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SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD—CORPUS CHRISTI (Cycle B)

In the universal Roman calendar, this solemnity is celebrated on the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.
In the United States and Canada, it is celebrated on the Sunday after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.

 

Readings:
Exodus 24:3-8
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18
Hebrews 9:11-15
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi): Sharing in the Life of Christ in the Blood of the Covenant
When we celebrate the Eucharist, we receive and celebrate the mysterious Presence of Jesus Christ within the community of the Church: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live in me and I in him, says the Lord" (communion antiphon).  This solemnity was originally called Corpus Christi, Latin for "the Body of Christ."  In the Middle Ages, Christians wanted to joyfully celebrate Jesus' precious gift of the Eucharist in a solemnity that was an echo of Holy Thursday.  This feast was inaugurated in c. 1254, in the spring of the year, during a time when joyful processions, street fairs and other outdoor events could be held for faith communities to express their joy in the gift of the Eucharist.  The bread of the Lord's Body was carried outdoors under a canopy in a procession with music playing and the people joining in singing their favorite hymns of praise.  This solemnity is still celebrated with such displays in Latin America and in Europe. 

All the readings for this solemnity are set in the context of blood sacrifice and the Jewish feast of the Passover.  The First Reading recalls the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai after the first Passover in Egypt led to Israel's liberation from slavery.  The Gospel reading takes place on the night after the afternoon Passover sacrifice in 30 AD and the eating of the Passover victim in the sacred meal of the Last Supper. At the meal Jesus repeated Moses' words concerning "the blood of the covenant" as Jesus becomes the covenant mediator of a new and eternal covenant in His precious blood.  The Psalms we read is one of the psalms sung during the liturgy of the Passover worship service in the Jerusalem Temple, while the Second Reading tells of Jesus' role as the New Covenant High Priest in the Heavenly Temple where He offers not the blood of bulls or goats, like the Jewish high priests, but His own precious blood to ratify the New Covenant of God with a "new Israel", God's people of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The First Reading Exodus 24:3-8 ~ The Ratification of the Sinai Covenant
3 When Moses came to the people and related all the words and ordinances of the LORD, they all answered with one voice, "We will do everything that the LORD has told us."  4 Moses then wrote down all the words of the LORD and, rising early the next day, he erected at the foot of the mountain an altar and twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.  5 Then, having sent certain young men of the Israelites to offer holocausts and sacrifice young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD, 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half he splashed on the altar.  7 Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, "All that the Lord has said we will heed and do." 8 Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his."

After the Exodus liberation at Mount Sinai, Yahweh courted Israel like a bridegroom courts His bride, inviting Israel as one people to be His holy partner in the divine plan of salvation.  Prior to this point in salvation history, Yahweh had formed covenant bonds only with individuals and their families (Adam, Noah, and the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob).  But at this crucial point in salvation history, in a radical departure from the previous pattern, Yahweh took the descendants of Jacob/ Israel and He formed them into a unified covenant nation.  He called Israel to be His first sacred assembly, His holy covenant kingdom, and a people called out of all the other nations of the earth to fulfill their destiny as Yahweh's nation of priests: So now, if you are really prepared to obey me and keep my covenant, you, out of all peoples, shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine.  For, me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Ex 19:5-6).  At the ratification ceremony, through a blood sacrifice that united God and His people and the communion meal of kinship that followed, the covenant was sealed and Israel became Yahweh's "called out"  (kahal /qahal in Hebrew) ones —His holy representatives to the other nations of the earth.

Yahweh had appeared to the people of Israel in fire and thunder on Mt. Sinai.  He spoke out of the thunder giving the Ten Commandments, and then Moses approached God on the mountain and God gave him the expanded articles of the civil law and promised the reward of His divine protection for the people's obedience and loyalty.  Moses then presented Yahweh's offer to make a covenant with the Israelites and the people agreed, swearing an oath "with one voice" saying, "We will do everything that the LORD [Yahweh] has told us" (Ex 24:3).  Moses then wrote down all the words Yahweh had spoken that are the first section of the Laws of the Torah called the Book of the Covenant.  The next morning Moses, acting as the covenant mediator, carried out the ratification ceremony of the Sinai Covenant between Yahweh and Israel at the base of Mount Sinai.  The ratification ceremony unfolded in seven parts:

