The Last Supper, the First Mass, was not a “memorial meal” in consideration of the fact that Christ had not yet died on the Cross. The Last Supper presents a catechism of sorts on the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament, the institution of the ordained Priesthood and the Sacrificial nature of the Mass. The prayers of Consecration in the Traditional Roman Missal (Missale Romanum) call to mind Our Lord’s Sacrificial Death on Calvary in the context of Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper. In the person of Christ (in persona Christi) the Catholic Priest, following the words and gestures of Jesus at the Last Supper, Consecrates and transforms bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Using the proper “matter and form,” the same matter and form that Jesus used at the Last Supper, and with the proper “intention” of the Priest, the miracle of Transubstantiation takes place. Thus, the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church prescribes that the proper “matter” for the Eucharist must be unleavened bread and natural grape wine. Unleavened bread is that which Jesus would have used for His Last Supper Passover. The Old Testament tells us that the Jewish people were to eat only unleavened bread each year during the Passover, as a commemoration of their Exodus from Egyptian bondage (Dt 16:3). In a similar way, the unleavened bread that Jesus would have used at the Last Supper Passover could represent the Exodus of His followers from the bondage of sin and death following His Salvific Death and Glorious Resurrection. Note that leaven in the Bible is almost always symbolic of sin (i.e. Lk 12:1). Grave sin is what occurs when leavened bread is introduced into a Latin Rite Catholic Mass – although the 15th century Council of Florence confirms current understanding that such an illicit Mass would still be valid.
The proper “form” for changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ are the “Words of Consecration” (aka: Words of Institution). These sacred Words are at the spiritual center and pinnacle of the Mass. The HEART of the Mass is the Consecration. Rev. Dr. Nicholas Gihr declares in his classic work, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: “The moment of Consecration is the most important and solemn moment, the most sublime and holy and fruitful of the whole Sacrificial celebration; for at that moment is accomplished that glorious and unfathomably profound work, the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in which all the marvels of God’s love are concentrated as in a focus of heat and light. The change of the bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood can proceed only from Him Who ‘alone effects what is wonderful’: it is an act of creative omnipotence. But for this act of almighty power there is required a human act, human cooperation on the part of an ordained Priest” (666-667). The validly ordained Priest must have the “intention” of changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ to have a valid Mass. Saint Thomas Aquinas affirms: the Priest’s “intention is required, whereby he subjects himself to the principal agent; that is, it is necessary that he intend to do that which Christ and the Church do” (Summa Theologica: Part III, q64, a8).
Just before the Words of Consecration is the Qui pridie prayer. The Priest mystically takes us to “on the day before He suffered,” when Jesus took bread in His Holy and Venerable Hands (sanctas, ac venerabiles manus suas). At this point, the Priest has rubbed his “canonical digits” (thumbs and forefingers) on the corporal to further purify them before taking up the host with those four fingers alone. At the words, elevatis oculis in caelum, the Priest, in persona Christi, looks up to Heaven to God His Almighty Father, gives Him thanks (by a bowing of his head) and blesses (benedixit) the host. The Priest then calls to mind Jesus breaking the bread and giving it to His disciples as he gives voice to the words of Our Lord: Take and eat ye all of this (Accipite, et manducate ex hoc omnes).
Note that the Priest is not merely reading a narrative of a past event, he is in persona Christi ‘re’-presenting the event through the words and simultaneous actions of Jesus Christ, Himself. Christ is not reading an “institution narrative” in the past tense. The Christ-Priest is not merely repeating the words of an old “over and done with” meal-time story. Christ is presently working through the Priest. This is also why we say that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an unbloody ‘re’-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary.
Bending low over the corporal, with forearms resting on the edge of the Altar (signifying his union with Christ, represented by the Altar), holding the host in the canonical digits of both hands, the Priest pronounces the Words of Consecration over the bread. In the Traditional Latin Mass Missal, the Words of Consecration are printed twice as large as the surrounding print and bolded so that they stand out from the rest of the text. The Priest, with his eyes on the host, is to give voice to Christ’s words distinctly and attentively, without pausing and in a whisper:
HOC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM.
Translated as: “For This Is My Body.” It IS now the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist: His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Note that just as human flesh contains blood, so too does the Church teach that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is present in each of the Eucharistic species. One does not have to “drink from the cup,” as they say in the Novus Ordo Mass, in order to receive the Precious Blood of Christ. Jesus is whole and entire in the Consecrated Host alone. This supports the practice that Holy Communion at a Traditional Latin Mass is only distributed under the appearance of Bread. The words “This is My Body” appear in all four Last Supper accounts of the Bible (Mt 26: 26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22: 19-20; and 1 Cor 11: 24-25). The word “For” does not appear in the Scripture accounts, but is considered to be a part of Sacred Tradition, as a word that the Lord would have said.
Note that after the Sacred Host has been Consecrated, the Priest will never separate his thumbs and forefingers, except to hold the Most Blessed Sacrament, until they have been “purified” after Holy Communion to ensure that any particle of the Host remaining on the fingers has been reverently consumed during the ablutions. In addition, from this moment on, the Priest will genuflect in homage each time before and after he touches the Sacred Host.
