The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of
the blood of Christ ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the
partaking of the body of the Lord ?
1 Corinthians 10, 16
The Holy Eucharist refers to Christ’s body and blood present in the consecrated host on the altar, and Catholics believe that the consecrated bread and wine are actually the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. For Catholics, the presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist isn’t just symbolic, it’s real. The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species of bread and wine is a unique mystery. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1374). Our Lord’s presence is called real in that it is a substantial presence by which Christ, the God-man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.
Our Lord and Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood at the Last Supper. He did this to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he returns in glory and to entrust to his Church a memorial of his death and resurrection. The Blessed Sacrament “completes Christian initiation”. By Baptism, we are “raised to the dignity of the royal priesthood” and so “participate with the whole community in the Lord’s own sacrifice by means of the Eucharist” (CCC, 1322). Further, the Holy Eucharist is a sacrament of “love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal (sacrificial) banquet, in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (CCC, 1323). The Eucharist is “the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that of the unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being” (CCC, 1325). God’s action of sanctifying the world culminates in the Eucharist since the celebration of the sacrament in Holy Mass is a re-presentation of our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross by which Christ produced the dispensation of sanctifying grace for us.
In the Old Covenant, bread and wine were offered in sacrifice among the first fruits of the earth as a sign of grateful acknowledgment to the Creator. This gesture is still part of the Jewish Passover meal. The unleavened bread that the Israelites eat every year at Passover commemorates their hasty departure from Egypt after they had been liberated. The remembrance of the manna in the desert during the Exodus still calls them to live their lives by the word of God and recalls the pledge of God’s faithfulness to His promises. The Cup of Blessing at the end of the Passover meal adds to the festive joy of wine an eschatological dimension: the messianic expectation of the rebuilding of Jerusalem. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he gave a new and definitive meaning to the blessing of the bread and the cup of wine.
In the traditional Passover meal, there are four phases each in which one cup of wine is served for drinking; that is four separate cups altogether. The first cup of wine (Kiddush) is mixed with water and then served during the introductory rite. Here the father of the family leads a prayer of thanksgiving and blesses the food. The appetizers are consumed in this part of the meal. In the second stage, the second cup of wine (Haggadah) is also mixed with water, but not consumed, for the son asks his father questions about the original Passover night and the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt, while the father replies by citing passages contained in the Pentateuch of the Old Testament.
However, in the Gospels, Jesus is presented after the first and second cups of wine have been drunk, continuing with the mixing and serving of the third cup (Berekah) which was served after the main meal (unleavened bread and the flesh of the sacrificed Passover lamb) would have been eaten. With this third cup, the Cup of Salvation, Jesus is traditionally blessing and thanking God for having brought forth bread and the fruit of the vine on the earth (Lk 22:14-20). It appears that Jesus (the Word of God in the flesh) is identifying himself with “the bread of life” and the paschal lamb, he himself being the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world by the outpouring of his blood or the new wine of salvation in a higher eschatological dimension.
Our Lord and Savior is establishing a renewed paschal sacrificial meal of bread and wine while looking towards the future instead of recollecting and reliving the past. Jesus is taking the place of the lamb and looking towards his own self-immolation for the forgiveness of sins on the Cross. His sacrifice of himself has begun at the Last Supper as a pre-presentation of Calvary, as he blesses the bread and the wine of salvation and substantially transforms these species into his own body and blood for the apostles to consume instead of the unconsecrated wine and the flesh of the traditional lamb. In the traditional Jewish Passover meal, the flesh of the sacrificed lamb must be eaten, or the sacrifice is rendered fruitless (Cf. Jn. 6:54).
Hence, by celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to his father by his death and Resurrection (the new Passover) is anticipated in the Lord’s Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom (CCC, 1340). At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ’s Body and Blood. Faithful to the Lord’s command the Church continues to do, in his memory and until his glorious return, what he did on the eve of his Passion: “He took bread. . . . He took the cup filled with wine. . . .”
The Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who “brought out bread and wine,” a prefiguring of her own offering (Gen 14:18). We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to our heavenly Father what He has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread, and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sin. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present in the sacrificial offering of his body and blood in the species of bread and wine. We are bound by a sacred assent in faith to regard the Holy Eucharist as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, a sacrificial memorial of the body and blood of Christ, and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist by the power of his word and of his Spirit. Our Lord is substantially present to us as he was present to His Most Blessed Mother Mary and his Beloved Disciple standing beneath the cross.