  1. An altar was built to receive the sacrifices (verse 4a).
  2. Twelve standing stones were erected to symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel (verse 4b).
  3. Animals for whole burnt offerings and communion offerings were sacrificed (verse 5).
  4. The covenant mediator (Moses) sprinkled the blood of sacrifice on the altar (verse 6). 
  5. The terms of the covenant were read to the people who swore an oath to keep the covenant (verse 7).
  6. Moses took the rest of the blood and sprinkled it on the people and as the covenant mediator invoked the words of the covenant formula: This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD [Yahweh] has made with you, in accordance with all these words of his (verse 8).
  7. The final part of the ceremony (not included in our reading) was a sacred meal eaten in the presence of God (verses 9-11).

The text does not reveal the identity of the "certain young men" mentioned in verse 5 that Moses chose the present the sacrifices on behalf of the people, but it is likely that they are the younger generation of the firstborn sons who were redeemed by the blood of the Passover lambs the night of the tenth plague in Egypt (Ex 11:4-5, 7; 12:23; 13:1-2).  Scripture records that the young men doing priestly service offered two types of blood sacrifices: the 'olah (whole burnt offerings), completely consumed in the altar fire, and the shelamim (peace sacrifices) which were the communion sacrifices to be eaten in a shared meal.  But there was also a communal sin sacrifice in the blood ritual.  A communion sacred meal could not take place without first offering a sacrifice in atonement for sins since a holy God can only receive a spiritually purified believer into fellowship in the sacred meal of the communion sacrifice in which "peace" is re-established with God.

In the Penitential Rite of the Mass, we confess our venial sins and are forgiven through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (mortal sins must be confessed and forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation).  It is then that we become cleansed and are able to move from the Outer Courtyard of the Introduction Rites of the Mass and into the Holy Place of the Liturgy of the Word.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we move forward to receive Christ in the sacred meal of the Eucharist, entering the Holy of Holies of the Mass and the very Presence of God.  St. Paul warned the faithful that before receiving the Eucharist one must be cleansed of sin and must believe Christ' Body and Blood are present or be condemned to God's judgment: Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.  [..].  If we were critical of ourselves we would not be condemned, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are corrected by the Lord to save us from being condemned along with the world.

Exodus 24:6, Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls; the other half he splashed on the altar.
Moses, the covenant mediator, took the blood of the sacrifices and in a blood ritual splashed half of the blood against the sides of the altar.  He kept the other half in chalices.  The word translated as "bowls" is not the same word found in Exodus 12:22.  In this case the Hebrew word is 'aggan (also see Is 22:24 and Song 7:3), a word found in several other Semitic languages and which has been established archaeologically to be a large and deep two-handled cup or chalice (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 152).  According to the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, Moses then, using a hyssop branch, sprinkled blood on the altar, the Book of the Covenant and the people (Heb 9:19-20 and Ex 24:8).  The altar represented Yahweh, the Book symbolized the covenant treaty in which the Israelites swore an oath to be bound Yahweh in covenant union, and the blood of the sacrifice cleansed the people of their sins and made the purified Israelites and God one covenant family united in the blood of the sacrificial victim—families are united by the link of common blood.

This event is a foreshadowing of the uniting of Yahweh and New Covenant people of God in the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus the Messiah, who is both the New Covenant mediator and unblemished sin sacrifice.  The covenant ratification began at the Last Supper when Jesus announced, "This is my body which will be given for you; do this in remembrance of me."  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood poured which will be shed for you" (Lk 22:19-20).  Just as in the ritual at Mt. Sinai when the blood united God and the children of Israel into one family, so too Christ's blood makes the New Covenant people of God one family in Christ Jesus in the sacrifice and the sharing of the sacred meal of the sacrificial victim which we call the Eucharist.

