Bread of Life

BREAD OF LIFE
 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. (john 6: 50)
The miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Jesus Christ celebrated the first Mass with His disciples at the Last Supper, the night before He died. He commanded His disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). The celebration of the Mass then became the main form of worship in the early Church, as a reenactment of the Last Supper, as Christ had commanded. Each and every Mass since commemorates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross through the Holy Eucharist. Because the Mass “re-presents” (makes present) the sacrifice on Calvary, Catholics all around the world join together to be made present in Christ’s timeless sacrifice for our sins. There is something fascinating about continuing to celebrate the same Mass—instituted by Christ and practiced by the early Church—with the whole community of Catholics around the world…and in heaven.

THE REAL PRESENCE

Why does the Catholic Church believe Christ is really present in the Eucharist?
The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” - John 6:48-56
Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago!

This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

THE LAST SUPPER AND THE CROSS

Most Christians know that the Last Supper, the first Eucharist, was a Passover meal and that Jesus is “our paschal lamb… [who] has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). While this is true, the full meaning of the Last Supper is lost to most readers. Jesus’ sacrifice was not only the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover, but it was actually part of the Passover meal he celebrated with His apostles the night before. Knowing this, we can show from Jesus’ words at the Last Supper that He intended to institute the Mass and the Eucharist.

The Missing Cup

To fully understand the Last Supper, we must first understand the four-fold structure of the Jewish Passover. It is worth quoting in full a passage from Catholic for a Reason 3:

The first movement began with a festal blessing of the day and the passing around of the first cup of wine (the qiddush cup). This was followed by a preliminary course of green herbs, bitter herbs, and haroset. The second movement included the retelling of the Passover story, the singing of the first Hallel hymn—either Psalm 113 or Psalms 113 and 114 together—and the drinking of the second cup (the haggadah cup). The third movement was the heart of the celebration—the main meal. It began with the blessing of unleavened bread and continued with a feast of lamb, unleavened bread, and more bitter herbs. After dinner, participants shared the third cup of wine (the berakah cup). The fourth movement ended the festivities with the chanting of the final Hallel Psalm and a blessing over the final cup (the hallel cup).1

With this in mind, we can place the Last Supper narratives within the context of the Passover meal. Luke places the consecration of the wine “after supper” (Luke 22:20), the third movement, after which Jesus and the apostles sing the final Hallel Psalm (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26). Thus, the only thing left to do was to share the final cup, which they did right before they left, right? Wrong. Scripture tells us that “[w]hen they had sung the [final Hallel] hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26:30). So where did the fourth cup go?

The Lamb of God

To answer this question, we must read the previous verse, in which Jesus says, “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Protestants often use this verse to argue against the Catholic belief in the Real Presence, claiming that by calling the Eucharistic cup “fruit of the vine,” Jesus indicated that it was still wine. However, this is based on a cursory reading of the text in isolation, but a deeper reading of what Scripture says about the Last Supper and Jesus’ sacrifice reveals a much more profound meaning.

In Gethsemane, Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). He refers to His upcoming suffering as a cup, possibly referring to the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51:17, Jeremiah 25:15). However, I believe that there is also a deeper meaning; this has something to do with the wine that Jesus will drink “that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

In Mark 15:23, Roman soldiers offer Jesus “wine mixed with myrrh,” but He refuses, presumably because it is not yet “that day.” Then, in Mark 15:36, “someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him [Jesus] to drink,” but we are not told if He accepted it or not. Since it was not yet “that day,” we can assume that He refused, right? No. In John 21:29-30 we read, “A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” He was not yet in the Father’s kingdom, so why did He drink the wine?

It was the fourth cup. Jesus, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:19), replaced the traditional Passover lamb (which was strangely absent from all of the Last Supper narratives) and became “our Paschal Lamb… [who] has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). At the Last Supper, He purposely left out the fourth cup to extend the meal into the next day. At Gethsemane, He asked God to take away His responsibility to complete the Passover meal with His death and drink the fourth cup. When He referred to the consecrated wine as “fruit of the vine,” He was not implying that it was only mere wine; rather, He meant to establish the continuity between the first three cups of Passover wine (the third of which He turned into His blood) and the fourth cup, which He drank on the cross. Not only was Jesus’ sacrifice the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover, but it was actually part of the Passover.

The Mass and the Eucharist

When God instituted the Passover in Egypt, the Israelites had to eat the lamb and burn what was left; they were not to let any part of it remain (Exodus 12:8-10). Similarly, in the Eucharist, the new Passover, we must also eat the Lamb, Jesus. It was not enough for the Israelites to eat lamb-shaped wafers that symbolized the lamb, and it is not enough for us to eat wafers that symbolize Jesus. No, like the Israelites, we are to eat the Passover Lamb, just as Jesus commanded us when, during the phase in which the lamb was normally eaten, He took bread and wine and turned them into His body and blood.

When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19), the Greek word for remembrance is anamnesis, which refers to not to a mere memorial but to a memorial sacrifice, as can be seen by the Septuagint’s usage of it in Leviticus 24:7 and Numbers 10:9-10.2 Because we know that Jesus was the Passover Lamb, we can better understand this command. He was not instituting some vague, nebulous sacrifice outside of any meaningful context; rather, he instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice at the moment when He told the apostles to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the new Passover Lamb. He was instituting the sacrifice of the Mass, the new Passover, in which we continually re-offer Jesus’ Paschal sacrifice to the Father and partake of His body and blood.

