THE LAMB'S SUPPER:
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
Program 26 Transcripts
Let's begin. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. If you have a Bible, turn with me to 1st Corinthians, chapter 10, where we are going to look for our keynote. Our point of departure is taken from the inspired words of St. Paul, addressed to the Corinthian believers concerning the Eucharist and what the Holy Eucharist does for us, does in us, does through us and does to us in making us the Body of Christ.
Beginning of verse 15, "I speak as to sensible men. Judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a communion (participation, cononea) in the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is it not a participation, (a communion, a cononea) in
the Body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body for we all partake of the one bread."
This is the Catholic faith in its core: Jesus Christ dying, rising, ruling for us to reproduce in us his own life, death and resurrection in glory. And that's what we want to focus on this morning.
Why did Jesus come and what did Jesus do and how does his death affect our salvation? These are the questions that have been on my mind and heart for almost two decades since I first heard the gospel in a life-transforming way, in a context that was altogether non-Catholic. I heard it in a non-denominational para-church organization, and I responded by the grace of God to the call of Christ, that he died for me. He died for my sin, and he lives for me, and he calls me to give myself to him as he gave himself to me.
But what does that mean and how did it happen? That's something that we can really reflect upon. That's something that we can ponder and contemplate together. Just last month I got a phone call from a dear old lady whose son is in the seminary and he's very nervous, I guess especially at the end of the semester. It was his first semester and he handed in a paper to a very brilliant professor, and he was scared because of how knowledgeable that instructor was. His topic was on "Christ's Redeeming Sacrifice, His Atoning Death Upon the Cross." Apparently near the end of the paper, this student committed a typographical error.
The sentence was meant to read, "Christ died to take away our guilt," but the typo was "Christ died to take away our quilt." And when the seminarian got the paper back, he noticed the typo was and was ashamed, but he was surprised to see how the professor responded. All he did was circle it and put a marginal comment, "Yes, but he promised to send the comforter." So Christ died to take away our "quilt," but he promised to send a comforter. Indeed, Christ did die for our sins and he died to remove our guilt, but the death of Christ is often reduced to that, much to the neglect of other glorious consequences of Christ's atoning death. Those are what I would like to focus upon today. When I was a non-Catholic back in the 70s, I wasn't simply a Protestant, a Bible Christian. I wasn't simply an Evangelical. I was also a strident anti-Catholic. It wasn't bigotry; it wasn't prejudice. For me it was cool, calm deliberation. It was a studied conviction that led me to the conclusion that if the wafer up there on your altar is not what you claim it to be, the God-man; if Transubstantiation is not true; if that is not Jesus Christ truly, personally and really present there; then the worship of Catholics in the Mass is idolatry, and a rather low and crass form of idolatry.
So out of this studied conviction, I strenuously and strategically opposed Catholics and worked quietly to get them to see the error of their ways and to draw them out of this error and superstition and back to the simple gospel. But at the same time I was studying scripture, and I was praying and doing a considerable amount of research on my own. I wasn't studying the Catholic faith to see whether or not it was true. I was studying the scriptures to understand the depths of God's word.
It was that study that the Lord used to surprise me with joy and with truth, especially the truth of Christ's Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Now, I could go through the stages of discovery in great detail, but it would take too much time. So what I propose to do is to take you by the hand and lead you through the two or three major steps that I took in studying God's word and in allowing the Holy Spirit to change my mind and then my heart and then my denominational affiliation as well.
Study of Scripture Leads to Conversion to Catholicism
It all started one morning on a Sunday at a church up in Lanesville, outside of Gloucester, Massachusetts. I was listening to my favorite pastor and preacher who also happened to be my Hebrew instructor and Old Testament professor. He was going through the Gospel of John, and he was focusing on Christ's passion and death. Then he got to chapter 19, and then he came to those famous verses in John 19, beginning in verse 28, "After this, Jesus knowing that all was now finished said to fulfill the scripture, 'I thirst.' A bowl full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, 'It is finished' and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
In the middle of his sermon, he was distracted by these words, "It is finished." You could tell that he was taking in unplanned tangent. He said, "You know, well what exactly did Jesus mean when he said, 'It is finished?" Now this pastor always had a way of asking provocative questions, off the cuff, and then giving you brilliant answers off the cuff, that just opened up layer after layer of meaning for scripture. So I was sitting there waiting with bated breath for some mind-numbing insight, when all of a sudden he shocked me and said, "I'm not really sure what Jesus meant when he said, 'It is finished.' What is the 'it' that was finished?"
Can't Mean Christ's Redemptive Death
I'm sitting there thinking, "Come on, it's Christ's redemptive death." And he said, "If you're sitting there thinking it's Christ's redemption that is finished, you have to realize that the work of redemption was not completed with his death. As St. Paul says, 'He was raised for our justification.' So the resurrection is essential for our redemption every bit as much as the crucifixion. All right then, what did he mean when he said, 'It is finished.'?" I just kept sitting there waiting until finally he said, "I'm not sure. Let's just move on."
