What Jesus Did, And What We Do
The Institution Narrative and Consecration recall what Jesus did at the Last Supper – and what the worshipping assembly is doing here and now in his memory. The words of Institution used in the Eucharistic Prayer are worded differently from the words found in the New Testament. The reason for this is that the Eucharist (called the “Breaking of Bread”) was celebrated long before the Gospel writers and St. Paul recorded the Last Supper event.
At the time of Jesus, the words over the bread and the wine did not immediately follow each other as they now do in the Eucharistic Prayers. The words over the bread were spoken at the beginning of the Last Supper. The bread was immediately broken and shared as a sign of unity with one another. Since we do not share the bread immediately after these words today, the bread is not broken at this point of the Mass. The Passover meal followed the words over the bread. After the Passover lamb and the meal were eaten, the third cup of blessing was offered with prayers of grace. Jesus spoke the words “This is the cup of my Blood” over the third cup. The one cup of blessing was then shared with all participants at the Passover Meal.
This separation of the words over the bread and the cup was most likely the practice in the early Church. Between these blessings, Christians enjoyed a “pot luck” meal. Chapter 11 of St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians is titled “Problems in Liturgical Assemblies” (according to the New American Bible). Paul takes the Corinthians to task for abuses at the Lord’s Supper:
“In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church, there are divisions among you… in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed? …when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home…” (1 Cor 11:17-33).
These abuses eventually led to discontinuing the meal with the Eucharist. When this happened, the words over the bread and the cup were brought together. As early as 150 A.D., we find this to be the custom as St. Justin Martyr describes: “Then bread and a cup of water and wine mixed are brought to the one presiding over the brethren. He takes it, gives praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and gives thanks at length for the gifts that we were worthy to receive from Him. When he has finished the prayers and thanksgiving, the whole crowd standing by cries out in agreement, “Amen”. The words over the cup state “After the meal was ended….”
Since Vatican Council II, the Church has added the Memorial Acclamation. There are three in the new liturgy: “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again;” “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again;” and, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.” The Memorial Acclamation allows for greater participation by the people.
Father Sauer continues his look at the Mass in the Nov. 3 issue of The Message.