This stained glass window is in St Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers (NY).
St Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, Yonkers (NY), photo by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Listers, the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Catholic faith. The Church calls the Holy Eucharist the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the food for everlasting life, the holy banquet, the perfect sacrifice, and the medicine of immortality. How can Sacred Tradition praise the Holy Eucharist with such titles? Because in the Holy Eucharist is “contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”1 The Holy Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. The goal of this lesson is to demonstrate that, according to Sacred Scripture, Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist and by doing so gave us, for our salvation, his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. Glory and honor to Jesus Christ, the Passover of the New Covenant and the Bread from Heaven.

1. What is the Holy Eucharist?

“The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament which contains the body and blood, soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.”2 Instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, the Holy Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.”3 According to St. Irenaeus (d. 203), “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucahrist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”4 The Most Blessed Sacrament is called the Eucharist, because “it is an action of thanksgiving to God” drawn from the Greek words eucharistein and eulogein meaning “thanksgiving”.5 The Eucharist is also called The Lord’s Supper and The Breaking of Bread due to it being foreshadowed in the Jewish Passover meal, instituted by Christ at the Last Supper, and because “it anticipates the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem.”6 It is also called The Holy Sacrifice “because it makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior.”7 Similar and related terms include the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrifice of Praise, the Spiritual Sacrifice, and the Pure & Holy Sacrifice, as the Holy Eucharist “completes and surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.”8 The Holy Eucharist is also known as Holy Communion, because by receiving the Most Blessed Sacrament, “we united ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body”—the Body of Christ, the Church.9 In all, “in blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.”10

2. How is the Holy Eucharist Foreshadowed in the Old Testament?

As Holy Mother Church teaches, "the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New."11 To understand the riches of Scripture as a whole, the Church has since its earliest days used typology. Typology is "the discernment of person, events, or things in the Old Testament which prefigured, and thus served as a 'type' (or prototype) of, the fulfillment of God's plan in the person of Christ."12 Studying the types of Eucharist can help us understand how the Eucharist, instituted by Christ, fits into the "dynamic unity of the divine plan of salvation."13

In the Old Testament or Old Covenant, bread and wine were among those items given to God in thanksgiving (think Eucharist) as a sacrifice of gratitude to the Creator.14 The primary event in the Old Testament that foreshadows the Blessed Eucharist is the Passover ritual. The Passover recalls a time in the history of Israel when the People of God, the Israelites, were ensalved by Egypt. In order to deliver them from Pharaoh, God, through his servant Moses, condemned Egypt to ten plagues. The tenth and final plague consisted of the Angel of Death coming to each family in Eygpt and killing the firstborn child. In order that the Israelite families would be saved from the Angel of Death, God, through Moses, commanded the following:

1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt… 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… Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old; you shall take it from the sheep or from the goats; 6 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. 7 Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it… It is the LORD’s passover.

12 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. 13 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. 14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.

21 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. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you. 24 You shall observe this rite as an ordinance for you and for your sons for ever. 25 And when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 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. Ex 12:1-27, with selections omitted.

It would be difficult to exagerate the importance of the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover in the life of the People of Israel. On its face, the sacrifice of the Passover saved them from death and became a feast exemplifying the people’s gratitude toward God. Later, once freed from Egypt, God would make a covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai giving them the Ten Commandments. Though entered into at Mt. Sinai, the sign of the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel would be the annual feast of the Passover sacrifice.15 After Mt. Sinai, Israel would be condemned due to their unbelief to wander in the Sinai desert for forty years. Starving, God provides a miracle in order to nourish the Israelites, which becomes another clear forerunner to the Blessed Eucharist.

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not… Now the house of Israel called its name manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey… 35 And the people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land; they ate the manna, till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. Ex 16:2-35, verses omitted.

In the Old Testament, manna, as bread from heaven, serves as an Old Testament type of the Holy Eucharist; in fact, it is a typological connection that Christ himself will make in his Eucharistic Discourse delivered to his disciples and the Jews.16

3. When does Jesus Christ Institute the Holy Eucharist?

Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper.17 After Christ told his disciples to go and prepare the Passover meal, St. Luke records the following:

14 And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:14-20; see also, Mt 26:17-29; Mk 14:12-15; I Cor 11:23-26; cf. CCC 1337-44.

The institution of the Holy Eucharist as the perfection of the Passover. As the Church teaches, “by celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning.”18 The Christological types in the Passover are clearly perfected in the New Testament: the male lamb without blemish is the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ; the Passover lamb and the Lamb of God are both sacrificed for the salvation of the people; the blood of the Passover lamb is shed on the doorposts, while Chirst’s blood on the cross; the Passover lamb is eaten and the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, gives his flesh to eat in the Eucharist; God tells the Israelites to keep the feast forever, and the Eucharist, as a pefection of the Passover feast, completes that commandment, as in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we observe Christ’s commandment, “do this in remembrance of me.”

