The Lamb’s Supper

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The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth
by Scott Hahn
(Doubleday, 1999)

 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
incense 5:8; 8:3-5
the book, or scroll 5:1
the Eucharistic Host 2:17
chalices 15:7; Chp 16; 21:9
the Gloria 15:3-4
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)

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Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:20)

♫ Makes me think of Behold the Lamb

Lord, Have Mercy

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Lord, Have Mercy
by Scott Hahn
(St Pauls, 2009; first published by Doubleday, 2003)

Confession is often mocked or misunderstood. Just look at how the confessional is portrayed in shows – such as when people use the confessional to pour out their troubles (rather than to make their confession), or when it is used as a hiding place (so if I’m the bad guy, I’d head straight for the confessional to look for the person I’m chasing!) or a convenient place to dump a dead body.

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This book gives a comprehensive overview of it for anyone who needs to explain confession, or who wants to understand the sacrament better. It covers:

  • Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
  • Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
  • Jesus’ instructions and teaching

Sin, its consequences and making reparation for our sins
We know we have to try to “be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) but invariably we sin. One big consequence is that “sins engender other sins, not only in the sinner but in others as well”. Our perfect heavenly Father provides the way for us to recognise, admit and renounce our sins, and then to repair the damage they cause.

Confessing, penance and reconciliation in the Old Testament
Right from the start, God gently guided the earliest sinners, to show them how they could be healed. His questions gave Adam, Eve and Cain the opportunity to confess and repent but they didn’t and so faced the consequences of their sins.

By the time of the Covenants, there were specific guidelines for confessing one’s sins and making reparations. Acts of sacrifice, fasting, sackcloth, ashes and open weeping showed that while turning away from sin was an individual’s response and responsibility, the public process, “humbling and costly” though it may be, as well as the intercession of the priest were also necessary.

The New Testament era did not do away with this, as Jesus did not come to “replace something bad with something good”.  He came to “take something already great and holy… and bring it to divine fulfilment.”

Jesus’ instructions and teaching
Some points explained in the book:
Binding and loosing
The apostles would have understood what Jesus meant, in their Jewish context. This referred to the authority of priests of the past to “bind” and “loose” – to “judge someone to be in communion with the chosen people or cut off from that group’s life and worship”.

“Do not sin again”
When Jesus forgave and healed sinners, He told them “do not sin again” (such as in John 8:11), which Hahn calls His “absolution”. This “renews” the sinner and restores him/her to the community and it is also an exhortation to turn away from sin.  Thus, as we keep sinning, we need to keep coming back to Jesus for forgiveness and healing.

Reconciliation-related stories
The story of the prodigal son and the last moments of the good thief show God reaching out to sinners “while they are still on the road to true contrition”.

In the story of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14), the only guest who was thrown out was the one did not wear his wedding garment – the one who was not properly ready for the feast.

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The sacrament of Reconciliation invites us to prepare for the wedding feast of the Lamb. It could be helpful to start with reminding ourselves of what confession is all about, then regularly do our examination of conscience (a version based on the Ten Commandments is included in the appendix) and finally step into the confessional. Our merciful God waits for us.

♫ Makes me think of Loving and Forgiving