Observations on the Eucharist
The source and summit of the faith IS the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Jesus Christ. Of all things Catholic, this understanding of Christ’s sacrifice is one of the most important to me. I remember the first moment when I recognized the Real Presence. I was attending St. Michael’s in Bedford, TX. I was kneeling like everyone else. Many people seemed intensely focused on the communion wafer. I tried to use my head to reason it out. Needless to say, that didn’t work. I recognized that I was drawn to it, and that it meant something important. By God’s grace, a reason…a truth, bubbled up in my heart. People were kneeling because they were in the presence of the King! I have no idea why I was allowed to understand this. I had received no catechesis or formation. At this particular point in my journey, I had only minimal exposure to the Catholic Church. I don’t think it was a grace or privilege that I deserved. It created in me a desire, a longing, and a spiritual hunger to experience Christ at a much deeper level. It is a large part of what helped push me through RCIA when it seemed like it would go on forever. I am not an expert on Catholic doctrine. I am not an apologist or a defender of the faith. I am not involved in faith formation of any kind. I do have a deep love of the faith and want to understand it more. I share these things because I want you to know it is OK to not take me seriously. I do not claim any theological expertise on catholic dogma. For my non-Catholic friends, please do not take what I say as authoritative. It isn’t. These are observations from my experience and my personal studying of Scripture and Sacred Tradition. If you have questions, please feel free to ask! If I don’t feel equipped to answer them, I will at least point you in the right direction and we can find the answer together. I have spent a great deal of time learning about the Eucharist. From reading the Bible, early church fathers, the personal lives of saints dedicated to it, Sacred Adoration, prayer, and contemplation I have a deep desire to understand and respect the Eucharist more. I would like to share with you some observations that I have stumbled across.
It may be helpful to define a few words:
Eucharist– 1. The sacrament of Holy Communion; the sacrifice of the Mass; the Lord’s Supper. 2. The consecrated elements of the Holy Communion, especially the bread. 3. The giving of thanks; thanksgiving.
Transubstantiation– 1. The changing of one substance into another. 2. (From Theology) the changing of the elements of the bread and wine, when they are consecrated in the Eucharist, into the body and blood of Christ.
Prefigure– 1. to show or represent beforehand by a figure or type; foreshadow. 2. To picture or represent to oneself beforehand; imagine.
I believe that the Bible is God’s plan of salvation for man. Explicitly and implicitly, it reveals to us how we have related to God, and God has related to us. It seems that there have been events or writings that have alluded to God’s plan in the Eucharist long before Christ was born. There is a type of symbolic symmetry between the Old Testament and the New Testament that points to the supremacy of God’s plan of salvation for the entire world. I ponder it often. Christ did not die for me. (Rather, me alone.) Christ died for everyone, everywhere. In all of time, from beginning to end Christ made a complete and perfect sacrifice for every individual and every sin committed in all of creation. I can be a self-centered person. I do enjoy contemplating the personal nature of what Christ accomplished on the cross. However, when I consider the totality of Christ’s accomplishment at Calvary, I am struck with an unfathomable sense of awe and wonder.
The book of John, chapter 6 is probably one of my favorite chapters of the entire bible. Rather than post the entire chapter, I will include a link here. Chapter 6 starts with the feeding of 5000. I can see a direct correlation implying that what Christ gives us in his body and blood is enough, more than enough. In fact, in feeding the 5000, there was enough left over to fill 12 baskets. Jesus tells the people that they followed him not because of miracles they had witnessed, but because of what they had eaten. (v26) They had consumed bread that had been blessed and transformed by Christ. This is a pre-figurement of the matter (bread) appearing as it always had but its essence completely changed. He goes on to say (v27), “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.”
There is food that never spoils! It comes from Christ himself, the Son of man. The son of man is God’s chosen vessel to save mankind. Further in the same conversation, Christ reiterates that when the Israelites were wandering the desert, that it was God who sent bread (manna) from heaven, to feed his people. (v32) Christ reminds those listening that the bread of God comes from Heaven and gives life to the world. (v33) Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” (v35) This causes some “murmuring” amongst the Jews listening. (v41) They do not like the title, “bread of life”. Again Jesus says it simply, “I am the bread of life.”(v48) He then connects all the dots for those present. The Israelites ate manna and died. Christ assured those present that those who eat the bread of life shall not die. (v50) Again, Jesus refers to himself as bread-living bread. (v51) Again, Jesus says, “…if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (v51) At this point the Jewish people gathered are not murmuring, they are arguing among themselves. (v52). With extreme patience (I think) Christ tells them AGAIN, “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. (v 53-54) Have you noticed a pattern yet?
If not, look at verses 55-58:
“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. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.
In four consecutive verses, the same message is repeated. Eat and live, eat and live, eat and live forever. After saying this multiple times in different ways, the apostles responded by saying it was a hard saying. (v60) Why would this be difficult for the disciples? Jesus knew that the disciples had murmured at it, and possibly found it offensive. (v61) Later, it says that many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. (v66)
The internal question I ask myself again is, “Why?” It may seem strange that I started here, with these verses. Pointing to an allusion doesn’t work well if you don’t understand what is being allude to, or perhaps prepared for would be a better way to put it. Remember when I said the bible was God’s plan for salvation? What I mean is that the bible documents God’s plan.