Some will note that the Israelites did not drink the blood of the Passover lamb. In fact, the LORD prohibited the Israelites to drink the blood, as noted in Leviticus: “And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood.”19 Did Christ, in instituting the Holy Eucharist, contradict the Old Testament? No. The Israelites were prohibited from drinking the blood of the animal, because the life of the animal, a lesser creature than man, was in the blood. The blood Christ offers, however, is from God, and drinking it will elevate man to the divine life. Christ, who commanded us to drink his blood, is offering to humanity a great gift that perfects, not contradicts, the Old Covenant.

It is noteworthy that in the Revelation to St. John, the Apocolypse, Jesus Christ appears as the Lamb:

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain… Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” John 5:6, 11-12.

The imagery of Lamb drives the apocolyptic narratives of Revelation: it is the Lamb who conquers the beast, the Christian faithful who perservere are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Christian faithful have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life, and it is the Lamb who illuminates the new heavenly Jerusalem. In sum, Christ, in revealing the final battle against evil and the salvation of the Church, reveals himself in the context of the Passover Lamb. A revelation in itself on the imporance of the Passover, both Old and New, in Salvation history.

4. How is Manna Seen as a Type of Eucharist in the New Testament?

Understanding manna, the bread from heaven that nourished Israel in the desert, as an Old Covenant type of the Holy Eucharist is a truth explicitly taught by Jesus Christ. In what is now known as the Eucharistic Discourse, Our Lord gives what is arguably the most clear understanding of what the Holy Eucharist is and what role the Holy Eucharist plays in the economy of salvation. The passage begins by the people asking Christ for a miraculous sign. As an example, they recall the miraculous work of God who fed their fathers in the desert with manna. Christ, in response, states, “for the bread of God is that which comes down from heavn, and gives life to the world.”20 The people respond, “Lord, give us this bread always.” To which, Christ states:

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:35-40.)

In response, the Jews “murmured at him.” They held Christ’s words in disbelief as they noted they knew Jesus’ mother and father, and said: “how does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”21 Christ asks them not to murmur, and responds, in pertinent part:

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:48-51.)

Christ holds the ground taken by his first statement and advances his position by further explaining how he is the Bread of Life. He states, “if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever,” which makes explicit the act necessary for a disciple of Christ in relation to the Bread of Life. Moreover, Christ goes beyond just identifying as the Bread of Life as a role, and makes the explicit connection that the bread given for the salvation of the world is his flesh. Again, the Jews are in disbelief and state, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Christ responds:

53 So Jesus said to them, “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; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:53-58.)

Christ’s words are a source of scandal. Christ makes it explicit that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Christ predicates salvation upon whether or not you eat his flesh and drink his blood. Christ’s own disciples state, “this is a hard saying; wo can listn to it?”22 In fact, the Eucharistic Discourse starts to close with one of the most tragic verses in all of Scripture: “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer followed him.”23 Without question his audience is scandalized by the fact he is offering his flesh and blood as the food that brings salvation. If this was a misperception, Christ, whose responses only intensified throughout the discourse, does nothing to clarify or to keep his disciples from leaving. In fact, he turns to the Twelve and states, “Will you also go away?”24 Christ has revealed a difficult truth and concedes no ground on the issue.

St. Peter, our first Pope, gives a very understandable response: “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.”25 St. Peter does not state, “this teaching is easy, we understand;” rather, as other disciples leave, St. Peter and the other members of the Twelve ground themselves in their faith in who Christ says he is. It is a diffcult teaching, but it is a teaching that brings salvation.

5. How is the Holy Eucharist the Sign of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ?

The Passover, as celebrated at the time of Christ, was organized into four distinct parts each of which had a distinct “cup” that was served during that part.26 The Passover four-part ritual can be identified as follows:

First, the preliminary course consisted of a solemn blessing pronounced over the first cup of wine, which was followed by a dish of bitter herbs. (This was meant to remind the Jews of the Butterness of Egyptian bondage.)

Second, the Passover narrative (see Ex 12) was receited, after which the “Little Hallel” (Ps 113) was sung. This was immediately followed by the drinking of the second cup of wine.

Third, the main meal was then served, consisting of lamb and unleanved bread, which preceded the drinking of the third cup of wine, known as the “cup of blessing.”

Fourth, the climax of the Passover came with the singing of the “Great Hallel” (Ps 114-18) and the drinking of the fourth cup of wine, the “cup of consummation.” Hahn, 229.