I didn't hear another word because once he did that, I began burying myself in those verses, trying to find the answer. Little did I know that it would take months, in fact a couple years altogether. I decided when I got home from church that day to back up a couple steps and really get a running start so that I could understand this more adequately.
The first thing I did was to back up a couple chapters in John's gospel to understand Jesus' words up there on the cross in light of how he had prepared his disciples for this death of his, for his agony and his passion. So you back up a couple chapters and you discover in John's gospel, but especially Matthew, Mark and Luke as well, that Jesus' death occurred at the time of the Passover. Now this might not strike you as terribly significant but for any Jewish person it is of great importance because the Passover was, for all practical purposes, the New Year's festival. It was the greatest religious festival celebration of the Jewish calendar because it was the event that happened long ago, back in the time of Moses, that signaled the birth of Israel -- not only as a nation of twelve tribes, but as God's chosen people, as a holy nation, a royal priesthood.
So I went back and studied the Old Testament background to the Passover and in particular I looked at the original Passover. I think all of us know some of the details. During that fateful night, every firstborn son in Egypt perished except those in Israelite families; but only in those Israelite families that followed Moses' stipulations carefully. God gave to Moses certain stipulations regarding how that first Passover was to be observed. For instance, every family had to find an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it. Then they had to take its blood and sprinkle it upon the door posts. Then they had to roast that lamb and eat that lamb that evening, standing up with their loins girded, ready to flee Egyptian bondage in haste. It had to be an unblemished male lamb without any broken bones, according to Exodus 12, and the details and the stipulations got down to the point where Moses actually prescribed the type of branch that you had to use to sprinkle the lamb's blood upon the doorpost. It had to be a hyssop branch. So those Israelite families that followed these stipulations experienced the mighty hand of Yahweh redeeming his people, purchasing them out of slavery and redeeming them for himself, even as he told Moses that he would do in advance when he said to Moses
in the burning bush, "Go tell Pharaoh, 'Israel is my firstborn son. Let him go to serve me or else I will slay your firstborn sons.'"
Purpose of the Covenant was to Free Israelites for the Renewal of the Covenant
So this great festival event that happened in Israel's antiquity serves as the foundation for understanding what Jesus was doing at Passover as he prepared his disciples to witness his agony and his crucifixion. So I studied that for a few weeks, just to really understand it better. It's also essential to realize that the Passover significance extends beyond the evening of deliverance because ultimately the real purpose for that great Passover was in Exodus itself where God used Moses to lead the twelve tribes of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness where he met them at Mount Sinai for one essential reason. His purpose: to renew his covenant with them.
Now when we hear the word covenant as 20th Century Americans, we're tempted to misunderstand it. We are very liable to misinterpret covenant in contractual terms, but for ancient Hebrews, the meaning of covenant was essentially a familial meaning. Covenant was sacred kinship. It wasn't simply a contract between two individuals involved in the exchange of property. It was a sacred blood bond between personsinvolving the exchange of life. "I am yours, you are mine." Even Yahweh declares, "I will be your God and you will be my people." And the Hebrew term he uses there, "am" literally means "my family, my kinsmen, my household, my children."
That's the significance, then, of the Passover. It was the preparation that God laid out to make Israel his family, which he did on Mount Sinai. Then, when he gave them the decalogue, the Ten Commandments, this law was not some sort of contract involving legalistic obedience by which we would buy our way into God's favor. The law of God is an expression of the Father's good will, the Father's wisdom, so that he could help his children grow up in every way. The law of God is inscribed in our very beings and then it's inscribed on those tablets of stone to show Israel the way to life, the way to happiness, the way to power, ultimately, the way home to God the Father.
Now, the second stage of my research took me from ancient Egypt and Mount Sinai to Jesus' own time because the Passover liturgy that is celebrated today by Jewish people around the world and, oftentimes by Christian people who participate in the Seder meal during the Springtime, that liturgy, that liturgical pattern today is essentially the same as it was all the way back in the 1st Century.
The Passover Celebration, the Seder Meal, has a Set Liturgical Pattern
When you look carefully at the sources, scholars, historians tell
us that the Passover liturgy in Jesus' time, just as it is today, is
based on a four-part structure. The four parts or stages of the
Passover liturgy are basically set up to revolve around four cups of
wine, that are consumed by the participants. So, if you look carefully
at the structure of a Passover Seder, known as the "Hogadah" the
liturgy that Jesus celebrated in the Upper Room with his disciples, you
see these four stages.
