The Biblical Eucharist

Despite attempts to diminish its significance or deny it altogether, the doctrine of Christ's real, physical presence in the Eucharist has a very strong biblical basis.

Exodus 12:5-8 - "And it shall be a lamb without blemish, a male, of one year; according to which rite also you shall take a kid. And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce."

Ex 12:13 - "And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be; and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you; and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt."

Corresponding to Christ's sacrifice, the paschal lamb once sacrificed and whose blood the Lord saw upon the doorpost was fully valid and allowed the firstborn to escape death. However, all those invited to partake were expected by God to eat the lamb as a sign of complete commitment and obedience - the fullest participation in the ritual that would save the Israelites. Indeed, they were told to do so with a sense of urgency in anticipation of liberation (Ex 12:11). To not entirely carry through with this procedure would have been unwise, to say the least. To have plainly ignored the edict would probably have involved grave consequences.

An important relationship exists between the seder meal of the Last Supper and the actual paschal sacrifice.

In Mark 14:22-25 -

"And whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread; and blessing, broke and gave to them and said: Take ye. This is my body. And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, he gave it to them. And they all drank of it. And he said to them: This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many. Amen I say to you that I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it new in the kingdom of God."

Then in Mark 15:34-37, at the crucifixion -

"And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying: Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? Which is, being interpreted: My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me? And some of the standers by hearing, said: Behold he calleth Elias (Elijah). And one running and filling a sponge with vinegar and putting it upon a reed, gave him to drink, saying: Stay, let us see if Elias come to take him down. And Jesus, having cried out with a loud voice, gave up the ghost."

In John 19:28-30 it reads -

"Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there, full of vinegar. And they, putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost."

Now, at the seder meal, the matzah (unleavened bread) is not eaten until before the blessing and drinking of the third cup of wine (out of four cups used). So the cup that Jesus raised after the breaking of the bread was the third cup. The fourth cup is then poured and drunk at the close of the pasch, after a benediction.

The four cups each have their own symbolic meanings at the pasch. The third cup represents liberation and redemption, which was achieved in Christ's voluntary sacrifice. The fourth cup represents God's final acceptance of His people - accomplished with the admission of souls into heaven and foretold in Mark 14:25.

Jesus refused to drink this fourth cup at the Last Supper, but he fulfilled Messianic prophecy by taking the sour wine while on the cross, and then saying with his last breath, "It is finished." In fact, the branch used to hold the sponge was hyssop - the same type of branch used to sprinkle the blood on the Israelites' doorposts at the original Passover (Ex 12:22).

Jesus was the literal equivalent of the paschal lamb - unblemished (Ex 12:5, 1 Peter 2:22). The paschal lamb could not have its bones broken (Ex 12:46), and likewise Jesus' bones were not broken (John 19:33). Even the tradition that Elijah would herald the Messiah at Passover was realized in the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 9:13, Matthew 11:10), establishing the life of Jesus Christ as that of the sacrificial Lamb.

Following paschal prescription, our remaining duties are to eat the Lamb, who is the bread of life (John 6:48), and to be prepared to serve Him at all times!

John 6:25-67 is also instrumental in pointing out Jesus' very literal meaning concerning the eating and drinking of his own body and blood. Repeatedly Jesus stresses that his "flesh is meat indeed" and his "blood is drink indeed" (v. 56) in order to dispel the Jews' skepticism (v. 53, 61).

Don’t be troubled by the apparent implications of John 6:64 –

"It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life."

Jesus speaks these words in the same context as he did in John 3:6, while describing baptism to Nicodemus -

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

He is simply distinguishing between the supernatural and the natural to his disciples in chapter 6, just as he was doing for a perplexed Nicodemus in chapter 3. Indeed, there can be no misinterpretation, as he clearly credits the revelation of supernatural "spirit" to the work of the Holy Spirit (see also 1 Cor 2:11-13). Such higher understanding transcends perception dominated purely by natural existence or the reasoning of the human mind (1 Cor 2:14, 3:1-3 & 15:44-46). However, the tangible Eucharist is a mystery of benefit to the supranature of the soul. Jesus is telling his disciples not to think only in terms of the human psyche, but to embrace his message of "spirit and life." The Eucharist is true, nonfigurative food that provides spiritual nourishment (John 6:27, 35, 50, 55-59).

The Apostle Paul certainly took participation in the body and blood of Christ in the same literal sense, as seen in 1 Corinthians 10:16-18 -

"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? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread. Behold Israel according to the flesh. Are not they that eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?"

Here, Paul emphasizes the importance of eating the sacrifice, and clarifies that it is a participation in Christ's one eternal sacrifice - not a re-sacrifice (see Ex 12:26-27 & 1 Cor 11:26). He then expounds upon his Eucharistic message in 1 Cor 11:27-29 -

"Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord."

How could people participating in a mere symbolic remembrance be held accountable for the true body and blood of Christ? Paul demonstrated a tremendous amount of reverence for the Eucharist, demanding purity of soul prior to receiving it. This is why any desecratory act against the Eucharist is forbidden - either spiritual or physical (see Ex 12:10). It is of indisputably mystical and divine substance, and the Church has never possessed the authority to change the original forms of bread and wine used in transubstantiation (even Melchisedech, who was a foreshadowing of the priest-king Jesus and earliest precursor of the new order of priesthood, used only bread and wine during sacrifice in Genesis 14:18); nor may she alter any other aspect of the sacrament which would deviate from its definitive form as established by Jesus Christ (Matt 26:26-28) - including consecration by women priests.

The Catholic doctrine of Christ's corporeal presence in the Eucharist, embodied by a complete transformation of bread and wine, is confirmed in biblical text. Likewise, the Church stresses the importance of receiving this sacrament for many scripturally-founded reasons. However, one should first be a sincere member of the Church and share her understanding of its fundamental essence (Ex 12:43-45, 1 Cor 10:21). Above all, one must always have a proper appreciation and moral attitude towards the Eucharist before being presented with so precious a gift.

It is the tireless commitment of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches today that preserves this most unique and essential facet of the Christian faith. In maintaining the celebration of the Eucharist, we fulfill the Lord's command for perpetual observance of the paschal sacrifice (Ex 12:14, Luke 22:19). Although many have ceased to believe or have chosen not to accept its potent reality (John 6:67-70), our apostolic tradition has upheld the Blessed Sacrament as a light and invitation to all the world since the time of Christ. Just as Saint Peter recognized the "words of eternal life" in the Eucharist, still does his Church today.

By the grace of God, may we all recognize its value and be found worthy.

Ad Maiōrem Deī Glōriam

+Brian MacMichael+