Thursday, June 23, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Institution of the Eucharist

Matthew 26:17-30:

[17] And on the first day of the Azymes, the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the pasch? [18] But Jesus said: Go ye into the city to a certain man, and say to him: the master saith, My time is near at hand, with thee I make the pasch with my disciples. [19] And the disciples did as Jesus appointed to them, and they prepared the pasch. [20] But when it was evening, he sat down with his twelve disciples.
[21] And whilst they were eating, he said: Amen I say to you, that one of you is about to betray me. [22] And they being very much troubled, began every one to say: Is it I, Lord? [23] But he answering, said: He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me. [24] The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born. [25] And Judas that betrayed him, answering, said: Is it I, Rabbi? He saith to him: Thou hast said it.     [26] And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. [27] And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. [28] For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. [29] And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father. [30] And a hymn being said, they went out unto mount Olivet.

Luke 22:15-16:
[15] And he said to them: With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer. 
[16] For I say to you, that from this time I will not eat it, till it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I'm going to be perfectly honest with you. With respect to this particular Mystery, you will probably have read, or attended talks, or watched YouTube presentations on this subject that go much more deeply into it than I will. For example, you can watch Dr. Scott Hahn's talk on YouTube called The Fourth Cup, which I've linked here.

Given that, I hope you will forgive me if my exploration of this event is less exhaustive, but I'll do what I can.

The first thing I want to say is that this event is the source of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Eucharist, which I will explain briefly here. The Church teaches that, at the Last Supper, when Jesus spoke the words that He did over the bread and wine, that He was instituting what we call the "Eucharist," which comes from the Greek word eukharistia, which means "thanksgiving."

But, while other (but certainly not all) non-Catholic Christian groups believe that the Eucharist is a commemorative meal, and that the bread and wine taken at the meal are symbolic in nature, the Catholic Church teaches differently. Rather, the Church teaches that when a consecrated minister (priest or bishop) speaks the words that Jesus did at the Last Supper, over the bread and wine, that the substance of these things change into the actual, physical, body and blood (along with His soul and Divinity, as His natures are indivisible). The Church calls this change transubstantiation, which indicates a change in the substance only (and not, what is called in philosophy, the "accidents" of the bread and wine, which refers to its material appearance).

In this way, when Jesus says He is the True Bread from Heaven (referring to the Manna that the Israelites ate in the desert), as well as the True Vine, He intends for us to understand that we are to consume Him in the Eucharistic meal, which He institutes as the fulfillment of the Paschal meal, to be perpetuated throughout time.

This is important to understand, because in the Gospels, we see really significant events at every one of the Paschs of Jesus' ministry. We see the transformation of water into wine at the wedding of Cana. And on two other occasions (near the Pasch), Jesus feeds 5,000, and 4,000 people with a handful of bread (and fish, of course). The point here is that during Jesus ministry, we have a miracle of transformation, and two miracles of multiplication during the Pasch, and on His final Pasch before being Crucified, He institutes the Eucharist, which is both transformative (transubstantiation of the bread and wine into His Body and Blood), and multiplicative (He is fully present in all "bits" of the Eucharistic meal that He gives to us).

So, at the wedding feast of Cana, He transforms water into wine, so that the guests of the wedding might have their celebration enriched, and at the Last Supper, He transubstantiates the wine into the True Wine (Himself), that our spiritual lives might be enriched. And, again, He multiplies the bread to feed, on more than one occasion, thousands of people, to meet their need for physical nourishment, and at the Last Supper He multiplies His physical presence into all consecrated hosts that we all may receive the spiritual nourishment that we are in need of.

He Shall Betray Me

Now, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each recount the events of the Last Supper, pretty much the same, and you can read that account above. John doesn't record the Eucharistic meal in His Gospel, but instead records Jesus' last discourse with the Apostles before His Passion.

However, even though John's account doesn't focus on the meal, He does include this part of the story. "Jesus answered: He it is to whom I shall reach bread dipped. And when he had dipped the bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon." (John 13:26) This is specifically mentioned in all four Gospels. And, if you know anything about the Gospels, you'll know that it is uncommon for all four of them to explicit recount exactly the same thing.

So, this is important.

In typical Protestant theology, there are two doctrines that they teach in contradiction to Catholic teaching. The first is that when Jesus is speaking about eating His body, or eating His flesh, even if He calls it bread, He's really just referring to His teachings. They reference Jesus' teaching on eating the bread of the Pharisees, which He explained was a reference to accepting their doctrines (Matthew 16:6-12). So, to eat the flesh of Jesus, to them means to accept His teachings, and His sacrifice.

The second is that they typically believe (though, of course, neither this teaching nor the one I just mentioned is universal among all denominations, but these are common) that once you are saved, you will always be saved, and that you become saved by accepting Jesus teachings and His sacrifice, as He taught (to eat His flesh and drink His blood).

