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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Mat. 26:26–29. Mark 14:22–26. Luke 22:19–20]

HAVING washed the feet of His disciples, Jesus sat down again at table, and having loved His own, He loved them to the end” (St. John), i. e. to the end of all times. He desired with great desire to leave them an everlasting memorial and pledge of His love. He therefore took bread in His holy and venerable Hands, and, raising His Eyes to heaven, He blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it to His apostles, saying: “Take ye and eat; this is My Body, which is given for you; do this for a commemoration of Me.” In like manner, taking the chalice, He gave thanks, and blessed it, saying: “Drink ye all of this. For this is My Blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many, for the remission of sins.”

The Real Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. A year before (as you learnt in chapter XXXIV), our Lord had promised to give to His disciples His Flesh to eat and His Blood to drink; and now, at the Last Supper, He fulfilled His promise. By His almighty and efficacious words: “This is My Body; this is My Blood”, Jesus changed the bread into His Body, and the wine into His Blood, and gave them to be partaken of by His apostles. The appearances, the shape, colour, taste &c., of the bread and wine remained, therefore our Lord gave His Body and Blood to be received by the apostles under the form of bread and wine. The apostles neither doubted nor questioned His words, for the promise of the Blessed Sacrament made a year before as well as the preceding promise that “He would eat the Paschal lamb new in His kingdom”, had already prepared them for the mystery. As Jesus solemnly took bread, raised His Eyes to heaven &c., they said within themselves: “Now the Master is going to perform that which He promised to do, a year ago in the synagogue at Capharnaum.” By the words: “Do this in commemoration of Me”, our Lord gave to the apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of the Church, the power of changing bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and of distributing them to the faithful; so that, to this day, in the holy Mass, bishops and priests change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus when, speaking in His name, they pronounce the words: “This is My Body; this is My Blood.” The Sacrament, in which the Body and Blood of our Lord are thus present and received, is called the Most Holy Sacrament, because it is more holy than the other Sacraments; Jesus Himself, and not only His grace, being therein received.

The holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our Lord did not give His Sacred Body and Blood, under the form of bread and wine, only to be received by His apostles; He offered them, first, as a sacrifice to His heavenly Father. That the most holy Sacrament is a Sacrifice is shown by the separation of the Blood from the Body, as also by the words of institution: “This is My Body, which is given for you”, which is offered up for your salvation. Our Lord therefore instituted the Most Holy Sacrament to be a Sacrifice, and commanded the apostles and their successors to continue to offer this unbloody Sacrifice, which we call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Our Lord offered up the first Mass at the Last Supper, and in it we can distinguish the three principal parts of the Mass. First, “He took bread, gave thanks, and blessed it”: that was the Offertory. Then He said: “This is My Body—This is My Blood”, and by these almighty words changed the bread into His Sacred Body, and the wine into His Precious Blood: that was the Consecration. Finally, the apostles ate His Body and drank His Blood: that was the Communion.

Institution of the Priesthood. To offer sacrifice is the office of a priest, as you have already learnt in the Old Testament. When our Lord Jesus Christ, by His words: “Do this in remembrance of Me”, gave to His apostles the power to change the bread and wine, and to offer up the spotless Sacrifice of the New Testament, He instituted the priesthood of the New Covenant.

Institution of the New Covenant. Moses confirmed and consecrated the Old Covenant by the blood of victims. Our Lord refers to this when He said: “This is My Blood of the New Testament.” I institute a new and eternal Covenant, and in confirmation of it I give my own Blood as a sacrifice, to be drunk by you. The blood of victims with which Moses sprinkled the people of Israel could not, of itself, deliver men from sin, and make them pleasing to God, for its whole efficacy lay in its being the type of the Precious Blood of Jesus, which taketh away the sins of the world. That which Moses did, as a visible type, our Lord did in reality. By giving His Precious, Sin-cleansing Blood, He instituted the New Covenant of grace which redeemed man, and by the Sacrament and Sacrifice of His Body and Blood, He gave him a lasting memorial of His love, and an inexhaustible source of grace.

The true Paschal Lamb. Now you can understand why our Lord instituted the Blessed Sacrament immediately after the Paschal feast. The Jewish Paschal lamb was the most perfect type of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Lord first ate the typical Paschal lamb, and by so doing closed the Old Testament: having done so, He instituted the Blessed Sacrament, the true Paschal Feast, and with it instituted the New Testament of grace: thus at the Last Supper we see shadow and substance together, type and antitype. Jesus Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament, is our Paschal Lamb, because He first sacrifices Himself for us, and then gives Himself to us as our Food; and it is for this reason that the words: “Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”, are said in the Mass just before the priest’s Communion. The Jewish Paschal lamb was sacrificed and eaten first as a means and then as a memorial of the deliverance from the bondage in Egypt: our Paschal Lamb is sacrificed and eaten as a perpetual means and memorial of our deliverance from the slavery of sin and Satan, and in thanksgiving for the grace of Redemption.

