Definition: As stated by the Sacred Congregation of Rites of the Roman Catholic Church, the Mass is “—A sacrifice in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated; —A memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, who said ‘do this in memory of me’ (Luke 22:19); —A sacred banquet in which, through the communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the People of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice, renew the New Covenant which God has made with man once for all through the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope foreshadow and anticipate the eschatological banquet in the kingdom of the Father, proclaiming the Lord’s death ‘till His coming.’” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, May 25, 1967) It is the Catholic Church’s way of doing what they understand that Jesus Christ did at the Last Supper.
Are the bread and the wine actually changed into Christ’s body and blood?
In a “Solemn Profession of Faith” on June 30, 1968, Pope Paul VI declared: “We believe that as the bread and wine consecrated by the Lord at the Last Supper were changed into His Body and His Blood which were to be offered for us on the cross, so the bread and wine consecrated by the priest are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ enthroned gloriously in heaven, and We believe that the mysterious presence of the Lord, under the appearance of those elements which seem to our senses the same after as before the Consecration, is a true, real and substantial presence. . . . This mysterious change is very appropriately called by the Church transubstantiation.” (Official Catholic Teachings—Christ Our Lord, Wilmington, N.C.; 1978, Amanda G. Watlington, p. 411) Do the Holy Scriptures agree with that belief?
What did Jesus mean when he said, “This is my body,” “This is my blood”?
Matt. 26:26-29, JB: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. ‘Take it and eat;’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them. ‘Drink all of you from this,’ he said ‘for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.’”
Regarding the expressions “this is my body” and “this is my blood,” the following is noteworthy: Mo reads, “it means my body,” “this means my blood.” (Italics added.) NW reads similarly. LEF renders the expressions, “this represents my body,” “this represents my blood.” (Italics added.) These renderings agree with what is stated in the context, in verse 29, in various Catholic editions. Kx reads: “I shall not drink of this fruit of the vine again, until I drink it with you, new wine, in the kingdom of my Father.” (Italics added.) CC, NAB, Dy also show Jesus referring to what was in the cup as being “this fruit of the vine,” and that was after Jesus had said, “This is my blood.”
Consider the expressions “this is my body” and “this is my blood” in the light of other vivid language used in the Scriptures. Jesus also said, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the gate of the sheepfold,” “I am the true vine.” (John 8:12; 10:7; 15:1, JB) None of these expressions implied a miraculous transformation, did they?
At 1 Corinthians 11:25 (JB), the apostle Paul wrote concerning the Last Supper and expressed the same ideas in slightly different words. Instead of quoting Jesus as saying regarding the cup, “Drink all of you from this . . . for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant,” he worded it in this way: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Surely that did not mean that the cup was somehow miraculously transformed into the new covenant. Is it not more reasonable to conclude that what was in the cup represented Jesus’ blood by means of which the new covenant was validated?
What did Jesus mean by his statement at John 6:53-57?
“Jesus replied: ‘I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.’”—John 6:53-57, JB.
Is this to be understood as meaning that they were literally to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood? If so, Jesus would have been advocating a violation of the Law that God had given Israel through Moses. That Law prohibited the consuming of any sort of blood. (Lev. 17:10-12) Contrary to advocating such a thing, Jesus spoke out strongly against breaking any of the requirements of the Law. (Matt. 5:17-19) So what Jesus had in mind must have been eating and drinking in a figurative sense, by exercising faith in the value of his perfect human sacrifice.—Compare John 3:16; 4:14; 6:35, 40.
Did Jesus instruct his disciples to have not merely a memorial of his death but a rite that would actually renew his sacrifice?
According to The Documents of Vatican II: “At the Last Supper, on the night when He was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of His Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross . . . ”—(New York, 1966), edited by W. M. Abbott, S.J., p. 154; italics added.
The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “The Church intends the Mass to be regarded as a ‘true and proper sacrifice’ . . . The chief source of our doctrine, however, is tradition, which from the earliest times declares the impetratory value of the Sacrifice of the Mass.”—(1913), Vol. X, pp. 6, 17.
Jesus himself said: “Do this as a memorial of me.” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24, JB) At Luke 22:19, Kx and Dy read: “Do this for a commemoration of me.” NAB reads: “Do this as a remembrance of me.” Jesus did not say that what he did at the Last Supper was a sacrifice of himself or that his disciples were to renew his sacrifice.
Heb. 9:25-28, JB: “He does not have to offer himself again and again, like the [Jewish] high priest going into the sanctuary year after year with the blood that is not his own, or else he would have had to suffer over and over again since the world began. Instead of that, he has made his appearance once and for all . . . to do away with sin by sacrificing himself. Since men only die once, and after that comes judgement, so Christ, too, offers himself only once.” (Italics added.)
Is it all simply “an unfathomable mystery”?
The Bible does refer to divine mysteries, or sacred secrets. But none of these conflict with clearly stated Scriptural truths. Concerning those who put their traditions ahead of the Scriptures, Jesus said: “Hypocrites! It was you Isaiah meant when he so rightly prophesied: This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless; the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.”—Matt. 15:7-9, JB.
Did Jesus mean for this memorial to be kept perhaps every day or every week?
Basic Catechism says: “Special Duties of Catholic Christians” include “participating in Mass every Sunday and holyday of obligation.” (Boston, 1980, p. 21) “The faithful are in fact encouraged to participate in the Mass and to receive Communion frequently, even daily.”—The Teaching of Christ—A Catholic Catechism for Adults, Abridged Edition (Huntington, Ind.; 1979), p. 281.
Do all Scriptural references to “breaking of bread” indicate that Christ’s death was being commemorated? (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, JB) Jesus ‘broke bread’ when food was being shared at a meal even before the Last Supper. (Mark 6:41; 8:6) The bread used by the Jews at that time was not what many people are accustomed to today. When eating it, they would often break or tear off a piece.
Jesus did not specifically state how often the Memorial of his death was to be kept. However, he instituted it on the date of the Jewish Passover, which was replaced among his disciples by the Memorial of Christ’s death. The Passover was an annual event, celebrated on Nisan 14. Similarly, the Jewish Festival of Unfermented Cakes, the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost), the Festival of Booths, or Ingathering, and the Day of Atonement were all held once a year.
Does the saying of Mass bring relief to souls in purgatory?
The Teaching of Christ—A Catholic Catechism for Adults states: “The word ‘purgatory’ is not in the Bible, nor is the doctrine of purgatory explicitly taught there. . . . The works of the Fathers have many references not only to the existence of purgatory, but also the fact that the faithful departed can be helped by the prayers of the living, especially by the Sacrifice of the Mass.”—Pp. 347, 348.
Regarding the condition of the dead, the Holy Scriptures say: “The living know at least that they will die, the dead know nothing.” (Eccl. 9:5, JB) “The soul [“soul,” Kx; “man,” JB] that sinneth, the same shall die.” (Ezek. 18:4, Dy) (See also pages 100-102, under the heading “Death.”)