The Eucharist is “a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all His benefits, for all that He has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification” (CCC, 1360). The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word eucharistia (ευχαριστία) which means first of all “thanksgiving.” The Eucharist is also “the sacrifice of praise by which the Church sings the glory of God in the name of all creation. This sacrifice of praise is possible only through Christ: he unites the faithful to his person, to his praise, and to his intercession, so that the sacrifice of praise to the Father is offered through Christ and with him, to be accepted in him” (CCC, 1361). Finally, the Eucharist is “the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present and the sacramental offering of his unique sacrifice, in the liturgy of the Church which is his Body. In all the Eucharistic Prayers we find after the words of institution a prayer called the anamnesis or memorial” (CCC, 1362). Therefore, the sacrifice of the Mass is the highest form of worship we can possibly offer God, just as the sacrifices in the Old Covenant were for the Israelites.
Since it is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist is manifested in Our Lord’s very words of institution: “This is my body which is given for you” and “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood”(Lk 22:19-20). In the Eucharist, Christ gives us the very body which he gave up for us on the cross and the very blood which he “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”(Mt 26:28). Thus, by being a memorial meal, the Lord’s Supper is a sacrificial meal just as the traditional Passover meal is for the Jews. By looking into the past, we bring it into the present. The Eucharist, therefore, is a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross. Because the Eucharist is a memorial that makes the one sacrifice of the past present, it applies its fruit.
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, offered himself to the Father by his death on “the altar of the cross” for our everlasting redemption. However, since his priesthood at the Last Supper was to continue after his death, he willed to leave his beloved bride the Church a visible sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross that would be re-presented, and its memory perpetuated until the end of the world. In the Eucharistic sacrifice, the salutary power of the cross is applied for the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit (1 Cor 11:23; Heb 7:24, 27).
The sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist thus constitute one single sacrifice that was accomplished once for all whose fruits would be applied every day until the end of time. In each celebration of the Mass, the sacrifice of our Lord on the cross is made present which means that this sacrifice isn’t being repeated. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is once for all and is never repeated in daily Mass by being made present or perpetuated. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is everlasting and transcends the parameters of time and space albeit the repeated celebrations of the Eucharist in the linear course of time since the Last Supper and the Passion of our Lord. The one single sacrifice on the cross was made present at the Last Supper just as it is made present in daily Mass.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist begins at the moment of the consecration (epiclesis) by the power of the Holy Spirit and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ (CCC, 1377). Since Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist, Catholics adore and worship it. Catholics don’t worship the accidental properties of the bread and wine that remain visible to the physiological senses. In the Eucharist, it is the crucified Christ himself who is being adored body, blood, soul, and divinity. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the disciple John were the first to offer our crucified Lord this sublime adoration on Calvary.
Catholics worship the Eucharist in the sacred liturgy of the Mass to express their faith in the real presence of Christ their Lord under the species of bread and wine. Their adoration is expressed, among other ways, by genuflecting or bowing deeply. There exists a cult of adoration in the Catholic Church in which the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist is revered in silent adoration at a given time of day before the tabernacle at the altar in which the sacred Host is kept. Solemn veneration is also shown when the consecrated host is exposed in the monstrance and placed on the altar or carried in procession.
The altar, around which the Church is gathered in the celebration of the Eucharist, represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord. This is all the more so since the Christian altar is the symbol of Christ himself, present in the midst of the assembly of his faithful, both as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven who is giving himself to us (CCC, 1388). The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: “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” (Jn 6:53).
There are many references to the Holy Eucharist in both the Old and New testaments. We find our first reference in the Book of Genesis 14:18. It’s in this verse that the term “priest” is first used. The primary function of a priest is to mediate by performing a sacrificial rite. The priest in question here is Melchizedek. But not only is he a priest, but he’s also a king and the king of Salem that would later be called Jerusalem (Ps 76:2). Jesus is the King of his Father’s heavenly kingdom on earth which is the New Jerusalem that has come down from heaven, which is the Church. Anyway, the sacrifice Melchizadek has to offer to God consists of bread and wine. So, this high-priest prefigures Christ in his royal priesthood. Our Lord’s priesthood isn’t in the order of the Levi but in the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:5-6).