The first part was the preliminary course which consisted of the
festival blessing, the "kadush," a prayer that was spoken by the
celebrant over the first cup of wine. Then a dish of green, bitter
herbs was passed along with some fruit sauce and that was shared by all
That preliminary course was complete at that point and then you
moved quickly into the second stage which consists of the Passover
liturgy, taken from the Book of Exodus, chapter 12. In fact, the
narrative of that first Passover in Egypt is read and then questions
are asked of the oldest member participating by the youngest one. At
this point, Psalm 113, is sung. It's known as the "little Hillel." In
Hebrew Hillel means praise. Hallelujah means praise Ya, praise Yahweh.
The little Hillel, Psalm 113, is sung and then a second cup of wine is
shared by all the participants.
At this point you now proceed to the main course, the main meal.
First, grace is spoken over the bread, the unleavened bread, and then
the meal of roasted lamb is served up along with the unleavened bread
and the bitter herbs. At this point in the ancient Passover liturgy,
the celebrant would say a prayer. Grace was spoken over a third cup of
wine. This cup of wine was known as the "cup of blessing." The cup of
blessing was then passed around and shared by all the participants.
At this point you have reached the climax. The culmination of this
ancient Passover liturgy would occur with the fourth cup of wine. Some
scholars believe that back in the 1st Century, it was known as the "cup
of consummation." It wasn't passed around immediately, though. First,
all the participants would sing a song, a long hymn consisting of
Psalms 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. This was known as the "great
Hillel," a very long and beautiful hymn. On the closing note of that
hymn, the fourth cup was passed around and shared. This was the
climax. This was the culmination. This represented the purpose, the
goal, the end result of the Passover. It signaled the communion between
God and his people and among the brothers and sisters who are members
of God's family.
Traces of the Passover Liturgy in the Gospel Narratives
Now, when you go back into the gospel narratives, you discover
traces throughout the texts of this liturgy. Joachim Yuraneaus, a
German New Testament scholar, for instance, shows us how the Passover
liturgy is assumed in the gospel narratives, especially in the Synoptic
Gospels and even in the writings of St. Paul. For instance, there in
1st Corinthians 10, in the passage that I read in the beginning of our
time together, we have Paul referring to the "cup of blessing, which is
a communion in the blood of Christ." Now where did Paul get that
terminology, "the cup of blessing"? Well, that refers to the third cup
which Christ blessed and prayed over which Christ then shared.
There is other evidence as well. We won't go into all of the data.
But at this particular point an interesting problem arises for certain
scholars because in the gospel narratives you discover that after Jesus
passed around the cup of blessing, the next thing is something we'd
expect. We read in Mark 14:26, "and when they had sung a hymn", this
all fits with the Passover. After the third cup you would sing a hymn.
That would be, of course, the great Hillel. Then you would proceed to
the fourth cup.
But the problem which arises is that they don't proceed to drink
the fourth cup. Instead, the verse continues, "and when they had sung a
hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Now it might be difficult
for us Gentile believers to understand the problem because we are not
so familiar with the Hogadah, with the ancient Seder. But it is not
lost to Jewish readers of the gospel, nor to students of the ancient
liturgy who study the Synoptic texts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
because, apparently, Jesus skipped the fourth cup and Jesus' skipping
the fourth cup, while it might be something we miss, it's practically
equivalent to a priest who would say the Mass and then entirely omit
Communion. Do you think you would notice that as cradle Catholics?
So the point is not lost here to those who really understand the
ancient liturgy. In other words, the fundamental goal, the purpose of
the Passover, seems to have been skipped. Not only is this omission
conspicuous, but I would suggest to you that Jesus apparently
underscores this before it happens. For instance, in Mark 14:25, right
before they sang the great Hillel, here are the words of our Lord,
"Truly, truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the
vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God," Mark
14:25. It's almost as though Jesus meant not to drink what he was
expected to drink.
Now the question is, "Why?" Some scholars point to psychological
factors. In other words, Jesus, knowing what was about to happen, was
obviously in great distress. A great burden of anxiety was pressing in
upon him. We can see this for instance in Mark 14:34 where our Lord
says, "My soul is very sorrowful even unto death. He began to be
greatly distressed and troubled." So some scholars speculate, saying
that perhaps he was just simply too upset to be bothered with following
the liturgical rubrics with precision.
That's plausible, but I don't think it's likely. For one thing, if
he was so distracted and confused, it seems doubtful to me that Jesus
would interrupt the Passover liturgy after expressly declaring his
intention not to taste of the fruit of the vine again, especially when
he goes on to sing the great Hillel with the disciples. Why would he
declare himself so plainly before acting in such a disorderly manner?