After the Consecration of the Sacred Host, the Priest moves to the Simili modo Prayer, after removing the pall from the Chalice. Retracing the actions and words of Jesus at the Last Supper, the prayer begins: In a like manner (Simili modo) after He had supped, taking also this Precious Chalice in His Holy and Venerable Hands (here the Priest lifts the Chalice with both hands slightly above the corporal), and giving thanks to Thee (bowing his head), He blessed it (Priest makes the sign of the Cross over the Chalice) and gave it to His Disciples saying: Take and drink ye all of this (Accipite, et bibite ex eo omnes). Holding the Chalice in both hands, slightly above the corporal, bent low over the Altar with forearms resting on the edge (signifying his union with Christ, represented by the Altar), the Priest gives voice to Christ’s Words of Consecration over the wine distinctly, attentively, and in a whisper:
HIC EST ENIM
CALIX SANGUINIS MEI,
NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI :
MYSTERIUM FIDEI :
QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS
EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM
Translated as: “For This is the Chalice of My Blood, of the New and Eternal Testament: the Mystery of Faith: Which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.” In regards to the words “for This is the Chalice of My Blood,” Gihr opines: “According to common opinion, these words alone constitute the essential formula for the consecration of the Chalice; for they signify and effect the Presence of the Blood of Christ under the appearance of wine” (675). Gihr continues: “The remaining words…are appropriately added. It is generally accepted that they were once spoken by the Lord Himself; moreover, they explain the dignity and effects of this Sacrifice” (675).
All of the remaining Words of Consecration over the wine can be found in one or more of the Last Supper accounts, except for “Eternal” and “the Mystery of Faith.” These extra-Biblical words, including “For,” noted above in the Consecration of the bread, originated from the other font of Catholic Truth: Sacred Tradition, which is every bit as valid as Sacred Scripture. Keep in mind that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was being celebrated by the Apostles prior to the assembly of the New Testament section of the Bible by the Catholic Church. In particular, Pope Leo IX declared that the words mysterium fidei (the Mystery of Faith) are a “tradition transmitted by Saint Peter, the author of the Roman liturgy.” Indeed, Saint Peter, the First Pope, heard Our Lord speak at the Last Supper and presided in Rome, where he died and is buried. The words “New and Eternal Testament” (aka: New and Eternal Covenant) are essential in our traditional Catholic understanding that the New Covenant, sealed in the Blood of Christ, forever and completely abrogated the Old Covenant, which was to last only temporarily until the coming of the Messiah, Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ (Denzinger 712; Ex Quo 61; Mystici Corporis 29 & 31).
The Words of Consecration include: qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem peccatorum (which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins). Although these words never changed in the Traditional Latin Mass, it is incredible that when the Novus Ordo Mass was presented in the English vernacular, the words pro multis were deliberately mistranslated to read “for all” (pro omnibus). Changing the Words of Christ was an outrage that supported the Modernist heretical thinking that ALL are saved; and reinforced the heresy of religious indifferentism which claims that it does not matter what religion, if any, that one professes since everyone goes to Heaven. Studies were done that led many to believe that the deliberate mistranslation invalidated the Novus Ordo Mass. After forty long years of confusion, scandal and heart-break, the English translation, under the direction of Pope Benedict XVI, was rightfully changed back to “for many” (pro multis). This is an example of how the Traditional Latin Mass serves to safeguard the Faith: by the Canon being free from error (Trent: Session XXII, chapter IV); by the Canon being unchanged; and by the traditional Missale Romanum being only in Latin.
Note that effundetur in remissionem peccatorum is understood to mean that the Blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins: all sins from the Original Sin of Adam and Eve; and all other sins in the past, present and future. However, “not all receive the benefit of His Death, but those only unto whom the merit of His Passion is communicated” (Trent: Session VI, First Decree, chapter III). As such, not everyone is saved: “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk 16:6); “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other Name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); “with fear and trembling work out your salvation” (Phil 2:12); and then, there is that single unrepentant, unforgiven mortal sin that can lead anyone to eternal damnation (Denzinger 1002; Catechism of Catholic Church 1035). Note also that the “merit of His Passion is communicated” by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: “By virtue of this Sacrifice the infinite merits of Christ, gained by His Precious Blood shed once upon the Cross for the salvation of men, are applied to our souls” (Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, Caritatis Studium, 9).
It is important to note that immediately after the Words of Consecration, first over the bread, and then over the wine, in both instances the Priest genuflects and the bells ring out before the Priest elevates the Sacred Species. This helps ensure the Catholic understanding that the miracle of Transubstantiation, which has just taken place, has nothing to do with the affirmation of the congregation. Hence, once the Host or Chalice is highly elevated for the adoration of the faithful, the bells ring for the second time, and not for the first time. Upon placing the Sacred Species back upon the Altar, the Priest genuflects again and the bells ring for the third time – symbolic of the Blessed Trinity. In regards to the Precious Blood, the Chalice is covered with the pall at this point, which safeguards against profanation by insects or other foreign material.