Responsorial Psalm 116:12-13, 15-18 ~ The Cup of Salvation The response is: "I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord" or "Alleluia." 12 How shall I make a return to the LORD in all the good he has done for me?  13 The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call upon the name of the LORD. Response: 15 Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.  16 I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. Response: 17 To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.  18 My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people. Response:

Psalm 116 is one of the great Hallel ("praise God") Psalms (Ps 113-118) sung during processions and in the liturgy of the three pilgrim feasts that all men of the covenant had to attend (Ex 23:14-15; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13).  The Passover sacrifice took place in a daytime liturgical worship service on the day that the Feast of Unleavened Bread began at sundown (the next Jewish day began at sundown).  These feasts were so joyous that whole families attended if they lived within reasonable traveling distance from Jerusalem (Lk 2:41-42).  The Hallel Psalms recalled the Exodus liberation and Israel's gratitude to God for their salvation and ended with a messianic psalm that promised the coming of the Messiah.

Psalm 116 expresses thanksgiving for divine rescue and promises to show gratitude with vows and Temple sacrifices.  The "cup of salvation" in verse 13 may be a reference to the blood ritual that signified atonement for sins when the chalice holding the blood of the sacrificed animal was either poured out, splashed, or sprinkled against God's sacrificial altar (depending on the kind of blood ritual), or it could refer to the ritual cup of wine taken during the Todah ("thanksgiving") communion meal with the meat of the sacrificed victim and unleavened bread, and eaten within the Sanctuary in the presence of the Lord (Lev 7:11-15, 19b-20; Num 15:7-10).  But it might also refer to the third cup of the four communal cups of the sacred meal of the Passover victim on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The third cup was called the "Cup of Salvation/Redemption" or the "Cup of Blessing", as St. Paul identified the cup of Jesus' precious Blood (1 Cor 10:16). 

The sacrifice of "thanksgiving" that is promised in verse 17 is the communion sacrifice that was called in Hebrew the Todah, meaning "thanksgiving" in the Hebrew and translated "Eucharistia" in the Greek.  The psalmist promises to show his gratitude for God's salvation by participating in the liturgy of worship in the presence of the covenant community.

The Second Reading Hebrews 9:11-15 ~ Jesus is the High Priest and Mediator of the New and Eternal Covenant
Brothers and sisters: 11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, 12 he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.  13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.  15 For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.

The central point of the passage is that in His Ascension to the Father, Jesus arrived as the High Priest of the heavenly Sanctuary.  It was an honor to which He was divinely elected.  He did not presume to aspire to His priestly prerogatives (Heb 5:4-5), but He entered the heavenly Sanctuary with the acceptable sacrifice of Himself as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29).  He became the mediator of a new covenant that was able to free mankind from sin and offer the promise of eternal salvation; something the previous Sinai Covenant with its imperfect animal sacrifice was incapable of doing. 

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
The Old Covenant was good and necessary for its time, but imperfect (CCC 1962-64).  The sacrifices of the Sinai Covenant only offered outward, fleshly cleansing; but the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the necessary internal supernatural cleansing that all animal sacrifice was incapable of accomplishing.  The image of Jesus shedding his blood on the altar of the Cross is presented as a high priest making an offering to God in a sacrifice of atonement is similar to the blood ritual of the First Reading.  Jesus' blood gives the internal cleansing that the psalmist cried out to God to give him in Psalm 51, 7 True, I was born guilty, a sinner, even as my mother conceived me. 8 Still, you insist on sincerity of heart; in my inmost being teach me wisdom.  9 Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, make me whiter than snow.  [..].  18 For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept.  19 My sacrifice, God, is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart (Ps 51:7-9, 18-19 NJB).  Notice the reference to original sin in Psalm 51:7 (see CCC#389; 396-406).

The reference to the heifer's ashes and scarlet wool in Hebrews 9:13 refers to purification rites found in the Sinai Covenant (see for example Num 19:1-22).  The "red" heifer and the "red" wool signified man's impurity and sinfulness (Num 19:9, 17).  The prophet Isaiah wrote, Come now, let us set things right says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool (Is 1:18 NJB). The ancient red dye was a permanent dye and nearly impossible to remove, but for God nothing is impossible and though one's sins be as deep red as red dyed wool, the purifying holy water of the red heifer was to remind the faithful that no matter what the sin, God can purify His people.  Jesus is our red heifer who purifies us of the sins that stain our souls.