God intended that the Old Covenant Levitical priesthood last for only a short time (Heb 7:11 – 12, 9 – 10) and be replaced. This is why the biblical appearance of Melchizedek occurred many decades before Levi (Abraham’s great-grandson) was born and more than three hundred years prior to Israel receiving the Mosaic law (Ex 20). The existence of Melchizedek’s order, prior to the giving of the law, meant that it would not be bound by its rules regarding the priesthood. This made it possible for Jesus (of the tribe of Judah) to serve, after his resurrection and ascension into heaven, as High Priest before God in his sacred humanity.
We read in Hebrews 9:23 that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were only copies of heavenly things. We have a better sacrifice being offered daily in heaven as John himself saw in his vision. The heavenly sacrifice in Hebrews is called “sacrifices” even though Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross only once. This is because the crucifixion itself occurred only once in history, but our Lord’s sacrifice transcends time in heaven and reaches the earth as sacramentally re-presented over and over again in the celebrations of Holy Mass. The prophet reveals that God promises His earthly kingdom (the Church) will consist of a sacrificial priesthood that shall last forever or perpetually throughout time. This promise can only be fulfilled by the priests of the Catholic Church, who sacramentally offer or make present the sacrifice of Christ “from the rising of the sun to its setting” in every Mass that is celebrated in the world until Christ returns in glory (Jer 33:18).
In any event, the phrase “sacrifice of praise” in Hebrews 13:15 refers to the actual sacrifice or toda offering of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary not made by human hands who, like the Old Covenant toda offerings must be consumed to render it beneficial (Lev 7:12-15; 22:29-30). The Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass is a newly defined sacrifice of “praise and thanksgiving.” The Eucharistic sacrifice referred to in Hebrews 9:23 fulfills not only the prophecy of Jeremiah but also the prophecy of Zechariah (9:15) that the sons of Zion shall drink blood like wine and be saved. We have no life within us unless we eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood. We come to Jesus the mediator or High Priest of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:23-24). We couldn’t come to our Lord’s sprinkled blood if it were no longer being offered to the Father and made sacramentally present to us through consecrated priests of the New Covenant who act in persona Christi and can trace their priesthood to our High Priest Christ in the order of Melchizedek (cf. 2 Chron 26:18).
We must turn to the Old Testament to see the foreshadowing of the Eucharistic sacrifice. The prophecy in Psalm 110:4 reveals that Jesus will be the eternal High Priest and King in the same way as the king-priest Melchizedek. This indicates an eternal bread and wine sacrifice that is fulfilled historically in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass in the Catholic Church. Malachi (1:11) concurs that this sacrifice will be offered in every place around the world. This single sacrifice being offered, therefore, transcends time and space for our salvation. The Feast of Unleavened Bread during Passover is a perpetual ordinance that is supposed to last forever (Ex 12:14, 17, 24; cf. 24:8). But it hadn’t been fulfilled until the Last Supper. The marriage feast of the Lamb (the Bread of Life) for all eternity in heaven fulfills this ordinance. The memorial celebration of the Lord’s Supper or Paschal feast in the Mass meanwhile serves as a sign of the heavenly feast and is part of it.
Further, there is a foreshadowing in the Old Testament that the sacrifice Christ offered of himself must be consumed. The priests of the Old Covenant made atonement for sin with the guilt offering of an unblemished lamb that had to be consumed for the offering to be beneficial (Lev 19:22). Jesus is both our eternal High Priest and the sacrificial Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. His one sacrifice of atonement must also be consumed for it to benefit our souls. Indeed, the paschal lamb that was sacrificed in accordance with Mosaic law had to be unblemished and eaten (Ex 12:5; cf. Isa 53:7). Jesus is the unblemished Lamb of God (conceived and born without sin) and must be consumed in the same manner in the New Dispensation (Lk 23:4, 14; Jn 18:38). And, of course, the blood of a lamb had to be sprinkled on the two doorposts of the Israelite’s homes on the night of the first Passover to spare the lives of their firstborn sons. In the Eucharistic sacrifice presented in the Letter of the Hebrews, we come to the sprinkling of our Lord’s blood to be spared eternal death of the soul.