As a personal point of meditation on the Words of Institution, when I was assigned as the Priest-chaplain to a state home for the mentally retarded, two of my many units contained residents who were severely crippled (physically and mentally) and could not speak. They generally made unintelligible vocal noises all day, except when the Words of Consecration were spoken at the Mass and the elevations took place – then, there was an uncharacteristic complete silence in the room. They knew! Their innocent minds sensed that the Real Presence of Christ had entered their living space. In another higher-functioning unit, where the average mental age was no higher than four years old, upon the elevation of the Sacred Host, one boy, Joey, would cry out: “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus said: “Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings thou hast perfected praise” (Mt 21: 16). Indeed, Pope Saint Pius X issued an indulgence of seven years to all who, while gazing upon the Sacred Host while elevated during Mass, exclaim with faith and devotion: “My Lord and My God!” At the elevation of the Precious Blood, Joey’s best friend, Butchie, would join him in saying: “My Jesus, mercy!”
Immediately following the Consecration of the Precious Blood, the Priest prays: Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis (As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of Me). The Church traditionally has taught that this moment was the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Last Supper on Holy Thursday was also the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist; it was the First Mass. The Last Supper was a serious event. It was a somber anticipation of Calvary, not a “joyous celebration.” At the Last Supper, the miracle of Transubstantiation took place for the first time: Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, as the Eternal High Priest, changed bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
At the Last Supper, Christ was also leaving the Church His Last Will and Testament: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” With this Haec quotiescumque prayer after the Consecrations, Jesus was directing the Apostles and their successors in the Priesthood to offer the Holy Mass and to thereby continue offering Sacrifice to Almighty God, bringing His Real Presence into the world for adoration and as Spiritual Food. Christ did not order Priests to preside at a ‘community meal.’ At the Last Supper, Christ commanded Priests to do what only they can do: offer the Sacrifice of God the Son at Calvary to God the Almighty Father. In his Catholic Dictionary, Father John Hardon defines the priest as: “An authorized mediator who offers a true sacrifice in acknowledgment of God’s supreme dominion over human beings and in expiation for their sins.” The Priest is ordained to offer Sacrifice, not to prepare meals. Throughout the Bible and Church Tradition, God demands Sacrifice, not a meal. Whereas all Catholics are obliged to go to Sunday Mass to worship God at the Sacrifice; not all are able to receive Holy Communion by being in a state of grace.
The two separate Consecrations, first of the Body and then of the Blood of Jesus at the Last Supper and at the Mass, ‘mystically’ signify the Lord’s Death on Calvary. At the Last Supper, Jesus anticipated His Sacrifice on Calvary. On that first Good Friday, at Calvary, the violent separation of His Precious Blood from His Body caused the actual separation of His human soul from His Body, which caused His Death. At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, His historic Death on the Cross is recalled and signified by the mystical separation of the Precious Blood from the Sacred Body of Christ by the double Consecration. Jesus dies mystically every time Mass is offered. Keep in mind, however, that following His Glorious Resurrection, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ cannot actually be separated ever again. The separation at Mass is mystical, yet the Sacrifice is real. Christ cannot die again. Hence, the Eucharistic Lord is Truly Present on the Altar in a living glorified state, as He is in Heaven; and His living Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity are Present in both Species, at all times, immediately with the Consecrations.
In conclusion, the Last Supper and Calvary are intimately connected. As a final reflection, consider a possible link between the Last Supper and Calvary that is believed to date from the time of Christ and is still not able to be explained by modern science. It is the burial shroud that Saints Peter and John beheld in the Empty Tomb, which is most likely the Shroud of Turin, presently located in the Royal Chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. The Shroud is believed by many, including this writer, to be the long burial cloth of Christ that covered the length of the front and back sides of Our Lord’s Body. This Shroud contains remarkable and inexplicably formed images, as well as Blood stains, of a Man who had been crucified and crowned with thorns. Curiously, in addition to the Blood stains, there also appear to be wine stains.
Studies connecting Joseph of Arimethea to the Upper Room and to the burial of Christ, along with the reported wine stains, lend credibility to the awesome possibility that the table cloth used for the First Mass at the Last Supper is also the Shroud of Turin that was present at Calvary. It is theorized that on Good Friday, the shops which sold the coarse 1x1 simple weaved burial cloths would have been closed for the Passover, such that Joseph of Arimethea would have used the finer 3x1 intricately weaved herringbone table cloth from the Last Supper as the burial shroud out of necessity. In addition, it is believed that the Upper Room, part of a synagogue led by Joseph of Arimethea, where the Last Supper took place, was built over the tomb of King David. How wonderfully appropriate that Our Lord Jesus, the King of Kings, the “Son of David,” should offer the First Mass over the celebrated King David’s tomb; as well as appear there after the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. And how interesting that the Catholic connection between the Last Supper and Calvary, which Protestants and Modernists deny, seems to be affirmed in our time by Almighty God through the Holy Shroud of Turin. God writes straight with crooked lines. He leaves it to us to connect the dots in faith.
In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
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