15 For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.
Like Moses who was the mediator of the old Sinai Covenant, Jesus Christ is the mediator of the new and eternal Covenant.  The Greek word for covenant, diatheke, also has the meaning "last will and testament" and this is the way the inspired writer will use diatheke in Hebrews 9:16-17.  However, in 9:15 and verses 18-20 he uses the word in the sense of "covenant," making a play on the double meaning of the word.  The double meaning allows the inspired writer to argue that a covenant suggests the death of the one who initiated the covenant as the death of a testator results in his last will and testament.  The inspired writer links Jesus' deliverance of mankind from the ravages of sin and death by comparing His gift of salvation to the inheritance one leaves to one's family and friends upon one's death.  In order for the testament or will to take effect, it must be proved that the testator is indeed dead.  It was necessary, therefore, for Jesus to die in order that the inheritance promised under the New Covenant could be delivered to those of Jesus' family—His brothers and sisters reborn into the family of God through the sacrament of Baptism. Therefore, Christ had to die to establish the New Covenant and the promises it contained as the eternal inheritance of His heirs.

Unlike the Old Covenant high priests whose ministerial service ended upon their death, Jesus' priestly service begins with His self-sacrificial death and His Ascension to the heavenly Sanctuary to begin His service as Priest-King and mediator of the New Covenant people of God (see Heb 8:6).  According to Hebrews 9:15, the purpose of Jesus' death was to be the one perfect sacrifice that delivers humanity from bondage to sin—a deliverance the first corporate covenant (the Sinai Covenant) was incapable of offering.  Because of the deliverance made possible by Jesus Christ's death, "all those who are called" (verse 15) may receive the promise of eternal life.  The point is that one must have faith to answer the call to grace in order to be delivered and to receive the promised eternal inheritance.

The Sequence Laud, O Zion (Lauda Sion in Latin)
This hymn is sung in praise of the Eucharist prior to the Alleluia.  It was written by St. Thomas Aquinas c. 1264, at the request of Pope Urban IV, for the new Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi. That the sequence was written for the Mass of Corpus Christi is evidenced by the sixth stanza: "for on this solemn day is again celebrated the first institution of the Supper" (referring to the first Eucharistic celebration at the Last Supper).

The Gospel of Mark 14:12-16, 22-26 ~ The Sacred Meal of the Last Supper
12 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb*, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"  13 He sent two of his disciples and said to them, "Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water.  Follow him.  14 Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'  15 Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.  Make the preparations for us there."  16 The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
*the word "lamb" is not in the Greek text of Mark and nowhere in Scripture is it associated with the word "Passover" but was added by the modern translators.  The Passover victim could be a lamb or a goat kid (see Ex 12:5 where the Hebrew word seh refers to an animal "of the flock").
22 While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body."  23 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.  25 Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  26Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

St. Mark identifies the day when the Passover victims were to be sacrificed at the Temple's liturgical worship service: On the first day of the Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover, his disciples said to him, "Where do you desire that going we may prepare that you may eat the Passover?" (Mk 14:12; literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 140).  The day was Thursday of Jesus' last week; He will be crucified on Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath.  The Passover and the week-long celebration of Unleavened Bread are listed as two separate feasts in the Old Testament (i.e. Ex 12 -13; Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25) and only Unleavened Bread is listed as the pilgrim feast that required every man of the covenant, no matter where they lived, to attend the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread that began at sundown the day of the Passover sacrifice (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13).  However, in Jesus time the names of the two feasts were used interchangeably to refer to the entire 8 holy days (Lk 22:1).  Josephus (37-100 AD) records that in his time the term "Passover" came to mean the celebration of both feasts as one festival event: "As this happened at the time when the feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated, which we call the Passover ..."   (Antiquities of the Jews 14.2.1; also see 17.9.3; Jewish Wars, 5.3.1).  Like Josephus, St. John only refers to the two feasts as "Passover" as do Jews today.  Actually, modern Jews do not keep the Passover.  They keep the feast of Unleavened Bread from the 15th-21st because there is no Temple or sacrificial altar where the Passover victims can be offered.