Understanding the structure of the Passover is paramount in understanding how the celebration of the Passover by Christ and his disciple perfected the ritual and brought about the New Covenant. First, as noted above, Christ changed the Passover, and in light of his declarations during the Eucharistic Discourse, he offered the bread as his flesh and the wine as his blood. Second, Christ does not appear to complete the Passover ritual. Scholars note that the passage in the New Testament that institutes the Holy Eucharist is the third cup - not the fourth.27 The “cup of consummation” is not shared and Christ and the disciples leave the old Passover ritual incomplete - and the Passion narrative begins. The riddle of the fourth cup finds its first answer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Gospel of St. Matthew records, “And going a little farther he [Christ] fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.’”28 The cup Christ mentions in his prayer to the Father is identified as the “missing” fourth cup, and the cup that Christ must drink is the cup of his redemptive Passion. Identifying the cup in the Garden as the fourth cup is strengthened by the fact the Gospel writers treat the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ as one narrative.29 As one narrative, it is important to note how the Passion, culminating in the Cross, ends: “When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”30 What was finished? Christ’s mission on earth cannot end until the resurrection. What is the “it” that was finished? The “it” was the ritual of the Last Supper, the perfected Passover sacrifice, where the Immaculate Victim, the Lamb of God, gave his flesh and blood for the salvation of the world.31 The fourth cup, the cup of the Passion of Christ, has been drunk and the New Passover, the Holy Eucharist, is finished.

As a perfection of the Old Covenant, especially the Mosaic Covenant, Christ ushers in the New Covenant by playing the role of both High Priest and the Victim. As the Passover was the covenantal sign of the Mosaic covenant, the Holy Eucharist now serves as the sign of the New Covenant. In fact, the institution of the Holy Eucharist is the only place in all of Holy Scripture that Jesus Christ says the word “covenant.”32 The People of God, as seen in the tribes under Abraham, in the nation under Moses, and the kingdom under David, have now become the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic Church.33 There is, however, a serious lesson of discipleship in the study of the four cups. While the Eucharist is arguably the third cup, Christ also asked his disciples “are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” - refering to his Passion, the fourth cup.34 A question all disciples should contemplate.

Conclusion

In the thirteenth century, Pope Urban IV commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi. According to Pope Benedict XVI, St. Thomas Aquinas had an “exquisitely Eucharistic soul” and gifted the Church some of the most beautiful hymns within her treasury.35 One of those hymns was the Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium, which reads, in part:

On the night of that Last Supper, Seated with His chosen band, He, the Paschal Victim eating, First fulfils the Law’s command; Then as Food to all his brethren Gives Himself with His own Hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature By His Word to Flesh He turns; Wine into His Blood He changes: What though sense no change discerns. Only be the heart in earnest, Faith her lesson quickly learns.

The words of Aquinas are an invitation to worship Christ as the Passover Sacrifice, the Passover of the New Covenant. Christ offers his flesh as food and his blood as drink. He is both Priest and Victim of the New Covenant. Scripture does not tell us of a mere memorial or symbol. Scripture tells us that the Holy Eucharist is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. As Christ 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.” May all those who seek Christ be fed unto eternal life.


  1. CCC 1324. ↩︎

  2. BC 870. ↩︎

  3. CCC 1324. ↩︎

  4. CCC 1327. ↩︎

  5. CCC 1328. ↩︎

  6. CCC 1329. ↩︎

  7. CCC 1330. ↩︎

  8. CCC 1330. ↩︎

  9. CCC 1331. ↩︎

  10. CCC 1324. ↩︎

  11. CCC 129. ↩︎

  12. CCC, Glossary, Typology. ↩︎

  13. CCC, Glossary, Typology. ↩︎

  14. CCC 1334. ↩︎

  15. A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Scott Hahn, 33-34; note this would be the fourth covenant between God and man: Adam, Noah, Abraham, and now Moses. It transforms the tribes of Israel, the family of Israel under Abraham, into the “national family” or the nation of Israel under the Mosaic law. ↩︎

  16. Gospel of St. John 6. ↩︎

  17. BC 875; CCC 1337, ff. ↩︎

  18. CCC 1340. ↩︎

  19. Lv 17:10-11; Dt 12:27. ↩︎

  20. John 6:33. ↩︎

  21. John 6:42. ↩︎

  22. John 6:60. ↩︎

  23. John 6:66. ↩︎

  24. John 6:67. ↩︎

  25. John 6:68-69. ↩︎

  26. Hahn, 229; According to the Church, a covenant is “a solemn agreement between human beings or between God and a human being involving mutual commitments or guarantees.” CCC, Glossary, Covenant. The agreement of a covenant goes beyond a promise and includes the parties making an oath. A Father Who Keeps His Promises, Dr. Scott Hahn, Servant Books, 1998. 24. So the promises and obligations of a contract “make people customers, employees, clients; whereas convenants turn them into spouses, parents, children, siblings.” In short, covenants “are made to forge bonds of sacred kinship.” As noted above, God made a covenant with Moses and Mt. Sinai. The tribes of Israel became the nation of Israel as God claimed the nation as his own. The sign of the covenant was the Passover. ↩︎

  27. Hahn, 229; citing, Mk 14:26; I Cor 10:16.. ↩︎

  28. Mt 26:39; cf. Hahn, 231. ↩︎

  29. Hahn, 232. ↩︎

  30. John 6:28-30. ↩︎

  31. See Hahn, 233. ↩︎

  32. Hahn, 227. ↩︎

  33. Hahn, 34-35. ↩︎

  34. See Hahn, 233. ↩︎

  35. Eucharistic Soul: 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas Aquinas↩︎