No, I think there are other reasons why Jesus chose to leave the
Upper Room and go over to the Mount of Olives apart from that Fourth
Cup. Why did he choose not to drink? Well, the final stage of my own
discovery process came close to an answer when I followed Jesus out in
my imagination with the disciples. In fact just last Fall I had the
privilege of going to the Holy Land for the first time with Kimberly
and the kids, and it was an unspeakable experience to be there in the
Upper Room where our Lord instituted the Eucharist and initiated his
own self-sacrifice. And I have to tell you, the trip from the Upper
Room to the Mount of Olives is not just a couple blocks. It's a
It was a very deliberate move on our Lord's part. And Peter, James
and John accompanied him there. And if we follow our Lord's footsteps,
I believe we might understand more clearly his purpose in skipping the
Fourth Cup because when he gets there to the Mount of Olives, and
especially there in the Garden of Gethsemani, notice what he prays,
"And going a little farther he fell on his face and he prayed, 'Abba
(Papa), my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me.
Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt."
Three times altogether, Jesus prays, flat on his face, sweating
blood, "Abba, Father, take away this cup, but not as I will but as thou
wilt." Now a reasonable question is what cup did Jesus talk about? What
did he mean when he said, "Take away this cup?" Now some scholars
suggest this goes back to the prophetic image of the cup of wrath,
spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in Chapter 51, verse 17, or by Jeremiah
in Chapter 25, verse 15. And I think there is most certainly some
illusion to the cup of wrath. But I would suggest to you that the
primary link, the more direct connection is between Jesus' prayer about
this cup and the Fourth Cup that he conspicuously omitted in
celebrating the Passover with his disciples in the Upper Room.
After all, he declared very clearly, "I will not taste of the
fruit of the vine again until I drink it new with you in the kingdom" -
- until my glory is established, until the purpose for my coming is
realized. And if you follow Jesus' footsteps from the Mount of Olives
to the trial and to the sentencing and to the carrying of the cross up
Calvary, you discover that he followed through on his resolution. For
instance, there in Mark 15:23, we read, "On the way up to Golgatha,
they offered him wine mingled with myrrh, but he did not take it." He
refused the wine. After all, what did he say? "I'm not going to taste
the fruit of the vine again until my kingdom has come, my glory is
Now, what exactly does that mean? When is it that Christ's kingdom
comes? When is it that his glory is revealed? I think most of us
would assume that the answer is the second coming, the final advent
when our Lord returns and establishes his eternal kingdom and manifests
his divine glory for all the world to see and for the rest of eternity.
But that is not the perspective of the New Testament in the
gospels, especially John. In the fourth gospel, the Gospel of John, we
have a very penetrating insight into what Jesus meant when he spoke of
his kingdom, when he referred to his glory, when he spoke about the
real purpose for his coming. For instance, in John 12, we read, "Jesus
answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the ruler of this world
be cast out and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all
men to myself.' "
What was he talking about? He says, "Now is the hour of glory.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." It sounds like
the reference to the end of time, when the Son of Man comes riding on
the clouds. "Now the judgment of this world begins. The ruler of this
world will be cast out." That sounds like the expulsion of Satan and
the consignment of his legions to hell for eternity. "And I, when I am
lifted up from this world from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
Perhaps that refers to Christ gathering the elect and taking them home
But that is not Jesus' meaning. John makes it clear, "When I am
lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself. He said this
to show by what death he was to die." John has a very profound
spiritual insight here for us. We assume that Jesus' kingdom and glory
are primarily physical and visible realities, when, in fact, the glory
of Christ's kingdom is the truth and the love that he manifested upon
the cross. So for Christ, in his own conscious thought, he understood
that when he died that shameful ignominious death on the cross, there
on Calvary, at that moment of shame and agony and horror -- for the
first time in history, the greatest manifestation of God's love became
available to all the earth.
John Gives Clues to Meaning of "It is Finished"
The true nature of Christ's kingdom was unveiled on the cross. It
isn't political. It isn't military. It isn't violence. It's truth and
it's love and it's mercy, all converging there on the cross when Jesus
offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins. And it's John who weaves
together these things so skillfully as he recites and narrates Jesus'
passion, death and resurrection. And it's John who gives to us, I
think, the clues we need to solve the problem of what Jesus meant when
he said, "It is finished."
First, John shows us the true meaning of Jesus' kingship. There
at the trial, for instance, Pilate responds to him with cynicism, like
a typical politician. He dresses Jesus in a purple robe and
interrogates him half-heartedly and when Jesus speaks about his kingdom
being based on truth, what does Pilate say? "What is truth?" Who cares
about truth when you've got a majority behind you, when you've got the
power of Imperial Rome to back you up?
John goes on to say in chapter 19, verse 14, "It was the Day of
Preparation of the Passover, about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to
the Jews, 'Behold your king.' They cried out, 'Away with him, away
with him. Crucify him!'" John is the only evangelist to witness all of
this. He was the only one of the twelve who didn't flee, who didn't run
away. He is the one who noticed that this occurred at the sixth hour,
precisely at the moment when the priests were prescribed to begin
slaughtering the Passover lamb there in the temple.