Types which find their fulfilment in the Blessed Sacrament as the Food of our souls: 1. The Tree of Life in the garden of Paradise; 2. The Paschal lamb; 3. The manna in the wilderness; 4. The wonderful food of Elias. 5. Our Lord Himself prefigured the Blessed Sacrament by two miracles: when He changed the water into wine, and multiplied the loaves and fishes.

Types which find their fulfilment in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: 1. The sacrifice of Melchisedech; 2. The unbloody sacrifices of the Old Law, especially the meat-offerings.

Prophecies which have been fulfilled by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: 1. The prophecy spoken by the mouth of David (Ps. 109:4): “The Lord hath sworn, and He will not repent. Thou art a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech.” 2. The prophecy of Malachias (Mal. 1:11): “In every place there is sacrifice; and there is offered to My name a clean oblation.”

The Feast of Corpus Christi. The Blessed Sacrament being the Church’s most precious treasure, and the centre of all her worship of God, it is fitting that she should every year solemnly commemorate the institution of this most holy mystery. Now, since we cannot keep Maundy-Thursday as a feast of joy, because it is a day of fasting, and devoted to the memory of our Lord’s sufferings, the Church has selected another Thursday, the Thursday after the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, to be observed as a solemn Feast of thanksgiving for the institution of the Blessed Sacrament. This glorious Feast is called the Feast of Corpus Christi, or of the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The love of Jesus as shown in the Most Holy Sacrament. Jesus, having loved His own unto the end, bequeathed Himself to them in this Sacrament of His love, as the most priceless of memorials, to dwell always with them, to be sacrificed for them, and to be united to them in the most intimate way by Holy Communion. As a solemn testament He gave to us His Body and Blood, His Humanity and Divinity, in short Himself, with all His graces and merits; thus the Holy Eucharist is the abiding memorial of our Lord’s infinite and inconceivable love. The circumstances under which our Lord Jesus instituted the Blessed Sacrament reveal His unbounded love. He instituted It “the same night in which He was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23), and therefore at the very time when the hatred of His enemies was at its highest pitch, and when they were actually making their preparations to put Him to death. He instituted It, though He knew that there was a vile traitor among His chosen followers, and that many, many Christians would despise and dishonour Him in this Sacrament. Neither the deadly hatred of His enemies, nor the ingratitude of the faithful, could deter Him from giving them this final and enduring proof of His love. Oh, how mighty, how deep is the love which our Lord and Saviour has for ungrateful man! The Sanhedrim had met to resolve upon the death of Jesus: the soldiers were all ready to seize Him: His traitor apostle was about to betray Him. Surely all this will abate His love even at the last moment! Yes, if His love be human, it will; but His love was the love of God, and it was not quenched. He responded to the hatred and treachery of men by the institution of the Most Holy Sacrament, thus giving to the human race a proof of love so intense, that it never could have entered into the hearts of men to conceive it. And—as St. Paul says—this wonderful love was shown by our Lord on the night when He was betrayed. At the very moment that faithless men were betraying their God, He invented a new means of proving His love for them. While they were preparing for Him a most cruel death, He gave to them the means of attaining eternal life. Just when human hatred was doing all it could to remove Him from the world, He discovered a new way of remaining always in the world. He wrought the most astounding miracle of Omnipotence, that He might remain with them. Even as He went forth from the Father without leaving Him, so did He go forth from the world without leaving it. And this He did “on the night when He was betrayed”, just as if nothing had occurred to quench His love, but rather as if man had done everything he could to kindle it! Then, having done this for us, He went forth to give Himself up into the hands of His enemies—to die for them!

In the Holy Mass a little water is mixed with the wine. This is done, because the wine changed by our Lord at the Last Supper was mixed with water, this mixture being strictly prescribed for the wine used at the Paschal feast. The mixture of water with the wine at Mass has also a symbolical meaning, and is intended to remind us that in Jesus Christ there are two natures in One Divine Person.

APPLICATION. In the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar our Lord and Saviour is present under the appearances of bread and wine. You ought therefore to worship Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament with living faith and the deepest adoration. Have you done so? Have you always genuflected, as you ought, on entering a church? Do you always kneel down during the Elevation? Have you, finally, a devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament? Never forget when you are in church that you are in the presence of your Divine Saviour, who will one day come back to this earth in great power and majesty to be your Judge! Be very reverent and devout in the House of God, and repeat these words as often as you can: “Blessed and praised be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar!”

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