In my opinion, this occurrence at the Last Supper confounds these two doctrines. Because if eating the bread, which is symbolic of Jesus' doctrines, is a symbolic act of taking in His doctrine within us, then we can see clearly at the Last Supper that Judas Iscariot did so, which, according to typical protestant doctrine, would indicate he was saved. But then He betrays Jesus, almost immediately, confounding the idea that He would always be saved. Especially, since Jesus says of him who betrays Him that it were better he was never born, implying his damnation.

We see a warning about this in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. And here, St. Paul is speaking specifically about the practice of the Eucharistic meal, not about doctrine. This refutes the idea that Jesus' teaching about eating His flesh and blood is simply about accepting His doctrine, otherwise how could one be "guilty of the body" if it were simply about doctrine. If it were, then one would be "guilty of the bread," which is what Jesus' teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees was about.

But, really, I think this is a dire warning to us, who believe, more than anything. Judas was partaking of the meal, and had already made the decision to betray Jesus. Jesus makes it a point to reveal His betrayer through the meal. Think of the thousands of different ways Jesus could have revealed Judas for who he was, and on hundreds of different occasions. Instead, He chose that moment when He instituted the most intimate communion of persons, between Himself and all of us.

That should strike you as troubling, I should hope, because by it He is showing the importance of this event. Aren't we all Judas Iscariot? Do we not all go to Mass, take communion, then go home and betray Jesus by our sins that we almost never cease doing? This is why the Church has in place two very important restrictions when it comes to partaking of the Eucharist.

First, you must know what it is you do. If you are not Catholic, and do not believe the Eucharist to be what it is, Jesus' True Presence, then you are not permitted to enter into a communion with Him, and His community of believers, when doing so would be a lie.

Second, you must be in a state of Sanctifying Grace. That is, you must not have any unrepentant mortal sins on your soul. For, if you do, then you are no better than the Betrayer, and you partake of the Eucharistic meal, again, in falsehood. You blaspheme the Sacrament. And, as Jesus said, it would be better if you were not born (true of all sins that destroy your soul to death).

A Hymn Being Said

But the Eucharist is a gift! It is a great gift of joy and thankfulness! By it, we are permitted to enter into communion with the Trinity, into their community of Love. We call full communion (of the kind we will be permitted in Heaven) with this community the Beatific Vision because it is beautiful, and joyous and filled with love. The Eucharist is supposed to be, for us, a taste of that vision. We call it the Eucharistic Celebration, or celebration of thanksgiving for the great gift of Jesus that we have received.

This is why the Eucharist is called by the Church the source and summit of our Faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1324). It is called the source of our Faith because it feeds our Faith, gives it life, nourishes it (as bread it satisfies our need). Through communion with Jesus, who is God, the source of all life and love, our spiritual lives are sustained, and given rebirth each time we partake of this food. It is called the summit of our Faith because it enriches our Faith, makes it sweet and lovely (as wine, it enhances our spiritual experience with beauty). Through communion with Jesus, who is God, the source of all goodness and beauty, our spirits are uplifted to heights unthinkable by our own efforts.

And so, in joy and love, the Apostles, with Jesus, sang a Paschal hymn. And with that, I'm going to leave you with a beautiful old roman Catholic chant.

Kyrie Eleison


  1. "The Mistery of our Faith". It's difficult to grasp the enormity of this Sacrament!
    The article also triggers something I'm puzzled about: Judas -right or wrong- was instrumental in Jesus' Passion, which led to his death and Resurrection. Did he really repent of betraying Jesus? (Thus, may his soul be saved?) Or was he condemned due to his desperation? (He ended up killing himself) Such a complex subject!

    1. The first thing to say about this is that the Church does not have the capacity to judge hearts. Therefore, She does not have the authority to state that anyone in particular has been condemned. Therefore, speculating on Judas' eternal destiny is just that, speculation, and we should be careful about placing ourselves above the Church by deciding for ourselves that he is either in heaven or hell.

      Even though we can't make this judgement, we can certainly discuss what we know about the situation, and perhaps glean some good information for ourselves and how we can approach repentance and forgiveness.

      Judas Iscariot was very clearly sorrowful over the betrayal of Jesus. That's a good thing. Guilt and sorrow are good when they move us toward reconciliation and repentance. But therein lies the problem. Though sorrow is key, it is, itself, not repentance, nor reconciliation. Repentance requires that we turn back to God, to seek His forgiveness, and to receive it when it is offered. Repentance also requires a desire to make amends for the wrong committed, in an effort to repair the relationship.