Something else that John picks up. Only John mentions that Jesus
was stripped, not only of garments in general, but of one garment in
particular, a seamless linen tunic, which he calls in the Greek the
"kitome". Jesus was wearing this seamless linen tunic, this "kitome" up
there on Calvary until the soldiers stripped him of it and then drew
lots for it. What is this tunic? It's the same word used for the
official tunic worn by the High Priest in sacrifice in Exodus 28 and
Leviticus 16. When the High Priest offered a holy sacrifice, this is
what he was to wear. He was to take off the beautiful garment of the
priesthood and simply wear this linen "kitome" which is what our Lord
was wearing moments before he offered himself up as the sacrifice on
Jesus Christ is both priest and victim. He is the Passover Lamb,
even as John the Baptist introduced him to the world, "Behold the Lamb
of God who takes away the sin of the world." He is the one who
fulfills and completes every detail of the Old Testament Passover. But
he is also the sacrificing priest and John picks up on this for our
Also, John notices a third item that parallels the Passover. John
notices that when Jesus died, the soldiers responsible for speeding up
the death of the two thieves, remember what they did? They took mallets
and they broke the legs of the thieves to hasten death, because the
only way you could sustain life on the cross was to pick yourself up on
the spike through your feet to take a breath, and so when you break the
legs, you can no longer breathe and they quickly suffocate.
But not Jesus. John is the one who noticed that Jesus' legs were
not broken, and then he quickly adds, "Thus to fulfill the Scripture,
'Not a bone of him shall be broken.'" What does that refer to? It
refers to a passage in the Psalms which points back to Exodus 12:46
where you had to take an unblemished male lamb without any broken bones
to be your Passover sacrifice. No wonder Jesus is the Lamb of God who
takes away the sin of the world!
Gradually in my own study and contemplation, all of these details
began converging in my mind and I began asking myself the question,
once again, "What did Jesus mean when he said, 'It is finished?' " For
one thing, I noticed that my King, my Priest, my Paschal Victim in the
hour of glory. while suffering on the cross, made a profound gesture
that John noticed. "After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now
finished said, " and John adds, "in order to fulfill the Scripture, he
said, 'I thirst.'"
Now let's ask ourselves a question that I think is quite
reasonable. Do you think that it wasn't until this closing moment of
life that Jesus noticed his thirst? Obviously not. Jesus was wracked
not only with pain, but with hunger and thirst from the very beginning
of his sacrifice. They weren't feeding the prisoner well. They weren't
providing him all the drink he wanted. He was thirsty long before, but
he waited until this moment to say, "I thirst."
I would also suggest to you that when Jesus utters sayings from
the cross, these are not to be trivialized. The full weight, meaning
and importance of these sayings ought to be considered, because it
wasn't easy to breathe on the cross, much less to speak. As I
mentioned, to breathe you had to pick yourself up on the spike through
your feet just to gather breath to postpone the suffocation that
occurred, the asphyxiation, as body fluid collected in the lungs and
prevented breathing. And if breathing was that hard, imagine the
difficulty to speak!
Yet, here is our Lord saying, in order to fulfill the Scripture,
"I thirst." Immediately, John records, that a bowl of sour wine stood
there. So they put a sponge filled with the sour wine on a hyssop
branch. John noticed the specific detail. The branch prescribed in
the Passover law, Exodus 12, for sprinkling the lamb's blood, verse 22.
"They lifted up the sponge filled with sour wine on a hyssop branch."
Now, what does Jesus do when he is offered the sour wine? Well, what
did he do before, going up to Calvary? They offered him wine mingled
with myrrh and he refused it. After all, what did he say, "I'm not
going to taste of the fruit of the vine again until I drink it anew in
the kingdom when my glory is manifest."
Matthew, Mark and Luke all record how Jesus was offered sour wine,
vinegar, on the cross. But the first three evangelists don't tell us
whether or not he accepted the offer. Only John does because only John
was there at the foot of the cross. At the very end, Jesus was offered
sour wine, but only John tells us his response. "When Jesus had
received the sour wine, he said, 'tel te lestai -- It is consummated.
It is finished.' And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
"It is Finished" Refers to the Passover
At last I realized, here was an answer to the question that I had
asked so long ago! What did Jesus mean when he said, "It is finished?"
What was he referring to? What was finished? The conclusion slowly
began to dawn, that what was finished was the Passover. Not just the
Passover, but Jesus' fulfillment of an Old Covenant Passover. He was
the Lamb of God, slain for the families of Israel, but he was also the
firstborn son slain in Egypt, because Jesus' death covers Israel and
all the Egypts of this world.
He was both victim and priest; priest and king. He was God's
firstborn son. He was the lamb slain for the sins of the world. So what
was finished? The fulfillment of the Old Covenant Passover. When Jesus
had been celebrating, he had temporarily interrupted it. He had
suspended it. Why? Because he was not only celebrating the Old
Testament Passover, he was fulfilling it and in himself, he was
transforming it into the New Covenant Passover.