Finally, God gave His chosen people bread (manna) from heaven to sustain them on their journey to the promised land. This event foreshadows the true bread that has come down from heaven which likewise must be consumed to sustain us spiritually on our sojourn to the new promised land which is heaven (Ex 16:4-36; Neh 9:15; cf. Jn 6:32-33). The Old covenant was consummated with a meal in God’s presence (Ex 24:9-11). The New and eternal covenant is consummated with the Eucharistic supper: the body and blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine (Mt 26:26-29; Mk 14:23-24; Lk 22:20). God declares that those who eat Him will hunger for more, and those who drink Him will thirst for more (Sir 24:21). Jesus says in His divine personage, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:54).
Turning again to the New Testament, we see Jesus promising his real presence in the Holy Eucharist. He is in Capernaum on the eve of Passover when the lambs are gathered and slaughtered to be eaten (Jn 6:4). In his discourse, our Lord says four times, “I am the bread from heaven” (Jn 6:35, 41, 48, 51). Jesus wouldn’t have reiterated more than once what he meant to say if he were speaking metaphorically about himself. Rather, he wants it to be known that he himself literally is the eternal bread from heaven. And he compares himself with the manna that fell from heaven during the Exodus which, as we have seen, must be consumed to sustain life. But the bread that Jesus gives is for sustaining eternal life with God (Jn 6:27, 31, 48-49). He then proceeds by saying that this bread he shall give is his flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). Jesus now associates himself with the paschal lambs that are being sacrificed during the Passover in atonement for sin which, again, must be eaten for the sacrifice to be efficacious. Jesus, the Lamb of God, gives us his flesh to eat in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread that is sacrificially offered by our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.
At this point in our Lord’s Eucharistic discourse, the Jews are shocked or offended by what he had just said because they understood him to be speaking in a literal sense (Jn 6:52). They question our Lord’s words by asking each other, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus refrains from correcting their literal interpretation because they understood him correctly. In fact, our Lord dismisses any metaphorical interpretation by swearing an oath and being even more literal about eating his flesh. Four times does he say that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood (Jn 6:53-58). Our Lord is driving an important point home, and he has his Eucharistic sacrifice in mind in his teaching. Catholics have believed since Apostolic time that Jesus makes present his body and blood in the holy sacrifice of the Mass under the appearance of bread and wine.
Protestants argue in disbelief that Jesus is speaking metaphorically about eating his flesh and that the bread only symbolizes his body. But the Greek verbs used in John’s gospel render their interpretation implausible. Throughout these verses, the Greek text uses the verb phago (φάγω) nine times (Jn 6:23-53). This verb means to literally “eat” or physically “consume.” Jesus repeated himself this often because of the Jew’s disbelief. He was, in a sense, challenging their faith in him. In fact, many of his disciples deserted him since they knew he was speaking literally. Further, Jesus uses an even more literal verb that describes the process of consuming food (Jn 6: 54, 55, 56, 57). This is the verb trogo (τρώγω) which means to “gnaw” “chew” or “crunch.” Though phago may be used in a metaphorical sense, trogo is never used to carry a symbolic application.
Anyway, for further clarification, Jesus says, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:55). Jesus is responding to those who refused to believe in what he was saying. Also, when Jesus institutes the sacrament of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, he says, “This is my body and blood” (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19-20). The Greek phrase is “Touto estin to soma mou.” So, what our Lord means to say is “This is really or actually my body and blood.” St. Paul uses the same phraseology in his First Letter to the Corinthians 11:24. Paul does reaffirm that “the cup of blessing” and “the bread of which [the Corinthians] partake” is “actual” participation in Christ’s body and blood” (1 Cor 10:16). The Greek noun koinonia (κοινωνία) denotes a “participation” that isn’t merely symbolic. Moreover, the Greek text uses sarx (σάρξ) which literally means “flesh.” The phrases “real food” and “real drink” contain the adjective alethes (ἀληθής) which means “really” or “truly” (Jn 6:55). This adjective is used on the occasion where there is doubt concerning the reality of something, in this case, which is Jesus’ flesh being food to eat and his blood being something to drink for everlasting life. Jesus is assuring his doubters that what he’s saying is true.
