For those Christians among us who attend weekly Sunday Mass or Divine Liturgy, do you ever wonder when the first Sunday Mass or Liturgy was celebrated? Did the early Church record the day when it was first celebrated? It seems not to have been recorded in any log or ledger that anybody talks about. One would think that the first time our weekly Mass happened would be documented somehow. I will propose that this is. In scripture. And how may surprise you, as well as help you witness to those that question the practice as unscriptual or even question the move of the Lord’s day from Saturday to the first day of the week: Sunday.
Let’s begin with the recounting of the resurrection in scripture [my comments are in brackets; scripture references are from the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition but any version can be used for this discussion]:
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week [Sunday], Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulcher.
And very early on the first day of the week [Sunday], they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.
1 Now on the first day of the week [Sunday] Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week [Sunday], the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you…[The reader familiar with the Liturgy, should recognize this as the greeting from the priest at the beginning of the Mass.]
26 Eight days later [Sunday], his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.”
But on the first day of the week [Sunday], at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb,…13 That very day [Sunday] two of them were going to a village named Emma′us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. ..27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. … 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” 33 And they rose that same hour [still Sunday] and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
36 As they were saying this [still Sunday], Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 …41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them.
… 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.”
We then find that this Sunday practice continues after the ascension via the apostles:
41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17
15 I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
7 On the first day of the week[Sunday], when we were gathered together to break bread,Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered.
1 Corinthians 16:1-3
16 Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week [Sunday], each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, …
20 When you meet together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So we can summarize a pattern of the post-resurrection story as follows. Jesus appears to his disciples in the context of a meal on Sundays, often with the greeting “Peace be with you”. He appears with his glorified wounds. This is the same presentation and context of the timeless Sunday liturgy. The first Mass was then on Resurrection Sunday. The second, one week later, and so on, until His ascension to the Father. During this time He no doubt enlightens the apostles on this practice, who then continue the practice on Sunday’s after the ascension, until this day. They stand in His place, to offer the meal.
Could this be one of several layered meanings to Jesus’ encounter with Mary Magdalene at the tomb:
John 20 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo′ni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
In His answer, is Jesus is stating that the opportunity for those who seek him to physical hold, consume, love, and adore Him will come after He ascends to Father, after which He Himself, in the consecrated meal, will be physically offered by the apostles (priests) to the faithful more universally?
This is also demonstrated in the John 21’s recounting of Jesus’ encounter with the apostles on the beach. He calls them ashore, feeds them, and instructs them (Peter) to then feed His sheep if he loves Him:
12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” …
In a remarkable consistency, the feeding of the multitudes also alludes to the commission for the apostles to feed the sheep after Jesus’ resurrection. The apostles distribute the meals. Then Jesus instructs them to leave while He visits the crowd. Jesus then walks on water to catch up with the apostles:
Matthew 14 22 Then he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he [Jesus] dismissed the crowds…25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.
The walking on the water can symbolize the resurrected Jesus. A stretch? Maybe, but look at how the apostles react when the resurrected Jesus appears to them in the upper room :
Luke 24 36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.”37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit.
There you have it. The Sunday Mass is alluded to in the in the narrative of the gospel. It begins on resurrection Sunday and Sundays after that with Jesus present before the ascension, and continues to this day on Sundays after He ascended into heaven.
Peace be with you.