Jesus only used that all-important word "covenant" on one occasion
in the gospels -- in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover,
instituting the Eucharist with the unleavened bread and with that third
cup, the cup of blessing, the cup which is the blood of the New
Covenant, this new family. Jesus took the Old Testament Passover and in
himself, he fulfilled it and through his sacrifice, he transformed it
into the New Covenant Passover, which we call the Holy Eucharist.
As these conclusions began to emerge in my thought and
contemplation, I began to share them with students I was teaching at
the time in a Protestant seminary. In an evening seminar on the Gospel
of John, I remember vividly asking a question of my students. I said,
"Okay, if you can see the connection between the Passover that Jesus
and the disciples are celebrating in the Upper Room and Jesus' death
upon the cross as the Lamb of God, then you see the connection between
the two of them, then answer this first question, 'When did Jesus'
sacrifice begin?'" One hand shot up. He was a fellow named John, an
ex-Catholic. And John said to me, "Professor Hahn, from what you say,
it's clear that Jesus' sacrifice is not just a bloody sacrifice on the
cross, but a Passover sacrifice. So it had to begin in the Upper Room
when the celebration of the Passover began." And I said, "Yes! Second
question. When does the Passover end?"
John's hand shot up again. He said, "From what you just shared,
it's clear that the Passover didn't end when they left the Upper Room
because he hadn't taken the Fourth Cup. It didn't end until Calvary
when he drank the sour wine. So when he said, 'It is finished' he was
talking about the Passover. The Passover was finished. It was
fulfilled. It was transformed by Jesus into his own New Covenant
sacrifice." And it was not only clear but exciting to see these truths
unfold for me and for my students.
Then John's hand shot up a third time. I said, "I have no more
questions." But his hand stayed up. I said, "What is it, John?" And he
said, "Do you realize that what you are teaching us is almost
identical to what I learned in the Baltimore Catechism?" I said to
John, "What is a Baltimore Catechism?" I had never heard of a
Baltimore Catechism. I didn't know who John Lemon was. He said, "Well,
I was born and raised a Catholic, and I remember learning from the
Sisters in the Baltimore Catechism that the sacrifice of Christ upon
the cross is one and the same sacrifice with the Eucharist which he
instituted with his disciples in the Upper Room."
I could feel sweat coming to my brow and I said, "Well, John,
don't worry. That's just a coincidence." And he said, "I'm not so
sure." And I said, "Well I assure you it is. I think you
misunderstand the Catholic teaching at that point." Well, a few months
later, I realized that it was me who misunderstood the Catholic
teaching at that point. Because after coming to these conclusions, I
began to check my results with the early Church Fathers, and I
discovered that without exception they all thought this way and taught
this way without any real debates. It was assumed more than it was
asserted, and when it was asserted, it wasn't argued, it was just
stated in a matter-of-fact way. Why would it be so matter of fact
unless it was part of the faith of the Fathers from the start. And so
The Bread of Life Discourse
I began following through on the implications of these
discoveries. For instance, I turned to John's gospel, Chapter 6, and I
began studying more closely a very significant event that occurred
early in his ministry near Capernaum where I happened to be just a few
months ago with my family. A fascinating story there. You all know it,
I think. In John 6, Jesus multiplied the loaves and gave the famous
Bread of Life discourse. He multiplied the loaves and spoke of himself
as being the Bread of Life.
What was the season of the year when that occurred? John 6, verse
4, tells us, "It was at the time of the Passover." What a coincidence,
right? Wrong! Jesus knew at that early Passover what he was to do at a
later Passover, so he began to prepare his disciples to understand the
full nature and the true meaning of his sacrificial death before it was
At the end, as the climax of this discourse, he announces to the
multitudes, he says, "This is the bread which comes down from heaven,
that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came
down from heaven. I am the manna; I am the unleavened bread. I am the
food for your souls, to lead you out of the spiritual Egypt, to deliver
you in the true Passover, and the ultimate exodus -- not just from
Egypt into Caanan, but out of this world and across the Jordan River of
death into the Promised Land of heaven. That's what my sacrifice will
accomplish and that's what my Body and Blood will empower you to
"If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever... and the
bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. The
Jews then disputed among themselves saying, 'How can this man give us
his flesh to eat?' So Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to
you,'" -- I'm simply using a metaphor, a figure of speech? -- No, he
says, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son
of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you." Now, first he
says, "The bread which I give to you is my flesh," and the Jews are
offended because that sounds like cannibalism. It sounds like a
forbidden practice according to the laws of Leviticus and so they
protest, and what does Jesus say? If Jesus had meant his words to be
taken exclusively in a figurative sense, as a teacher, he would have
been morally obligated to clarify that point. And it would have been
simple to do. He could have simply said, "Gentlemen, I simply mean
receive me in faith."