This plan was played out in history. It started long before Christ ever walked the earth. When Cain killed Abel, the Lord told Cain, he could hear Abel’s blood crying from the ground. (Genesis 4:10) We know from reading this that God hears and sees everything. The blood of Abel was precious to God. In the book of Hebrews we are reminded that Christ’s blood is more gracious than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24)
Melchizedek was a priest of the God Most High and king of Salem (Genesis 14:18) He brought forth bread and wine to Abraham. The translation of Melchizedek’s name is King of Righteousness and King of Peace. (Hebrews 7:2) It is interesting to note that this is what a priest does at Mass today. He brings forth bread and wine that has been blessed. There is an interesting parallel between Exodus 24:8 and Matthew 26:28. In Exodus, Moses threw the blood of a sacrificed ox on the people saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.” At the last supper, Christ said, “This is my blood of the covenant.”
Another interesting pre-figurement is in looking at the Jewish sheaf offering. (Leviticus 23:12-13) During this offering a lamb without blemish is offered, along with oil, grain flour, and wine. In 1 Kings 7:48, King Solomon prepares a golden altar for the bread of the Presence. He did this because God commanded it in Exodus 25:30. This bread of the Presence was always to be there on the altar. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus says, “I am with you always.” In Matthew 12:1, Christ reminded his disciples that David had eaten the bread of Presence (1 Samuel 21:6), and then tells them, “…something greater than the temple is here.”
In both Judaism and Catholicism, sacrifice is the highest form of worship. A sacrifice to God can only be offered by a rabbi/priest. In this way their roles are similar. Lamb was an important sacrifice in Old Testament times. The lamb as a sacrifice did not resist. This is paralleled in Isaiah 53:7. Isaiah foretold that our sacrifice would be like a lamb. Did you know that the priest would always ask, “Do you love this lamb?” to the family making the offering? If the family said no, there was no sacrifice. In John 21, Christ asked Peter the same question 3 times. “Do you love me?” I also like to think that in this way, Peter’s answer in the affirmative negates his triple denial of Christ, later.
Jesus and the Eucharist were pre-figured in Passover. Here are a few way:
Exodus 12: 5-6– Lambs killed in the evening.
Matthew 27:45– Christ was crucified in a dim light.
Exodus 12:8-13– The sacrificed lamb was eaten and its blood was sprinkled around doors. In this way God passed-over his chosen people and only killed the first-born of those not under the protection of the blood of the lamb.
Exodus 1:22– Pharaoh commanded the death of every Hebrew infant male. Exodus 2:5-10 Death passed over Moses.
Matthew 2:13 – Herod commanded the death of every Hebrew male infant in Bethlehem, and yet death passed over Jesus.
There are many beautiful facets of faith and nourishment by looking at the Seder celebration. There is much that has been written about the parallels and metaphors of Passover and the Seder. All of it is written much better than I ever could. I do encourage everyone curious to read up on this very interesting topic.
Remember the feeding of the 5000? It pre-figured Christ nourishing all of us. In 2 Kings 4:42, Elisha miraculously fed 100 men with limited resources. To me it looks like the pre-figurement pre-figured Christ pre-figuring his ability to nourish the whole world! These are just a few that I have learned about. I am sure there are many more. I know there are many more parallels between the Mass and Judaic ceremonies. Please feel free to add some of your own Old Testament observations in the comments section.
Heading back into the New Testament, equipped with this deeper understanding of God’s handiwork, it is good to look at Christ and his words more deeply. Often, Christ teaches the disciples through metaphor. Sometimes he tells parables, and sometimes he uses hyperbole. This is important to understand. When Christ teaches uses hyperbole and metaphors, his Jewish audience accepts it and moves forward. When Christ spoke of himself as a door (John 10:9) or a vine (John 15:1), nobody asked how Christ could be made of wood, or if he was a plant. However, when Jesus insisted that his flesh was food and his blood was wine, capable of granting eternal life-the audience freaked out. They did not just freak out a little. Some people got up and left. It is no wonder that this happened. Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 make it very clear that God’s chosen people do not consume blood. There is a strong consistency between all three Gospel narratives regarding the Last Supper.
The Eucharist was celebrated by the Apostles.
I’m not sure what else I can say. I believe that I realized these things and *modestly* understand them because of God and being called by Christ. (John 6:44) I hope to understand them more. If you have made it this far I would ask you to make one more big push to finish this post. Rather than anymore commentary from my tiny brain, I would like for you to read John 6 and a few verses from Leviticus. I cannot repeat how closely I hold John 6 to my heart. That is why I am repeating it here.
22 On the next day the people who remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 However, boats from Tibe′ri-as came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the people saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Caper′na-um, seeking Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not murmur among you. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, which a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread[c] which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”[d] 53 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; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caper′na-um. 60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. 67 Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life; 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life.
God bless you. Thank you for reading.