As we begin this new year of blessings from the Lord, it is fitting that we turn our attention to the Holy Eucharist. As I wrote a few months ago, the Eucharist is the “best” sacrament because it is God himself! The other sacraments communicate the love of God, but only the Eucharist gives the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ himself. I always enjoy seeing the sacraments in the scriptures, and it’s a helpful place to start, so this month I’m going to start with where we find the Eucharist in scripture.
We hear at every Mass the account of when Jesus took the bread and wine at the Last Supper and gave them to his disciples. He also commanded them to repeat that action in memory of him. We see four very clear accounts of this moment in the scriptures. The first is found in Matthew: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).
A second account is found in the Gospel of Mark: “While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.’ The Gospel of Luke describes it like this: “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; di this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.’”
The Gospel of John does not contain an explicit Institution Narrative, although the entirely of John 6 is devoted to Jesus’ description of the Eucharist as his true flesh and blood. The fourth narrative is found in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. He wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.”
St. Paul was not present at the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles. But it seems to me that this adds even more credibility to his account and the traditional Christian celebration of the Eucharist. He is clear that this story was handed on to him, and he in turn had handed it on to the Corinthians. The celebration of the Eucharistic meal was not invented by the Apostles or by Christians later in history. It has been handed on from the men who were present with Jesus at the last supper, fulfilling his command to remember him through the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. Of course, this celebration is no mere remembering or empty ceremony. As Jesus himself said, the Bread and the Wine are truly his Body and Blood, which were broken and poured out for us on the cross. The Eucharist is clearly described in the scriptures as a sacrament which was instituted by Christ himself.