When Jesus consecrated the third cup, He said that He would not drink the fourth cup until “the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18), which, knowing what He was referring to, may seem a bit strange. However, if we meditate on what Jesus accomplished on the cross, His meaning becomes clear: by reconciling us to the Father, Jesus ushered in the kingdom of God.3 This is simple enough, but the Gospels of Matthew and Mark add two other elements: Jesus will drink the wine new in the kingdom of God, and He will drink it with His apostles. It’s easy to see how He will drink it new because it marked the end of His sacrifice, the new Passover, but how will He drink it with the apostles? They were not all present at the cross, so what did He mean?

To properly understand His words, we must understand the Mass, in which God, who transcends time, makes Jesus’ past sacrifice present to us then and there, and we re-offer it up to the Father through the priest, who acts in the person of Christ.4 When we celebrate Mass, we actually participate in the heavenly liturgy that John saw in the book of Revelation.5 In Revelation, John sees Jesus as “a Lamb, standing as if it had been slaughtered” (Revelation 5:6), symbolizing His continuous offering of Himself to the Father. With this in mind, we can properly interpret Jesus’ words about the fourth cup. Not only did He drink the fourth cup as he was completing the new Passover and ushering in the kingdom of God, but He also continually offers that same Paschal sacrifice to the Father in heaven as we participate in the heavenly liturgy. Jesus drinks the fourth cup and offers His sacrifice to the Father with the apostles, angels, saints, and us every time Mass is celebrated.

Conclusion

With the proper understanding of what the Last Supper actually was, Jesus’ words fall into place. We can see why He “eagerly desired to eat this Passover” with the apostles (Luke 22:15) and why He commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Nevertheless, this is only the beginning. For a full understanding of Scripture’s teachings on the Mass and the Eucharist, we must study Old Testament prophecies, Jesus’ words outside the Last Supper, and the apostles’ understanding of the Eucharistic sacrifice. I hope that I have at least given you a firm foundation in the Bible’s teaching on this subject, on which you can build a comprehensive understanding of all of Scripture’s Eucharistic teachings.

Endnotes

1) Curtis J. Mitch, “The Mass and the Synoptic Gospels” in Catholic for a Reason 3: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass, ed. Scott Hahn and Leon Suprenant, Jr.
2) Robert Sungenis, Not by Bread Alone
3) Catechism of the Catholic Church 542, 766
4) ibid. 1348, 1367-1367; cf. Hebrews 7:24-25
5) Sacrosanctum Concilium 8; Catechism of the Catholic Church 1137. For a better understanding of this, see The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn and “The Mass and the Apocalypse” by Michael Barber in Catholic for a Reason 3.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The seven last sayings of Jesus are:

1.Luke 23:34 – “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

2.Luke 23:43 – “Truly, truly I say to you, this day you shall be with me in paradise.”

3.John 19:26-27 – “Woman, behold your son… behold your Mother.”

4.Matthew 27:46 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

5.John 19:28 – “I thirst.”

6.John 19:30 – “It is finished.”

7.Luke 23:46 – “Father, into your hands I commend your spirit.”

Michael said...

I believe that on the night before His Death on the Cross Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist, when at the Last Supper He changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood, which He offered to His Father for the salvation of all mankind and gave to His disciples to be their Food and Drink.

I believe that Jesus at the Last Supper began the Perfect Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, which He completed for our salvation on the Cross, and now daily renews on our altars in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, of which He is both the Victim and the Principal Offerer.

I believe that Christ having died upon the Cross dies now no more, but that His Holy Death is mystically perpetuated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a most wondrous manner, and is continually offered to God for the salvation of all mankind.

I believe that the Holy Eucharist is both a Sacrifice and a Sacrament, and that as a Sacrament, which we lovingly call the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the Holy Eucharist is truly the Bread of Life and the Cup of Eternal Salvation, and that in this Holy Sacrament there is truly contained wholly and substantially the Body and Blood of Christ, together with His Soul and Divinity co-joined.

I believe that Jesus continues to remain, veiled beneath the appearance of the Sacred Forms of Bread and Wine after the Holy Sacrifice is over, for our Spiritual Food and Drink, for our need and that of the sick to whom He is brought.

I believe that in receiving Christ in Holy Communion, He is not changed into us, but we are changed into Him.

I believe that at the Last Supper Christ Our Lord gave the Apostles the exalted power to be His Ministers in offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that through them the same power is transmitted perpetually to the bishops and priests of the Church.

I believe that in the Holy Liturgy of the Mass, just as at the Last Supper, Christ effects a complete change in the bread and wine, so that although the forms of bread and wine remain, the whole substance of these elements is changed into His Body and Blood.

I believe that the Holy Eucharist has been given to us by Christ to be the bond of love between God and Man, and Man with his Fellowman.

I believe 0 Lord, Strengthen My Faith.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ offered a one time sacrifice for the remission of sins. There is no need for the "sacrifice" of the mass. He is a wonderful Saviour.

Michael said...

WHAT YOU MUST DO TO BE SAVED

To be saved, you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31).

However, that's not all. Sacred Scripture clearly shows other things you must also do to be saved:

• You must endure to the end. Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13.

• You must accept the Cross (suffering). Matthew 10:38, Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27.

• You must be baptized with water. Mark 16:16, Titus 3:5, I Peter 3:20-21.

• You must be a member in God's true church. Acts 2:47.

• You must confess your sins. James 5:16, I John 1:9.

• You must keep the Commandments of God. Matthew 5:19-20, Matthew 7:21.

• You must heed the words of St. Peter, the first Pope. Acts 11:13-14, Acts 15:7.

• You must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ. John 6:51-58, I Corinthians 10:16, I Corinthians 11:23-29.

• Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life. CCC 1996, John 1:12-18, John 17:3, Romans 8:14-17, 2 Peter 1:3-4.

The only Church that meets all the requirements of Salvation is the Holy Catholic Church.