Updated: Jun 24
By Luke Lancaster
During the Last Supper of Jesus, He took bread and said,
"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.' And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'"
Now let’s consider these words a bit more in-depth. These words have tons of sacrificial overtones, indicating that this meal is one and the same with Jesus's crucifixion. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are married, which is why Catholics say that the Mass is a sacrifice.
1. “This is my Body” – which will be given to you. Notice how Christ is connecting the bread with His Body that will be offered as a sacrifice for you. This occurs the next day on Good Friday.
2. He says to “do this”, which really means, according to its usage in the Old Testament, to “offer this.” For the Geek word for “do” (poieo) means to “offer sacrifice.” See Leviticus 9:7, which says to “approach the altar and do your sin offering,” and Exodus 29:39, which says that, “the first lamb you will do in the morning, and the second lamb you will do in the evening”. Church historian and Anglican scholar, J.N.D. Kelly, says that, "these words of institution, ‘Do this’ (touto poieite), must have been charged with sacrificial overtones to the second-century ears; Justin [Martyr] at any rate understood them to mean, 'Offer this'" (Early Christian Doctrines).
3. Jesus says to do this action in “Remembrance” or “Memorial” of Him. This term has a sacrificial background to it, for it is used in the context of sacrifice in the Old Testament. For instance, Numbers 10:10 speaks of the Israelites blowing their trumpets over their sacrifices, and how that would be a remembrance to the Lord. Hebrews 10:3 connects the Jewish sacrifices to the word "remembrance" when it says, “but in them (Jewish sacrifices) there is a remembrance of sins yearly.” The Last Supper and the Crucifixion of Christ are one and the same event.
In Greek, the word for "remembrance" is "anamnesis." According to biblical scholar John Bergsma, there was an "anamnesis" sacrifice in the Old Testament. It was a grain offering. The heading of the LXX version of two psalms speaks of this. Psalm 38:1, “A Psalm of David for the Memorial Offering of the Sabbath.” Psalm 70:1, “Of David, for the memorial offering.”
J.N.D. Kelly has some interesting words about this as well,
“It was natural for early Christians to think of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. The fulfillment of prophecy demanded a solemn Christian offering, and the rite itself was wrapped in the sacrificial atmosphere with which our Lord invested the Last Supper.. . . The bread and wine, moreover, are offered ‘for a memorial (eis anamnasin) of the passion,’ a phrase which in view of his identification of them with the Lord’s body and blood implies much more than an act of purely spiritual recollection..."
"...[T]he command for repetition [of the Lord's Supper] may be translated: 'This do, that God may remember me.' How is this to be understood? Here an old Passover prayer is illuminating. On Passover evening a prayer is inserted into the third benediction of the grace after the meal, a prayer which asks God to remember the Messiah. . . . In this very common prayer, which is also used on other festival days, God is petitioned at every Passover concerning 'the remembrance of the Messiah'" (Early Christian Doctrines, pgs. 196–7, 252).
4. The cup is “poured” out, which has a sacrificial overtone. The Jews would “pour” out the blood of the animal before the altar during sacrifice.
5. Jesus speaks of the “New Covenant in my blood.” This is very interesting, for Exodus 24:8 says that the Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of oxen or “blood of the covenant.” Sacrificial animals sealed the Old Covenant. Jesus here is then borrowing language from the Old Testament to indicate that He is ratifying a New Covenant through the Last Supper.
How could this be, though, if the New Covenant is all about Jesus's death and Resurrection? It would have to mean that the cup of wine offered during Jesus's Last Supper meal is mystically united to the blood He shed on the cross of Calvary. Whenever this cup of wine is offered in the future, then, it renews the new covenant.
6. Jesus speaks of both His Body on one side, and then His Blood on the other. This has a sacrificial overtone as well according to Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias. He states in his book, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, that,
"[W]hen Jesus speaks of 'his flesh' and 'his blood' . . . [h]e is applying to himself terms from the language of sacrifice . . . Each of the two nouns presupposes a slaying that has separated flesh and blood. In other words: Jesus speaks of himself as a sacrifice" (p. 222).
So, the very notion of body separated from blood is presupposing a sacrifice.
Conclusion: The Last Supper meal on Holy Thursday is somehow one with Jesus's sacrifice on the cross on Good Friday. This means that the liturgical worship which Catholics offer, called the Mass, is mystically united to Christ's sacrifice on the cross of Calvary 2,000 years ago.
Jesuit scholar Fr. Mitch Pacwa's debate on the Mass.
Protestant scholar Darwell Stone's book, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.
Anglican scholar J.N.D. Kelly's book, "Early Christian Doctrines."
Lutheran scholar Joachim Jeremias's book, "The Eucharistic Words of Jesus."
Catholic scholar John Bergsma's book, "Jesus and the Old Testament Roots of the Priesthood."