INSTITUTION OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Divine Institution is another essential part of every Sacrament; after considering the outward sign and the Definition of the Holy Eucharist, we come now to record its Institution by Our Divine Lord.
Two sets of texts in the New Testament bear on this question. First, we have the words of Our Lord spoken at Capharnaum, the promise that He would give us His sacred Flesh and Blood for our spiritual food ; these words are found in the sixth chapter of S. John's Gospel, which have already been dwelt on. Then, we have the fulfilment of the promise, made about a year later, in Jerusalem, as recorded by four of the inspired writers, which we have now to consider. We find ourselves in the guest room in the city, on that Thursday night before Our Lord died, celebrating with His Apostles the great ordinance of the Old Law, the eating of the Paschal Lamb. He carried out for the last time that religious rite and thus gave it honourable burial, while He inaugurated the New Law, by instituting its central act of Divine worship. He was thinking of those countless generations of men in future ages, who could never be witnesses of the Sacrifice of Calvary, and yet would need not only an infallible Church to instruct and guide them in the path to Heaven, but also a perpetual outward form of Sacrifice, whereby to worship their Creator in a worthy manner, and at the same time a spiritual food to preserve the life of grace in their souls. Only thus could men in great numbers attain to salvation. It was, therefore, in view of the future that He said to His Apostles: " With desire have I desired to eat this pasch with you" (Luke xxii. 15). So great was His yearning for the salvation of souls, to die and bequeath to them this pledge of His love!
Most of the Apostles had witnessed the miracle at the marriage feast of Cana, and also the extraordinary multiplication of the five barley loaves, on the mountain side to the north of the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord's memorable discourse in the Synagogue at Capharnaum, when He promised to give them His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink, was still fresh in their memories, and though they believed, yet were their minds perplexed as to how this miracle should be accomplished. Ever since, have they longed to hear the word of explanation, and behold now the institution is at hand, which shall both fulfil the promise, and set their wondering minds at rest. In simple faith, and with reverent awe, they listened to the Divine words of the institution of the great Sacrament and Sacrifice of the New Law. Like the words of power, uttered at the dawn of time : " Be light made : and light was made " (Gen. i. 3); like the fat of Mary, in Nazareth, when the Word of God became man within her, so now the words of that incarnate Saviour effected what they said, and at the very moment He pronounced them, the Body and Blood of the Son of God became truly, really, and substantially present beneath the outward appearances of the bread and wine, which He had taken from the table, when the Last Supper was ended.
It was His last will and testament Our Lord was declaring to the world before He died, and His solemn words are recorded by four of the sacred writers.
1. S. Matthew says: "Whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread and blessed and broke, and gave to His disciples and said : Take ye and eat, for this is My Body. And taking the chalice, He gave thanks and gave to them, saying : Drink ye all of this, for this is My Blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto the remission of sins" (Matt. xxvi. 26-28).
2. S. Mark writes: " Whilst they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessing, broke and gave to them, and said: Take ye, this is My Body. And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank of it, and He said to them : This is my Blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many" (Mark xiv. 22-24).
3. S. Luke says: " Taking bread, He gave thanks, and brake and gave to them saying : This is My Body which is given for you : do this for a commemoration of Me. In like manner the chalice also, after He had supped, saying : This is the chalice of the New Testament in my Blood, which shall be shed for you " (Luke xxii. 19, 20).
4. S. Paul thus addresses the Corinthians: " I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread and giving thanks, broke and said : Take ye and eat, this is My Body which shall be delivered for you : this do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying : This chalice is the New Testament in My Blood : this do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of Me " (i Cor. xi. 23-25).
It would be almost impossible for these holy writers to have chosen words more simple, more clear and explicit, to assure us that Our Lord left His real Flesh and Blood to the world in the Holy Eucharist. Writing for different objects, at different times and places, and to different people, they are unanimous in describing this Institution of the Blessed Sacrament, and they confine themselves to the simple narrative of it, as of a fact that needs no explanation. They seem thus to condemn beforehand those wild theories that were to be put forward in future ages against the doctrine of the Real Presence.
We, as devout followers of Our Loving-Redeemer, and docile children of His Church, will accept His grave words, on such a solemn occasion as the eve of His death, to mean that in the Blessed Sacrament we have Him truly and really present in our midst, and will never cease to offer Him our deepest gratitude for the heavenly gift He has herein bestowed upon us. For such has ever been the teaching- of the Fathers and the Church.