The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
by Scott Hahn
This was one of the books that got me reading in greater earnest. I didn’t have any idea then about Scott Hahn or his story and I was taken by his tale of his first Mass:
As the Mass moved on… something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before me—in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, “Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!”
This kind of reaction to the Mass both saddens yet amuses me because it makes me wonder what exactly people think we are doing at Mass. A more important question, of course, is how we Catholics understand it ourselves, and it was enlightening to read of it in relation to the Book of Revelation.
Right there at his first Mass, Hahn understood that the focus of Mass is Jesus, the “Lamb of God” of John’s Gospel and Who is mentioned 28 times in Revelation. Several Masses along, he recognised in the liturgy more elements of the Bible, especially from Revelation. His book explains this link and it is the fruit of his years of study of Revelation and liturgy, and his coming to the Catholic faith.
Hahn emphasises that the early Church Fathers were the first to explain the relationship between Revelation and Mass. For them, Revelation was “incomprehensible apart from the liturgy”. In the Jewish worship of the Old Testament, Israel prayed “in imitation of the angels” but in the Mass, we worship “together with the angels” (Rev 19:10), as stated in the Preface, and then done when singing Holy, Holy, Holy and in the Eucharistic prayers, hence his view of the Mass as “heaven on earth”.
He acknowledges the “futuristic” sense of Revelation but focuses on how Revelation is relevant to us in the here and now of Mass. On one level, Revelation looks to the parousia (“coming” of Christ; original meaning in Greek – “presence”), the new Jerusalem, and new heaven and earth. At the same time, it also points to Jesus’ “real and abiding presence”, nowhere more “real and abiding” than in the Mass.
A historical nugget recorded by St. Epiphanius was about Hadrian’s arrival in Jerusalem in 130AD. Jerusalem was “still in ruins” and what was left standing were “a few houses” as well as “the little church of God on the spot where the disciples went to the upper room”. The upper room, believed to be the scene of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, had survived the sack of Jerusalem (70AD)…
One of Hahn’s perspectives is of Revelation as a “courtroom scene”, with God as judge and Jerusalem on trial, and the angels helping to “execute” God’s judgment in some clearly liturgical scenes. Every time we attend Mass, we find ourselves within this judgment scene.
The Mass also mirrors the structure of Revelation. The first 11 chapters contain the “proclamation” of the letters to the churches and the opening of the scroll, with the word “repent” appearing eight times in the first three chapters. This is reflected in the Penitential Rite and the Liturgy of the Word in the first part of Mass. From Chapter 11 onwards, we are brought to God’s Temple and move towards the climactic ending of the marriage supper of the Lamb, reflected in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Here is part of his list showing that “the golden thread of liturgy is what holds together the apocalyptic pearls of John’s vision”.
|an altar||8:3-4; 11:1; 14:18|
|priests (presbyteroi)||4:4; 11:15; 14:3; 19:4|
|vestments||1:13; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9; 15:6; 19:3-14|
|lamp stands (Menorah)||1:12; 2:5|
|penitence||Chp 2 & 3|
|the book, or scroll||5:1|
|the Eucharistic Host||2:17|
|chalices||15:7; Chp 16; 21:9|
|the Alleluia||19:1, 3, 4, 6|
|Holy Holy Holy||4:8|
|Lamb of God||5:6 and throughout|
|intercession of angels and saints||5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3-4|
|antiphonal chant||4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:10-12; 18:1-8|
|readings from Scripture||Chp 2-3; 5; 8:2-11|
|the priesthood of the faithful||1:6; 20:6|
|the marriage supper of the Lamb||19:9, 17|
Indeed, at every Mass, our Lord says:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20)
Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)
♫ Makes me think of Behold the Lamb