But no. In fact what he does is intensifies the scandalous nature
of his remark. He says, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and
drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last
day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who
eats my flesh," -- and the Greek is very vivid, it's he who "chews" --
"my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living
Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will
live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not
such as the fathers ate and died. For he who eats this bread will live
He doesn't just say it once. He doesn't just say it twice. Not
even three times. Four times altogether, he tells the multitudes, "You
have to eat my flesh and drink my blood." Now you often hear Bible
Christians asking others, "Are you born again?" And they quote from
John 3, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, "You must be born again -- or
born from above." But Jesus doesn't say, "You have to eat my flesh and
drink my blood just once." He only said "born again" once. Here he
says it four times.
Why is it we don't hear Bible Christians going around and saying,
"Have you eaten his flesh and have you consumed his blood?" A better
question to ask is, "Why aren't we going out and sharing with our
friends and family that question? Have you received the glorious feast
that Christ died to serve? Have you eaten the flesh and drunk the
blood of the Son of Man, so that he could raise you up, so you can
abide in him and he can belong to you?"
Back then, the disciples were really perplexed. Many of his
disciples, when they heard it said, "This is a hard saying. Who can
listen to it?" They don't say, "Who can understand?" They say, "Who
can even stand by and listen to it? It's so offensive." But Jesus,
knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them,
what? "Do you take offense at this?" -- or, "I apologize, I'll back
off?" No. Our Lord does not compromise the truth for crowds. He says
what he means and he means what he says. And he said we must eat his
flesh and drink his blood because that's the gift of himself.
I'm not surprised to read then, in verse 66, "After this many of
his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him." The real,
true, personal presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist was then
and is now a mystery of faith. It is an incredible thing for us to
believe that Jesus Christ's real presence is there in the Holy
Eucharist. Don't take it for granted if you believe. Don't say to
yourself, "What's wrong with them, why can't they see? It's so plain
and obvious?" No, it's not.
If you believe that Jesus Christ is truly and really present in
the Holy Eucharist, then by all means, before this day is done, you
thank God for that grace. Because you believe something which your eyes
have not shown you, what your human reason has not demonstrated. You
believe because God has spoken and God has empowered you to believe.
But in every age, today as back then, there are going to be multitudes
who follow Jesus, who see his miracles, who confess him to be their
Earlier in the chapter the multitudes were going to take Jesus by
force and make him King. Here are people proclaiming the Lordship and
the Kingship of Jesus who are shocked and horrified and offended at his
language when it comes to preparing his disciples for the Eucharist.
And what do they do? The people who are announcing his Kingship a few
hours ago now turn away. Many of his disciples drew back and no longer
went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, "What have I done, guys?
Hire me a public relations firm. I've got to beef up my act?" No. He
didn't say, "Hey, go out there. Catch them. Stop them. Bring
them back. Tell them I only meant it metaphorically."
"He said to the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?'" Jesus is
so committed to the truth which sets us free, to the truth which gives
us life, that he would not compromise it when the numbers had dwindled
down to twelve. And Simon Peter speaks up on behalf of the twelve,
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we
have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God."
Notice what Simon Peter does not say. He does not say, "Hey,
Jesus, come off it. What you said is plain. It's obvious. It's clear.
Eucharistic realism -- you know; it's no problem at all. It's the Real
Presence of you in the Eucharist." No way. Peter says, "To whom shall
we go?" In other words, "Jesus to be real frank, we've been thinking
about finding another Rabbi. Any advice? Any suggestions? To whom
shall we go? Here's our problem, Lord; you have the words of eternal
life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy
one of God."
He doesn't say, "Oh this lesson of yours, that's duck soup. We
have no problem comprehending it." Obviously, Peter struggled, too. But
sometimes it's important for faith to reach the point where you don't
have to understand everything. All you have to do is know the One who
does understand everything. You cling to Christ, even when you don't
understand his ways in your life. And that's the faith of Peter -- a
mustard seed, perhaps. That's the faith that held them together and
that's the faith that will hold us together as his disciples.
The truth of Jesus' Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist should
become a fire in our minds and in our hearts. It should inspire us as
Catholic Christians to go out and share the Good News. Just recently,
our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, gave a remarkable address and it
was published in "L'Osservatorio Romano", the official Vatican
newspaper. It was entitled "Base New Evangelization on the Eucharist."
I won't read all of this, but let me read just one brief excerpt,
"Whoever remains in Jesus shares in his life, a life which is not
subject to death. We proclaim this in the Mass. Christ alone is the
Living Bread of eternal life. He is Living Bread for every human being.
He is so through his word and the precious gift of his Body and Blood."