Jesus is disappointed in their lack of faith and responds to those who disbelieve him by saying, “the spirit gives life” (Jn 6:61-63). In other words, one must possess supernatural faith to accept his teaching. Jesus does use the comparison of ‘spirit versus flesh’ when teaching about the necessity of supernatural faith as opposed to a natural understanding by reason alone (Jn 3:6). We must rise above our natural understanding to the level of the supernatural to comprehend the best we can the divine mysteries of our faith. St. Paul also uses the spirit-flesh dichotomy to teach that unspiritual people can’t receive the gift of faith while in a purely rational state of mind (1 Cor 2:14; 3:3; Rom 8:5; Gal 5:17).
These sorts of people remain “in the flesh.” It wasn’t “flesh and blood” that revealed to Peter who Jesus truly was (Mt 16:17). I’m afraid, Jesus would have called these skeptical disciples back and explained to them he was only speaking metaphorically, if this were the case, and clarify what he really meant to say. He never taught by leaving the wrong impression but always cleared up misunderstandings for those who sincerely listened to what he had to say (Jn 6:37; cf. Mt 16: 11-12; Mk 4:34; Jn 3:5,11).
The event of Christ offering himself as the paschal lamb in the Last Supper is what the celebration of the Eucharist became for the New Covenant believers. That night of the Jewish Passover, Jesus transformed the traditional sacrificial meal of the Passover lamb. For us to see how this happened, we must examine the course of our Lord’s supper in the traditional manner. Jesus is celebrating or presiding over the Passover Seder meal with his apostles that requires them to drink four cups of wine. He stops at the serving of the third cup (Berekah) or the “Cup of Salvation” (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25). Paul uses the “Cup of Blessing” to refer to the Eucharist, connecting the Seder meal to the Eucharistic sacrifice (1 Cor 10:16). The third cup actually makes present the Paschal sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb who was slain for our sins. But Jesus omits the serving of the fourth cup (Hallel) or “Cup of Consummation.” This is a significant omission that joins the Eucharistic sacrifice being offered in the Seder meal to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. In other words, they comprise one single sacrifice. The Last Supper, therefore, is a pre-presentation of our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross which is made present in the Seder meal. This one and the same sacrifice, however, isn’t completed until Jesus partakes of the fourth cup of wine just before he dies on the cross after saying, “It is consummated” (Jn 19:29, 30; cf. Mt 27:48; Mk 15:36).
Jesus was given sour wine on a “hyssop” branch that was used to sprinkle the lamb’s blood on the doorposts on the night of the first Passover (Ex 12:22) and by the priests in the sacrificial offerings of the Old Covenant. This joins Christ’s sacrifice of himself to the lambs that were slaughtered and consumed by the Jews in the seder meal which was ceremonially completed by drinking the wine in the Cup of Consummation. Thus, Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross began in the upper room and was completed on Golgotha. The Holy sacrifice of the Mass is a re-presentation of this one single sacrifice. It is the Lord’s Supper or seder meal of the New Covenant that makes Christ’s sacrifice on the cross perpetually present as a sign of the marriage feast in heaven. St. Paul tells us that we need to celebrate the Eucharistic feast (1 Cor 5:8). In other words, we must eat the flesh of the Lamb of God and drink His blood in the Blessed Sacrament to be in holy communion with God.
Hence, the Lord’s Supper isn’t just a symbolic memorial meal, as most Protestants contend, but a marriage feast that marks God’s establishment of the New Covenant in which the Eucharist makes Christ’s one eternal sacrifice present. Scripture confirms this truth in the words of consecration (“Do this in remembrance of me.”) used by Jesus in the Last Supper: touto poieite tan eman anamnasin (Lk 22:19; cf. 1 Cor 11:24-25). What our Lord literally says is “Offer this as a memorial sacrifice.” The Greek verb poiein (ποιεῖν) or “do” is used in the context of offering a sacrifice where, for instance, in the Septuagint, God uses the same word poieseis (ποιέω) regarding the sacrifice of the lambs on the altar (Ex 29:38-39). The noun anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις) or “remembrance” also refers to a sacrifice that is really or actually made present in real-time by the power of God in the Holy Spirit, as it reminds God of the actual event (Heb 10:3; Num 10:10).
