It is Thursday, just before dinner. Our Lord is tired but there will be no rest. For the most part, His ministry is over and the foundation of His Church laid. Time is now short.
This week has been a busy one. After arriving by donkey last Sunday, He spent the entire night in Bethany praying. Returning to Jerusalem for the day on Monday, He cleansed the Temple (yet again). Tuesday was filled with teaching then retiring to the Mount of Olives. Yesterday, a woman anointed Him with an expensive jar of alabaster in the home of Simon the leper. Judas began his plot of betrayal.
There will be no sleep tonight. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus will pray, be betrayed and condemned by religious leaders. He will stand before Pilate and Herod. By morning Pilate’s “sentence” will be swiftly and zealously carried out. Tomorrow afternoon He will be dead.
Tonight’s Passover celebration will be the final meal with the twelve. How will this precious time be used?
Recall this part of what we now call the Bread of Life Discourse:
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
This shocked and confused his disciples. Many left Him, but by their faith (if not understanding) the twelve remained. Jesus did not call to those who left nor explain Himself in any other way. His words were clear, blunt and not symbolic. Those who chose to leave correctly understood this.
This night – this last meal – would not be about earthly sustenance. Nor would it be a time for parables. Time was far too short for symbolism. No, tonight Jesus would give the Apostles holy food in the form of His body and blood. This is the means by which He will remain in direct communion with us. This is what He spoke of earlier.
While they were at supper he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying:
Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.
“This is my body” were Jesus words (widely accepted as accurately translated). Jesus could have said “this represents my body” or “accept this bread in memory of my physical sacrifice” or similar phraseology. He did not. This was no time to be obtuse. He said simply, plainly and without any ambiguity what-so-ever “this is my body.”
In the same way, he took the cup filled with wine. He gave thanks and giving the cup to his disciples said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
“This is the cup of my blood” was similarly intended. Jesus could easily have shown other intent with a longer explanation or using a word other than “is.” He did not because He said what He meant.
Jesus chose this night, in this last meal, to give us the Eucharist. The words He said to consecrate bread into His Holy Body and wine into His Precious Blood are said unchanged in the Catholic Mass. Those words are said “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) under His authority through the direct succession of the Apostles.
In that upper room, Jesus invited us to consume His flesh and blood as true food and true drink. In doing so that night, those present joined themselves to Him, and He to them. Catholics do the same at every Mass. We do not re-enact the Last Supper but continue His earthly feast and our direct, personal intimacy with Him. Happy are those who are called to His supper!