And he goes on, to quote Vatican II, "The Church lives by the
Eucharist, by the fullness of the sacrifice, the sacrament, the
stupendous content and meaning of which have often been expressed in
the Church's Magisterium from the most distant times down to our own
days." This is what I discovered, that in the lst and the 2nd and the
3rd Centuries, you cannot find any Church Father denying the Real
Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Instead, that was their
central affirmation. That was the gospel proclamation that Jesus Christ
gave himself to us on the cross, that he wasn't done giving himself
He isn't done until he feeds us with his own flesh and blood
because this is where it all comes together. You think about what it
would have been like for you back in Egypt. You had to find an
unblemished male lamb. You had to slaughter the lamb. You had to
sprinkle the blood. Then you had to roast the lamb and eat it for
salvation to come to you and your household.
Jesus Christ takes all that into himself and fulfills it and he
perfects it, and he transforms it into the New Covenant sacrifice. So
we have an unblemished male lamb who has been slain, and his blood has
been sprinkled. Now what remains? What remains for us? We have to
receive the lamb. We have to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Suppose you were back in Egypt and you slaughter the lamb, you
sprinkled his blood, but you and your brothers and your father and
mother and sisters all decided, "Hey, look, we don't like lamb meat.
Instead, Mama, why don't you make some matzoth cookies and shape them
like lamb, so we eat those as a token instead?"
Suppose you didn't eat the lamb? You simply slaughtered and
sprinkled its blood? The next day you discover your oldest brother
would be dead. The firstborn son would not have been spared unless you
ate the lamb. The lamb had to die. Its blood had to be sprinkled, but
the people had to eat the lamb. So Christ died and his blood was shed,
but we have to eat the lamb. This is the fundamental purpose of God in
raising Christ from the dead. It wasn't simply to tell the world,
"Hey, you can't keep a good man down. That man's my son. I'll
God the Father, rose the Son in order to provide us with the
Eucharistic banquet. The risen Christ is the Lamb of God and that's
why St. Paul can say in 1st Corinthians 5, "Christ, our Passover, has
been sacrificed for us. Therefore," What? We have nothing left to do
but believe? That's what I used to teach as an anti-Catholic Bible
Christian. But that's not what Paul says, "Christ, our Passover, has
been sacrificed for us. Therefore, we must keep the feast." What feast
is he talking about? The Holy Eucharist.
We must keep the feast with the unleavened bread, and he goes on
to describe it. You see, it isn't enough for Christ to die and his
blood to be shed. We have to eat the lamb. The real purpose in Jesus'
sacrificial death was to restore communion with his brothers and
sisters which is signified in the Holy Eucharist, which is the banquet
of God's family. That's what we are called to every time we celebrate
Mass. That is the gospel of Christ's atoning death and resurrection.
He completed the Passover sacrifice on the cross and he gives to us the
Third Cup and then calls us to follow him, to take up our cross and
follow him daily, because there will come a time when you and I must
also drink the Fourth Cup.
There will come a moment of death, and we pray it is a holy death.
We pray that we will be able to break our bondage to earthly desires.
We pray for the grace to pass over from this world, this Egypt, into
the Canaan, the promised land of our heavenly home. That's what the
Eucharist empowers us for. This is the gospel, the Good News of Christ,
that the Son of God became the Son of Man so that sons and daughters of
men could become sons and daughters of God.
Why is it that in our Eucharistic liturgies you don't hear
singing? Why is it, in our parishes we often don't have exciting Bible
study, we don't have exciting prayer? It's diminished. It's quiet, it's
subdued. So often it's stagnant and people are bored and distracted.
You can go down the streets to some Bible Christian Fellowship, to a
Baptist Church or Assembly of God, and there you have excitement. There
you have loud singing. There you have great preaching.
I remember talking to a dear friend who is a cradle Catholic. He
said to me, "Scott, you all have great preaching and great singing as
Protestants because you don't have the Holy Eucharist. We have the
Eucharist so we don't really need all the frills. We don't need the
singing and the preaching and all the rest." I thought for a second
and I said, "We do have the Holy Eucharist: therefore, we have
something to sing about. We really have something to preach about. We
have something to share with our non-Catholic brothers and sisters."
I am not here to condemn non-Catholics nor am I here to excuse
Catholics from the task of going out and sharing the fullness of Christ
which is our heritage and birthright. Oftentimes, non-Catholics love
Christ more than we do. And so when we go forth and share with them the
Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we're not trying to win
arguments. We're not trying to condemn non-Catholics. We're trying to
show separated brothers and sisters of Christ where they can find the
fullness of Christ, the Christ they love. He is present upon our
altars. He is present in our tabernacles.
They do so much more with so much less. We who have the Real
Presence of Christ need to draw the grace and the power and go out and
live out a faith that is contagious. We need to become contagious
Catholics. We need to see that in the Holy Eucharist we are being re-
evangelized. We are being called to a new commitment. We are being
called to give up our lives to Christ and to receive the life he gave
up for us.
Let's ask our Lord to forgive us of our indifference, our
cowardice, our sloth and let's ask him for the grace to go forth and to
share this faith effectively with others.
More info on Scott Hahn
Dutch translation of this text: StuCom 0086