Dear Father Angelo
The other day, while I was at Mass, a question arose in my mind.
In the Holy Mass, during the consecration, the memorial of the passion and resurrection of Jesus is made. Jesus instituted the Eucharist before his passion was finished. So what was the meaning of the first Eucharist?
From there I then began to reflect on all the other subsequent times that Jesus communicated his disciples, when he appeared to them after the resurrection. Can it be said that in these cases he celebrated the memorial of his passion and resurrection?
In a way, was the first Eucharist different from all the following ones, both those consecrated by Jesus and those consecrated by his priests?
I don’t mean different in substance, because I believe they are all the same, they are all the body and blood of our Lord, but in meaning.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer me. I assure you of a special remembrance in front of the tabernacle.
Answer of the priest
1. John Paul II writes in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “The institution of the Eucharist sacramentally anticipated the events which were about to take place, beginning with the agony in Gethsemane. Once again we see Jesus as he leaves the Upper Room, descends with his disciples to the Kidron valley and goes to the Garden of Olives. (…) The blood which shortly before he had given to the Church as the drink of salvation in the sacrament of the Eucharist, began to be shed; its outpouring would then be completed on Golgotha to become the means of our redemption” (EE 3).
2. It “anticipated” and made present the sacrifice of Christ.
Here is what John Paul II also says: “«The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed» (1 Cor 11:23) instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his body and his blood. The words of the Apostle Paul bring us back to the dramatic setting in which the Eucharist was born. The Eucharist is indelibly marked by the event of the Lord’s passion and death, of which it is not only a reminder but the sacramental re-presentation. It is the sacrifice of the Cross perpetuated down the ages. This truth is well expressed by the words with which the assembly in the Latin rite responds to the priest’s proclamation of the “Mystery of Faith”: «We announce your death, O Lord»” (EE 11).
3. It should also be noted that in the last supper when Christ first instituted the Eucharist he spoke and at the end, after the supper, he instituted the sacrifice.
He therefore prepared two tables: that of the Word and that of the sacrifice.
4. In the Easter apparitions it can be said, as many exegetes do, that Christ celebrated the Eucharist in the breaking of the bread with the disciples on the road to Emmaus because the words used by the Evangelist, “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Lk 24,30), are the same used for the institution of the Eucharist.
Here too, if we are talking about the Eucharist, we find the same scheme: first the table of the word, then that of the bread (the sacrifice).
5. A little over a century later, St. Justin describes how the Eucharist was celebrated.
“On the day called «of the sun» [our current Sunday, ed.], all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray in common for ourselves (…) and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.
There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks [in Greek: eucharistian] at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands.
And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen.
And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced [i. e. “Eucharistized”], and to those who are absent they carry away a portion” (Apologies, 65 and 67).
Here too, therefore, there is the same scheme: first the liturgy of the word, then that of the bread or sacrifice.
6. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families” (1345).
7. The Second Vatican Council with the liturgical reform wanted to give due prominence to the liturgy of the Word which was previously the prerogative of the celebrant and of those who could follow the celebration with the missal.
I thank you for the question, I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.
Translated by Chiara P.