And so, the Holy sacrifice of the Mass isn’t merely a memorial of a past event but a past event actually made present in time. Christ’s Eucharistic sacrifice is the memorial or reminder of what our Lord has accomplished for us, and continues to accomplish by his single sacrifice, not what he had accomplished and is finished in time. Only the crucifixion itself remains a past historical event. Christ’s sacrifice of himself on the Cross is ever-present in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
We read in Leviticus 24:7: ‘By each stack put some pure incense as a memorial portion to represent the bread and to be a food offering presented to the LORD.’ The word “memorial” in Hebrew in the sacrificial sense is the feminine noun azkarah ( אַזְכָּרָה )which means “to actually make present.” There are many instances in the Old Testament where azkarah refers to sacrifices that are currently being offered and so are present in time (Lev 2:2,9, 6:5; 16; 5-12; Num 5:26; 10:10). These are one and the same sacrifices that are memorially being offered in time. Jesus’ command for us to offer the bread and wine (transubstantiated into his body and blood) as a memorial offering shows that the sacrificial offering of his body and blood is made present in time over and over again while serving as a reminder of what he has accomplished for us through his sacrifice. Thus, the Holy sacrifice of the Mass is a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that began at the Last Supper.
In the Eucharistic celebration, we unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life. The Lord’s Supper anticipates the wedding feast of the Paschal Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem. (1 Cor 11:20; Rev 19:9). The Church is the New Jerusalem that has come down from heaven in place of the old Jerusalem and the Levitical sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple which was eventually destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70 along with the priestly sacrifices ever since (Rev 17-19).
Citing the Book of Revelation 4-5, Dr. Scott Hahn tells us that John was taken up to heaven on the ‘Lord’s day’ (Sunday) where he envisioned the heavenly worship and sacred liturgy of the Mass in the marriage feast of the Lamb. John sees Christ our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek enrobed in a liturgical garment that resembles the liturgical garment worn by the presiding priest in Holy Mass. The antiphonal heavenly chant parallels our Entrance Antiphon. There is worship in the presence of God at an altar. On the altar lies the slain Lamb of God or Holy Eucharist. Added to this vision are the golden lampstands (menorah) which we place on the altar for High Mass and the Eucharistic and Baptismal candles. There is also the use of incense to bless the altar just as there is in Holy Mass. The sign of the cross and greeting, the Rite of Blessing, and the Penitential Rite are also recorded along with the Gloria and Opening Prayer. These items are seen during the introductory part of the heavenly liturgy as would be seen by us who attend Mass.
The Liturgy of the Word that follows in the celebration of Holy Mass is revealed in John’s vision of the Book or Scroll that contains messages from Christ. The Alleluia and Gospel reference are also envisioned followed by the intercession of angels and saints that parallel the prayers of intercession by the priest and the faithful following the readings in Mass. The vision then proceeds to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The bowls and chalices John sees represent the Preparation of the Gifts in which we have chalices filled with wine and bowls of bread.
The heavenly command models the Eucharistic introductory command to “lift up our hearts to the Lord” and the dialogue that follows. The heavenly congregation sings “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the worshippers kneel. The Great Amen and the sacrificed Lamb in the sanctuary represent our Great Amen and the Communion rite. What John envisions here is the marriage supper of the Lamb that the priest on earth celebrates by proclaiming, “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we who are called to his table,” as he raises the Host. John’s vision reaches its conclusion with a Final Blessing that parallels the concluding rites and final blessing at the end of Holy Mass.
Early Sacred Tradition
“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the
Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins,
and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.”
Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Smyrnaeans, 7,1
(c. A.D. 110)
“For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like
manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our
salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the
prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are
nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66
(c. A.D. 110-165)
“He acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as his own blood,
from which he bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of creation) he
affirmed to be his own body, from which he gives increase to our bodies.”
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V:2,2
(c. A.D. 190)
“For the blood of the grape–that is, the Word–desired to be mixed with water,
as His blood is mingled with salvation. And the blood of the Lord is twofold.
For there is the blood of His flesh, by which we are redeemed from corruption;
and the spiritual, that by which we are anointed. And to drink the blood of
Jesus, is to become partaker of the Lord’s immortality; the Spirit being the
energetic principle of the Word, as blood is of flesh. Accordingly, as wine is
blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine
and water, nourishes to faith; while the other, the Spirit, conducts to
immortality. And the mixture of both–of the water and of the Word–is called
Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; and they who by faith partake of it are
sanctified both in body and soul.”
Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, 2
(ante A.D. 202)
“For because Christ bore us all, in that He also bore our sins, we see that in the water is understood the people, but in the wine is showed the blood of Christ…Thus, therefore, in consecrating the cup of the Lord, water alone cannot be offered, even as wine alone cannot be offered. For if any one offer wine only, the blood of Christ is dissociated from us; but if the water be alone, the people are dissociated from Christ; but when both are mingled, and are joined with one another by a close union, there is completed a spiritual and heavenly sacrament. Thus the cup of the Lord is not indeed water alone, nor wine alone, unless each be mingled with the other; just as, on the other hand, the body of the Lord cannot be flour alone or water alone, unless both should be united and joined together and compacted in the mass of one bread; in which very sacrament our people are shown to be made one, so that in like manner as many grains, collected, and ground, and mixed together into one mass, make one bread; so in Christ, who is the heavenly bread, we may know that there is one body, with which our number is joined and united.”
Cyprian, To Caeilius, Epistle 62(63):13
“Having learn these things, and been fully assured that the seeming bread is not
bread, though sensible to taste, but the Body of Christ; and that the seeming
wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; and
that of this David sung of old, saying, And bread strengtheneth man’s heart, to
make his face to shine with oil, ‘strengthen thou thine heart,’ by partaking
thereof as spiritual, and ‘make the face of thy soul to shine.’”
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, XXII:8
(c. A.D. 350)
“For as to what we say concerning the reality of Christ’s nature within us,
unless we have been taught by Him, our words are foolish and impious. For He
says Himself, My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He that
eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me, and I in him. As to the
verity of the flesh and blood there is no room left for doubt. For now both from
the declaration of the Lord Himself and our own faith, it is verily flesh and
verily blood. And these when eaten and drunk, bring it to pass that both we are
in Christ and Christ in us. Is not this true? Yet they who affirm that Christ
Jesus is not truly God are welcome to find it false. He therefore Himself is in us
through the flesh and we in Him, whilst together with Him our own selves are
Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 8:14
(inter A.D. 356-359)
“Let us then in everything believe God, and gainsay Him in nothing, though
what is said seem to be contrary to our thoughts and senses, but let His word be
of higher authority than both reasonings and sight. Thus let us do in the
mysteries also, not looking at the things set before us, but keeping in mind His
sayings. For His word cannot deceive, but our senses are easily beguiled. That
hath never failed, but this in most things goeth wrong. Since then the word
saith, ‘This is my body,’ let us both be persuaded and believe, and look at it with
the eyes of the mind. For Christ hath given nothing sensible, but though in
things sensible yet all to be perceived by the mind…How many now say, I
would wish to see His form, the mark, His clothes, His shoes. Lo! Thou seest
Him, Thou touchest Him, thou eatest Him. And thou indeed desirest to see His
clothes, but He giveth Himself to thee not to see only, but also to touch and eat
and receive within thee.”
John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 82
“It is good and beneficial to communicate every day, and to partake of the holy
body and blood of Christ. For He distinctly says, ‘He that eateth my flesh and
drinketh my blood hath eternal life.’ And who doubts that to share frequently in
life, is the same thing as to have manifold life. I, indeed, communicate four times
a week, on the Lord’s day, on Wednesday, on Friday, and on the Sabbath, and
on the other days if there is a commemoration of any Saint.”
Basil, To Patrician Caesaria, Epistle 93
“You will see the Levites bringing the loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers and invocations have not yet been made, it is mere bread and a mere cup. But when the great and wonderous prayers have been recited, then the bread becomes the body and the cup the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…When the great prayers and holy supplications are sent up, the Word descends on the bread and the cup, and it becomes His body.”
Athanasius, Sermon to the Newly Baptized, PG 26, 1325
(ante A.D. 373)
“Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by
the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was
once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the
Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by
which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine
potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of
the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread,
and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the
Apostle, ‘is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer’; not that it advances by
the process of eating to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is
at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said,
‘This is My Body.’”
Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 37
(post A.D. 383)
“Perhaps you will say, ‘I see something else, how is it that you assert that I
receive the Body of Christ?’ And this is the point which remains for us to prove.
And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what
nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is
greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed…The
Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: ‘This is My Body.’ Before the blessing of the
heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is
signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another
name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the
heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice
Ambrose, On the Mysteries, 9:50
He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood,
dwells in me, and I in him.
John 6, 56