The Institution of the Eucharist in Scripture

from a talk by Scott Hahn

The Catholic Church claims that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, that the sacrifice of calvary is repeated at every Mass, and that he gives Himself to us in Holy Communion as food unto eternal life.

With this in mind, let's look at Scripture. Luke 22, verse 15, our Lord says, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you." So we are assured that the Last Supper in the Upper Room was a Passover meal. In Mark 14, verses 22 through 26, we hear the words of institution, "And as they were eating He took bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them and said, 'Take, this is my body.' And He took a cup and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them and they drank all of it and He said to them, 'This is my blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.'"

You could also say it this way: that if the Passover isn't finished until Calvary, I would suggest that Calvary is really begun in the Upper Room with the Eucharist. When does Jesus' sacrifice really begin? Well, He insists on the fact that His life is not being taken away from Him. He is laying it down. Now in the trial, in the passion, it's being taken away; but in the Upper Room, prior to all of that, Jesus lays it down. He says, "This is my body. This cup is the blood of the New Covenant."

What happens when you differentiate and separate body and blood? You signify death. When your body and your blood are separated, death begins. That's obvious, I think. So Jesus is symbolically and actually beginning the sacrifice. St. Augustine has said that Our Lord held himself in his own hands and commenced the sacrifice of the New Covenant Passover as He was transforming the old. Calvary really began in the Old Testament Passover being celebrated in the Upper Room, when the Eucharist was instituted and the Passover Eucharist of the New Covenant really isn't over until Calvary, when He says, "It is finished."

No wonder St. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 5, "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us." Therefore, what? Therefore we don't have any more sacrificial offerings or ceremonies or feasts and so on to celebrate because all those ceremonies are outdated and done with? No. He says, "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed; therefore, let us keep the feast." And he goes on to talk about how we take out the leaven of insincerity and we have this unleavened bread. What's he talking about? Christ, our Passover has been sacrificed; therefore, we've got to achieve the whole goal of that sacrifice, the second half is communion where we eat the lamb.

Now you can't eat a lamb cookie in Egypt. If you didn't like lamb, you couldn't have your wife make lamb bread, little biscuits in the shape of a lamb and say, "God, you understand, we just can't stand the stuff." No, you do that, your firstborn would die. You had to eat the lamb. Jesus Christ has said to us, "My flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life."

Let's turn to John 6 and see the context in which he says that. John 6, verse 4 tells us, "Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand." So everything that transpires within John 6 is within the context of the Passover. Jesus is talking to them now. At the time of the Passover, after multiplying these loaves, ending up filling twelve baskets with the fragments from the five barley loaves, He uses that as his point of departure for one of the most important sermons that He ever preaches and also one of the most disastrous from a human perspective.

He goes on talking about this bread and He goes on talking about Moses in context with that bread. For instance, in verse 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, for the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Lord, give us this bread always.'" Welfare state! "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 not thirst.'" And He goes on talking about this some more. The Jews would then murmur at him in verse 41 because He said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."

They're thinking, "What is He talking about? This guy is Joseph's son. How does He say, 'I've come down from heaven?'" They only look at it from a human perspective. They don't see that He's the divine Son of God. Verse 47, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 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.'"

How often did they eat the manna? Every day. How often do we receive the Bread of Life? Every day. This is not a once for all sacrifice, like many anti-Catholics allege in the sense that Christ is sacrificed and now there's nothing more to be done. Jesus Christ is sacrificed as priest and as victim, as lamb and as firstborn son and as the Bread of Life, he gives himself to us as well as the unleavened bread of the Passover meal, which commenced, of course, the whole feast of unleavened bread the week after the Passover celebration. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life, the unleavened bread of God which came down from heaven which the Israelites received every day, the manna of the New Covenant.

Christ through the Holy Spirit makes himself available as the Lamb of God to be consumed continuously. That's the whole point of the Resurrection, incidentally. The Holy Spirit raises up that body and glorifies it so supernaturally that body and blood which is glorified may be internationally distributed through the elders and priests of the Church so that all of God's children can be bound back to the Father in the New Covenant sacrifice of Christ. He didn't die again. He's not bleeding and he's not suffering. He's reigning in glory and giving us his own flesh and blood.

Where do you get that? From the Old Testament -- the manna, the Passover, the sacrifice as it's described on Calvary as it's initiated in the Upper Room and as he states right here in verse 51. "If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." Jews stop, wait a second. Hold the phone. "John, what do you mean 'my flesh?'" Verse 52, "The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'" Cannibalism, paganism, barbarism, sin in the highest degree.

So did Jesus say to them, "I didn't mean it, guys. I was just kind of, you know, using hyperbole or metaphor." No. He actually intensifies the scandal. He actually raises the obstacle even higher. "He said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood,' which Leviticus condemns, the drinking of blood, 'unless you eat my flesh and drink my 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 on 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.'"

He said that four times in four different ways.

In verse 60, "Many of His disciples when they heard it said, 'This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?'" That is an understatement. "Jesus, however, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at it" (the disciples, the followers, the spiritual proteges, not just the crowd now, the disciples themselves are taking offense at this and murmuring and grumbling), "said to them, 'Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the son of man ascending to where He was before? 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.'"

What words? That you've got to eat my flesh and drink my blood, those words.

In 63 we discover why Christ's flesh and blood will be so powerful and animating for supernatural life. Verse 66, "After this, many of His disciples drew back...." We get the impression that the vast majority of them said, "This is just too much." "...and no longer went about with him. And Jesus turned to the twelve;" he didn't apologize. He didn't say, "Now that we're down to twelve, I'll tell you what I really meant." He didn't say that at all. In fact he is perfectly willing for this obstacle to remain scandalous even to the twelve. "Do you also wish to go away?" But "Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go?'" Almost implying we would leave if there was somebody else that we could trust more than you because what you said is rather baffling. But he says, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God."

So we have reason to believe that this sacrifice of the New Covenant Passover begun in the Upper Room and consummated on Calvary and ultimately as 1st Corinthians 5 suggests continued and celebrated as a climactic communion on the altars of the Church around the world when we receive the Eucharist in Communion. All of this is right from the Bible but you've got to know your Bible. You've got to know John. You've got to know Matthew, Mark and Luke. You've got to know Exodus. You've got to know the Psalms. You've got to know Corinthians and you also have to know Revelation.


Abridged from Scott Hahn's audio and video tape presentation,
"Eucharist: Holy Meal" as it appears in the "Catholic Adult Education
on Video Program" with Scott and Kimberly Hahn.

Full text available in our library.
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Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.


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