Note that in the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testament, the Passover victim is never referred to as the Passover "lamb" as it is in many English translations.  The animal could be a lamb or a goat-kid.  The instructions for the selection of the victim in the first Passover in Egypt required the people to select,  A flock-animal, a perfect one, a male, a yearling shall be to you.  You shall take from the sheep or from the goats.  And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month.  And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings [twilights] (Ex 12:5-6, IBHE, vol. I, page 170).  Between the "twilights" is a time marker for between dawn and dusk which is high noon. 

St. Luke tells us the two disciples who were sent to make the necessary preparations were the Apostles Peter and John Zebedee (Lk 22:8).  It was the practice of the residents of Jerusalem to generously open their homes to Jewish pilgrims during the Passover (Nisan 14th)/Feast of Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-21) and to provide rooms for the sacred meal of the Passover victim, a meal that had to be eaten within the walls of the holy city on the first night after the Passover sacrifice earlier that day.  Sundown the day of the sacrifice was the beginning of the next day, Nisan the 15th, the beginning of the seven-day pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The owner of the banquet chamber must have already secured the Passover goat-kid or lamb for Jesus, perhaps on the 10th of Nisan when the Passover lambs and kids were chosen for sacrifice in the first Passover (Ex 12:3).  The 10th of Nisan was the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as the "chosen" victim of sacrifice.  John 12:1 identifies the day of the Passover sacrifice as six days from Jesus' dinner with friends in Bethany which was the day before Palm Sunday.  As the ancients counted with no concept of zero place-value, that makes the day of the sacrifice Thursday of Holy Week, as has been Christian tradition for almost 2,000 years. 

When Peter and John arrived at the house, they discovered that an upper room had already been arranged with the banquet tables and the couches for reclining at the meal (Mk 14:15a). However, Peter and John still needed to make certain necessary preparations (Mt 26:19).  They needed to be certain that there was an adequate supply of red wine for the banquet's four ritual communal cups and the additional wine that the guests were to consume during the meal (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1C).  They needed to insure that there were stone vessels filled with enough water for the three ritual hand washings during the meal.  They also needed to provide the other necessary foods for the women to prepare for the meal, and if it was not already prepared, they needed to set up a roasting pit and spit of pomegranate wood to roast the Passover sacrifice (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1B). 

In addition to all those arrangements, Peter and John also had to personally inspect the premises to be certain that all leaven, a sign of sin, had been removed (Ex 13:7).   According to the Law, prior to noontime on the day before the beginning of Unleavened Bread (the day of the Passover sacrifice) it was necessary for the covenant people to do a thorough search of the rooms of their houses in Jerusalem to be certain that all leaven had been removed for the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:6-7; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:3-1:4), and they were also required to begin their fast at noon: On the eve of Passover [meal] from just before the afternoon's daily whole offering, a person should not eat, until it gets dark (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1A).  The "afternoon's daily whole offering" is the afternoon liturgical worship service and sacrifice of the Tamid, of an unblemished lamb offered perpetually as a "single sacrifice" (Ex 29:38-42) in two liturgical services (morning and afternoon), seven days a week, for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people.  And the "eve of Passover" refers to the Passover meal eaten on the first night of Unleavened Bread (the Mishnah and the writings of the Rabbis only refer to the entire eight days as "Passover," as does the Gospel of John).  When the preparations were ready, disciples of Jesus were going to begin a journey that was to reveal the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy concerning His Passion and Resurrection and to change the destiny of mankind.

The date of the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th of Nisan was always set by the Temple hierarchy according to the lunar calendar on the night of the first full moon of the spring equinox (Ex 12:8; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:1; Philo, Special Laws, II, 151, 155 ).  Before Jesus offered Himself in the bread and wine Mark records: And as they reclined at table and were eating... (Mk 14:18 and verse 22).  They were eating unleavened bread, bitter herbs and the roasted meat of the festival communion offering and the Passover victim in the traditional feast of the Passover. To share a meal was the greatest sign of communion among friends and also communion with the Lord God (Gen 26:30; 31:54; 1 Sam 9:24 and Ex 24:9-11; Lev 7:11-21; Dt 12:4-7, 11, 26-27).

