by Cardinal Francis Arinze
Part I: Institution
It is first useful for us to say a word on how the Holy Eucharist was foreshadowed in the Old Testament, promised by our Lord after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and finally instituted at the Last Supper.
Foreshadowed in the Old Testament
The Covenant between God and the People of Israel, who were under the leadership of Moses, was made with the sacrifice of calves. "Moses took the blood and cast it towards the people. ‘This,’ he said, ‘is the blood of the Covenant that Yahweh has made with you, containing all these rules’ " (Exod 24:8). This was a foreshadowing of the New Covenant, which would be made by the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross for the redemption of all humanity.
God fed his chosen people with manna from heaven for the forty years that they wandered in the desert (cf. Exod 16:35); this was a symbol of Christ feeding his people with his Body and Blood during their years of earthly pilgrimage.
The paschal lamb (cf. Exod 12:1-14) and Isaac who was ready to be offered to God (cf. Gen 22:1-14) are symbols of Christ, the victim of love for our sins.
Through the prophet Malachi, God predicted that the sacrifices of old would be replaced with a pure offering: "From farthest east to farthest west, my name is honored among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice of incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering too, since my name is honored among the nations, says Yahweh Sabaoth" (Mal 1:11). This is a clear prophecy about the Eucharistic Sacrifice that would eplace all Old Testament sacrifices for all time and in all places.
Promised by Jesus Himself
Jesus announced that he would give humanity the great gift of the Eucharistic mystery. After he performed the miracle of multiplying five barley loaves and two fishes, thousands of people ate to their hearts’ content, and twelve baskets of leftovers were collected. The people followed Jesus. Enthusiasm ran high. They wanted to make him king.
Jesus took that occasion to advise them to look for the food that will not perish. He told them that he is the bread come down from heaven that would guarantee immortality to those who ate of it. To make it still clearer to them, he declared: "My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. . . . Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever" (Jn 6:55-58).
Many of his disciples refused to believe. They said: "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?" (Jn 6:60). They walked away. But Peter and the other Apostles stayed with Jesus and confessed their faith and trust in him: "Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:68-69). Peter has echoed the attitude of faith of all those throughout history who, at Jesus’ word, believe in the Eucharistic mystery.
Instituted at the Last Supper
At the Last Supper of Jesus with his Apostles, something extraordinary took place. "Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was" (Jn 13:1). This is the deliberately chosen introduction by St. John the Evangelist.
Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The act was full of meaning. The supper began. During the supper, Jesus made many special discourses. It was, after all, his Last Supper with his dear ones, the night before he would sacrifice himself on the Cross.
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to disciples. ‘Take it and eat’; he said, ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them. ‘Drink all of you from this,’ he said, ‘for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. From now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father’ " (Mt 26:26-29; cf. also Mk 14:22-25; Lk 22:19-20). He also added: "Do this as a memorial of me" (Lk 22:19).
By this act Jesus did two things. He changed bread and wine into his Body and Blood and gave to the Apostles to eat and drink. Then he told his Apostles to do this in his memory, that is, to consecrate bread and wine into his Body and Blood and distribute to his followers. He was telling them to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice. He was ordaining them priests of the New Covenant.
The intention, and indeed command, of Christ was faithfully carried out by the primitive Church. St. Luke testifies: "These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers" (Acts 2:42). St. Paul the Apostle, who faithfully transmitted to us what he had received from the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:23), is clearly speaking of the Eucharistic Sacrifice when he points out that Christians ought not to take part in pagan sacrifices, precisely because they have been made partakers of the table of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 10:16).
The Holy Eucharist was therefore directly instituted by Jesus Christ himself as his special parting gift to his Church.
Excerpt from The Holy Eucharist by Cardinal Francis Arinze. Copyright © 2001 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved. Order here