by Patrick Madrid
Finding the Eucharist in the Bible
This is an extremely important topic for Catholics to discuss with non-Catholics. Almost all Protestants have a reverence for the "Lord’s Supper," and some denominations, such as Lutherans and Episcopalians, have a sacramental approach to the Eucharist that draws near to the teaching of the Catholic Church (i.e., that at the moment of Consecration, Christ is sacramentally, really, and substantially present, body and blood, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine). Given the nearly universal affinity among Protestants for this doctrine, it’s important that Catholics be prepared to use Scripture to explain why the Church teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
First, as the next several passages will show, the Passover event in the Old Testament most dramatically prefigured the Eucharistic sacrifice and its relation to Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the Cross — our eternal victim and eternal high priest. At the Last Supper, Christ fulfilled the Old Testament Passover’s foreshadowing of his institution of the Eucharist. Just as the "lamb" was ritually sacrificed in the Old Testament and its blood was sprinkled upon the doorposts of the homes of the faithful Jews who, under Moses’ leadership, were awaiting their release from the captivity and servitude they suffered in Egypt, so too, Christ is the "Lamb of God," whose death on the cross "takes away the sins of the world." Our worthy reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist and participation in the sacrifice of the Mass make us truly present at the foot of the cross and in the heavenly temple, where Christ the High Priest presents his perfect sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.
John 1:28-30 should be linked with Exodus 12:8 and 12:46, where Moses is told that the flesh of the sacrificed paschal lamb (the prefigurement of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God) had to be consumed by the Jews on the night of the first Passover. This Old Testament image of the slain lamb that was eaten by God’s people, (who were protected from the Angel of Death by the blood of the lamb that had been sprinkled on the doorposts of the home) foreshadowed the Holy Eucharist. Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, shields us from eternal death by his blood which was shed for us on the cross.
Compare the significance of the Passover with the Mass, the sacrifice of the lamb with sacrifice of Christ, and the people being commanded by God to consume the lamb, as Christians are commanded to consume Christ’s own body and blood in the Eucharist: "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall have no life in you" (John 6:53). St. Paul speaks of this connection in 1 Corinthians 5:7 when he calls Christ "our paschal lamb" who was "sacrificed" for our sake.
Exodus 12:1-13: "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, ‘This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month they shall take every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household is too small for a lamb, then a man and his neighbor next to his house shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the evening. Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two door posts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled with water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. And you shall let none of it remain until the morning, anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.’ "
Exodus 12:21-28: "Then Moses called all the elders of Israel , and said to them, ‘Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two door posts with the blood which is in the basin, and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two door posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you. You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever. And when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, "What do you mean by this service?" you shall say, "It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he slew the Egyptians but spared our houses." ’ And the people bowed their heads and worshiped."
John 1:28-30: "This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ "
In 1 Corinthians 11:17ff, in addition to St. Paul’s explaining the tradition of the Eucharist in more detail, he also points out why it is so important for non-Catholics, and Catholics in the state of serious sin. St. Paul points out that the person who intends to receive the Eucharist must not do so if (1) he is "unworthy" to do so (i.e. he is in the state of mortal sin [cf. 1 John 5:16-17]), (2) he has not "examined himself" to make sure he is in the state of grace, and (3) he does not "recognize" the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
According to St. Paul, those who receive the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily "eat and drink judgment" on themselves and are "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" – a euphemism for "murder." If the Eucharist were merely a symbol, as many Protestants claim, then a Christian who received the Eucharist unworthily could not be guilty of such a sin. But if the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ under the appearances of the bread and wine, as the Catholic Church teaches, then one would in fact be committing a grave sacrilege by receiving it while in the state of mortal sin or when disbelieving what the Church teaches about the Real Presence.
- Matthew 26:1-2, 26-28
- Mark 14:22-25
- Luke 22:14-20
- John 6:22-69
- 1 Corinthians 5:7
- 1 Corinthians 10:16
- 1 Corinthians 11:23-29
Excerpt from Where is That in the Bible? by Patrick Madrid, copyright © 2001 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved. Order here.