this the foot-washing ceremony was, I believe optional, and done as a separate ceremony by the bishop at the cathedral with 12 of his priests. This of course is a much better symbolism – the bishop as High Priest and his co-workers in the presbyterate.
    Matthew

  • teomatteo

    It wasn’t until i attended an EF (latin mass) and went forward for communion that I understood the communal meal. I’ll never forget sneaking a glance down the communion rail as i knelt there. Shoulder to shoulder. Communion. Then it hit me: on the other side of the rail/table were those in heaven. St. Thomas, next to him my Aunt, my little sister shoulder to shoulder. The Church Triumphant. It was then that i experienced more fully the mass. It seems strange that VatII emphasized the meal nature if the mass and then ripped the comm. rails out of the churches….

  • Jack

    From my reading of the OT, I don’t see how sacrifices and meals are opposed.

    With the exception of whole burnt offerings, the offerers were supposed to consume part of the sacrificed victim at a sacred meal: “eaten before the Lord”, as the KJV puts it.

  • Doug

    A non-Catholic with some knowledge of doctrines and such, I’m sometimes confused by RC member blogs. Like this one, for example.
    I know that a big difference between Catholicism and “reformation” churches is the RC belief that Jesus’ body and blood are present in the bread and wine. Thus I can’t understand the use of a post titled “Sacrifice or Fellowship Meal?”. Doesn’t it have to be a sacrifice? As Jack puts it, “the offerers were supposed to consume part of the sacrificed victim at a sacred meal”.
    Can someone clarify?

    • savvy

      Doug,

      Yes, it is sacrifice and thanksgiving. Fr. Longenecker is making the point that there are people who tend to leave out or downplay the sacrifice.

      A lot of Catholics do not even understand sacramental theology.

      It’s not considered trendy, in a world that has lost it’s sanity.

      • Doug

        Thanks, [Ms] Savvy.
        Even if they ‘leave out’ the sacrifice (I think you mean they aren’t aware of it) then the sacrificial part is still there. That depends on the ceremony, whether or not one is trans-, con-, or Commemorative only. Are these ones considered to be still under the [original] sacrifice? That is, are they still acceptably Christians? (Lu 22:19,20,29,30)

        “A lot of Catholics do not even understand sacramental theology.” So I have found. And I recall a Protestant woman who talked about the “Immaculate Conception”, thinking it had to do with Jesus’ sinless birth. :-) My first wife was a Catholic, and because of the required attendance at a prenuptial class on my part (which I enjoyed) I ended up knowing more about doctrine than she and many others did.

        “a world that has lost it’s sanity” Indeed. Wouldn’t that be a good time to start ‘sane’ teachings of these folks, via your Cathechism or Bible study or something?

  • savvy

    Father,

    Thank You for this post. But, could you also address the question of Christ as bridegroom and the church as bride. The statement often made is that if a man is required to represent the Bridegroom, why is a woman not required to represent the bride, since men are also part of the church.

    • Doug

      Recall that God’s prophets often referred to the nation of Israel as His wife; one who committed ‘serial adulteries’ in fact. Since He divorced her (Jer 31:31 ff.; Mt 23:37,38) there must be a new bride- a virgin- available at the Apocalyptic wedding. There is: “For I am jealous of you [pl.] with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ”, and “These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.” 2 Cor 11:4; Rev 14:4,5, Douay
      We know, of course, that “you” and “these are they” includes female as well as male saints, but as a group they are males. (As are mixed groups in most gendered languages.)
      Does this help?

  • Al Bergstrazer

    Interesting, I wasn’t aware that there were crypto-Calvinists in Catholocism.

    • savvy

      You mean there are crypto-Catholics in Calvinism?

      • Al Bergstrazer

        Being neither, I wouldn’t know, but Fr. Longenecker’s term ‘spirit of Vatican 2″ to me inferred that changes in the mass have led to treating the eucharist as if Christ were not present. That is, the calvinistic notion that Christ cannot be in the Lord’s supper because he now sits at the right hand of the father.

        • savvy

          Nobody I know treats the Eucharist this way. Perhaps in ultra-liberal circles.

          But, yes the focus has diminished, from being Christ-centered to being people centred in many places.

