Mass and Holy Communion

Celebrating the Last Supper

Photo by Jonathunder available through Creative CommonsThe most important religious service for Christians is known as the mass, the eucharist or holy communion. It commemorates the Last Supper which Jesus had with his disciples before his crucifixion. During this supper, Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine and told them that, in future, the taking of bread and wine should be a commemoration of the sacrifice of his body and blood which he was about to make by being crucified.

In Shakespeare's day, everyone in England would have been expected to attend church each Sunday, and to take holy communion regularly, especially at the great festivals of the Church such as Christmas, Easter and Whit Sunday (also called Pentecost). For further detail see Big ideas: Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass.


It is noticeable in Hamlet that the term ‘mass' with this meaning is used twice by Polonius, and both times lightly or even blasphemously—

‘By the mass, I was about to say something' (Act I scene i)


‘By th' mass, and 'tis like a camel indeed' (Act III scene ii)

and also by the gravedigger:

‘Mass, I cannot tell' (Act V scene i)

suggesting perhaps that religious observances at the court of Denmark are little regarded.

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