Mark 14:22-26 ~ The Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist
22 While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body."  23 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.  25 Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."  26Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Notice that Jesus did not offer His disciples the sacred meal of the New Covenant until after they had already been eating (verse 22).  He offered the gift of the first Eucharist after the ceremonial passing of the unleavened bread that was dipped into the fruit mixture and bitter herb in the communal dish, after the boiled meat of the hagigah festival offering was eaten, and finally after the roasted flesh of the Passover sacrifice.  After consuming the Passover sacrifice, no other food was to be consumed and only the last two of the communal cups of wine were to be offered to the guests: the third cup, called the Cup of Blessing or Salvation/Redemption and the fourth cup that concluded the meal called the Cup of Consecration.  It was necessary that the new sacred meal of the New Covenant be offered in the context of the Old Covenant sacred meal in order for the Apostles to understand that Jesus was instituting truly a new sacred meal to replace the Old Covenant sacred meals of the Passover and other communion "thanksgiving" ritual meals.  Now, for the second time, Jesus broke with the ritual tradition of the meal by offering more food after the eating of the Passover victim; the first break with tradition was the washing of the Apostles' feet at the beginning of the meal (Jn 13:4-10).

22 ...he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body."  The Greek verb translated "gave thanks" is euchristeo.  It is the origin of the Church's name for the Sacrament of the Eucharist which commemorates the Last Supper.

24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.
The phrase "blood of the covenant" is the same phrase used by Moses in the covenant formula he announced at the ratification of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 24:8).  The Last Supper is not only the New Covenant sacred meal, but it is a covenant ratification ceremony in the presence of God the Son in the same way the representatives of the covenant people ate in the presence of God at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:9-11).

But take a moment to reflect that His statement is absolutely shocking.  Not only does it suggest His violent death in the shedding of His blood but He asks them to violate a prohibition of the Sinai Covenant.  It is as shocking as His statement in the Bread of Life Discourse that caused many of Jesus' disciples to walk away from Him (Jn 6:60, 66) when He said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day" (Jn 6:54).

The blood of a living creature was the means God provided for the atonement of mankind's sins; therefore consuming blood was a prohibition for the people of God and the punishment for the violation of this prohibition was excommunication (see Gen 9:4; Lev 3:17; 7:26; 17:10-12, 14; 19:26; Dt 12:16, 23-28; 15:23). To drink the blood of animals would be base and demeaning, but to drink the glorified, supernaturally transformed blood of the Son of God is to be elevated to a share in His own divine life!

Drinking wine is a symbol of joy, festivity, abundance, and covenant union (Ps 4:8; 23:5b; Is 62:9; Mt 27:27-28; Lk 22:20).  In offering those gathered what He literally identifies as His Body and His Blood, Jesus is fulfilling what He promised in the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6:35-56.  He promised to give them ...the living bread that came down from heaven with the promise that whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51).  Jesus' gift of Himself carries the promise: 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 (Jn 6:54-56; see CCC 610-11).

In the Eucharistic banquet of the New Covenant faithful, after the priest in "Persona Christi" (in the Person of Christ) offers the Body and Blood of the Christ, true a pure and holy sacrifice, the congregation moves forward toward the altar of sacrifice (spiritually mid-way between heaven and earth) into God's presence.  The congregation of the faithful is still on earth but joined by the presence of Christ to the heavenly Sanctuary.  The faithful then eat a sacred communion meal in the presence of God, just as Moses the Israel's covenant representatives did on the slope of Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:9-11) and as the disciples of Jesus did at the Last Supper.  Our sacred meal of the Eucharist looks backward in time to Jesus' Last Supper, but it also looks forward in time in anticipation of eternal life in the Presence of God and the communion of Saints in the heavenly banquet of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church (Rev 19:6-9)!

Catechism References:
Exodus 24:3-8 (CCC 2060); 24:7 (CCC 2060); 24:8 (CCC 613)
Psalm 116:12 (CCC 224); 116:13 (CCC 1330); 116:17 (CCC 1330)
Hebrews 9:11 (CCC 586, 662); 9:12 (CCC 1085); 9:13-14 (CCC 1962-64, 2100); 9:14 (CCC 614); 9:15 (CCC 522, 579, 580, 592)
Mark 14:12-25 (CCC 1339); 14:18-20 (CCC 474); 14:22 (CCC 1328); 14:25 (CCC 1335, 1403); 14:26 (CCC 474)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015