      On the one hand, it might be argued that Judas may have supposed that the only way to make such amends for his crime, a crime that resulting in Jesus losing His life, was for he, himself, to lose his own life. He may have thought that it was the only suitable punishment for his sin. In this sense, we might say that Judas did have a desire to make amends, to offer just recompense for the offence he had committed.

      On the other hand, it might also be argued that Judas did not believe his sin could be forgiven, that it was too great a crime, and decided he could not live with the guilt of such a thing. In this way, he could not be said to have turned back to God, to seek His forgiveness, to try to repair the relationship. This, we call despair, having lost hope in God's beneficence. It renders his sin unforgivable, because it is left unrepentant, which is the only kind of sin that is unforgivable, since forgiveness can only be granted if it is sought. It doesn't matter that God is absolutely willing to forgive, He does not force His forgiveness upon us.

      Nevertheless, we cannot say Judas is in hell. We must note three sins that he appears to commit in the end. The first is his betrayal of Jesus. The second is his despair. The third is his suicide.

      His sorrow at betraying Jesus may have afforded him the opportunity to repent, even possibly in the last moments of his life.

      The complex psychological and emotional turmoil that he was in would have likely rendered his suicide venial, despite being a gravely immoral act.

      If anything would appear to condemn him, it must then be his despair. But again, even this he may have been afforded an opportunity of repentance in his dying moments. The mercy of God is inestimable, and surely, having selected Judas specifically to be one of His Apostles, Jesus must at one time have been able to say "I know you, friend." And this, we can hope, granted him a final opportunity for repentance, after a manner known only to God, an opportunity that the Church allows for, though She does not declare as certain.

      So, at the very least, we ought to take the possibility that he was, indeed, condemned as a strict warning to always, and as swiftly as possible, seek forgiveness for our many sins, our many betrayals of Jesus. For, though we may not take our own lives, we do not know when our lives will be taken from us. We must seek reconciliation now, while we have the power to do so.

  2. One thing I would add to this regarding Judas and damnation, is the contrast between him and St. Peter. Both betray Jesus (Peter denies Him three times) but Peter is repentant and is reconciled when Jesus asks him "do you love me more than these" three times. Whereas Judas doesnt seek reconciliation but instead takes his own life. Just some more to think about

    1. Very nice observation, Len. Of course, the passage you reference has really important parallels to Peter's denials. Jesus asks Peter the first time, "Simon son of John, [do you] agapas me more than these?" Peter responds, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that [I] philo thee."

      You see, in English, we translate various kinds of love with just the one word: love. But Jesus asks Peter if he has agape-love for Him, and Peter responds that he has philo-love for Him.

      The difference is this, agape is the kind of love that one has, which we might describe as "unconditional" and this is the kind of love that makes one ready to die for the beloved. Philo is the kind of love, which we might call "brotherly" which speaks about a certain kind of affectionate love that one has for a friend.

      Peter is willing to admit his great admiration and affection for Jesus, but realizing his own weakness, is unable to say that he has agape-love for Him, because he has already denied Jesus when the time came when he should have been willing to die for Him. Peter denied knowing Jesus because he was afraid for his own life.

      But Jesus presses him, "Simon, son of John, [do you] agapas me?" Again, Peter responds, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that [I] philo thee." Peter still can't say it, he knows his weakness, and his shame.

      And this is why the following makes so much sense. Jesus asks Peter a third time, "Simon, son of John, [do you] phileis me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: [Do you] phileis me?"

      Peter is grieved because Jesus, on His third time asking about Peter's disposition toward Him, didn't ask Peter if he would lay down his life for Him, as he had done so twice already, but rather asked him if he at least had affection for him, as he had twice already admitted. Jesus accepted Peter where he was at, acknowledging Peter's weakness and Peter's recognition of his weakness. It is an important lesson for us, because it is about humility, and being able to recognize where we are spiritually, and understanding that Jesus wants us to have the eye of inner discernment, and is okay if we aren't yet perfect, but to recognize that we are not yet perfect. With that heart, He can work.

      So, Peter responds, "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that [I] philo thee."

      I won't go into detail here, because this response is long enough, but with each admission of weakness, each recognition of Peter's own spiritual disposition, Jesus commits Peter to a new level of authority and responsibility, in the form of the command "feed my lambs," "feed my lambs," "feed my sheep."

      Remember, this is all in reference to John 13:36-38: "Simon Peter saith to him: Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered: Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow hereafter. Peter saith to him: Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thee. Jesus answered him: Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Amen, amen I say to thee, the cock shall not crow, till thou deny me thrice."

      Jesus know Peter's disposition even then, that Peter did not have agape-love for Him, which would move him to lay down his life for Jesus. It was the fall after the boast which taught Peter this humble inner discernment.

      This is how Jesus tests us, not with the stuff we're great at, but with the things we struggle with, and after the struggle, the test continues: what have you learned?