  • Matthew the Wayfarer

    In proper keeping of the season and Holy Week esp. the Triduum.

    http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2012/04/cardinal-ranjith-to-his-clergy.html

  • Gail Finke

    I thought this was an interesting way to explain the difference, and one that makes sense to me. Once a year we specifically commemorate the Last Supper, and the fact that we have a special liturgy to do so indicates that all the other liturgies may be said to refer to it but are not primarily meant to commemorate it.

  • Kate

    Hi. I posted what I thought was a well-reasoned respectful reply to this post yesterday. I saw it post. I even saw my comment registered in the sidebar as a recent response. When I went back to see if there were any replies and what the further discussion might be, I noticed that the post had entirely disappeared. Now, I will assume in good faith that this is somehow a mistake and happened unwittingly or inadvertently because it is hard to imagine that it was a deliberately chosen action to avoid my questions and issues. It’s hard for me not to assume the latter, because unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened to me, although it is the first on this blog and at this particular site. If it is the latter, I am just disappointed, promise not to let the door hit me on the way out and will refrain from commenting. Fair enough? Many thanks for your attention to this, because I know stuff like this can be hard to read; criticism usually is. Anyway, I do have a high regard and respect for you, your work here and in the Church. I’ll just take care not to disagree with you in public again.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You may be a new commenter to this blog. From time to time I post guidelines for my combox. One is that comments should not be too long. Yours was very long. If you want to post a more concise comment I’m more than happy to hear your point of view.

  • Kate

    Fair enough. I did work fairly hard on that so was a bit frustrated because I didn’t save it. But that’s my issue. I saw your other post above and completely agree with you and apologize for contributing to your frustration. Thanks so very much for responding and explaining. I really appreciate it. Not sure if I will be able to make it short and sweet so I think I’ll just let it go. To be honest, the post’s subject is something I’ve worked through for myself and let go because neither the issue or rubrics are going to change anyway. I also really appreciate your efforts to explain things I struggle with very hard to accept but have just decided to live and let live. It’s not worth fighting. I have enough in my own life to handle. Best wishes and may God bless you this Holy Week, Triduum and Eastertide.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thank you for your courteous reply, and I hope to hear more from you here on the blog.

  • Diakonos

    Thank you for your post and welcome to your new onlIne home

    We Deacons here, do not have a renewal of loyalty

    It would be nice if the Church universal would do so

    Peace

  • Marie

    Father Longenecker,
    Thank you for this explanation. Until reading this I couldn’t put my finger on what bothered me about our priest saying we are gathering around the table together, eating the last meal with Jesus. Now I understand. Many of the “results” you have written about are present in the church I attend: no permanent crucifix, focus is on community fellowship, lack of reverence…. It saddens me, but as this is the only option for Mass within a several-hour radius, I attend and worship as best I can “at the foot of the cross.” Thank you again. I will keep you in my prayers.

  • fxr2

    Thank You Father!

    We Catholics are spiritual Semites, and sacrifice is the essence of the Mass, our Lamb of God! I only wish the NO offertory made that more clear. Good and holy priests like you make the sacrifice clear in the manner they celebrate mass and through catechesis.

    Thank you again,

    FXR2

  • John Gallagher

    Well Father I believe both aspects of Gods Love,namely The Crucifiction and The Eucharest are dual aspects of Gods Love for us ; we move forward in Faith as more and more of Gods Love(The General Law from which theology works backwards) is revealed to mankind;as St.Paul states ‘converts to the Faith must be fed on milk’ in preparation for more substantial foods.Rather like the new born baby fed on mothers special milk.
    St.Thomas More & St.John Fisher would have been amazed not to see The Rood Screen in a Church -now they are few and far between.Vatican 2 is but the latest ‘deductive step’ made by the Church which as Blessed John H.Newman states must ever change ‘to be made perfect’(or words to that effect)When Christ broke bread as the Ultimate High Priest he faced the Apostles and surely the Priest of today can do no better than face the congregation and speak a language they understand – Jesus reaches out to touch mankind :This is my Body;This is my Blood.Our ultimate leap of Faith uncomprehensible to Science and The World

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